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Click this: All about mechanical keyboards and why you need one

Alex Cocilova | Jan. 22, 2014
Keyboards are of two kinds: (1) the cheapo, no-name slabs that are bundled by the millions with PCs, and (2) the ones that are actually worth using--and in most cases, that's a mechanical keyboard. Stalwart friend to gamers and power typists alike, the mechanical keyboard's physical operation and durability make it the gold standard for computer use. It's not the only option out there--good alternatives abound for wireless, ergonomic, and other purposes--but if nothing else, ditching that freebie is something everyone should do. Read on to learn more about why a mechanical keyboard should be in your future.

Cherry switches (manufactured by ZF Electronics, formerly Cherry Corporation) are the most common type. Every type is denoted by a color and varies in actuation force (how much pressure is required to actuate) and in audibility levels.

Cherry MX Black (Linear switch)
Cherry MX Black was introduced in 1984 and is one of the oldest Cherry switches. It requires a higher-than-average actuation force at 60 grams, so a little more "oomph" is required for it to register. The key travels 4 millimeters to the bottom; however, actuation is registered at 2 millimeters. Because the keys use a linear switch, they have no noticeable "click" unless you bottom out.

Black switches aren't ideal for typing due to the lack of feedback and higher actuation force. However, the higher actuation prevents accidental keystrokes, making black switches very popular for gamers with accuracy issues. The stronger spring also pops the key back quickly, which is great for games that require double-tapping, such as hitting W twice to sprint.

Cherry MX Red (Linear switch)
MX Red was introduced in 2008 to focus on the PC gaming crowd. Like Cherry MX Black, this linear switch has no tactile feedback and is relatively silent, though it requires much less force to actuate at 45 grams. It also travels 4 millimeters to the bottom, but actuates at 2 millimeters.

The lower actuation force makes rapid keystrokes much easier than MX Black switches, but mistyping is also a more common issue. Certain games require quicker actuation, such as first-person shooters, while others, such as real-time strategy games, require accuracy. It's up to the gamer to decide which works best. Cherry MX Red switches are generally more expensive due to higher demand.

Cherry MX Brown (Tactile)
Cherry MX Brown is the quietest of the tactile bunch and requires very little actuation force (45 grams). Like the other Cherry switches, it actuates at 2 millimeters, but it can travel as far as 4 millimeters to the bottom.

Unlike linear switches, browns have a soft bump to indicate actuation, but very little "click." This middle-of-the-road approach makes Browns viable for both typists and gamers: their quiet nature is perfect for typing in an office setting; for gaming, their close reset and actuation points allow quick double-taps. 

Cherry MX Clear (Tactile)
Cherry MX Clear switches are considered the "stiffer browns." Their actuation force is 55 grams, with a peak force (force to press the key all the way down) of 65 grams.

They're often compared to the feel and sound of a  rubber-domed keyboard, with a more tactile feel and higher actuation force. Though some enjoy the stiffer resistance, they're not as popular as other types and are generally difficult to find on today's keyboards.


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