The Complete Guide to Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Image of the different Razer mechanical switches

In recent years, mechanical keyboards have gotten increasingly more popular.

The reason for this is quite simple. Most gamers would agree that they are simply better for gaming than regular keyboards. This still comes down to personal preference, however.

But shopping for a new mechanical keyboard can be confusing. Mainly because of all the different key switch types and colors.

And the switches are actually very important, and knowing the difference can be crucial to finding the perfect one for you.

In this guide we will go over the main characteristics of the different colored switches, and what they are usually used for.


Everything You Need to Know about Mechanical Switches for Your Keyboard.

Keyboards are an essential part of any PC gaming setup. The quality of your keyboard goes a long way in increasing or decreasing your performance and endurance. Things like tactile feel, feedback, and things are the hallmarks or a great keyboard. There are mainly two types of keyboards in the market today Membrane and Mechanical gaming keyboards. A third type has also emerged recently which is a mecha-membrane hybrid. The latter type is designed for people who like having membrane characteristics along with the performance of mechanical switches.

What are mechanical switches?

Mechanical keyboards are by far and away the most popular choice among gamers all over the world. At the core of the mechanical keyboards are the mechanical switches. So what are they? Keyboard switches, in essence, contain a Keycap – which is the top essentially. You can easily remove these in mechanicals. A slider is also present which is designed to disrupt the connection to the metallic components on the side of the switch. These metallic components or contact leaves are what registers a single keystroke. The slider base has an extension which houses a spring which pushes the key back into place after release. This is a rather simple yet powerful setup which can deliver varying levels of performance while being remarkably durable.

Terminology

Hysteresis – This is basically a reference to the actuation point being lower than the switch’s release point. In a nutshell, when the hysteresis is more, tapping the same key twice will be much harder and vice versa.

Actuation point – This is the exact point at which the keystroke is recognized and registered by the keyboard. A similar term is actuation force which basically refers to how hard you need to press the key for it to register.

Tactile Point – This is almost synonymous with Actuation point.

Key lifetime – This basically a number that related to the durability. Mechanical switches are much easier to fix in general. The lifetime mentioned varies across brands with Cherry MX and Kailh offering a rating of 50 million keystrokes. Razer boasts an 80 million keystroke lifetime on their keys.

Types based on desired behavior

Mechanical switches can behave many different ways. Brands have utilized the different combination of features and actuation levels to provide different types of keyboard. In the gaming space, the most common colors you come across are RED, BLACK, BLUE & BROWN. Different brands like Razer opt for things like Orange & green but they can be matched up to the standard set quite easily. Cherry MX is the most popular brand when it comes to mechanical keyboards and some of the specs we have on offer below have used them as a base.

 


Related: Complete List of the Best Mechanical Keyboards for Gamers in 2017.


RED Switches

Image of Cherry MX Red switches

Typically these keyboards have the following characteristics

  • Linear Behavior
  • Light Feel
  • Quiet

The actuation force varies between the 45g & 50g mark depending upon the brand. These keyboards are great for those who play games where they need to spam actions. The key resistance needs to be at a minimum for swift & repetitive actions, and this keyboard does just that. The speed is due to the fact that there isn’t any bump or resistance at the middle. However, this is not a great choice for typing since the keypresses can’t be felt. This type of key is commonly sought after by those who play FPS & MMOs which involves spamming of spells & combinations.

 


BLACK Switches

Image of black mechanical switches

Characteristics:

  • Linear Behavior
  • Heavy Feel
  • Quiet

Another type that is offers Linear behavior. Primarily offered by Cherry MX, this type of switch basically requires a higher actuation force than the RED. The actuation force across brands, however, is the same at 60g. It’s essentially a RED with a bit more key resistance. Another feature is that the degree of hysteresis is practically 0 so you can spam comfortably.

 


BLUE Switches

Image of Cherry MX blue switch

Characteristics:

  • Clicky Behavior
  • Heavy Feel
  • Loud

The loudest of the lot is the BLUE. This type of switch is ideally suited for typing thanks to the construction of the slider. The two piece design results in a larger hysteresis and a clicky sound when the tactile point is crossed. The actuation force is usually 60g across all brands. In a nutshell, this switch is great for typing and not for activities like spamming. The popularity amongst gamers also stems from the satisfaction that comes with the click sound associated with it.

Note* – The Razer Green possess a similar key configuration.

 


BROWN Switches

Image of Brown mechanical switches

Characteristics:

  • Tactile Behaviour
  • Medium Feel
  • Quiet
  • Actuation

The list wouldn’t quite be complete without an option hitting the middle ground, and the BROWN does just that. These switches have a reasonable amount of hysteresis and not a significant amount like the BLUE switch. The keyboard using this switch has a nice sweet tactile bump and travels silently at the same time. The actuation force is around the 45g – 55g mark depending upon the brand. These are great for MOBA type games where APS or actions per minute really matter. The BROWN is a very popular choice amongst pro gamers in the industry.

Note* – The Razer Orange is similar to this key configuration.

 


Hybrid Switches – Mecha Membrane

Image of mecha-membrane keyboard switches

Another type of semi or hybrid mechanical keyboard was developed quite recently by Razer. The Mecha-Membrane as they call it is seen in the Razer Ornata Chroma keyboard. This keyboard is primarily for gamers who like the soft press of a membrane keyboard and the tactile feel that clicky mechanicals has to offer. The essence of the keyboard or the part of the switch that transmits a stroke is a membrane, however. The keycap is half the height of typical mechanicals which allows it to match full mechanicals in terms of the time taken to register actions. Razer claims that this is one of the quietest keyboards out there but we think the sound is in between a BLUE and BROWN switch.


Related: Full Guide to the Best Membrane Board in 2017.


Complete infographic of the most popular mechanical switches

SwitchBehaviorFeelActuation forceActuation pointSoundLifespan
Cherry MX RedLinearLight45g2mmSilent50 Million keystrokes
Cherry MX BrownTactileMedium45g2mmQuiet50 Million keystrokes
Cherry MX BlueClickyHeavy60g2mmLoud50 Million keystrokes
Cherry MX BlackLinearHeavy60g2mmSilent50 Million keystrokes
Cherry MX SpeedLinearLight45g1.2mmSilent50 Million keystrokes
Razer GreenTactile & ClickyHeavy55g1.9mmLoud80 Million keystrokes
Razer OrangeTactile & silentMedium55g1.9mmSilent80 Million keystrokes
Razer YellowLinear & silentLight55g1.9mmSilent80 Million keystrokes
Romer G(Logitech)Semi-tactileLight45g1.5mmSilent70 Million keystrokes
QS1(Steelseries)MembraneLight45g1.5mmSilent60 Million keystrokes
QX1(Steelseries)LinearLight45g1.5mmMedium Loud70 Million keystrokes
Topre(Steelseries)TactileLight to medium30g, 35g,45g,55g2mmSilent70 Million keystrokes
Kailh RedLinearLight50g2mmSilent50 Million keystrokes
Kailh BlackLinearLight60g2mmSilent50 Million keystrokes
Kailh BrownTactileMedium50g2mmQuiet50 Million keystrokes
Kailh BlueClickyHeavy60g2mmLoud50 Million keystrokes

Note: Amount of keystrokes are per individual key, not an estimated total.

 

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