The keyboard is an integral part of every PC yet it is still one of the most ignored pieces of computer equipment. People are willing to spend hundreds of pounds on their computer yet buy a £10 keyboard. Indeed this was the approach I had taken until a year ago when after a bit of research I decided to break the bank and spend £65 on a mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboards have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years with Razer’s Black Widow keyboards lowering the price of mechanical keyboards from the £100 that a Das keyboard costs to a more reasonable £60.
Mechanical vs Rubber Dome
Although keyboards often come with different features (eg.a backlight) they all based on either a rubber dome mechanism or a mechanical mechanism. Rubber dome keyboards are those that you are accustomed to finding on nearly all sub £50 keyboards and are characterised by the spongy feeling when you press a key as well as their tendency to break after prolonged use. This is because, as the name suggests, rubber dome keyboards use a rubber dome under the physical key to create the connection that sends a signal to the computer. Indeed it is this rubber dome that creates the spongy, at times unresponsive feel of cheap keyboards. Furthermore as the rubber wears away after continued use the connection becomes weaker and that is why the keys become unresponsive.
This is in stark contrast to mechanical keyboards which, while more expensive, offer up a much more responsive and comfortable typing experience. Mechanical keyboards owe this responsiveness as well as their durability to the mechanical switch that lies underneath the keys. Indeed the main difference between mechanical and rubber dome keyboards is that instead of a rubber membrane lying underneath each key there is a spring that creates the resistance when you type. This mechanical switch means that there is a much more uniform feeling to each key press as well as allowing the keys to return to their position much faster. This creates a much smoother and faster typing experience. In fact from my experience these are the two clearest reasons to invest in a mechanical keyboard. I’ve found the increase in typing speed to be quite dramatic, as the keys require less effort to press as well as return to their position much faster.
Switches and Their Importance
You may be thinking that all mechanical keyboards are therefore the same. This isn’t the case, however, as underlying the general keyboard mechanism is the switch of which there are many, although three main ones. The three main switches are all made by a company called Cherry and are therefore named Cherry mx black, Cherry mx blue, Cherry mx brown.
Indeed these switches have a large affect on the way the keyboards function. Take the mx blue switches for example. When the key is pressed there is both a tactile change when the mechanism is compressed as well as an audible clicking. This is useful because both the noise and the tactile feel allow you to tell when the key has been pressed. Mx brown switches on the other hand have the tactile feel without the audible clicking. The only problem with these different switches is that it is hard to tell which will best suit your needs without trying them, something which is rather difficult to do. However, if we were giving advice on which switch is best for different environments we would say: Black and Brown switches for office use and blues for home use. Although once again without trying them it is impossible to know if you prefer the tactile feel of blue and browns or the lack of audible noise or tactile feel of mx black switches.
Basically if you are thinking of buying a new keyboard you should buy a mechanical one because not only will it increase your typing speed but we spend so much time on our computers it is worth investing it a comfortable typing experience. Just like taxi drivers buy seat pads and steering wheel covers to make driving nicer and more comfortable so should you buy a mechanical keyboard.