You may have heard about “mechanical keyboards” in some articles around the Internet. If you haven’t, they’re keyboards that usually come with quite a high price tag but use special keyboard switches that make mechanical keyboard users swear off regular keyboards for life. You might be interested in purchasing a mechanical keyboard yourself. Perhaps you’re an avid typist, or you enjoy playing games that require heavy keyboard usage.
Before you go to the store and pick up the first mechanical keyboard you see, there’s a little something about mechanical keyboards that you should know. They often come in colours that begin with “Cherry MX” at the start, such as “Cherry MX Blue.” Here’s an example.
Don’t be mistaken – this is not referring to the colour of the keyboard itself! You cannot purchase a Cherry MX Red and Blue keyboard and expect them to perform identically as if you bought the red and blue variants of a specific car model. But what do these “Cherry MX” colours mean, and which should you buy?
Keyboard Switches, and Why They Matter
First things first: let’s discuss what “Cherry MX” means. The “Cherry” part refers to the Cherry Corporation who began producing keyboards in 1967. This makes them the oldest keyboard manufacturer in the world.
In the 1980s Cherry began to make a brand of keyboard switch called the Cherry MX switch. Keyboard switches are placed underneath the keys of a keyboard; once a key is pressed, it triggers the switch and lets the computer know that the key has been pressed. These days mass-market keyboards use the dome-switch keyboard which uses little rubber domes under each key to figure out what the user pressed. Dome-switches are cheaper and easier to make, but users report that the keys feel “mushy.” That’s due to the keys being swapped from a mechanical switch to pushing down on rubber.
Why do we care about how a key feels when it’s pressed? For people who use a keyboard on a subconscious basis, the feel of a keyboard can mean everything to them. Proficient typists want to fly through words as they type, so they want a keyboard that requires as little effort as possible to type on. On the other hand, gamers who favour accuracy over typing speed will want keys that require more effort to activate so that accidental key presses don’t ruin their game.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the different colours you can buy and what each one does for the keyboard.
There’s a range of switches you can buy, but the “main” ones you’ll find are “Black,” “Red,” “Brown,” and “Blue.”
Black switches are designed to require the most amount of pressure before the switch activates. This means accidental key presses are less likely to happen compared to a regular keyboard. They also give very little feedback when pressed. Black switches are ideal for those who want to make deliberate and error-free keypresses such as gamers. As a downside, they can be quite fatiguing to use for long periods of time.
Blue switches are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Blue switches focus on very light and effortless keystrokes, which are ideal for those who type a lot. They also provide a solid tactile and audible feedback, meaning that speed typists can mentally “register” each key press. In fact, their audible feedback is almost too good; blue keyboard owners report very loud clicking while typing which can easily distract those close by.
Brown switches are the middle ground between blue and black. If you like the sound of a keyboard that’s good for typing but also want to play games on the side, brown switches are often heralded as the perfect choice. They give a little bit of tactile feedback, so you’ll be able to “feel” and validate each press. It does mean that you sacrifice getting a more specialised keyboard in exchange for a “jack of all trades.” On the other hand, if your computer activities aren’t specialised in itself – typing one moment and gaming the other – the brown keyboard will be ideal.
Red switches are akin to brown ones but are more recent in design. Red switches have a similar ease-of-press as
red blue switches, but they don’t provide any feedback on press. This makes them more ideal for gamers who want to make more deliberate and solid presses than multiple lighter ones. Gamers usually prefer the red switch if they find black switch keyboards too tiring to use.
Remember that you don’t have to purchase a specific switch of keyboard simply because of the recommendations above. It’s entirely possible for a gamer to love blue switches or for a typist to prefer brown over blue. Think about what you’d want from your keyboard – something light and quick, solid and definite, or a mix of both – then purchase the keyboard right for you.