Keyboards are a necessary input device for computers, but despite being so ubiquitous, yet not many pay too much attention to them. As long as they work, what else is there to know about it, right? However there are plenty of differences from keyboard to keyboard, why some are viewed as “better”, why some of them cost more, why some of them seem to be preferred by gamers, and so on.

To keep things simple, we’ll refer to keyboards that come bundled with computers and those that you usually find in offices or schools as “normal” keyboards.

What are the differences between mechanical keyboards and “normal” keyboards

Image credit – Wtshymanski/Wikipedia

There is a difference between normal keyboards and those that are called mechanical, and that’s mostly in their typing mechanisms.

Normal keyboards typically rely on a membrane mechanism, which is this piece of rubber separating the keys from the PCB (see photo above). When a key is pressed, it makes contact with the PCB and completes the circuit, which then transmits the signal to your computer and converts it into a character.

This is the same concept with mechanical keyboard, but instead of a piece of membrane covering the entire board, a mechanical keyboard has individual devices called “switches” that exist for every single key.

Note that not all switches are created equal. There are differences between switches but we’ll get to that in another article.

Why choose a mechanical keyboard?

So now that you have a basic idea of what is a mechanical keyboard, you might be asking why should you choose one over a normal keyboard, and is it worth the price that mechanical keyboards typically command? This is a hard question to answer as it boils down to personal preferences and needs, and to a certain degree, your willingness to spend.

However there are clear advantages that a mechanical keyboard has over a normal keyboard. As each key has its own switch, this means that in the event that the switch fails, only that key stops working and replacing it is a relatively cheap (but not necessarily easy) process.

This is versus rubber membranes where if part of the membrane fails, you might have to swap the entire membrane out which can be tricky as aftermarket membranes aren’t particularly common (presumably membrane keyboards are generally too cheap for people to bother to make aftermarket parts).

Cherry MX Brown switches

Speaking of durability and reliability, mechanical switches are also rated to have a lifespan of millions of keystrokes PER switch. This means that there’s a good chance that you could probably go through several computer upgrades, jobs, or finish your university degree before your switches wear out.

Apart from durability and reliability, many can agree that mechanical keyboards are generally more pleasurable to type on. This can’t really be measured or quantified, but membrane keyboards tend to feel very mushy, whereas mechanical keyboards usually have very distinctive feels per key press. If you’re someone who doesn’t type a lot or has to write for a living (such as the author), then maybe this won’t be such an important factor for you in making your decision.

However the ability to have distinctive presses per key is also important for some, such as gamers who might need to have the tactile feedback to know that when they issue a command, it is registered.

So the question is, is all this worth the price? Normal keyboards can be priced as low as $15-20, while mechanical keyboards can be priced $100 and upwards, and with such a huge difference we’re sure that some are rightfully wondering if it is worth it. That is a hard question to answer as we imagine that we all come from different backgrounds, needs, income levels, and so on.

Choosing the right mechanical keyboard for you

Assuming the prices of mechanical keyboards hasn’t thrown you off yet, and you’re thinking that you want to invest in one, how do you choose?

First of all you will need to identify your needs. For the most part a lot of keyboards will be able to cover most of your needs, but sometimes there are some that are better suited than others.

For example when it comes to gaming, there might be some gamers who can appreciate having additional buttons for shortcuts or macros. Gaming keyboards also come with lighting effects which gamers can use to group clutters of keys together for certain commands. Some gaming keyboards also come with extended and padded wrist rests that will help make it more comfortable for use over extended periods of time.

There is also the question of portability, where some might want to bring their keyboards with them, and this is where size and weight matters. There are plenty of keyboard designs out there that don’t conform to what a normal keyboard would look like, and those are some of the options that can be looked at.

Example of a smaller, non-traditional keyboard layout

For example there are keyboards that don’t include the number pad, then there are some that don’t feature arrow keys, then there are some that don’t even have a number row (more on this in a later article), so those are some of the considerations you can think about.

Then there is also the issue of noise. Admittedly mechanical keyboards aren’t exactly the quietest of keyboards, although there are some who actually find the sound of typing pleasant to listen to. However if you work in an office environment, you probably don’t want to make too much noise although thankfully there are mechanical keyboards that are quieter than others, and there are also aftermarket solutions to help reduce noise even further.

Is there is a “best” brand of keyboard?

There is no “best” brand when it comes to mechanical keyboards as like we said, this will vary depending on your needs. However there are some brands that are quite well-known and mainstream and can be readily found in stores, which we have listed below:

  • Gaming – Razer, Logitech, SteelSeries, Cooler Master
  • General typing – Das Keyboard, Ducky
  • Portable – Vortex

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