You might not know this, but some keyboard manufacturers such as Ultimate Hacking Keyboard and ErgoDox Ez, actually allow you to customize your keyboard, down to the type of switch used. What does that mean? There are different types of keyboard switches, each of which performs the same action, but does so in a very different way. Some are clicky, some are not. Some require more effort to press than others. Outside of possible ergonomic issues, the choice of keyboard switch is one of the most important choices you’ll make when purchasing a keyboard.
The right key switch can mean the difference between the perfect keyboard and one that is absolutely wrong for you.
How do you select a key switch? You have to understand the difference between the switch type, operational force, and travel. Let’s demystify that a bit.
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Selecting switch types
The first thing you must understand is the three different types of keyboard switches. These types are:
- Linear switches: These move straight up and down, have zero tactile feedback, and no clicking noise. These types of switches are very smooth and built for speed. If you’re looking for a silent key, this is what you want.
- Tactile switches: These offer tactile feedback, by way of a slight shift in pressure at the midway point of compression. These types of switches are best suited for typists, because they clearly indicate the key has been successfully pressed.
- Clicky switches: These work in the same fashion as tactile switches, but they offer an obvious “click” when the key is pressed. If you prefer the old-school sound of “clicky” keyboards, this is the switch you want.
Selecting operating force and travel
Once you’ve selected the switch type, you then need to select an operating force and travel, which will correspond with the amount of pressure required to press a key and how far the key travels during depression. How you select this can be a bit more challenging because it depends on the brand of switch your keyboard manufacturer uses. One of the most popular brands is Cherry MX. Most likely, this is the brand you’ll be selecting from.
What operating force does each switch offer in the Cherry lineup? Let’s take a look.
- Cherry Mx Red: Linear switching no sound, 45 cN operating force 2.0 mm pre travel 4.0 mm total travel
- Mx Speed Silver: Linear switching no sound, 45 cN operating force, 1.2 mm pre travel, 3.4 mm total travel
- Mx Black: Linear switching no sound, 60 cN operating force, 2.0 mm pre travel, 4.0 mm total travel
- Mx Brown: Tactile switching slight sound, 55 cN operating force, 2.0 mm pre travel, 4.0 mm total travel
- Mx Blue: Tactile switching slight sound, 60 cN operating force, 2.2 mm pre travel, 4.0 mm total travel
- Mx Silent Red: Linear switching no sound, 45 cN operating force, 1.9 mm pre travel, 3.7 mm total travel
- Mx Silent Black: Linear switching no sound, 60 cN operating force, 1.9 mm pre travel, 3.7 mm total travel
- Mx Green: Tactile with audible click, 80 cN operating force, 2.2 mm pre travel, 4.0 mm of total travel
- Mx Clear: Tactile switching little sound, 65 cN operating force, 2.0 mm pre travel, 4.0 mm of total travel
- Mx Grey: Tactile switching little sound, 80 cN operating force, 2.0 mm of pre travel, 4.0 mm of total travel
From lightest required pressure to hardest, the switches would be:
- Mx Speed Silver
- Mx Silent Red
- Mx Red
- Mx Brown
- Mx Silent Black
- Mx Black
- Mx Blue
- Mx Clear
- Mx Grey
- Mx Green
One thing that’s important to consider is fatigue. If you find keyboards with keys that are hard to press wear out your fingers by the end of the day, you’re going to want to go for a key switch that’s easy to press. How does that break down?
- If you want a light press key switch with no sound, you want the Mx Speed Silver, the Mx Red Silent, or the Mx Red.
- If you want a medium press key switch that offers no sound, go for the Mx Silent Black or the Mx Black.
- If you’re looking for a medium press key switch with a slight sound go for the Mx Brown, Mx Blue, or Mx Clear.
- If you’re looking for a hard press key switch with little sound, go for the Mx Grey.
- If you’re looking for a hard press key switch with an audible click, go for the Mx Green.
Of course, if the manufacturer of your keyboard doesn’t use Cherry switches, you’ll need to contact them to find out what is the equivalent switch best suited for your needs.
And that’s how you select your keyboard switch, based on your click, compression, and travel preferences. Make the right choice and you’ll have a keyboard that’ll have your fingers dancing over the keys like Rogers and Astaire.
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