New to the world of mechanical keyboards and all their moving parts, or simply wanting to refresh your knowledge? Look no further, we've summarised all we know about mechanical switches for you below!
What is a Mechanical Keyboard Switch?
Switches are one of the three core components of any mechanical keyboard, alongside the keyboard base and keycaps. They are mechanical switches, putting the “mechanical” into “mechanical keyboard." The switches sit in the base of the keyboard - covered by the keycaps of your choice - and are the mechanism that actually registers each button press done on the keyboard. As you press down on the switch it eventually reaches a physical switch below, which corresponds to a key press.
The choice of switch for your keyboard represents one of the most important choices you’ll make when building or selecting a keyboard that’s tailored to your preferences: Different switches require various amounts of pressure before the key press is registered, they vary in distance travelled before registering the press and before bottoming out, the sound made, and many more.
What does a switch consist of?
Each switch consists of its top and bottom housing, a stem, a spring and a plate, as well as other parts such as click bars. If you are looking to customise every last component of your keyboard, switches can be fully disassembled and further modified to suit your needs, for example by replacing the spring with a softer or harder one, or manually lubing each part for an even more satisfying Thock sound when typing.
What different types of switches are there?
There are three distinct types of mechanical keyboard switches; neither is clearly better than the other, it all just comes down to what you use your keyboard for and your personal preference. The three types are Tactile, Clicky and Linear, and we’ll explore them in depth below.
What are Linear switches?
Relatively speaking, linear switches are the simplest of the three. As the name implies, they offer a linear experience, meaning they feel the same throughout the entire button press, from first touching the key up until bottoming out. As there is no felt feedback when you reach the point where the press is registered - called the actuation point, usually somewhere along the middle of the total travel distance of the key - you will bottom out on most keystrokes.
Linear switches are generally considered to provide a smooth experience, gliding down easily to and past the actuation point. As the actuation point can be set to be quite high on the switch, gamers often pick linear switches as their weapon of choice as they allow for fast, responsive button presses. Additionally, since linear switches are considerably quieter than their tactile or clicky counterparts, they are well suited for office applications, too.
We recommend: Gateron Pro Switch (35 switches) - Silver
What are Tactile switches?
As the name implies, tactile switches provide tactile feedback - feedback you can clearly feel - when reaching the actuation point. As you press down on the key, you’ll eventually notice a small bump, which corresponds to the actuation point being hit and your key press being successfully registered. As the key does not have to travel all the way down for you to receive feedback, it can make for a more pleasant and faster typing experience. Tactile switches are slightly more noisy than their linear counterparts, though many consider the sound pleasant and as a welcome complementary feature alongside their ability to increase input accuracy and reduce accidental key presses.
We recommend: 3 Pin AJAZZ Switch (45 Switches) - Kiwi
What are Clicky switches?
Clicky switches are largely built in the same way as tactile switches, but, due to slight variations in design, offer a considerably louder click sound when pressed. This type of switch is often considered as the most satisfying to use out of the three options as it adds a layer of audio feedback on top of the tactile feedback. Keyboards equipped with clicky switches make for what many associate with the typical mechanical keyboard experience: Loud, pronounced, satisfying sounds on each keypress. Very enjoyable for the user, not so much for their roommates or coworkers!
Given their sound and feel, they are enjoyed by typists and gamers alike, though they are hardly suited for an office environment.
What should I look out for when choosing switches?
While simply choosing between linear, tactile and clicky switches for your keyboard already very much sets the tone for your keyboard experience, there are small details you may want to pay attention to. We have outlined them for you below:
Describes how the switch is integrated with your keyboard base. Always make sure the switch is compatible with your board before buying!
This value describes how hard you have to press the key in order to register a button press.
The distance the key needs to travel from its resting position before reaching the actuation point, measured in millimetres (mm).
Total Travel Distance
The total distance the key can travel before bottoming out, measured in millimetres (mm).
How many times the switch can be pressed (at least) during its lifespan.
The amount of switches included in the pack being purchased. Make sure you buy enough switches for your board!