How to Choose the Perfect Mechanical Keyboard Switches?

Mechanical keyboard switches are the core components of a mechanical keyboard. These unique little devices are the main contributors to the tactile and clicky experience. But there are numerous types of keyboard switches with different names and features, do you know which type of switches serve you the best?

In this article, we will dive into the differences of mechanical switches to help you find your perfect fit!



A. The Secret of Mechanical Keyboard Switches

1. What Are Keyboard Switches? 2. The Components of Keyboard Switches 3. Types of Keyboard Switches: Linear, Tactile, and Clicky 4. Parameters of the Keyboard Switches 5. Switch Color Options 6 Longevity of Keyboard Switches 7. Switches Comparison Guide 8. Hot Swappable Keyboard and Soldered Switch 9. What Are the Differences Between 3-Pin and 5-Pin Cherry MX?

B. How to Choose the Right Switch? C. Mechanical Keyboard Switches Brand D. Our Verdict E. Terminology


A. The Secret of Mechanical Keyboard Switches

1. What Are Keyboard Switches?

Mechanical Keyboard Switches, known as Keyboard Switches, are the mechanisms under the keycaps on a mechanical keyboard. They register every single press of a key. The variety of auditory feedback, tactile feedback, and force to activate the switch define your typing experience.

2. The Components of Keyboard Switches

Mechanical keyboard switches consist of metal contacts, the structure of different components directly affects the auditory feedback of the mechanical keyboard, let’s take a look at the below illustration.

a. Upper Housing - Keycap stabilizer with buckle, it is designed to protect the movement of the mechanical switch and belongs to the packaging mechanism.

b. Stem - The part underneaths the keycap that moves down when pressed, creating key travel feel and determines the switch type. The clicky switch is a sub-set type of switch that focuses on producing a tactile bump and loud audible click with each keypress.

c. The Crosspoint Metal Contact - The Stem has two metal contacts composed of a dynamic and a static plate. Once you press a key, the contact mechanism hits the PCB and closes the switch circuit, thus rendering a keypress.

d. Spring - The resistance of the coil spring determines the amount of force needed to actuate the key. It also guides the switch to slide back to its original position. Material, number of coils, and coil diameter affect the restoring force; stainless steel wire, carbon steel, piano wire are common materials for mechanical springs.

e. The Base Housing - This bottom housing component is the final part of the key switch anatomy. The base housing is where the actual installation of the switch to the keyboard, is mounted to the PCB.

3. Types Of Keyboard Switches: Linear, Tactile, and Clicky

Before dividing into the types of mechanical switches, let’s take a look at the characteristics of the mechanical switches.

a. Click Sound

The sound and principle are different when pressing the key, and the difference in the installation medium will also generate different sounds. By pressing down a switch, a clicky switch generates vibration and creates a sound by squeezing the upper housing of the mechanical switch, while the base housing hits the positioning board or PCB board.

b. Typing Feel

  • Bump feedback: A pause and snap-in as the key is pressed down.

  • Straight and smooth: A smooth feeling when pressing the switch from top to bottom.

Based on the sound and feedback given by tapping the mechanical switch, they can be divided into three categories, linear, tactile, and clicky.

  • Linear - The keystroke is consistent and smooth.

  • Tactile - A bump in the middle of travel, usually around the actuation point.

  • Clicky - A bump in the middle of travel accompanied by a sharp “click” sound.

Linear Switches: Smooth as Butter

What Are Linear Switches?

The linear switch is the simplest. It is a switch that focuses on generating a smooth, continuous actuation without any feedback or noise. The key travel is a straight downward drop with no tactile bump or clicks leaf from the moment you start pressing the key, thereby, a key is easily bottomed out . The linear switch is very suitable for those who like quiet and smooth typing.

Should You Get Linear Switches?

Linear switches are both smooth and easy to use, they are very popular in the gaming community, especially the linear speed switch. People who are used to using membrane keyboards may bottom out the switches too often which can cause mild finger pain and discomfort. Therefore, those new to the mechanical keyboard are not recommended to choose linear switches. However, once you get used to linear switches, you will find them very pleasant and fall in love with them!

Tactile Switches: Bumpy and Satisfying

What Are Tactile Switches?

Tactile switches have a small tactile bump that provide resistance and produce a relatively quiet audible click. Based on the feedback as you type, you can tell by the sound and feel at the point of key actuation. Not to mention that they are satisfying and fun to type on.

Should You Get Tactile Switches?

Tactile switches are fun to use and offer you good feedback when typing, allowing you to enjoy a satisfying bump with every key travel. Tactile switch produces bump of varying sizes when key travel is registered (depending on the switch type), and it produces a small clicking sound. It is not as loud as a clicky switch and using it in public will not attract too much attention. For beginners or anyone new to mechanical keyboards, the tactile switch is a good choice and will be a nice upgrade from your membrane keyboard.

Clicky Switches: Loud and Bumpy

What Are Clicky Switches?

The clicky switch produces a tactile bump and a loud clicking sound every time key travel is registered. When typing, you don’t have to bottom out the keys, it provides good feedback, and you get a slight indication of a keypress so you know that everything is working properly. You can release the key immediately after receiving the feedback.

Should You Get Clicky Switches?

Clicky Switch is fun to use and can provide the best feedback of all the switch types, but before buying a keyboard with a clicky switch, you should consider its sound. Although you may like the click sound, using a mechanical keyboard with clicky switches at the office or in a library may not be a good idea, as they are loud and may irritate those around you. Of course, if you are working in a private space or have a dedicated space that does not need to be very close to others, just choose your favorite two-segment keyboard.

4. Parameters of the Keyboard Switches

The various parameters of the mechanical switches determine their performance and feel when you type on them.

  • Total travel distance: represents the maximum distance the actuating element can travel during its operational cycle.

  • Pretravel: represents the distance or angle through which the actuator on the limit switch must travel before it trips the switch contacts.

  • Initial force: represents the magnitude of the force that is needed to produce actuator movement.

  • Actuation force: represents the force received when the switch is triggered.

  • Tactile force: represents the force that a mechanical switch receives when passing through the operating point.

  • Bottom-out force: represents the force when the mechanical switch bottom out.

  • Actuation point: represents the force needed to actuate the key to the keyboard. It’s also called operating position.

  • Tactile point: represents where you can feel in the keypress before bottoming out. On linear switches, there is no tactile position.

  • Reset point: represents the point at which the switch stops registering a keypress.

According to the trajectory curve of different switches when bottoming out, the characteristics of different switches are more intuitive than parameters. Take a look at the following example of Cherry MX switches.

The red line in the figure is the trajectory of clicking the switch, and the black line is the switch rebound.

Image Graph of Cherry MX Red switch
  • The initial force is 30cN, that is, the force greater than 30cN can drive the mechanical switches to move.

  • When the force gradually reaches 45cN, the actuation point is reached. At this time, the travel is 2mm, the switch is closed, and an effective signal is generated, that is, the word has been typed.

  • When you release the key, it resets at 1.9mm, you can press it again at this time. When the actuation point is very close to the reset point, it is very helpful for double-tap or triple-tap, especially in games.

  • When your force reaches 65cN, the total travel of the mechanical switch is 4mm, that is, the mechanical switch has bottomed out. At this time, your finger and the spring's resilience will gradually decrease, and the travel will gradually return to the original point from 4mm.

Image Graph of Cherry MX Blue switch
  • The actuation point at 2.2mm, the reset point is at 1.6mm, and the button can be triggered with only 45cN of force.

  • When the force reaches 65cN and the operating point is reached, the switch will give you tactile feedback. At this time, the button has reached the bottom of its 4mm travel.

5. Switch Color Options

There are a lot of options when it comes to tactile feedback and audible click. Mechanical keyboards are generally classified according to their switches, and switches are classified by color which embodies different design principles. Black, Red, Brown, and Blue switches feature different audible clicks and a tactile bump.

a. Blue Switches – Clicky with a Medium Bump

Blue switch has the most noticeable mechanical feel, with clicky sound and the distinct sense of operating, it’s ideal for gaming or typing, delivers a very comfortable feeling and a sense of rhythm. However, people may find Blue switch has an input latency issue if they prefer a highly responsive switch, so the Blue switch may not be the best option for high-speed typing and long hours typing.

Cherry MX Blue Sound

b. Brown Switches – Tactile with a Medium Bump

It is a relatively modest switch and barely tactile, its sound is not as crisp as the Blue switch. The blue switch also has the lightness of the Red switch, a tactile feel that is close to a membrane keyboard. Brown switch is ideal for those who are new to a mechanical keyboard.

Gateron Brown Sound

c. Red Switches - Linear Without Bump

Red switch requires less force to actuate and light. It is very popular when typing. It will feel like flying between your fingers. It is very suitable for long-time typing and high-speed input. At the same time, the red switch triggers fast and can also take care of it well. To the game, the red switch is also very suitable for novices to buy.

Cherry MX Red Sound

d. Green Switches - Clicky, Stiffer

Similar to the Blue switch, but the spring is stronger which makes it rebounds higher and more powerful. In other words, the Green switch is designed for gaming.

e. Black Switches - Linear, Stiffer

It is a kind of power mechanical switch, it neither tactile nor clicky. The black switch can come across as stiff. This type is thus less suitable for the kind of nimble key work most speed and touch typists depend on, it is not recommended for novices to try the black switch.

f. Silver Switches – Linear, Lighter

It is called the switch of speed, you can trigger it by just pressing it down a distance of 1.2mm. As a result, the delay between pressing down a key and performing an action is kept to a minimum, making Speed Silvers a refreshed favorite for gamers. However, because it is too sensitive, it’s easy to accidentally touch more than one key when typing or playing games.

6. Longevity of a Keyboard Switches

In addition to personal preference for the switch, the longevity of the switch is also a factor to consider. No matter how much money you spend on a mechanical keyboard, you want it to last long enough to work reliably for a long time. The common Cherry MX switches, the Gateron switches, and the OUTEMU switches are typically rated at 50M keystrokes, and the Kevlar switch has a lifespan of around 70M-80M. With frequent use, the switch can last up to 10 to 15 years. Logitech, Razer, and other large keyboard companies have released mechanical switches that can be used more than 80M times. The mechanical switches using Hall effect technology are evaluated as 1B times.

7. Switches Comparison Guide

The following is a list of the most popular mechanical switches and their distinct features. They are classified by linear, tactile, and clicky types, you can sort the features according to preferences, yourself, which will help you determine the most suitable switch for your needs.

8. Hot-Swappable Keyboard and Soldered Switch

The two metal contacts of the mechanical switch need to be connected to the corresponding circuit of the PCB board, usually by soldering, which is known as a soldered mechanical switch. The mechanical switch is directly mounted to the circuit board to ensure stability. However, it is relatively difficult to repair and remove, it may require different switch opener tools or de-solder the switch from the PCB. The hot-swappable mechanical switch is a unit that can be easily disassembled and replaced, and it turns the switch structure of a mechanical keyboard to be fully modular, which can be easily removed and replaced. A hot-swappable mechanical switch offers higher playability, the production requires high-quality workmanship. In the hot-swappable socket, there are two copper plates in the middle of the switch holder that are clamped to each other to hold the pins of the switch, which is compatible with almost all MX switches and has high oxidation resistance.

The user-friendliness of the hot-swappable socket has become a popular choice for mechanical keyboard users, this is because: