What Is a Mechanical Keyboard for Gaming?

The best PC gamers can struggle with low-quality gaming peripherals. The good news is you have control over the equipment you use. Don’t let your gaming stats and experience drop because of an imperfect keyboard or glitchy mouse.

Having the right keyboard for your gaming setup will make or break your gaming experience. The keyboard is one of your most important peripheral assets. Many gamers and experts believe mechanical keyboards are one of the best options.

These raised-key sturdy keyboards are the classic keyboard, based on the mechanics of the traditional typewriter keyboard. The key contacts on these boards register faster than those on other keyboards. A key benefit for any avid gamer.

If you’re looking to upgrade your gaming keyboard, look no further! Here’s everything you need to know about the mechanical keyboard for gaming.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

There are two major styles of keyboards, categorized by their key switch technology.

The most common and popular keyboard of today is the membrane keyboard. It uses rubber keys to register keystrokes. You’ll find this style in handheld controllers, phones, and laptop keyboards.

The less common keyboard is the mechanical keyboard. 

If you’re a gamer of a certain age, you may remember the sturdy keyboards from the 1980s and before. Today’s mechanical keyboards are quite similar to those, albeit with some improved technology,

If you weren’t around for the 1980s, the mechanical keyboard has sturdy raised keys that make a satisfying clicking sound when pressed. They have a faster registration upon keystroke than other keyboards. Instead of rubber, these keyboards use plastic key switches to register each keystroke.

Keyboard companies switched to rubber keyboards because they offered the same functionality at a much lower cost. For a while, mechanical keyboards served primarily in the industrial and retail industries due to their longevity. A few niche companies offered mechanical keyboards as a high-end option for work, programmers, and professional typists.

This led to another major group of people who prefer the mechanical keyboard: professional gamers. Larger companies, like Corsair and Razer, started offering mechanical keyboards.

Outside of the gaming world, mechanical keyboards are making a comeback. People are turning to mechanical keyboards due to their durability, improved productivity, and ergonomics.

Key Switch Technology

The key switch is what defines the style of the keyboard. Mechanical keyboard key switches consist of keycap, stem, and housing.

The keycap is at the top of the key. It’s the part containing the letter or number and the part you press.

The stem is directly under the keycap. This is the part that moves down when you press the key.

The housing is like a case for each key, holding its components together. Each key has a spring and a switch. When pressed, you can feel the spring and hear a click sound when the switch activates.

Membrane keyboards use a dome switch technology that uses a silicone dome to connect two separate circuit-board traces when pressed. You’ll need to apply more force to press the key down and engage it. This makes the keyboard fairly quiet and gives a mushy feel when pressing the keys.

Over time, the rubber membrane will lose its springiness, causing the keyboard to work slower or certain keys to stop working altogether. The advantage of this keyboard technology is it’s easy to produce and cost-effective.

The key switches in mechanical keyboards last significantly longer, often outlasting the life expectancy of several computers!

Linear and tactile are the two main types of mechanical keyboard switches. Linear switches will activate when pushed all the way down. They have a greater actuation point.

Tactile switches will activate sooner, often halfway down. This allows you to jump to the next key easily and faster. These keys have a shorter actuation point.

Cherry MX Key Switches

Throughout the 1980s, Cherry was the leading company developing the plastic key switch components. Known as Cherry MX switches, these switches come in several classes defined by color. This differentiates characteristics such as the force needed to actuate the key, the key sound, and how tactile the key is.

Cherry MX Blue

These heavy keys are very tactile and offer a loud clicking sound. You’ll feel a bump and hear a distinct click when the keystroke completes. While these keys offer a great bounce, they require a higher force. This makes them less ideal for gaming but a great option for other typing applications.

Cherry MX Black

These keys are very linear and require the greatest actuation force out of the Cherry MX key switches. They’ll feel stiff and are linear, meaning you need to press them completely to activate the switch.

The Blacks are a great option for data entry but will slow you down while gaming. They don’t offer the signature tactile feel or a loud audible click.

Cherry MX Red

The MX Red key switches are similar to the Black as they’re linear and lack the tactile feel and audible click. They have a lighter feel due to their much lower actuation force. This makes them very fast and a great option for gaming.

The MX Red easily keeps up with any demanding game requiring fast-twitch actions and input. The drawback to the Red is it’s not the greatest option for typing as it’s easy to accidentally register multiple keystrokes at the same time.

Cherry MX Brown

Typists and gamers both will appreciate the feel of the Brown key switches. They offer a tactile bump when pressed but without the loud clicking. It also has the same tactile force as the Red.

Cherry MX Speed Silver

These speedy key switches have the same low actuation force as the MX Reds, with a much shorter actuation point. Less force and less actuation travel distance make these keys highly responsive.

The Reds have an actuation point of 2mm, while the Silvers have a distance of 1.22mm. The Silvers have a shorter total distance compared to others on this list, making them the key switch fastest option.

More Cherry MX Options

The Cherry key switches above are the most common options available. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, there are less common Cherry MX key switches available.

Cherry Clear is similar to the Browns above but requires a greater actuation force. A stiffer version of the Blue key switches is the Cherry Green. Beyond that, you can find niche specialized types, like ones used for specific keys.

Non-Cherry Mechanical Keyboards

Cherry isn’t the only brand creating key switches. Companies like Razer, Corsair, and SteelSeries also create true mechanical keyboards.

Like Cherry, Razer offers several different types of mechanical key switches. The Yellow keys are linear and silent, the Orange is tactile and silent, and the Green is tactile and offers an audible click. These have similar characteristics to Cherry’s line.

Logitech, IBM, and Kailh (Kaihu) also make and develop mechanical gaming keyboards.

Several companies, like Razer, make hybrid mechanical membrane keyboards. These are a mix of silicone dome and mechanical technology. While similar, they aren’t true mechanical keyboards.

Benefits of the Mechanical Keyboard

The main benefit of today’s membrane keyboards is their affordability. Are you still unsure about investing in a mechanical keyboard for gaming? Here are a few great reasons why you should make the switch!

Durable

The plastic switches last significantly longer than membrane and silicon keyboards. They can withstand a greater amount of wear and tear from long or hard keystrokes.

Speed

Some mechanical key switches actuate without being fully pressed. This allows for shorter travel, faster engagement, and faster keystrokes. This is critical in any fast-paced PC game.

Maintenance

Maintaining your mechanical keyboard is easier than other types of keyboards. The plastic key switches are easier to clean than rubber. Dust and dirt will stick to the rubber in membrane keyboards, often causing you to replace them.

Customization

Mechanical keyboards offer a greater variety of keycaps and styles of key switches. This allows you to make a customizable keyboard designed for your needs.

What are the Best Keyboards for Gaming?

What’s the best keyboard for gaming? The answer is yes, but it depends on your personal preference. Based on the actuation points, force and tactile versus linear feel can affect your gaming experience.

Some gamers find mechanical keyboards extremely useful while gaming. With the sound and click, you’ll know when they’re fully pressed. It’s also easier to quickly double-tap keys.

There are other gamers on the opposite end, finding mechanical keyboards don’t help with their gaming. Some find the subtle characteristics such as the clicking and actuation points to be annoying.

Finding the best gaming keyboard is all about personal preference. Before you buy, test different gaming keyboards to find the one that fits your gaming style and preferences best.

You can order key switch testers online or visit your local electronics store. Buying a used mechanical keyboard for less is also an option. This will allow you to test it and see how it affects your gaming.

Give Mechanical Keyboards a Try!

What is a mechanical keyboard? While it’s not the newest keyboard technology, it offers a uniquely responsive feel making it a great option for gaming. If you’re a PC gamer looking for a new keyboard, a mechanical keyboard is well worth trying!

Want more great ways to improve your gaming setup? Check out our latest Technology and Tips & Tricks articles to learn more!

Steve Sebastian

Steve is a technology enthusiast and has a keen interest in writing about gadgets, innovations, technical know-how, and Gaming. He has an experience of more than 7 years as a writer, journalist, and editor. Apart from being a tech writer, he loves to read historical and geographical books. Education B.A in English Literature from New York University

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