Guide to Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a guide of computer keyboard key switch mechanisms.

Rubber Dome Switch

Most keyboard's key switch mechanism is rubber dome switch. Basically all laptop keyboards, and Microsoft Keyboards, Logitech Keyboards.

Rubber dome switch is cheap to make, but is not as good as other mechanisms that use spring. Rubber dome's tactile feedback is not precise, is wobbly, and wears out. Usually what made it worse is the cheap key housing that goes with it. (ever had squeaky keys that make ugly noises and sometimes stuck midway due to friction?)

keyboard construction
Laptop keyboard construction. image source
keyboard rubber dome
Rubber dome switch. image source

Scissor Switch

Scissor-switch is rubber dome with a scissor-like mechanism as stabilizer. It is found in laptop computers, starting around ~2002.

laptop keyboard scissor-switch mechanism 2-2
Scissor switch on laptop
keyboard scissor switch mechanism
keyboard scissor switch

Buckling-spring Switch

Buckling-spring switch is most famous as used by IBM Model M keyboard from 1980s and 1990s, and loved by many programers.

model M keyboard
IBM Model M Keyboard, year ~1990

[see IBM Model M keyboard]

keyboard buckling spring
buckling spring mechanism.
IBM Model M keyboard buckling spring sound

You press the key, the spring compresses, then at some point, it can't take it anymore, 🗦 TAK 🗧 , it buckles, giving up all resistance!

Buckling-spring switch is the loudest.

[see Mechanical Keyboard Noise Comparison]

You can buy Buckling-spring keyboard from Unicomp Keyboard

Cherry MX Switches

Cherry Corporation of Germany makes a series of mechanical key switches called Cherry MX.

Cherry MX is the most popular switch. There are several different models, with different feel to them. These models are color coded.

cherry mx switch tester 08767 s
Key Switch Tester
Cherry MX keyswitch
Cherry MX key switch, disassembled.

Linear Action: Red, Black

Cherry MX red MXStd Red v004 4v8ss
Cherry MX Red. Smooth linear action. Popular in gaming keyboards.

MX Red requires the least pressure to activate the key. It's really nice. Typing on it is effortless.

Cherry MX Black is same as Red, except more force is required. I don't like MX Black at all.

Tactile Action: Brown, Blue

The Brown and Blue types have a tactile bump. When you press down, after certain point, there's a bump feel, then after that the pressure is reduced. This lets you know when a key has been registered.

The Brown and Blue types are often preferred by programers and writers.

Cherry MX Brown v004 j3qr3
Cherry MX Brown Switch mechanism. Light bump.
Cherry MX Blue v004 62b6w
Cherry MX Blue Switch mechanism. Sharp bump, with audible click.

The difference between Brown and Blue are:

cherry mx switch contact 45337
animation showing Cherry MX switch's electric contact mechanism
Cherry MXbrownblueredblack
Key FeelTactile BumpTactile ClickSmooth (Linear)Smooth (Linear)
ResistanceMedium-LowLowVery LowFirm
Cherry MX keyswitch force travel diagram
Cherry MX key switches force travel diagram. [image source http://deskthority.net/wiki/File:CherryMXForceTravel.png ]
Max Keyboard Premium PCB mount Cherry MX Switch, O-Ring and Keycap Sampler Kit

Key Switch Tester

There are many other color-coded Cherry MX switches, but less common.

Cherry MX Compatible Switches

Some Chinese companies make Cherry compatible switches.

Cherry MX compatible switches are not EXACTLY the same as those from Cherry the company. For example, Cherry MX Red has a actuation force of 45g, but Kailh Red is 50g. That 5g difference, as far as key feel goes, is a big difference.

In the market, those by Cherry is usually more expensive. Partly due to brand name, partly due to shortage.

There is no universal agreement on whether the Chinese ones are better or worse. I do recommend them, because they are cheaper, and the quality is not worse.

Kailh

Kailh Switch is a Cherry MX compatible switch, made by Kaihua Electronics (凯华).

Gateron

Gateron switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gateron (惠州佳达隆电子科技有限公司).

see Kailh Switch Keyboards

Outemu

Outemu switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gaote Corp. 东莞市高特电子有限公司.

Box Switch, Zealio Switch

Some Chinese companies are creating their own, new, switches.

They are considered better than Cherry MX. (smoother, less scratchy.)

Logitech GX Blue Clicky

Logitech GX Blue Clicky came out in 2018. It is made by Kaihua. It is just a variation of the Cherry MX Blue.

The stem is Cherry MX compatible, so you can buy keycaps.

paw 3d keycap 62445-s333x188
Cute Keycaps

Romer-G Key Switch

Logitech invented Romer-G switch in 2015.

Romer G key switch 41681
Romer-G key switch

As of 2018-09, there are 2 variants.

Characteristics:

Romer G key switch 06133
Romer-G key switch
Romer-G key switch keycaps 59a11
Romer-G key switch keycaps
Logitech G413 Carbon keyboard review (Romer-G) by Chyrosran22

Romer-G key switch is used by Logitech, e.g.

Roccat Titan

This came out around 2018-10.

Roccat Titan key switch rhpz5
Roccat Titan key switch

the Titan Switch is a tactile switch, and supposedly faster reaction time.

Used in Roccat Vulcan Keyboard

The switch may be made by a Chinese company named TTC. http://www.ttc9.com/

TTC (惠州市正牌科电有限公司 — Huizhou Zhengrui Electronics Co., Ltd., abbreviated 正牌科电) is a manufacturer of switches, digital encoders and connectors. TTC appears to be related to Trantek Electronics Co., Ltd., also founded in 1998, and who appear to offer the origin of the abbreviation “TTC”.

[https://deskthority.net/wiki/TTC]

Infra-Red Optical Key Switch

Optical key switch became popular around 2016.

light strike optical switch 4bcc8
light strike optical switch
Tosoro's optical switch tech
infra red optical switch 27658
infra red optical switch

Optical switch is great because it does not need metal contact. Meaning, no wear, last longer, and easier to be water resistant.

Optical switch are actually not more expensive then Cherry MX.

[see Optical Key Switch Keyboard]

Topre Switch (Electrostatic Capacitive Switch)

Another type of expensive switch is by capacitance. In particular, one made by Topre Corporation, of Japan.

hhkb topre switch 36984
Topre switch mechanism.
Topre key switch
Topre key switch. US patent 4584444

The Topre switch's feel came from its rubber dome, not the spring.

keyboard Topre switch rubber dome.mp4

Topre key switch is most famously used in Happy Hacking Keyboard.

I don't like topre switch. It has a hit-bottom finger-shock problem. Topre switch, got this rubber dome, you have to hit with certain force, and because it is rubber dome, the dome collapses at some point and sucks you down, thus hit bottom and creates a finger impact shock feel. I don't have this problem with any Cherry MX switches, nor with IBM buckling spring switch, nor romer-g.

[see List of Keyboards with Topre Switch]

White Alps Strongman Switch

Don't know how this switch works, but i have used one for a couple of years. It's excellent. See: Keyboard: Matias Mini Tactile Pro. This keyboard has strong presence in Mac community.

Matias mechanical key switch
Matias mechanical key switch

The Matias mechanical key switch is used by Keyboardio model 1. See Keyboardio Review

Hall Effect Switch

XMIT Hall Effect Switch Keyboard

Key Noise Comparison

Mechanical Keyboard Noise Comparison

Does Mechanical Keys Matter?

Mechanical Keyboard and Repetitive Strain Injury

What Does “Mechanical” Keyboard Means

computer keyboard key switch expert Thomas Ran (aka Chyrosran22) tells us

When is a keyboard “mechanical”? by Chyrosran22 Published on Dec 19, 2018

Which Switch is Best?

In general opinion, the ranking is ROUGHLY like this:

  1. IBM Buckling Spring or Topre. (each has strong fans, but not everyone likes them.)
  2. Hall Effect or Optical
  3. Box Switch or Zealio. Considered improvement of Cherry MX design.
  4. Cherry MX or Clone

Note, it's impossible to rank them, as different people have different preferences.

My own preference is ROUGHLY this:

  1. Optical or Hall Effect. Best Tech.
  2. Box Switch or Zealio.
  3. Cherry MX red or blue or clone. 45g force is perfect. Some red clones need 50g force.
  4. IBM Buckling Spring. (i cannot tolerate the loudness)
  5. Topre (hate it)
  6. Cherry MX black (hate it)

Reference

Key Switch Topic

  1. Key Switch Mechanisms
  2. Noise Comparison
  3. What's NKRO, N-key Rollover?
  4. List of Keyboards with Topre Switch
  5. XMIT Hall Effect Switch
  6. Kailh Switch
  7. Mechanical Keyboard and RSI

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