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Mechanical keyboards? Fad or necessity?

Mechanical keyboards? Fad or necessity?

by Vyncent ChanNovember 5, 2014
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IBM Model M, photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Sometime before computers were mainstream, mechanical keyboards were the norm, then around the 1990s membrane switches began to replace the mechanical key switches, as it was quieter, weighed less, and suited the needs of the new laptop generation. This was also an advantage for the manufactures because membrane keyboards were much cheaper to produce.

Photo courtesy of Google

There are lots of types of keyboards nowadays. Now most mechanical keyboards on the market are aimed at gamers with some exaggerative claims on how much better your gaming performance will be on them. The difference in gaming performance may be debatable but as anyone who has ever bought and used a mechanical keyboard before, mechanical keyboards feel very different (not necessarily better, YMMV) and cost a whole lot more. Most of the PC gaming master race cough will also recommend any newcomer to go for a mechanical keyboard. Today we want to discuss whether mechanical keyboards are a necessary addition to your arsenal. Personally, I have bought a membrane keyboard for just RM15.90. My current mechanical keyboard is a pre-owned CM Storm TK, and it still costs RM250. So you do see a major difference in pricing right there off the bat.

Everyone has different preferences, there are four types of Cherry MX switches which are more common and you really have to try each switch before you know which you will prefer. Of course mechanical switches aren’t limited to Cherry MX switches only. There are also Topre switches. Adding to that there are a few custom designed switches by Razer and Logitech. Basically it means you don’t have to settle for a type of switch until you find one that really suits you. I personally prefer brown switches but I had to take Reds to prevent annoying my roommate with the noise.  Not that the difference is major but I am a cautious person. For more info on the different types of switches, go here to read up. However as I said earlier, the differences need to be felt in person.

So how does this keyboard differentiate from a membrane keyboard? First off, it’s heavy. Way heavier and way more solid. This applies to most mechanical keyboards too. And you have a very smooth keypress thanks to the linear red switches.

This does not apply to every mechanical keyboard. Blue and brown switches are tactile. It doesn’t feel like it’s resisting your press, while a membrane keyboard feels like it doesn’t want to be pressed and finally relents only because you were so pushy. It’s really smooth and the feel is akin to poking a chubby guy’s fat. Except it has a clack at the end. Fat guys normally yell or hit back. The keyboard just goes clack. But I think the noise is really a nice feedback to know that you have pressed a key. If not then it may be hard to know if you pressed the key since they are so soft. The red switches are less tiring to use compared to membrane keyboards. I notice I don’t have to crack my fingers after every paragraph like I used to with a membrane keyboard. Typing is very comfortable but according to many articles the best switches for typing are the tactile switches (Blues and Browns).

On a more specific note, the keyboard I have has a unique tenkeyless design.

Instead of just sawing off the numpad and calling it a tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard, CM went the extra step to merge the directional keys and command keys into the numpad. The result is a shortened keyboard with everything in it. And this is also a benefit of mechanical keyboards. Rarely will you find tenkeyless membrane keyboards or custom ones. There are lots of unique designs for mechanical keyboards, for example this petite beauty.

Vortex KBT Pure Pro, photo courtesy of MechKB

Or even custom keycaps for those who want to stand out from the crowd.

Gaming wise, I believe it doesn’t really make a huge difference. It does make rapid keypresses a lot easier than on a membrane keyboard because mechanical keys actually actuate at about half of the travel, compared to membrane keyboards which only actuate right at the end of the travel, but that’s about it. So you may have better results when gaming on a mechanical keyboard if you always play games that need a lot of spamming keys quickly. I play Need for Speed Rivals and I find it’s easier to make fine adjustments when drifting with this keyboard. Of course it’s not the best example but there is a slight difference. Maybe not worth the RM250 I spent.

So are mechanical keyboards necessary for everyone? Yes if you have extra money to spend. You do get more comfort and better durability but you won’t enjoy a world of difference. And gaming performance isn’t really that affected if you aren’t having L337 skills just limited by your keyboard. I would say go for it if you can. Mechanical keyboards are definitely not a fad but definitely not a necessity.

About The Author
Vyncent Chan
Technology enthusiast, casual gamer, pharmacy graduate. Strongly opposes proprietary standards and always on the look out for incredible bang-for-buck.

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