Oh How It Responds To My Every Touch
Allot of us have played or are currently playing audio games on a standard desktop or laptop keyboard. With headsets or a computer it is fairly easy to see how much difference they can make in the quality of your play and the overall experience. It is more difficult to see how this can be done with changing out your keyboard for something higher quality or specifically made for gaming. I completely understand this, I used a generic every day keyboard for the longest time and never saw the need to upgrade to a mechanical board. I was always interested in them, and always wanted one, but never could quite get myself to pull the trigger on a purchase. I finally did earlier this year however, and can tell you it really is night and day difference once you upgrade, both with gaming and just overall experience. This post will focus mainly on the end goal for most computer users, the mechanical keyboard, the differences in them, and the variety of choices you have when choosing what type you want.
The 3 Main Types of Keyboards
The first thing I need to get out of the way. I am not an expert on keyboards, and I won’t be trying to claim to be one at any point in this post. If terminology is a bit off, I apologize. I speak from my own personal experience, and hope to use that experience to allow others to be more informed when they are looking into the same purchases I made. This will not be a technical manual on how keyboards work. If this is what you are looking for you are reading the wrong post, and probably on the wrong web site all together. This post is for those who haven’t put much thought into keyboards, or those who have but just haven’t pulled the trigger on a purchase yet.
Dome Membrane Keyboards
Everyone has typed on one of these at some point in their computer travels. They are the most common type in use everywhere, and come standard with every laptop and desktop computer. If you are like Hannibal you have gotten drunk and taken a knife to your keyboard at a point of bad judgement to modify it. If you were to do this with a membrane keyboard you would notice under the key a little rubber nipple or erect penis depending on your views on life and sexual preferences. When you press down on the key it depresses this nipple/penis doing magic things inside the keyboard, completing a circuit and sending the keystroke to your PC.
The biggest downfall to these keyboards is how mushy they are, and there is no standards to measure what you are getting with each one. You can take two membrane keyboards of different manufacturers and they will have radically different key presses and feels. You will not get any tactile feedback with the vast majority of these types, and to activate a key you need to fully depress or bottom it out. These are best known for shitty build quality, there may be some weird high end membrane keyboards out there but I don’t currently associate with the mentally unstable so I have no experience with using these or talking to those who do.
Scissor Switch Keyboards
These are just a different type of membrane keyboard, the difference is in the scissor switch which is the connector that holds the keys down tight against the little nipple/penis. This type of switch allows for a much shorter key travel distance, for this reason nearly every laptop out there uses these switches. If you are like me and have broken a laptop keyboard at any time you will have seen the mechanism used to do this. There is not much to be said about these, they are not ergonomic, and the experience of typing on one is quite bad. Recently I have heard some people say they prefer using a laptop keyboard for gaming. I am not sure of the mental stability of these individuals however, so I cannot tell if their opinions should be given any weight.
First off, not all mechanical keyboards are created equally. There is a massive difference between a generic board using knock off switches and a trusted brand using Cherry switches. Not only that, but since these are considered the top of the keyboard food chain, there are allot of different switch types and modifications people can make to their mechanical keyboards. With a mechanical keyboard each key has its own dedicated switch. At its center is a phallic object, or post that is pressed down by the keycap on top of it completing the circuit and sending the keystroke to the computer. The post of each switch is spring loaded and tuned to exact pressure for every key on the keyboard usually excepting the space bar which has a higher pressure requirement.
More In Depth on Mechanical Keyboards
There are honestly oodles and oodles of different switch brands out there, but it is commonly excepted that Cherry MX switches are the best and most reliable option. Knowing this I have only ever owned Cherry switches and I will only be detailing them in this post. Any good keyboard brand will make sure to let potential buyers know what switches are on the board. Things I look out for as red flags are keywords in the product titles like clicky, this is normally a way to get someone to think of Cherry Blue switches while not actually using them. If a product is using Cherry MX switches they blast it all over their product descriptions, and normally it is right in the title, again this is because of the reliability of the Cherry brand.
Cherry MX Blue Switches
These are what everyone thinks of when they hear someone say mechanical keyboard. That very distinctive clicky sound as each key is pressed. These are by far the most popular switch in mechanical keyboards, but this does not translate into the best option for gaming. Those who do allot of writing, authors, coders, and jobs where allot of typing is required like these switches for the sharp click that is both tactile and audible for every single key press.
I personally own a Corsair Strafe with Cherry MX Blues, from the first day I used it I completely fell in love. The experience of using it was just simply light years beyond what I was use to in the membrane switches I had always used in the past. Spoiler: It is no longer my primary keyboard, not because there is anything wrong with the switches, rather because of a bad combination of an energy shot which forced me to buy a new board. Setting that aside, the experience of typing on blues really is quite amazing, each sharp click filling your heart with unexplainable joy and peace. Okay, well maybe not that much, but blues really are amazing, it only took me one day to realize I could never use a membrane keyboard ever again. At the time I didn’t realize it was not a love for blue switches specifically, but a love for mechanical keyboards in general. With time and more research I realized there are issues with using blues as a primary gaming option.
For gaming you want a mechanical keyboard for a few reasons, to brag about it, experience of use, and an increase of key pressing speed. The blue switch takes about 50G of pressure to get past the click and activate the key. This is also standard pressure for your normal membrane keyboard. The really big downfall is the actuation point of the switch is at 2mm which is standard, but the release point of the key is up above that 2mm mark. What this means is to activate a key it starts at 0, you press it down then after 2mm it activates the key press. Then with blues you have to release the key up past the 2mm point to around 3mm, going up past the click and repress the key down past the click to the 2mm point to send another keystroke. This clearly is not the best for gaming, not only is it a 50g pressure requirement, but you have to keep doing full key presses to send each key stroke. This does not translate into faster key presses. It is much faster than a membrane option just simply because the actuation point is at 2mm and not at full key bottom which is the case for most membrane options. If you have a board with blues yes you can brag about it, yes the experience is wonderful, but it is not going to allow for much faster keypresses. For primarily typing this is a great option, this is what it is made for, but for gaming you are much better off getting brown or red switches.
Cherry MX Brown Switches
The browns get their popularity for being the perfect middle of the road option, a great choice for a multipurpose switch that is both great for gaming and typing alike. Blues are known for their clickity clackity sound and feel, browns offer the tactile click but not the audible one. You get the same feeling of the switch activating at your fingertip, but it doesn’t make any sound. On top of that the pressure to activate the switch is 45g instead of the 50g required for blues. I know that 5g seems like a small difference, but I can promise it is huge when you go from typing on browns then switch to blues.
I own a Corsair k70 lux with brown switches which is my primary keyboard. Just for this post I got out my Strafe with blue switches and it was nearly impossible to type on now after so much time on only browns. I was constantly not using enough pressure when typing and not sending keystrokes to the computer. Overall the experience is very similar, the blues have a stronger tactile feedback, but this is to be expected because they also do require 50g of pressure to get past the click where browns require only 45. This difference in pressure required is major for me in both typing and in gaming as I found out rather quick. I honestly don’t know how long it would take me to get use to blue switches again, but I have no interest in spending the time because browns are the perfect fit for me personally.
A very important thing about brown switches is unlike with blues, their activation and release points actually line up. The actuation level is the same at 2mm right under the tactile click, but you don’t have to release it up to re press and send a new keypress. You can just spam the key under the click point and send a new keystroke every time. This makes a huge difference in movement and firing speed in all types of gaming. It is for this reason that browns and reds are much more preferred by gamers. With browns you can get a perfect middle road keyboard that has the traditional mechanical feel while not sacrificing speed when gaming.
Cherry MX Red Switches
Until recently these were the switches marketed directly at gamers. Personally I have not used a board with red switches for a long enough time to give any firsthand experience. The thing gamers do like about them is the linear keypress, meaning there is no audible or tactile feedback. Each keypress is smooth and straight down with nothing to let you know when the key is activated. Some consider them silent switches which they are, but you will still have the sound of the keys hitting the back plate. There are ways to dampen this sound which I will go into later in this post. The actuation point is still at 2mm down the keypress with the key bottoming out at 4mm like with all of the above switches. Also the pressure required is the same as the browns at 45g. Allot of gamers are of the opinion that because of the smooth keypress it allows for faster key spamming, this seems to be so widely accepted it must have some truth to it. Personally because the actuation distance is the same, and the pressure is the same as browns I don’t know how much it would actually increase key speed. I also just like the tactile feedback when typing, but this is personal preference.
There isn’t much more I can say about reds. If you want something multipurpose then Browns are the best option. If you want something that might be the best for gaming reds would be a better choice. However, if you want something specifically just for gaming then you would probably be better off getting the new Cherry switches they made just for gamers.
Cherry MX Rapid Fire/Silver Switches
I am not going to go too into detail on these as they are really just a modified version of reds just for gamers. Cherry took their standard red switch and changed the actuation point to 1.2mm instead of the standard 2mm. This means a faster keypress starting from 0, and a shorter bottom out distance of 3.4mm instead of the standard 4mm. Everything else is the same as reds, no feedback and the pressure being 45g. Cherry made this switch just for gamers, to give them a version of the red that is tailored just for their use. I have heard mixed reviews on whether everyone believes it is actually going to change much with the shorter actuation distance. The one thing I can say, is my next keyboard I buy will be with rapid fire switches, when it comes to gaming there really is no need to buy reds anymore. Even if the edge is slight for the new rapid fires, it would be an improvement from the reds no matter how small.
Some Other Notes on Mechanical Keyboards
One of my favorite things about mechanical keyboards is how customizable they are. You can add your own keycaps along with different types of dampeners to add extra upwards spring and to make the boards quieter.
There is quite literally an unlimited amount of choices for customizing the keys on your keyboard. there are even companies out there just for making custom keycaps you can design yourself. On top of that, you can choose from different materials to use as caps including, glass, metal, wood, plastics and composites, and rubber. I am sure there are other options out there, these are just the different types I have run across so far. Allot of brands will even send you alternative keys for FPS or MOBA games which you can switch out with the stock caps. In my experience the sharp curves and bumps on these keys mess up your typing, but maybe they will help your gaming. I haven’t used them yet so I am not sure on this. The caps I have been meaning to get but haven’t yet are rubber ones, these just seem like the best for key grip when gaming. In general you can find a keycap set for just about anything when it comes to Cherry switches. I am sure there are options for other switch brands as well, but only having owned cherry switches I have not spent time researching these.
These are little rubber or silicone rings you can place under your keycaps. Some people enjoy the sound of the keys striking the backplate when typing, but for others it is annoying. I have used both of my keyboards with and without dampeners, and overall I much more prefer dampeners. It also shortens the full travel distance of the key which helps in key spamming, and the materials used as dampeners are springy and make the keys bounce back after a full bottom out. Whether this makes an actual difference I am not sure, but overall I like dampeners much more than without so I’ll continue to use them.
To put dampeners on your keys you have to pull each key off individually, hopefully using a key puller the manufacturer provided. Then you take the little O-ring which is the dampener and put it around the stem at the bottom of the keycap and slide it up to the top of the cap. Yes you have to do this with every key, but in my experience it is not worth using on anything but letters, numbers and arrow keys.
Coloring and lighting
Well honestly nearly everyone reading this is some sort of blinker so coloring and lighting doesn’t matter much. The one way it is important is in pricing. When you are buying a mechanical keyboard you will notice you usually see 3 types, Red led, blue led, and rgb. This is just the type of back lighting on the switches that shines up through the key caps and gives some lighting ambience. RGB means that the keyboard can essentially go through any color changes and do all sorts of fancy effects involving color changes. Red and blue led means the keyboard has a backlighting of a solid color and it won’t change. Rgb boards also have a higher price, usually around 20 or 30 dollars more, and for us blind folks this is really just throwing money down the toilet, so keep this in mind when shopping around.
The keyboard you use really can make a huge difference in your experience and game play. Before I had one I always wanted one, but I never had a real reason why. Now that I have used 2 with 2 different types of switches I understand what I was missing all the time I was using membrane keyboards. If you have been thinking about getting a mechanical keyboard, the best advice I can give is, don’t get something generic. Brands have built up a reputation, and you are much better off getting something made by Corsair, Razer, das, or even Logitech instead of some unknown brand. If you do get Razer just realize some of their keyboards use their own brand of switches and not Cherry. The cheaper options can be tempting, but a mechanical keyboard is a lifetime product, and buying something subpar will not last you for the 50,000,000 keypresses a Cherry switch is rated at. Also there is no replacement for using different types of switches before buying your own, I tried to make up for this with information in this post, but sometimes it really just comes down to personal preference’s with different switches.
The next post in the series will be about using mice for gaming. It will not be as detailed as this post as allot of mice are created very equally unlike the other 3 things covered in this series.