Now that many people are spending more time at home and in many cases using their PC for gaming and working, some may be thinking of either buying a mechanical keyboard for the first time or changing it up because apparently my keyboard is too loud now that my partner is also stuck at home.
To help with this, we are going to be checking out different types of switches from Cherry MX as well as their latest keyboard 3.0 S. Let’s dive right in.
I have used many different keyboards over the years and, not surprisingly, I have my preferences. So what is the difference between membrane and mechanical keyboards? The most obvious difference is in the way they actuate.
In the membrane keyboard there are a few layers involved to make it work, such as: the top membrane layer, holes layer, bottom membrane layer, as well as conductive traces. When pressing on a key, the layers bend and the traces touch, thus creating a contact which results in a key press.
In mechanical keyboards this is done using switches. We will take Cherry MX Red switch as an example here - by default the key is holding the contacts apart. When the key is pressed down, the stem moves down and contacts touch, which results in a key press.
From this we can see that the membrane keyboard by design has a more of a mushy press which normally lacks that tactile feedback, while a mechanical keyboard is more well... mechanical which definitely has a tactile feeling.
These are the basics of operation for both. Quite frankly there are a lot of different approaches to actually making a keyboard. There is also a common misconception that membrane keyboards are bad, this is not the case. In fact they can be more portable as they are normally made out of plastic, which also makes them quieter and cheaper. Naturally, there are pros and cons to everything. In this video I’d like to delve deeper into mechanical keyboards, but do drop us a comment if you would like us to explore the secrets of membrane keyboards as well.
For this video we managed to secure sample switches from Cherry MX. Here we have 6 different types - Red, Blue, Brown, Speed Silver, Silent Red and Black.
There are four main differences between them.
The first is a switch type - it can be linear or tactile.
Linear switches actuate when the switch is pushed all the way down, while the tactile switch will trigger around half way point. This is very obvious when comparing Red to Brown switches. In a tactile switch lineup there is also a Blue switch which doubles down on the tactile feeling by also introducing a prominent click when pressed. To some it is very satisfying, to others - incredibly annoying.
The second difference between the switches is operating force or better known as actuation force. It’s basically how hard you need to push to activate the switch. Generally switches require between 35 to 100 grams of force. From the ones we have here the Black and Blue switches are 60, with the rest being 45 gram and the difference is actually very noticeable.
What is the point of this though? Let's take gaming as an example - in fast FPS games where you switch weapons or items, you want to have the ability to make an action quickly so lower resistance may be preferred, but in more precision type of games where every misclick can lead to losing the game you may want to go with something that holds more resistance.
The third major difference is key travel which in turn is split into two. First is travel distance to register input (this is on average around 2mm), and second is total travel distance until the key bottoms out (it’is about 4mm). There are exceptions, like these Cherry MX Speed Silver switches, they have 1.2mm pre travel and 3.4mm total travel distance.
The reason why you would need a different travel distance is actually similar to the actuation force that we talked about before.
And the last major difference (which at least in our household has become the most important one) - noise levels. I already mentioned Blue switches, these are loud and to my wife it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Then we have Black and silent Red which retain their original functionality with added dampening to prevent getting a divorce.
Personally I prefer brown switches as this is what I use on a daily basis - they provide nice tactile feedback, need a bit more force to activate thus making less miss-cliks and the sound levels are reasonably quiet.
This leads me well to this keyboard from Cherry - it is Cherry MX board 3.0 S - it is the latest iteration of this keyboard and this particular one uses Brown switches.
I’d call it a minimalist full size wired keyboard. While all the keys are standard size, the overall footprint is actually smaller than my daily driver therefore making it more ergonomic.
It does come at a cost though. This keyboard has some dedicated media keys and also shortcuts under function keys, however there is no dedicated scroll wheel for sound which is something I am personally very used to and here I vividly felt the absence of it.
With that being said, I do really like the build quality, Cherry has used extruded aluminium housing which basically eliminates flex and makes it feel really solid.
I wish it came with adjustable feet and maybe even a palm rest. Unfortunately if you require these - you would need to buy them separately.
One of the “nice to have” features is a detachable micro USB cable so if at some point that needs replacing - it is possible. The connection is recessed so using your own custom cable may not be easy.
The most important element of any keyboard are the keys themselves and as customary for Cherry - these are spot on, after all they are a German company.
Switches feel and work great. Check out the video above for a quick sound test.
This model has two options for keys - either double-shot or front lasered. I personally prefer the covert look of the front lasered ones.
If you are into RGB, then Cherry has got you covered - it comes with a bunch of effects as well as software to customise it. Alternatively you can save some money and get the non RGB version.
Overall this is a solid keyboard that is made out of premium materials and is obviously built to last. As I mentioned earlier I wish it came with adjustable feet and a sound scroll wheel. If it wasn’t for this, I’d probably call it a perfect keyboard, but for now there are a few things they can improve on.
As far as choosing which switches you should go with - well that depends. In this video we covered only Cherry MX switches and explained the differences between them. But Cherry is not the only brand out there. In the last decade there has been a massive push into this market and now there are countless brands that produce similar switches. You have to figure out what you are looking for first and then based on the main parameters I discussed earlier you can figure out what may work for you.
Before going out and buying an expensive keyboard - I would strongly recommend going to a store and testing some of them out or alternatively most switch manufacturers sell sample packs which may be a good starting point.