Words are important. Words encode knowledge that otherwise would not have been able to be stored and propagated through the generations over land, sea, and time. What could have we ever be as a human species, if it weren’t for the capacity to store and share knowledge for the future generations?
Alas, I’m not going to be talking about the words themselves, but something we seem to take for granted. It is the keyboard. The tool we use in order to bring each letter into existence on a glowing rectangle we call a screen. And I’m not even talking about the virtual kind found on a smartphone either, that is another story worthy of its own stage. Today I’ll be speaking for a type of keyboard, the mechanical keyboard.
Everyone has touched a keyboard in their lives. It is virtually impossible to be living in this digital age of social media and memes without ever interfacing with a keyboard. It is sad, however, that we are bombarded with cheaper, mass-produced keyboard which uses a rubber dome, a type of switch. These types of keyboards employ switches which are nothing more than a rubber dome with a piece of electrically conductive material at the top, which when pressed, descends onto an incomplete circuit thereby completing the circuit, inducing a signal which then produces the letter.
Keyboards of this kind are very cheap to produce but offer only a soft, mushy typing experience. There is no joy in typing with these types of switches, because they do not give a tactile response when they are activated. It feels very uncomfortable, especially on aged keyboards where the rubber domes have stiffened over, and typing on them feels like stabbing dough with your fingers. Rubber domes deform easily, each one doing so at different rates. Prolonged usage of such keyboards can easily result in finger fatigue as each key would require varying amounts of force to be activated. This results in the user having to press every key harder than necessary to compensate for these variances.
Thus, comes an alternative. The mechanical switch keyboard. These switches are popular amongst gamers and writers (although still a relatively small niche) because of the way the switches are constructed. Unlike the simple rubber dome switch, two metal contacts and a spring inside a hollow stem are housed in the mechanical switch. By pressing down on the switch, the stem of the switch descends and allows the two metal contacts on its side to complete the circuit, thus activating the switch. Since it uses a metal spring and contacts, each press is guaranteed to be consistent. The switches do not need to be pressed all the way down to register a keypress, owing to the positioning of the metal contacts. They are also very durable, offering a lifespan of about 50 million key presses, compared to the measly 5 million of rubber dome switches.
Every press of the mechanical switch is a delight. Every word made from the pressing of the switches has a feeling of authority, of prestige. The muscles of each of your fingers are allowed to exercise its full might, pressing down against the spring of each switch, and each successful key press is congratulated with a prominent click sound. It brings back the feeling of typing on the age old typewriters, as they are too mechanical in nature, albeit with a different action. Once you try a mechanical keyboard, it is hard to go back.
Currently, there are four popular types of key switches. Namely, blue, brown, black and red. Blues have an audible and tactile click, almost like a typewriter. It is no surprise that these switches are popular among writers. For the browns, you get a tactile bump on its stem to give a tactile feel every time you press the keys, which also helps with typing. They are also popular among gamers and writers but not to the extent of the blues. Now, black switches need a very strong key press, using about 60g of force to actuate the switch. They do not have a tactile bump unlike the previous switches. Finally, the red switches give the same feeling as the blacks except with an actuation force of only 45g, excellent for gaming but still with a following among writers. All of them were once exclusively produced by a German switch company called Cherry, but ever since the patents expired, other companies have begun to create their own version of the switches.
Mechanical keyboards come in all sorts of configurations as well. Some have cool lighting effects on each key, like patterns that oscillate back and forth and even keys that light up as you press them. Some have built-in USB port hubs so you can connect your mouse to it and save on USB ports for other devices. Most of the keyboards are made to last. You can find them in metallic housing or sturdy plastics. They usually weigh heavier than normal membrane keyboards because they include a metal backplate which fixes the switches in place, giving support to each individual key for comfort and durability. There are even keyboards which are made to look like a vintage typewriter paired with bluetooth functionality to be used with tablets PCs which act like the paper in a typewriter.
All in all, mechanical keyboards are a godsend to those who use the keyboard frequently. They provide consistently solid performance throughout its lifespan, giving each finger a proper way of exercising its duty to punch the keys for that assignment due the next day that you have postponed for almost an eternity.
Article by Muhd. Fadzrin
Photos from r/mk on Reddit
Editors note: Please don’t buy the generic MKBs from “gaming” companies like Razer and such, as you are able to get much better boards for the same price. Do your research!