What, exactly, is the difference between a mechanical keyboard and a normal keyboard then, u might ask? What difference is there between a 300 ringgit mechanical keyboard and a 30 ringgit keyboard? Is it worth that sky high price differential? Is it made of gold? or platinum?
BLING BLING BABY
In this page, i hope most of your questions will be answered. =]
p.s. if they aren’t, drop a comment and i’ll try to get back to you a.s.a.p.
The first (and most defining) difference between a mechanical keyboard and a normal keyboard is the keyswitch mechanism that the keyboard employs. Normal keyboards use a rubber dome mechanism whereas mechanical keyboards use a mechanical keyswitch, hence the name mechanical keyboard. Here:
You can see the rubber domes recessed in the keyboard on the left, versus the individual blue-coloured switches on the right. (Cherry MX Blues, fyi). For further clarification:
This difference is the main reason why mechanical keyboards are what they are, and cost what they cost.
History lesson: In the olden days, all keyboards were mechanical keyboards because that was the only way manufacturers knew how to make them. However, as with almost every thing in the industry, an easier and cheaper way to manufacture keyboards was invented, and they soon became the norm. However, these rubber dome keyboards, being cheap as they were, were much less durable (but durable enough for the common man) and lost all the joys of mechanical typing.
The next reason why a mechanical keyboard is still sought after even though they cost as much as 20 or 30 times as much is the feel of typing on one. Some people prefer linear keys, while some prefer tactile or clicky keys (to be elaborated below). But one thing these people would agree on is that they hate rubber dome keyboards. After using mechanical keyboards, a rubber dome can be described with any of the following adjectives : “mushy” “yucky” or even “eww-inducing”. In contrast, users describe mechanical switches as “crisp” “light” or even “joyful”. I kid you not, these are words taken from the horses’ mouth. To prove this point, i suggest you contact us here at W.A.S.D. Peripherals to have a go at trying a mechanical keyboard, and tell us whether you agree or disagree. HOWEVER, it must be said that the “feel” of a keyboard, being highly subjective, differs for each user, and what u love might be what someone else hates. The following is a brief overview of 4 of the most popular switches in the market today.
Cherry MX Blue:
- clicky & tactile
This switch is one of the most popular switches in the market. Personally, i am a huge fan of these switches. However, some people just find these switches unbelievably loud (yes they are) and cannot stand the sound of it. Generally, these keys are best used for typing (supposedly).
Cherry MX Brown:
Basically, this switch is a silent MX Blue. In fact, Razer substitutes MX Blues for Browns on their Blackwidow keyboards and calls them “stealth” keyboards, ie silent. Havent tried them personally but hey, to each his own.
Cherry MX Black:
This switch is generally marketed as a “gaming” switch simply because it is “easier” to press as there is no tactile bump, and one can double tap relatively quickly compared to the MX Blue. While the general consensus is that it is quite unpleasant to type on, there are some who prefer typing on these rather than Blue or Browns.
Cherry Mx Red:
The MX Red is identical to the MX Black except that it requires less force to activate, 45Cn vs 60Cn. Being lighter, user feedback claims that it is easier to make typos on this than on Blacks, one of the downsides.
Customizablity. Mechanical keyboards, besides being known for their sky-high prices, are also known for their customizability. The most common modifications to mech kbs are swapping of stock keycaps for custom keycaps (as seen on the keyboard gallery page – KBgasmic). However, a custom keyboard can be assebled from scratch by buying a keyboard case, a pre-printed PCB, the desired switches, the desired backplate, LEDs, almost anything you can think of modifying in the keyboard, you probably can.
The ErgoDox, an open source mechanical keyboard project, where you HAVE to assemble yourself or have someone assemble for you. Only available from Massdrop (sometimes).
The Korean KMAC2 with fully aluminum case, where you can assemble the keyboard according to your preferences. Available at Originative.
You can get almost any keycap u want from specialised OEM companies. In fact, if u have a 3d printer at home, you can make your own keycaps. The sky’s the limit, really.
Note: the customizability of a keyboard’s looks also depends on the layout and type of switch the keyboards uses. The most customisable is the Cherry MX series as keycaps suitable for that switch is (quite) widely availble (not so much in Malaysia, i must add).
Black rubber dome keycap on left; blue doubleshot ABS keycap with Cherry MX compatible stem on right
N-KRO, also known as N-Key Rollover. As most mechanical keyboards come with P/S2 connections/adapters, they are able to achieve N-KRO, which means that they can theoretically register all keys being pressed, without missing any keystrokes.
A P/S2 connection.
Comparatively, rubber dome keyboards can usually only register 4 or 6 simultaneous keystrokes before having a heart attack and “ghosting”, or missing out on keystrokes. This applies when you’re playing a FPS such as CS:GO or Loadout and you have to run left and forwards at the same time, while crouching, reloading, and switching your view (is that even possible…?). Once you reach that Rollover limit, any additional simulataneous keypresses won’t register properly.
Note1: A mechanical keyboard usually does not support N-KRO over a USB connection.
Note2: N-KRO is as useful in daily life as much as having a Porsche that can go 20o mph. Yeah, it can do that, but are you REALISTICALLY going to be using that particular feature? You only have 10 fingers, son.
Durability. Most (not ALL, mind you) mechanical keyboards are built like tanks. I ain’t even joking.
The reason why mechanical keyboards are so durable is that they have to be made to last (really, really LAST) as the keyswitch mechanism is rated to a lifetime usage of 50 million presses, whereas rubber domes are only rated to 10 million presses. Thus, the keyboard has to “live” at least 5 times as long as normal keyboards, if not more. In fact, Model M keyboards made in the 1980s are still being used today by enthusiasts, as well as by working-classmen, 30 odd years since they were made. I know of buildings which don’t last that long. Furthermore, most mechanical keyboards are built with a metal (usually steel or aluminum) backplate, between the PCB and the keyswitches. This further strengthens the keyboard, as well providing a stable and non-flexing base to type on. Comparatively, rubber domes are thin and flimsy (usually, not all) and do not hold up to much
abuse. Most people, upon experiencing their first mechanical keyboard, usually remark that the keyboard can be repurposed as a weapon in times of dire need. I find this to be the truth and nothing less than the truth.
It’s perfect…..?? Really??
To be honest, the only reason why anyone should not buy or use a mechanical keyboard is because of the price. Before i became acquainted with mechanical keyswitches, i once saw a 280 ringgit keyboard and thought, “Wow. Nigga you high?? Ain’t nobody buying a keyboard THAT expensive”. Now, knowing the difference, i have never regretted spending almost 300 on a keyboard.
How times have changed.
P.S. feel free to comment or email me if you have any doubts, or have anything u wanna say. Or just say hi. It’s lonely here. =|