There are plenty of things to consider when you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard, but at the center of it all, is the mechanical switch it uses. You know, that spring loaded thing underneath the keycap, that makes clicky clacky noises. After all, you’re going to spend countless hours typing on it, or just spamming WASD.
At Wooting, we’re also debating which switches will best suit our mechanical keyboard. There are plenty of different switches to choose from, but only a few available on the market. But let’s not worry about that right now.
This is a light suggestive article, that can help you consider what switch fits best with you.
This is a mechanical switch
The most common switches were not made for gaming at all but tailored for different types of typists. Nonetheless, there are definitely switches that click (-clack) better with gaming than others.
You’ve probably heard of Cherry MX switches, it’s by far the most popular line of switches from ZF electronics. Many professional users swear by them, but with the recent popularization of mechanical keyboards, there are an increasing amount of alternatives. But let’s first use the Cherry MX switch as an example.
Cherry MX (and many other manufacturers) identify their different type of switches by color. Red, brown, blue and black are the most common Cherry MX switches, but there is also Green, clear, light gray, dark gray and more.
For now… No matter which switch you look at, you can break down the differences by the following 4 points:
1. Actuation force
The actuation force is the amount of force you need to press down the key. This is often expressed by the amount of gram-force the key can hold before it nudges. Engineers will rather use centinewtons (cN) to indicate how much force is required, it’s marginally different, but basically, 1 cN of force is equal to 1 gram of force.
2. Key travel
The key travel is how far down you can press the key, when it actuates and when it resets. Most commonly you’ll see that a key can travel 4mm before hitting the bottom, at 2mm it will register the key and a bit before that it resets.
3. Tactile feedback
A switch with tactile feedback will give a small bump feel when you reach the actuation point. The small bump can help you unconsciously to register when you’ve pressed the key.
4. Audible feedback
A switch with audible feedback will make a click sound when you reach the actuation point. The click sound can help you unconsciously register when you’ve pressed the key.
“The most important difference between switches is the actuation force.”
Take a look at this comprehensive list of popular switches. If you really want to know how a switch feels, I recommend you to try it out at you local store or buy a switch testing kit. The following will hopefully push you into the right direction.
What you want to do first is find out what kind of typist you are and then see if it fits with your gaming preferences. Because let’s be honest, everybody has to type a lot more on their keyboard than anything else. Alternatively, you own two keyboards, one for gaming and another for typing.
The most important difference between switches is the actuation force. Pressing down on a 45g force key or a 65g force key, makes a huge difference. If the switch is too light, you will bottom it out all the time and accidently press the wrong key. If it’s too heavy, your finger will wear out faster and you might not even press it down far enough. Typically most people tend to fall somewhere in between the 40g to 55g force, considering that most switches are somewhere in between this range.
The second biggest difference is the tactile and audible feedback. Blue switches, for example, have both tactile and audible feedback. They’re considered the typist switch because the tactile and audible feedback helps you unconsciously acknowledge key actuation. On the other hand, you might despise the noisy click sound coming from the blue switches or dislike the bumpy feel.
Red switches, on the other hand, doesn’t have any feedback and are a tad light than the blues. They are considered the gaming switch because the light press allows fast actuation and without the bump feedback, it’s easier to “float” around the actuation point; good for double tapping. On the flipside, the switch might be so light that you’ll accidentally press down on the wrong keys, or never sure when you’ve actuated the key.
You don’t have to worry too much about the key travel, all mechanical keyboard actuate before bottom-out, unlike membrane keyboard. It allows you to type faster, as you don’t have to bottom out the key. At this moment, actuation at 2mm is the most common.
Popular mechanical switches
All that being said, don’t limit yourself to Cherry MX! Since the Cherry MX switch patent ended, other (Chinese) manufacturers have entered the market with clone switches. Such as the Kailh switch and Gateron switch. They have a different “feel” from Cherry MX and are a lot more affordable.
There are also switches from another caliber, such as the Japanese Topre switches, also know as the “electrostatic capacitive non-contact type”. They have a different feel altogether.
Or switches made by popular gaming brands. They will make all sort of silly claims, but honestly, they’re no different from regular mechanical switches. It will come down to the same thing, the “feel”.
When you think about it, we’re missing something. A real game changer, that does more than a regular switch.
In the end, everything comes down to your preferences, and the only way to find out is by testing it. There is no ultimate gaming or typing switch, no matter what they say, there is only what fits best with you. In any case, you’ll always love your first mechanical keyboard (switch) until you’ve tried another, trust me.
Does one switch rules them all?
You’re welcome to share any tips, tricks or your opinion.