Mechanical keyboards are the most common keyboard for general use and gaming due to their speed and reliability.
Being faster and more reliable than membrane keyboards makes mechanical switches more appealing to gamers. Mechanical keyboards last longer and are often rated for more keystrokes. There are also a variety of mechanical switch options from several manufacturers.
Beyond the keycaps and body, the switches are what make keyboards stand out from one another. Depending on the type, switches can make every keystroke loud and tactile, quiet with a smooth actuation, or somewhere in between. Choosing the right mechanical switch type for you depends on what you want from a keyboard.
Switches have an activation point and actuation force. These are technical measurements looking at how long it takes a keyboard to register a press. Actuation force is how hard you have to press to reach the activation point where the button press is registered. The activation point is the point at which the keystroke is registered. Each switch will have slightly different measurements.
Mechanical switches can come preinstalled on keyboards or purchased in packs. Switches are most commonly sold in packs of ten, but some brands offer larger packs. Prebuilt keyboards will typically have a Cherry switch, most commonly the Cherry MX Red. Other brands will have their own switches, such as Razer or SteelSeries. Some manufacturers may not have the same range as Cherry MX, but most have the main three types: tactile, clicky, and linear.
Cherry MX switches started it all, and it shows. This is the most common clicky switch out there. The Cherry MX Blue is a tactile key with a loud click added to it. It has a classic keyboard sound to it that might become annoying to others in the room. This is a loud switch that won’t appeal to someone that prefers to work in silence. If you’re playing a multiplayer game with voice chat, your teammates might also hear the keyboard while your microphone is active.
Clicky tactile switches have an additional component that other switches do not. The clicky sound comes from the additional click jacket that hits the stem and drops to the base of the switch, causing the click sound. The tactile response is from the bulge on the side of the stem. The switch bounces off the irregular surface to create a tactile response.
The Cherry MX Blue has an actuation force of 50 grams and a total travel distance of four millimeters. The 2.2-millimeter actuation point is a bit lower than other options, but the longer distance adds to the tactile, clicky feel. This loud switch is best for people that like to hear and feel each press. It may disturb others around you with its volume. Keyboards with Cherry MX Blue switches will feel and sound similar to the keyboards from the early Windows computer days. If you want a retro feel, Cherry MX Blue is your bet.
There is also the Cherry MX Silent Red. Clicky switches have an additional click jacket component that makes the extra click sound. Other keys do not have the component and are considered “quiet” switches but still make soft clicks from bottoming out. The Cherry MX Silent Red is the same as the Red switch but with dampening to silence the already soft click.
The Silent Reds have an actuation force of 45 grams. These switches have a travel distance of 3.7 millimeters and an activation point of 1.9 millimeters. Opposed to the Cherry MX Blue above, these switches will be quieter and straightforward. If you prefer a traditional gaming keyboard from brands like Corsair, this switch might be up your alley.
The Cherry MX Speed Silver is a fast, linear switch built for gaming keyboards. It’s considered the fastest in the Cherry MX line. If your only requirement for a switch is speed, this will be a great option. It’s quiet with no tactile feedback and has a low spring resistance. The lower resistance and the linear mechanism combine to create a switch that registers directly and quickly.
The Speed Silver has an actuation force of 45 grams and the shortest activation point and total travel distance at 1.2 millimeters and 3.4 millimeters, respectively. This is a fast, quiet, low impact switch best suited for gaming.
HyperX Aqua Switches
HyperX switches are similar to the Cherry MX brand but are only available in HyperX keyboards. There are three types of switch: the tactile Aqua, the linear Red, and the clicky Blue. HyperX’s switches have a shorter travel distance and lower actuation force than the Cherry MX options. The downside to the more contemporary brands, such as the HyperX switches, is the availability. They tend to be limited to the manufacturer.
HyperX’s Aqua switches have a particularly nice feel to them. These switches have an actuation force of 45 grams, an actuation point of 1.8 millimeters, and a total travel distance of 3.8 millimeters. The Aquas are a tactile switch, similar to the Cherry MX Browns. They are slightly louder than the HyperX Red but quieter than the HyperX Blue. Aquas have some sound to them thanks to the tactile bump and bottom out, but not the added click that the Blues will have.
The HyperX Aquas come preinstalled on the Alloy Origins line of keyboards and are not sold separately like other switches on this list. If you’re new to switches, these are a good in-between option because they are only available on ready-made keyboards.
The Glorious Panda switches released in September 2020 and are a very specific style of switch. These switches have a heavier 67-gram actuation force. Glorious Pandas are clicky, tactile, and made for the gamer that wants to build their own keyboard from scratch. They are also only sold in packs of 36, as opposed to the usual 10 pack.
Glorious Panda switches are a unique beast among their competitors. The switches are a mass-produced version of a widely popular “Frankenstein” switch known as the Holy Panda. These switches were originally built using a combination of parts from different switches. Glorious utilizes the original Invyr switch housing molds but seems to have modified the overall feel of the switch.
Like other switches on the list, the Glorious Pandas are compatible with hot-swappable keyboards and RGB lighting. Glorious Panda Switches are also compatible with MX-style keycaps.
These are not the most beginner-friendly of switches. While they might have compatibility and availability on their side, they may be too heavy for gamers who are used to lighter switches like the Cherry MX Silent Reds.
Gateron Ink V2 Silent Black
Gateron Ink V2 Silent Black switches are quiet, linear switches with an actuation force of 60 grams and a total travel distance of four millimeters. They are very similar in name, appearance, and stats to the Cherry MX Silent Black. Both have the same actuation force, but Cherry MX Silent Black has a slightly shorter travel distance at two millimeters.
The Gateron Ink V2 Silent Black switches are a beginner-friendly switch for those looking into the enthusiast market. They’re readily available for purchase and can be shipped in multiple counts. For people looking to customize their own keyboard or build one from scratch for the first time, the Gateron Ink V2 Silent Black switches are a quiet, linear option that will work well for gaming and general use.
Switch choice is a subjective matter, and gamers will have to form their preferences based on their needs. A standard Cherry MX switch may be best for entry-level gaming, while a Glorious Panda or Gateron Ink V2 Silent Black may be better gateways into customizing your keyboard. HyperX switches also serve as a great reminder that peripheral manufacturers are always finding ways to improve the gaming experience.
If you’re looking to build your own keyboard or need more information than just switch types, a good place to begin is the subreddit r/MechanicalKeyboards.
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