WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES A MECHANICAL KEYBOARD ACTUALLY MAKE?
You may have heard people talk about mechanical keyboards. Maybe a friend has one, maybe you’ve seen a pro-gamer using one? Either way, you’ve probably heard universally good things about them, even though the reason they’re so great isn’t immediately obvious to everyone. You’ll find that pro gamers who use a PC won’t be using a keyboard that isn’t mechanical. Regardless of genre, pro’s from Counter Strike Global Offensive, Starcraft 2, DOTA, League of Legends etc all use mechanical keyboards. Owning a decent mechanical keyboard is one of the easiest ways to up your game and compete like the pro’s do!
Mechanical keyboards are all about feeling “that click”, a real tactile response that you can notice in your fingertips when using your keyboard. Whether you’re gaming or typing, working harmoniously with all of your gear is paramount. You want to be able to work seamlessly with your kit and not take your eyes of the screen. One of the best ways to achieve this is to use a keyboard that you can feel and hear, that responds quicker to your key presses and gives feedback to you in the way you prefer. Until you game using a mechanical board you may not realise how useful the feedback from your keyboard is, and the best part is that there are clear, defined keys and setups for mechanical keyboards that mean you can choose what works best for you.
There are still great non mechanical gaming keyboards if you’re not completely sold on the idea of mechanical switches. These are sometimes a bit cheaper and can give a great advantage over a standard, non gaming keyboard. The Razer Anasi is a very popular option that has programmable macro keys, media buttons and precision responsive keys.
If you’ve ever seen inside a conventional keyboard, which is called a membrane keyboard, you’ll have seen a big rubbery strip sitting between the keys and the circuit board. This strip has rows of rubber domes moulded into it, one to sit under each key cap, that gets crushed when a key is pressed, which completes a circuit on the board below. If that doesn’t sound like a very technical or precise way for a gaming keyboard to work, that’s because it’s not. It’s just always been the cheapest and easiest way for a company to make a keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are designed to embrace the idea that building the best possible keyboard is more important than making it easy or as cheap as possible. A mechanical keyboard has a plastic switch under every keycap that can be pushed down. This gives you a much better feel as it makes each key really feel like its own button. A mechanical keyboard is like pressing a lightswitch, whereas your old membrane keyboard is like pressing a lightswitch through foam. It’s still going to turn the light on, but much slower, and you may not be able to feel when the switch actually gets pressed. A keyboard like the Cooler Master Quickfire TKL has mechanical Cherry MX Blue switches that work in this way, with each key working as an independent switch.
When you hit a key on a keyboard, it gets compressed and completes an electronic circuit, which registers the key press and sends a signal to the computer. The distance that the key has to be pushed down before the press is actually registered by the keyboard is different for different types of board. This distance required to register a key press is called the actuation point. A typical membrane keyboard will have an actuation point of about 4mm, whereas a mechanical board will be roughly half of that. Some mechanical boards even have a bump that you can actually feel when the key hits its actuation point.
Using a mechanical keyboard instantly feels very different, and the benefits shine through into your gaming very quickly. Most people won’t realise how feeling the key properly depressing and hearing a slight audible click can really change how they use a keyboard. The tactile response and slight sound really help give feedback that you pick up almost subconsciously when you’re typing or hitting keys, which really helps you focus more on the game. Pretty quickly you will notice the improvements in your typing speed and accuracy, as you’re getting so much feedback from your keyboard, which you probably never knew you were missing!
Mechanical boards are often bigger, heavier and tougher. A keyboard with a rubber membrane has 1000 ways that it’s going to wear down and break before a mechanical keyboard does. All mechanical keyboards are considered to be much more durable than conventional boards. Most mechanical boards will have a life cycle rating of around 50 million keystrokes. Compare that to a membrane keyboards typical 1 – 10 million keystrokes and you can see why a mech board is also a good long term investment.
Lots of people like the click you can hear from a mechanical keyboard as it gives them great feedback about the key press. Depending on what keys you get, in what keyboard, the audio feedback can vary hugely. There are a variety of keys that will give you a good click when pressed, which is a great way to get feedback from your keyboard. But if that’s not for you, it’s easy to get a completely silent keyboard that gives no audible response. The design of a mechanical board with the real plastic switches allows for a huge amount of freedom here.
The Loudest – Cherry MX Blue Switches
Quiet Option – Cherry MX Red Switches
Stealth Choice – Razer Mechanical Switches
Another important factor is N-Key rollover. This basically means that your mechanical keyboard will register each key press individually. So if you decide to press every key at once, your operating system will know each and every keyboard that you’re pressing. You may have experienced this drawback with membrane keyboards where often if you press 3 or more keys at once, some won’t be registered. You may even get a beep or an error. When you’re gaming, you often need to be able to do some combination walk, strafe, reload, crouch, sprint, check the scoreboard. If you can’t press multiple buttons at once then you’re going to be held back here. When you do pull off that sick micro and hit 300APM, it will all be pointless if your keyboard can’t keep up with your fingers!