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. For example, basically all laptop keyboard and Microsoft 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, 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

laptop keyboard scissor-switch mechanism laptop keyboard scissor-switch mechanism 2-2
Scissor switch on laptop. The middle is your rubber dome. image source
keyboard scissor switch mechanism
keyboard scissor switch mechanism. image source

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.

Buckling-spring Switch

This is most famous as used by IBM Model M keyboard, and loved by many programing geeks.

model M keyboard
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, CLICK, it buckles, crumpling and gave up all resistance!

This tech is old. If you want the tactile feel of the click, you can get from keyboards that use “Cherry MX Blue” switch. 〔►see List of Keyboards with Mechanical Switches〕 But if you really want buckling-spring, you can buy it from Unicomp. See: IBM Model M keyboard, Unicomp.

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

animation cherry mx red
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.

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

Tactile

The Brown and Blue types are good for writers or programers. When you press down, after certain point, there's a bump feel, then after that the pressure is reduced. This lets you know whether a key has been registered.

animation cherry mx brown
Cherry MX Brown Switch mechanism. Tactile but no audible click. Most popular.

Examples Cherry MX brown

animation cherry mx blue
Cherry MX Blue Switch mechanism. Tactile with audible click.

The primary difference between Brown and Blue is that Blue has a more precise click point, and makes a audible “click” sound, and Blue is lighter. For many people, the major complaint about Blue is that it's noisy.

Examples Cherry MX blue

There are few others, but less common.

Cherry MXbrownbluegreenredblack
Key FeelTactile BumpTactile ClickTactile ClickSmooth (Linear)Smooth (Linear)
ResistanceMedium-LowLowFirmVery LowFirm
Cherry MX keyswitch force travel diagram
Cherry MX keyswitch force travel diagram. 〔image source http://deskthority.net/wiki/File:CherryMXForceTravel.png
Cherry MX keyswitch
Cherry MX keyswitch
Max Keyboard Premium PCB mount Cherry MX Switch, O-Ring and Keycap Sampler Kit
wasd 6-key cherry mx switch tester
Key Switch Tester

Cherry MX Key Switch Sound Comparison

Here's a video that compare the noises they make.

Mx Brows vs Blues vs Reds

Note: the only one that intentionally makes a sound, is the MX Blue, which makes a click sound.

All the others, do not make any noise if you press the key slowly. The sound came from the key hitting bottom. Also, they don't sound as loud as in the video. In the video, the wooden desk and recording makes it louder.

Another way to reduce noise is to buy those rubber ring switch dampeners. You put them in each key yourself.

cherry rubber o ring switch dampeners
Rubber O Ring Switch Dampeners
Truly Ergonomic Keyboard (Cherry MX Brown), typing starts at 5:40

Cherry Compatible Switches

Several companies make Cherry compatible switches.

Kailh switch

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

see Mechanical Keyboard: Kailh Switch

Outemu/Gaote switch

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/

Gateron switch

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/

Romer-G Key Switch

Romer G key switch 41681
Romer-G key switch, from Logitech.
Romer G key switch 06133
Romer-G key switch

Romer-G key switch are used by Logitech. They are quite! Used by Logitech G910 Orion Spark Keyboard and Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum Keyboard

Electrostatic Capacitive Switch: Topre 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 primarily came from its high-quality rubber dome, not the spring.

Topre switch rubber dome in action.

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

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 Keyboard Review

Hall Effect Switch

Hall Effect Switch Keyboard

Does Mechanical Keys Matter?

Yes. See: Does Mechanical Keyboard Reduce Risk of Repetitive Strain Injury?

List of Keyboards with Mechanical Switches

List of Keyboards with Mechanical Switches

List of Keyboards with Topre Switch

List of Keyboards with Topre Switch

Key Ghosting, n-key Rollover

Another issue commonly discussed with key mechanism is key ghosting and n-key rollover. Basically, it means how many keys can be pressed simultaneously. See: What's NKRO, N-key Rollover? .

References

Key Switch Topic

  1. Computer Keyboard Design Flaws
  2. Guide to Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms
  3. What's NKRO, N-key Rollover?
  4. Blank Keycaps vs Labeled Keys
  5. Keyboard Keycaps: ABS, PBT
  6. Keyboard Key Label Printing Technologies
  7. List of Keyboards with Mechanical Switches
  8. List of Keyboards with Topre Switch
  9. Hall Effect Switch Keyboard
  10. Mechanical Keyboard: Kailh Switch
  11. Does Mechanical Keyboard Reduce Risk of Repetitive Strain Injury?
  12. List of Hardware Dvorak Layout Keyboards