All About Mechanical Keyboards

If you're thinking of switching, read this

Mechanical keyboard

Becky Stern/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) 

Mechanical keyboards have physical switches beneath the keys that recreate the experience of typing on a typewriter. Press a key, and you press its switch down. Although there are different types of switches used in mechanical keyboards, they generally result in more accurate typing.

Mechanical keyboards may seem like clunky relics of a bygone era of computers, but for many people, newer membrane keyboards just don't have the same satisfying sound or feel.

Membrane vs. Mechanical Keyboards

Today, most laptop and desktop keyboards are "membrane" keyboards. That means they are composed of a set of three plastic membranes, with rubber dome-shaped switches underneath each key. Press a key, and the rubber switch pushes through a hole in the middle membrane to connect the top and bottom membranes, creating an electrical circuit that causes the keyboard to send the input to your computer. This design is inexpensive and spill-resistant, but it doesn't give you as much tactile or audible feedback when you press a key, which can change the way you type. In comparison, the membrane keyboard may feel flat or "mushy."

If you spend a lot of time at a PC keyboard, it may be worth your while to switch to a mechanical keyboard. Some manufacturers still make mechanical switch keyboards that feel like the classic IBM Model M. These designs usually help people type more quickly and accurately, and they last longer than a standard PC pack-in keyboard. It may also deliver a more satisfying writing experience.

Those who may find a mechanical keyboard to be a sound investment include office workers whose jobs depend on speedy and reliable data entry, gamers, and professional writers.

Mechanical Keyboards: Pros and Cons

  • More tactile and auditory feedback.

  • Generally more accurate than membrane keyboards.

  • Durable construction.

  • Noisy.

  • More expensive than membrane keyboards.

  • Heavy.

There are a number of advantages to mechanical keyboards, including longer key life, improved accuracy, and sturdier designs. The biggest drawback, apart from being more expensive than most Bluetooth and wired membrane keyboards, is that they are loud. While the actual volume depends on what kind of switch your keyboard uses, as well as on your typing technique, mechanical keyboards are significantly louder than other kinds. This may not be a problem for office workers or in environments with coworkers who are wearing headsets. 

Mechanical keyboards are also heavy—usually around three pounds—but they tend to last longer. Mechanical switches are certified to outlast rubber-dome switches pretty much across the board, regardless of manufacturer—unless, of course, you spill your drink on it.

Finally, mechanical keyboards may force you to type differently. Membrane keyboards require you to press the key down as far as it will go to complete the electrical circuit. With mechanical keyboards, you only have to press until you hear the click, which means that the key travels a shorter distance.