What Is a Mechanical Keyboard?

If you're thinking of switching, read this

Thinking of buying a new keyboard? There's a lot of variety out there, including a version called a mechanical keyboard.

What Is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards have physical switches beneath the keys that recreate the touch and audio experience of typing on a typewriter. Press a key, and you press its switch. You'll hear pretty loud clickity-clack sounds as you type.

Although different types of switches are used in mechanical keyboards, these keyboards generally result in more accurate typing and high-speed typing.

Mechanical keyboards may seem like clunky relics of a bygone era of computers, but, for many people, newer membrane keyboards don't have the same satisfying sound or feel. The sound is probably the most noticeable difference when you check out a mechanical keyboard, by the way. While they will always make some noise due to the overall construction, manufacturers are finding ways to make them quieter to attract more buyers.

In addition, mechanical keyboards use switches that tend to be a bit tougher than those found in other types of keyboards. This means that these keyboards will frequently last longer than their non-mechanical counterparts.

Mechanical keyboard
Becky Stern / CC By 2.0 / Flickr

Why Do People Use Them?

Gamers like to use them because they can take more pounding and wear-and-tear than a standard keyboard. Office and home workers like to use them because they provide auditory feedback with every stroke and are typically ergonomically designed to reduce wrist stress.

Mechanical keyboards also typically allow you to adjust strokes so you can type even faster.

Membrane vs. Mechanical Keyboards

Today, most laptop and desktop keyboards are membrane keyboards. That means the keyboard is composed of three plastic membranes, with dome-shaped rubber 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 the computer.

This design is inexpensive and spill-resistant, but it doesn't give 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 make mechanical switch keyboards that feel like the classic IBM Model M. These designs usually help you type quickly and accurately. Plus, mechanical keyboards last longer than the standard PC pack-in keyboards. It may also deliver a more satisfying writing experience.

Those who may find a mechanical keyboard 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.

  • Can be quite noisy.

  • More expensive than membrane keyboards.

  • Tend to weigh more than standard keyboards.

There are several advantages to mechanical keyboards, including longer key life, improved accuracy, and sturdier designs.

Apart from being more expensive than most Bluetooth and wired membrane keyboards, the biggest drawback is that mechanical keyboards are loud. While the volume depends on what kind of switch the keyboard uses and your typing technique, mechanical keyboards are louder than other keyboards. It may not be a problem for office workers or in environments with coworkers who wear headsets.

Mechanical keyboards are heavy—usually around three pounds—and tend to last longer. Mechanical switches are certified to outlast rubber-dome switches almost across the board, regardless of manufacturer—unless you spill a drink on it. However, they are pretty easy to clean, so even the occasional spill shouldn't create an issue.

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 the key travels a shorter distance.

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