If you are a PC gamer, you likely know a gaming keyboard is essential for being able to keep a competitive edge. Standard keyboards lack customizable gaming switches which are vital for quick responses without hit and peck. If you have been gaming with the keyboard your computer came equipped with, you are missing intuitiveness. This guide will help you understand the importance of using gaming keyboard switches, how they work, and how they can improve your gaming experience.
Why Membrane Keyboards Are Ineffective
Membrane keyboards, while fine for typing and browsing the web, are simply not cut out for the demands of today’s modern games. These lightweight plastic keyboards or typically made of inferior materials and do not have the customizable options of mechanical keyboards.
Membrane keyboards often come bundled with a computer. In years past, membrane keyboards were made to look “cooler” with lights and special designs so they could be labeled as gaming keyboards. Gamers quickly discovered hardcore gaming would require a completely different level of customization which is why the mechanical gaming keyboard was born.
One of the main reasons for membrane keyboards being ineffective for computer gaming is the stiffness. These keyboards feature a rubber-like or plastic membrane that contacts the board. Gamers often find these keyboards are not fast on the response times and double-clicking is common, making some PC games difficult to play.
What Is a Mechanical Gaming Keyboard?
Welcome to the 21st century, where modern innovation has given rise to some of the most advanced gaming gear ever. Today’s gaming keyboards range from the simple to the ultra-elite and can cost as much as $4,500. No, you do not have to pay that much to take advantage of mechanical gaming keyboards.
A mechanical keyboard does not have the rubber dam that has been a part of keyboard designs since the 90s. Instead, each key is individually installed with a spring system. These keyboard switches offer a much higher level of intuitive play and help you avoid double-clicking or clicking the wrong button, allowing your opponent to annihilate you.
Why Do You Need a Mechanical Gaming Keyboard?
As discussed above, traditional membrane keyboards are not as responsive as mechanical models. The thin rubber or plastic membranes can prevent the keyboard from responding quickly which can spell disaster in an online match.
A mechanical keyboard has a hidden switch underneath each keycap. These switches help prevent common fat-finger play and ensure the keyboard is more durable. These keyboard switches are much like the buttons of a typewriter, and they offer a satisfying click that many gamers rely on for the sensory experience.
When you use a mechanical keyboard and depress a keycap, the spring activates the switch underneath. Some keyboards require more force than others, but all mechanical keyboards offer tactile feedback to let you know a keycap was pressed and not missed. The average actuation force for mechanical keyboards is 45 to 60 grams. This is the amount of force it takes to engage the switch. Some switches may have an actuation level as high as 350 grams. The following are some reasons to consider purchasing a mechanical gaming keyboard.
- They are much more responsive than membrane keyboards.
- Mechanical keyboards provide a stronger level of feedback when typing.
- These keyboards last much longer than membrane keyboards.
- Using a mechanical keyboard is much more comfortable for long hours of gaming.
- These keyboards are much faster, allowing you to dominate in online matches.
Should You Choose Linear or Tactile?
When it comes to choosing a mechanical gaming keyboard, there are a couple of terms you will need to familiarize yourself with before purchasing.
Linear – Linear switches are smooth to the touch and must be pressed all the way down to get a response. These switches are much the same as those found on membrane keyboards.
Tactile – Tactile switches have a small, raised dot in the middle and only require partial actuation force. Instead of having to press the key all the way, you will only need to press it about halfway before it responds.
Which you choose will basically boil down to preference. Some gamers swear by linear switches for gaming and say tactile switches are best for typing. You will get just as many pros for both. We recommend you try both at a computer or electronics store to see which one feels best against your fingertips.
Cherry MX: The Gold Standard of Switches
Cherry MX switches are considered the gold standard when it comes to mechanical gaming keyboards. In most cases, a keyboard manufacturer will either use Cherry MX switches, or they will do their best to copy the design and make it their own.
These German designed and engineered switches are incredibly responsive and they are ultra-comfortable. There are a few types of Cherry MX switches and they are known by their colors.
Reds -The Cherry MX reds are the most common you will find on gaming keyboards. There is a reason these switches are so highly respected in the gaming community and that is because of how well they respond. It takes 45 grams of actuation power to engage the switch. The keys are extremely quiet and the soft touch is ideal for gaming.
Blacks – Cherry MX blacks are similar in design to the Cherry MX reds, with the main difference being the actuation pressure. These switches require a little more force at 60 grams. You will notice a little more resistance over reds and you can choose “clacky” or silent blacks.
Blues – Cherry MX blues have an actuation pressure requirement of 50 grams and they are what we like to call “clicky” switches. Every time you depress a keycap, you will hear that satisfying click. Of course, some people cannot stand the noise. We recommend you try out different Cherry MX switches to see if you prefer noise or silence.
Browns – Cherry MX browns are very popular in the gaming community. These switches are tactile and they respond very quickly, with only 45 grams of actuation pressure needed. These switches are light on sound and spring back quickly.
Silver – These Cherry MX silvers are often referred to as “speeds” because the travel is 1.2mm versus the 2mm standard of many switches. If you are a key pounder who demands speed, the Cherry MX silver switches are for you. These switches only require 45 grams of actuation power.
There are also other Cherry MX switches, but they do not get as much attention in the gaming community as those above. Which you choose will depend on the sound level you want and the required response pressure.
The Best of the Best
As Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the top streamer on Twitch says, one of the biggest mistakes PC gamers make is choosing the wrong keyboard. His book opens with him expressing the importance of competitive gamers using mechanical keyboards.
There are many keyboard manufacturers that are using some of the best gaming switches on the market. If you are not familiar with the top manufacturers of mechanical gaming keyboard switches, allow the following information to inform you of the best of the best.
If you have not yet heard of Razer, they are one of the most respected keyboard manufacturers in America. This global gaming hardware company resides in San Diego, California and opened its doors in 1998.
Razer has been manufacturing its on switches since 2014 and they are very close to Cherry MX switches. Some gamers have found Razer switches are a little more durable than Cherry MX, but they are not quite as responsive. Razer has three main switches, including the following.
Greens – These are clicky switches that require 50 grams of actuation power.
Oranges – These are much quieter and require only 45 grams of actuation power.
Yellows – These are the company’s first linear switches and they require 45 grams of actuation power.
You cannot go wrong with any of Razer’s switches. While they do not offer the buttery response of Cherry MX switches, they are a solid alternative.
Most gamers have heard of Logitech because they have been around since 1981. This Swiss-Italian company is headquartered in Switzerland. Logitech sometimes uses Cherry MX in the manufacturing of their gaming keyboards, but they have also created their own switch, called the Romer-G.
The Romer-G was designed with gamers in mind. Although many gamers love the Cherry MX switches, they were primarily created with typists in mind. The Romer-G is a very quiet tactile switch and it requires only 45 grams of actuation pressure. If you want to compare these to Cherries, they would be very similar to the Cherry MX browns, but many gamers believe they spring back much faster than the browns.
Topre is one of the oldest manufacturers, opening their doors in 1935. Headquartered in Japan, this manufacturer is not as popular with gamers in the Western world.
Topre has created a slightly unusual design for their switches. They are not quite membrane, but they are also not your typical mechanical switch. They have created dome membrane switches that only require 5 grams of actuation force. The extremely light touch required could be problematic for some gamers.
SteelSeries was founded in 2001 and is headquartered in Denmark. Just like other keyboard manufacturers, SteelSeries sometimes uses Cherry MX switches in their keyboards. They also offer proprietary switches.
The QS1 switches are tactile and they are very quiet. Many compare them to the Cherry MX browns, but like Logitech, they designed their QS1 switches with gamers in mind. These switches require only 45 grams of actuation force, so they are ideal for gamers.
Greetech was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in China. While this company certainly does not offer premium switches, these are fine for second-tier keyboards that may be more accessible to some gamers who cannot afford top tier brands.
While these should not be considered cheaply made, they are less expensive than other switches. Greetech’s switches mimic Cherry MX, so the color you choose will align with the same color Cherry MX switch.
If possible, it is wise to choose a mechanical gaming keyboard with genuine Cherry MX switches. Not everyone can afford them which is why Greetech exists. If you cannot afford a keyboard with Cherry MX switches, Greetech or even Kailh are close seconds.
Any of the above manufacturers would offer you a solid switch experience, though some are certainly more premium than others. Knowing what to look for in a mechanical gaming keyboard is crucial.
What to Look for When Looking for a Gaming Keyboard
There are a few considerations when choosing a gaming keyboard. Consider the following when you start researching to find the perfect gaming keyboard.
- Lighting – Lighting is a big deal for many gamers, not only because of the “coolness” factor but also because the lighting helps gamers press the right keys when playing in low light conditions.
- Actuation force – This is a personal choice thing, but the average for gaming keyboards is between 45 and 60.
- Switches – Research to learn which switches were installed in the keyboard. Remember that Cherry MX is the best, but there are other alternatives.
- Size – If you prefer a smaller size for more desk room, choose a tenkeyless keyboard.
You now know more than ever before about mechanical gaming switches and why they are so important for PC gamers. If you have never played a PC game using one of these keyboards, you are missing out on a high level of intuitive play.
While mechanical switches were first designed with typists in mind, manufacturers are now stepping up to the plate and offering amazing models that were designed with PC gamers in mind.
Before making a purchase, we advise gamers to carefully research their options and read customer reviews. The gaming community is quick to let others know when a product fails to perform and reviews can help you in the decision process. As always, learn all you can before purchasing any gaming gear so you do not have buyer’s remorse.