Mechanical keyboards

If you’re new to the world of mechanical keyboards this guide will explain the different types of keyboard switches and help you choose the right mechanical switch.

In the world of keyboards, there are three major types of switches: membrane, scissor, and mechanical. Each style of switch has its pros and cons. Which one is right for you depends on your typing preferences and budget.

Membrane Switches

The vast majority of home, office, and gaming keyboards can be characterized as “membrane keyboards”. They use a rubber membrane that runs underneath the entire keyboard. Underneath each individual key cap is a rubber “dome” that is depressed each time the key is pressed, providing the resistance for each key.

When a key is pressed, the rubber membrane gives way and creates an electrical contact between two conductive layers, which closes the circuit thus registering a key press.

Membrane Pros

  • Budget-friendly
  • Long key travel to help reduce excessive fingertip impact & finger fatigue
  • More resistant to dust/spills
  • Quiet

Membrane Cons

  • Shorter lifespan
  • Can have a mushy, less responsive feel
  • Generally higher force
  • Not really backlight compatible

While membrane keyboards are often regarded with some disdain from mechanical keyboard purists, Kinesis invested significant resources to develop a membrane switch for our popular Freestyle2 split keyboard that approximated the feel of the Cherry MX Brown stem mechanical switch, which is known for its low activation force and tactile feedback.

Scissor Switches

Scissor switches are most commonly used in laptops because of their super-low profile. If you’ve typed on a late model Macbook with “chiclet keys”, then you’ve used scissor switches.

When you depress a key, two opposing cross-arms that comprise the “scissor” mechanism compress the rubber dome and bring two conductive plates in contact to register the key press. Scissor-switch keyboards typically have a shorter key “travel” than membrane keyboards.

Scissor-Switch Pros

  • Low key activation force
  • Backlight compatible

Scissor-Switch Cons

  • Short key travel can result in excessive fingertip impact & finger fatigue
  • Limited tactility
  • Shorter lifespan

Mechanical Switches

Mechanical keyboards are considered to be the cream-of-the-crop when it comes to typing feel, precision, and durability. Mechanical keyboards have been mainstays in the high-performance gaming market for decades but have only recently become a priority for professionals, both at home and in the office.

Kinesis has been making mechanical ergonomic keyboards since 1992. Our Advantage360, Advantage2 and Freestyle Pro represent professional-grade ergonomic features and premium mechanical key switches rated for 50 million keystrokes.

Under each keycap is an individual spring-loaded, mechanical switch. When the switch is depressed against the spring, an electronic contact is registered as a key press. Within the mechanical switch genre, there are several different brands of switches which utilize slightly different mechanical mechanisms. What’s notable about mechanical switches is manufacturers can create very different typing experiences by varying the spring.

1) Upper Housing: Guides the stem through it’s entire range of upward and downward travel as well as forms the holder for the switching mechanism module.
2) Switching Slide/Stem: Specifies the actuation travel and total travel of the switch as well as determines the tactile characteristics. The stem is the top portion of the switching slide that the keycap is positioned on. The stem protrudes through the upper housing.
3) Cross Point Contact: A piece of metal or gold which electricity passes through. Once you depress the key and the switching slide touches the cross point a key press is registered (actuation point).
4) Precision Coil Spring: The weight of the spring defines the pressure resistance (force) as well as guides the key to its original position.
5) Housing Base: The upper housing snaps onto the base to form the switching module and provides the means to mount onto the circuit board.

Mechanical Switch Pros

  • Typing feel and precision
  • Wide array of options and styles
  • Backlight compatible
  • Supreme durability
  • Long key travel to help reduce excessive fingertip impact & finger fatigue

Mechanical Switch Cons

  • More expensive
  • Some switches can be noisy

Cherry Brand Mechanical Switches

Cherry Corporation has long been considered the gold standard for mechanical switch manufacturers with their popular “MX Stem” design. Cherry MX switches are used in more than 60M keyboards worldwide and are the choice for many leading keyboard manufacturers.

Cherry Variations

Cherry is known for creating a whole lineup of different color-coded switches designed to appeal to different typists for various applications.

Cherry MX Brown– The most popular variant of the MX which is great for both typing and gaming.

  • Actuation Force: 55g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 2mm/4.1mm
  • Feel: Tactile feedback

Cherry MX Red– A popular switch because of its smooth, fast feel.

  • Actuation Force: 45g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 1.9mm/4.1mm
  • Feel: Linear feel

Cherry MX Blue– The most polarizing of all the switches because of its signature “click-clack” noise.

  • Actuation Force: 60g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 2.2mm/4mm
  • Feel: Tactile feedback & audible click

Cherry MX Black– While some typists enjoy the firmer feel of the Black switches, this switch is best for industrial and point-of-sale applications where fatigue is less of a consideration.

  • Actuation Force: 60g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 2mm/4mm
  • Feel: Linear feel

Cherry MX Silver– Silver “Speed” switches were designed specifically for gaming applications as a short-travel, quick-rebound variant of the popular Red switch.

  • Actuation Force: 45g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 1.2mm/3.4mm
  • Feel: Linear feel

Cherry MX “Silent” Red– Cherry has added rubber dampeners to their popular Red switch to reduce the noise

  • Actuation Force: 45g
  • Pre-Travel/Total Travel Distance: 1.9mm/3.7mm travel
  • Feel: Linear feel

Cherry ML Switches

Cherry also makes a “half-sized” mechanical switch called the ML. The Cherry ML offers similar properties to the MX switches, but for smaller key applications. Kinesis uses Cherry ML mechanical switches in the function row of the Advantage2 for feel, reliability, and durability.

Cherry MX Low Profile Switches

Cherry’s latest offering is a low-profile version of their MX switch. As of 2018, Cherry only offered the Red and Silver style switches in the low-profile design. As a short-travel switch, these switches are better suited for gaming rather than ergonomics.

Gateron & Kaihl Brand Mechanical Switches

Cherry’s 1984 patent for the design of the original MX switch expired in 2014. This opened the door for other manufacturers to offer mechanical key switches with similar force characteristics to the Cherry MX switches, even using the same color coding of the stems to identify those specific attributes. One of the positive results of the influx of competitors was the impact it had on lowering prices. Two of the more popular manufacturers are Gateron and Kaihl.

Both manufacturer’s offer a wide selection of switch types including Tactile, Linear and Clicky with varying force characteristics and a long operating life.

Kinesis Cherry Mechanical Keyboards

Our flagship Advantage2 keyboard and versatile Freestyle Pro keyboard are offered with the popular Cherry MX Brown switch. The new Advantage2 Quiet LF and Freestyle Pro Quiet use the MX Quiet Red switch.

Both switches are low-force, full travel switches to reduce finger fatigue and impact. The Brown switches are preferred by many ergonomists because the tactile feedback discourages bottoming-out. The Quiet Red switches are a great option for those who prefer a quieter alternative to a conventional mechanical keyboard.

Kinesis Gateron & Kailh Mechanical Keyboards

During the design process of the Advantage360 we knew it was going to be expensive to build, and therefore, we needed to identify cost savings without jeopardizing quality. So, we zeroed in on alternative key switch manufacturers. After, a heavy dose of research and user testing we chose the Gateron KS-9 Tactile Brown and Kailh Silent Linear Pink mechanical key switch.

The Gateron KS-9 Brown closely matches the tactile, low-force properties of the Cherry MX Brown as well as the long operating life that we require. There are some subtle differences between the two switches. A few users have commented that the Gateron Brown is somewhat smoother than the MX, as well as being a tad quieter.

The Kailh Silent Linear Box Pink stem is a very low-force switch with an actuation force of just 35 grams as well as a high actuation rating of 50M presses.

Which mechanical switch should I get on my Kinesis keyboard?
If you have never used a mechanical keyboard we would suggest opting for the Brown because of its tactile profile and reducing the risk of bottoming out. We also offer three Linear feel options for the Advantage2, Freestyle Pro, and Advantage360 keyboards, the standard Cherry red linear for the Advantage2, Quiet Red for the Freestyle Pro and Quiet Kailh Pink for the Advantage360. The Quiet Red and Pink are ideal for an office environment because they have built-in sound dampeners which eliminate most of the noise typically associated with mechanical key switches.

 

Cherry ML Switches

Cherry also makes a “half-sized” mechanical switch called the ML. The Cherry ML offers similar properties to the MX switches, but for smaller key applications. Kinesis uses Cherry ML mechanical switches in the function row of the Advantage2 for feel, reliability, and durability.

Cherry MX Low Profile Switches

Cherry’s latest offering is a low-profile version of their MX switch. As of 2018, Cherry only offered the Red and Silver style switches in the low-profile design. As a short-travel switch, these switches are better suited for gaming rather than ergonomics.

Other Mechanical Switch Manufacturers

Cherry style switches are not the only options on the market. Other premium brands include and Topre, Alps and a new optomechanical switch developed by Razer for gaming applications.

Mechanical Keyboard Cleaning

Mechanical keyboards cost more than their membrane counterparts, but when you realize how long they can last it’s a pretty good investment. To keep your mechanical keyboard performing at its peak for the long haul, we recommend periodically cleaning the keyboard to remove dust, crumbs and any other debris that may have accumulated. The Advantage2 keyboard, in particular, tends to collect debris because of its concave key wells.

Monthly Keyboard Cleaning

  1. Turn the keyboard over a trash can and shake out any loose debris.
  2. Use compressed air to blow out anything that might be lodged between the key switches.
  3. Inspect the keyboard for any foreign objects or sticky substances that could lead to problems down the road.
  4. Wipe the surface of the keyboard and keycaps down with a mild solvent like diluted (50:50) isopropyl alcohol using a microfiber cloth.

Annual Keyboard Cleaning

  1. Gently remove all keycaps. If you don’t have a keycap puller tool, you can purchase one here or use a bent a paper clip.
  2. Turn the keyboard over a trash can and shake out any loose debris.
  3. Use compressed air to blow out anything that might be lodged between the key switches.
  4. Using a cotton swab, brush or other soft-tipped implement, clean in between the key switches removing any debris. If there is sticky residue, use a cotton swab moistened with rubbing alcohol to remove it.
  5. Soak the keycaps in warm water and dish soap for 20 minutes. Remove the keycaps from the soak and lightly rub each one to remove any persistent dirt and grime. Set the keycaps aside overnight to dry thoroughly before reinstalling. Important note: installing wet keycaps can damage the keyboard.
  6. If you’re using a Kinesis Advantage2 or Freestyle2 keyboard, consider replacing your Palm Pads each year to keep things fresh and clean.

For a quieter mechanical keyboard, try Cherry “Silent” switches installing o-ring dampeners

One common concern we hear about mechanical keyboards is that they are noisier than membrane keyboards. And that’s absolutely true, especially if you work in an office environment. Cherry makes three different families of switches when it comes to osund: “clicky” (like the MX Blue), “non-clicky” (like MX Red and MX Brown), and “quiet” (like the MX Silent Red and MX Silent Black).

If you’re coming from a membrane keyboard, even the non-clicky mechanical switches can be very noisy. If you are worried about noise, you will definitely want to opt for a keyboard with the new “Silent” switches from Cherry like the Freestyle Pro Quiet and Advantage2 Quiet LF, both of which feature the same great typing feel and durability, but with sensational sound dampening. If those switches still aren’t quiet enough, or your partial to the tactility found on the Cherry MX Brown switch, you can install a set of rubber o-ring “dampeners”. The rubber o-ring sits underneath the keycap on top of the stem to basically act as a shock absorber and prevent you from bottoming out on the switch. O-ring dampeners are available from our friends at WASD keyboards on Amazon. Installation is tedious and the travel distance of the switch changes slightly, but they do reduce noise substantially.

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