Man typing on a keyboard

Is Mechanical Keyboard Really Better?

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear "keyboard" is a piano, then you either have never seen a computer or you’re a hardcore musician. In the latter case, you have my deepest respect. Yet, in the 21st century, most people think of the peripheral device that gives you the ability to type on your computer.

Content:

Brief History

Typewriter

The history of the keyboard is actually very, very long, predating the PC. It is the modern-day incarnation of the typewriter, which was patented in 1877 by Christopher Latham Sholes. It went through quite a lot of evolution until the first keyboard was incorporated into the Eniac computer (1946) and the Binac computer (1948). We then can skip ahead to 1964 when MIT, Bell Laboratories, and General Electric created the Multics system. It is the first keyboard that uses the video display terminal giving the users the opportunity to see their text on the display. Fast forward to the 1990s when Hewlett-Packard released the HP95LX (aka the first personal data assistant with an integrated keyboard). The PDA achieved a major victory over the attempts of all tech giants to integrate pen input by implementing web access, email, spreadsheets, and so on. All of this gives us the keyboards that we use today.

Types of Keyboards

Keyboard Membrane

The rapid advancement of modern technology has led to the development of two main types of keyboards – membrane and mechanical. The membrane keyboard is the typical keyboard you know/are familiar with. As the name suggests, it uses a rubber-like membrane to create contact with the circuit board. Cheap, reliable, it is resistant to dirt, dust, chips, coke, cigar ash, and all the ordinary things that can get inside a keyboard.  One advantage of this type of keyboard is that it is pretty silent. That’s all the general user needs and that is what makes them so popular.

Mechanical keyboards use a mechanical switch that sends a signal to the PC. The switches are quite diverse in their behavior. Another plus is that they have longer “life span” – between 20 and 50 million clicks (compared to the maximum of 5 million clicks at best for the membrane keyboards) You wonder how much are 5 million clicks? Approximately one new keyboard every 3 years for a full-time writer. 

Mechanical keyboard parts

Some of their key components include – keycap, stem, upper housing, coil spring, base housing, and crosspoint contact.

The most significant feature is the switches. We can divide them into three categories:

  • Linear – the keystroke is consistent and smooth.
  • Tactile – a bump in the middle of travel, usually around the actuation point.
  • Clicky – bump in the middle of travel accompanied by a sharp “click” sound.
Linear, tactile and clicky switches

Purpose

The most important factor for choosing a keyboard is to know what you are going to use it for – writing (code or text) or gaming. Either way – you need your comfort, speed, and stability. 

Linear Switches

Linear Switch

As a gamer with nearly 25 years of experience, I know pretty well the importance of a nice, smooth stroke. If your goal is to never miss your ultimate in League of Legends, a through pass before Haaland gets in an offside position in FIFA, or quickly switching between a knife, pistol, and machine gun in Counter-Strike, then linear switches are all you need. They are the simplest and have no dome to compress them, neither a click to overcome. This allows you to take faster, rapid action without any obstacles. The Cherry MX Red Switches are dubbed the best, but the Kaihl Red/Black, Logitech’s Romero – G Linear are close to follow. 

They are pretty good if you’re playing an RPG, shooters, and fast-paced games in general.  

Tactile and Clicky Switches

Tactile and clicky switches

The boom of coding in recent years has opened the need for a keyboard that can somehow signal you that it has made contact. For this reason, you can bravely go for either a tactile or a clicky switch. With their mechanical click, the “Tactile and clicky switches”  signal you that the computer has registered your action. This is very handy when it comes to writing code – you can always be sure that you’ve pressed the key and the corresponding symbol will be indicated. The cool feature here is that you don’t need to press the key to the end to have your action registered. This adds more speed to the picture.  This will save you a lot of time, testing, nerves, and the need to double-check your code. 

As mentioned above – Tactile and clicky switches are the best for writing code, and text. They have their spot in the gaming industry when it comes to RTS’, making you sure that you’ve switched between your waves of Zerglings, or your Battlecruiser selects. 

Probably the best switches from this category are all of Razer’s switches (most notably Razer Green, Razer Orange, and Razer Opto-Mechanical), Kaihl Blue, or Brown, or the Cherry MX Blue.

Fun Facts

As a thing that is a significant part of the life of so many people around the world, there are certainly curious and funny facts about keyboards that are worth mentioning.

  • Do you hate the long Space bar? Get a Japanese keyboard. They have the shortest Space bar.
    Japanese Keyboard
  • Speaking of Space bars -  have you noticed how often you hit it? Well, when you hit it, if you decide to do it right now,  more than 600 000  hits are being made at the same time all over the world. 
  • The longest words that you can type with one hand are “stewardesses” for the left hand, and “polyphony” for the right hand.
  • You need to press “Shift+;” to type a  period in French. Really Shift and semicolon.
  • There’s a keyboard monument in Yekaterinburg, Russia. Local people make wishes by jumping from key to key. When they want to reset their lives, they jump CTRL ALT DEL.
  • If we were living in the 1980s the mechanical keyboards would have been your only option. Back then membrane keyboards were very rare, so writer or not, bare with the noise. "Early computers, from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, almost all used mechanical keyboards only."

Summary

As a person that writes copy for his living, I’m addicted to my clicky keyboard. I’m a fast typer and I often miss a lot of letters (imagine having to read the article with half of the words missing letters). My friends that are into coding love them, too. Imagine having to rewrite hours of code just because you missed a symbol. What a little difference can a short “click” make.

As a gamer, I really enjoy my linear switch keyboard. Swift and smooth, I can’t miss my Ultimate in League of Legends, and I can quickly cast my spells in WoW, just when they are out of cooldown. They are also pretty good for writing, too. Clean, smooth, and fast writing are crucial for writing a good copy or code.

Most people believe that mechanical keyboards are old fashioned– slow, noisy, inefficient, and fragile. And they are somewhat right, at least for the noisy part. I have to admit that you don’t need one if your professional field does not require it. You can browse the internet, chat, and send emails using an ordinary membrane keyboard. But for the professional in a certain field, where if you miss a single symbol you’ll have to rewrite hundreds of lines of code, or if you prefer a smooth touch while you relax playing a game, then you either own one, or you’d better get one first thing in the morning.

Оnce you have chosen your keyboard and become faster at typing, see other ways to optimize your work at home.

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