Guide to Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms
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?)
Scissor-switch is found in laptop computers, starting around ~2002. It is still rubber dome, but is enhanced by a scissor-like mechanism above the rubber membrance.
This is most famous as used by IBM Model M keyboard, and loved by many programers.
[see IBM Model M keyboard]
You press the key, the spring compresses, then at some point, it can't take it anymore, CLICK, it buckles, crumpling and gave up all resistance!
you can buy Buckling-spring keyboard from Unicomp Keyboard
Buckling-spring switch is the most loud.
Cherry MX Switches
Cherry Corporation of Germany makes mechanical switches called Cherry MX. It is the most popular mechanical switch. There are several different models of Cherry MX, with different properties of feel. These models are color coded. They are:
Linear Action: Red, Black
MX Red requires the least pressure to activate the key. It's really nice. Typing on it is effortless.
For example of Cherry MX Red keyboards, see Cherry MX red
Cherry MX Black is same as Red, except more force is required. I don't like MX Black at all.
For example of Cherry MX Black keyboards, see Cherry MX black keyboard
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.
Note, however, the bump point is not exactly when key is registered. I don't think there are many key switches that this actually happen.
The Brown and Blue types are often preferred by touch typists. (i myself prefer Red. Am a programer and writer.)
Examples Cherry MX brown
The difference between Brown and Blue are:
- Blue has a very definite click point, and makes a audible “click” sound
- Blue is very noisy, it's all clicky clicky.
Examples Cherry MX blue
There are few others, but less common.
|Key Feel||Tactile Bump||Tactile Click||Tactile Click||Smooth (Linear)||Smooth (Linear)|
Note, switch tester is helpful in choosing a switch, but pressing 1 key on a switch tester is different from typing on many keys. You need to actually type on the keyboard with a particular switch to be sure if you really like it.
Cherry MX Compatible Switches
Several companies make Cherry compatible switches. (the patent expired)
All these Cherry MX compatible are not EXACTLY the same as those from Cherry the company.
Some say it's better, some say worse, some say they can't feel any difference.
But in the market, those by Cherry MX tends to be more expensive. Partly due to brand name recognization, partly due to shortage.
I actually recommend those Chinese clones, if you actually have to decide.
Gateron switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gateron (惠州佳达隆电子科技有限公司). company site: http://www.gateron.com/
Kailh Switch is a Cherry MX compatible switch, made by Kaihua Electronics Co., Ltd.”. (凯华).
Outemu switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gaote Corp. 东莞市高特电子有限公司. Home page http://www.cngaote.com/
Box Switch, Zealio Switch
Some Chinese companies are creating their own, new, switches.
- “Box Switch” is a new switch from Kaihua. Cherry MX stem compatible.
- “Zealio Switch” from Gateron. Cherry MX stem compatible.
Common consensus is that they are better than the originally Cherry MX.
Logitech GX Blue Clicky
This is came out in 2018. It's actually just a clone of the Cherry MX Blue, made by Kaihua, with little variation. The stem is Cherry MX compatible, so you can buy many of the artistic keycaps out there.
[see Artistic Keycap Gallery]
Romer-G Key Switch
As of 2018-09, there are 2 variants.
- Romer-G Tactile. (the original Romer-g. Came out in 2015. Similar to Cherry MX Brown)
- Romer-G Linear. New, in 2018.
- The romer-g switch has hollow stem, which allows LED to be placed in center. So that key lights can shine brighter thru the key label, and without light leaking at bottom.
- Romer-g switch is noticeably more quiet than any Cherry MX switches.
- Romer-g switch is supposed to last even longer than Cherry MX switches.
Romer-G key switch is used by Logitech, e.g.
Infra-Red Optical Key Switch
This is new tech, came out around 2016.
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 compatible ones.
Topre Switch (Electrostatic Capacitive Switch)
Another type of expensive switch is by capacitance. In particular, one made by Topre Corporation, of Japan.
The Topre switch's feel came from its rubber dome, not the spring.
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.
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.
The Matias mechanical key switch is used by Keyboardio model 1. See Keyboardio Review
Hall Effect Switch
Key Noise Comparison
Does Mechanical Keys Matter?
Which Switch is Best?
In general opinion, the ranking is ROUGHLY like this:
- IBM Buckling Spring or Topre. (each has strong fans, but not everyone likes them.)
- Hall Effect or Optical
- Box Switch or Zealio. Considered improvement of Cherry MX design.
- Cherry Mx or Clone
Note, it's impossible to rank them, as different people have different preferences.
My own preference is ROUGHLY this:
- Optical or Hall Effect. Best Tech.
- Box Switch or Zealio.
- Cherry MX linear clone. Better, cheaper, than Cherry MX.
- Cherry MX red or blue
- IBM Buckling Spring. (cannot tolerate the loudness)
- Topre (hate it)
- Cherry MX black (hate it)
Key Switch Topic
- Computer Keyboard Design Flaws
- Guide to Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms
- Mechanical Keyboard Noise Comparison
- What's NKRO, N-key Rollover?
- Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys
- Keyboard Keycaps: ABS, PBT
- Keyboard Key Label Tech
- List of Keyboards with Topre Switch
- XMIT Hall Effect Switch Keyboard
- Kailh Switch Keyboards
- Mechanical Keyboard and Repetitive Strain Injury
- List of Dvorak Keyboards
- Programable Keyboards with Onboard Memory
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