The Complete Guide to Mechanical
Switches on Keyboards
Which switch is the best for your type of gaming? Find out in this guide!
When choosing a mechanical keyboard, it’s often the switches that are the difference. Sure, some offer USB pass-through, some offer RGB, some offer macro keys but this is features that you can say yes or no to. However, when it comes to mechanical switches, you really want to find the perfect switch that is right for just you.
There are a bazillion switches on the market today, with Cherry MX being the biggest manufacturer. However, other companies such as Razer and Logitech have started to make their own switches, and very successfully so. Today, I thought that we will take a look at these three companies and their most popular switches.
Many of them look very alike and that is because they are. We are talking differences in grams and less than a millimeter, yet the feel of the switches can be completely different. But before we talk more about switches, we need to understand what types of mechanical switches that exist.
Types of Mechanical Switches
When talking about mechanical switches, there are mainly three types of switches that are being mentioned, linear, tactile and clicky switches. Each of these types is different from one another and feels different as well.
Linear switches are the most common. They are very simple and suits most people. The thing with linear switches is that they just go down and up again. There is no tactile feedback that gives you a hint on when the key is actually registered. They are also somewhat quiet without that clicky feel that many, especially writers, want.
Tactile switches will give you feedback when pressing the keys. This will let you know when the key is registered, and you can move on to the next key. While it’s only a few millimeters difference, for some, this can be a big timesaver.
Clicky switches are the ones that sound the most. There is a bump in the travel and there is a “click” when hitting that bump. The bump and the click give you that confirmation that the key has been registered.
Learning the Words
When talking about mechanical switches, words like actuation force or total travel distance often comes up. It’s important that you know what all of this means before you start looking at which switch is good for you since you will have a better understanding of what it actually is.
Actuation Force – The actuation force is how much pressure is needed for the key to actually be moved. A switch with an actuation force of 45g will require 45g to start traveling down. Some people have trouble with higher actuation force since it’s not as light to type on, you have to hit the keys harder.
Actuation Point – The actuation point is where the key is actually registered, meaning that this is the point when your computer will actually do the action that this key is assigned to do.
Total Travel Distance – This is pretty self-explanatory. This is the total distance a key can travel down. The actuation point is often somewhere in the middle but depending on the pressure you have to apply on the key and your typing style, some people follow the keycap the whole travel distance. It also does give you some form of “soft landing” since you can start to release the key, thus giving less pressure, before you hit the bottom.
So, now that you have the information and knowledge needed to understand mechanical switches, let’s take a look at some Cherry MX switches!
|Total Travel Distance:||4mm||4mm||4mm||4mm||4mm|
Cherry MX Switches
Since 1967, Cherry has been making keyboards. They are, in fact, the oldest keyboard manufacturer and thus, they have some knowledge on how to make a good keyboard. Today, they are most famous for their Cherry MX switches which they started making in 1985. To separate them, the switches are in different colors and this is also the way they are referenced when talking about Cherry MX switches.
Cherry is making quite a few switches but the most popular are the Cherry MX Red, Brown, Blue, Silver and Black. These are the switches that you will find in most mechanical keyboards today. They offer their own unique feature and I am pretty sure that any of these five will suit you.
Cherry MX Red
The Cherry MX Red is probably the most popular among gamers. That is because it’s a light switch that doesn’t require as much pressure. The travel distance is only 2mm which means that the key will be registered quickly, which is an important part of gaming. They are reasonably quiet and doesn’t give as much tactile feedback as some other switches. It’s not needed for gaming, but if you are a heavy writer, you might miss that feedback.
Finding a keyboard with red switches is easy, just look for basically any gaming keyboard from Corsair. They are heavenly invested in Cherry MX switches and thus, offer a boatload of switches for their mechanical keyboards, red being one of those switches.
Cherry MX Speed
Red may be the most popular among gamers, but the Cherry MX Speed isn’t far behind. It shares most of the specifications with the red switch by being a linear switch that only requires 45g of actuation force. However, the difference is in the actuation point. The Speed will register the key at just 1.2mm down. For an e-sport gamer, 0.8mm could be the difference between life and death. However, the for the normal gamer, very few are noticing a difference.
The MX Speed isn’t as common as the red switches. But once again, Corsair comes to the rescue. In their higher end models, like the K70 Lux Rapidfire or the K95 Platinum, you can get MX Speed switches. Both keyboards can be found on Amazon.
Cherry MX Black
Once again, linear switches are the most popular. One of the switches that have existed since 1984 and is still going strong, is the MX Black. It does require 60g of actuation force which can be a bit heavy for some people that are looking for light switches. The good thing is that you can really feel the key is being pushed down which some folks like. The actuation point is the same as red with 2mm.
MX Black is not very common and if you want a keyboard with black switches, you will have to look away from the bigger brands. The ROCCAT RYOS MK Pro on Amazon, is using MX Black but the overall quantity of MX Black keyboards are small.
Cherry MX Brown
The MX Brown is the most popular tactile switch. It’s not linear but giving a tactile feedback when the key is registered. This is a great switch for everyday use. It’s good in games because the action force is 45g and the actuation point is 2mm down, just as the red switch. However, because it does give some tactile feedback, it is also very good to type on. For someone like me, that is both playing games and writing for Gaming Simplified, brown switches are a good middle-ground.
MX Brown is quite easy to find on keyboards as well. Corsair is offering them on most of their keyboards, but a favorite of mine is the Logitech G610 (found on Amazon), which is very similar to the G810 (which is my daily keyboard).
Cherry MX Blue
The MX Blue is for those of you who write a lot on your keyboard. They are very heavy, requiring 60g to make it over the tactile bump that they offer. It’s this bump that gives the MX Blue their “clicky” sound, which is where the name of the category comes from. The click is making the MX Blue one of the louder keyboards and if you really want to annoy your family or neighbors at the office, MX Blue is the way to go.
You can find MX Blue on the Cooler Master MasterKeys L on Amazon.
While Cherry MX switches are the most common on the market, there are some manufacturers that believe they can make a better job. One of them is Razer, who has three types of switches to cover all five of the above.
The switches from Razer can only be found in Razers own mechanical keyboards and does feature full RGB, of course. Looking at the specifications, they are almost the same as the Cherry MX switches, with only a few changes (which is the case for most switches these days). However, the big thing that Razer claims is that their switches will handle 20-30 million more keystrokes than the Cherry MX switches. Where Cherry is offering 50 million keystrokes, Razer is offering 80 million.
In the table below, you can see a comparison of the Razer switches that are manufactured today.
|Total Travel Distance:||4mm||4mm||3.5mm|
If you want to get a feel of the sound, I’d recommend that you take a look at the video below as well where Razer is demonstrating the sound of their switches.
The Razer Green is very much like the MX Blue. It’s heavy and has an actuation force of 55g, which is just a bit less than the MX Blue. The actuation point is 1.9mm and my guess would be that Razer cut of 0.1mm just to be different, that is usually what they do. The Razer Green is primarily for typing but works well for gaming as well.
Most keyboards from Razer can be configured with any of these switches. However, many of the older versions is using Cherry MX so make sure that the keyboard, in fact, has Razer switches. The Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2 on Amazon, is only offering Razer switches if you want to be on the sure side.
The Razer Orange is equivalent to the MX Brown. It does give feedback in form of a tactile bump when the key is registered but there is no click as on the Razer Green. The actuation force is 55g so it’s a bit heavier to push down than the MX Brown, what is better is very personal and up to you. Just as the MX Brown, the Razer Orange is a good middle-ground which will work for most people.
Again, almost any Razer keyboard will offer the Razer switches, just make sure it’s a newer model.
The Razer Yellow is competing against the MX Speed. The actuation force is 45g and the actuation point is 1.2mm down. The difference between these two (with the obvious expectation that one is Razer-branded) is that the Razer Yellow has a travel distance of 3.5mm instead of 4mm which means that you will reach the bottom faster. It’s half a millimeter so most people will not note the difference, but it doesn’t give as much time to release the key after it has been registered as the MX Speed does.
And for the last time, the Razer switches can be found on most mechanical keyboards from Razer, including the Yellow switch.
Logitech first had only one type of switch, called the Romger-G switches. However, they have come up with some newer switches during the last year and is now offering a great range of switches on their mechanical switches. The old switches have been renamed to Romer-G Tactile.
The Romer-G tactile witches have an actuation force of 45g and an actuation distance of 1.5mm, which is 0.5m higher than the popular MX Red. The switches are tactile (guess where the name comes from) and thus, give some feedback when they are pressed down without sounding too much.
The Romer-G switches are designed in a different way than the MX switches. Instead of having a pin in the middle that holds the key, there is an LED in the middle with four walls around it. This will eliminate light leaking, making the keyboards look really nice with just the keys lightning up and not the whole keyboard.
The Romer-G switches can be found in many Logitech keyboards such as my favorite, the Logitech G810 Orion, which you can find on Amazon.
The linear switches of the Romer-G series are similar to the tactile switch. It has been designed the same way, with four walls instead of a pin in the middle, giving better backlight. The difference between these two switches is that the linear switches feels smoother than the tactile ones. Linear switches give less feedback than tactile and is good for fast-paced games where you use the same key multiple times in a row.
As the switch is similar to the old Romer-G switch, the specifications are the same as well. The actuation force is 45g, the actuation distance is 1.5mm and the total travel distance is 3.2mm. If you are a fan of Cherry MX Red, this switch will probably suit you well.
Logitech has also released a clicky switch, which is to compare to the MX Blue or the Razer Green. Many hoped to get the benefits of Romer-G in a clicky switch but that is not true for the GX Blue. The design on these switches are the same as more traditional switches, with a pin in the middle. The reason for this is apparently that the Romer-G design (with four walls and LED in the middle) can’t physically be designed to be clicky.
Personally, I think the Romer-G switches feels better and the backlight is better with Romer-G switches and thus, that’s a disappointment, but one cannot argue with physics. They feel very much like the Razer Green. The actuation force is 50g, the actuation distance is 1.9mm and the total travel distance is 4mm, which is quite deep if you do a lot of fast-paced gaming. This switch is instead better for typing.
Just recently, Logitech released brand new type of keyboard. The Logitech G915, found on Amazon, is an ultra-thin keyboard with mechanical switches. To be able to make a mechanical keyboard this thin, Logitech had to design brand new low-profile switches. They call them GL and there are three types of switches: tactile, linear and clicky.
Logitech means that these new switches travel just half the distance of traditional switches and is because of this, much faster and more responsive. The switches should also be more ergonomically because of the low-profile. They are unique and there is really nothing on the market that can compare to these new GL switches from Logitech.
When it comes to specifications, all three switches have the same. The actuation force is 50g, the actuation distance is 1.5mm and the total travel distance is 2.7mm. If you are the type of player that hits the key full down before release, these switches will probably make you faster as the total distance is lower than more classical switches.
The difference between the switches are the feeling. The GL Tactile provides a little more feedback to your finger when activated, which is popular for FPS games and other fast-paced games. The GL Linear does not provide the same type of feedback and is smoother than the tactile switch. This is popular for MMOs and RPGs where you might use the same key multiple times in a row. The GL Clicky gives a loud and tactile feedback, which is usually appreciated by users who type a lot.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what mechanical switches that you want or should look for. As I have said before, I always recommend to actually go to a physical store before you purchase a keyboard to test out some switches. You can say yes to RGB over the internet, but to actually get a feel of a switch and how it suits you, is impossible.
As always, if you have any questions or feel that you can add to this article, leave a comment below. It’s always fun to see other opinions and create a discussion. Even if mechanical switches are very popular and common, it can be quite the topic to discuss, as you now know.