Mechanical Keyboard Switch Basics

Mechanical keyboards offer a distinct advantage: superior performance and a highly customizable experience. They’re characterized by the mechanical switches nestled underneath each keycap that, when pressed, activate the printed circuit board (PCB). Tactile feedback and rich acoustics make mechanical keyboards the go-to choice for gamers seeking an edge in precision and speed.

The Basics of Mechanical Switches

Each switch contains moving parts, including a coil spring and a stem, and when clicked provide immediate auditory and tactile feedback. However, the different switch types and the properties of the spring itself vary greatly, causing the sound and feel to differ, too. While objective metrics, like peak force, are important when picking switches, subjective preferences, like sound, pitch, and feel, are equally important to consider.

Since mechanical switches come down to personal preference, the best way to find your ideal switch type is by trying them out. Hotswap keyboards give gamers the freedom to easily swap out mechanical switches without the need for soldering. A great starting point is trying out a switch sample pack with a variety of switches to help guide your desired typing experience.

Mechanical Switch Parts

I. Top Housing: The upper housing keeps the stem in place and helps guide its movement. Keycaps also hit this part of the switch when pressed.

II. Stem: The stem is the component that determines whether a switch is linear, tactile, or clicky as well as what kinds of keycaps are compatible. It sits on the spring inside of the housing.

III. Spring: The spring determines the amount of pressure needed to press, or actuate, the key.

IV: Metal Leaf: When a key is pressed, the legs of the stem push the leaf into contact with the PCB, which registers the key-press.

V: Bottom Housing: The bottom housing holds pins that slot into the PCB; hotswap keyboards allow these pins to be snapped into place without a need for soldering.

Types of Switches

Mechanical switches come in three main categories, each offering a unique typing experience.

Linear Switches

Feature a smooth, swift press without a tactile bump or audible click. Best suited for fast-paced game-play where speed is the priority.

Glorious Lynx Linear Switches

Tactile Switches

Offer satisfying haptic feedback in the form of a rounded bump signifying actuation. Best suited for both gaming and typing with a blend of speed and precision tactile response.

Glorious Panda Linear Switches

Clicky Switches

Create a typewriter-like experience with a crisp haptic bump and loud audible click. Best suited for those wanting a “classic” mechanical feel and the most responsive key-presses.

Glorious Raptor Clicky Switches

Choosing Your Switch

There are several factors come into play when selecting your ideal switch in addition to tactility and acoustics.

  • Peak Force: The force required to press a key all the way down. A linear switch with a peak force of 35g requires a much lighter press than a 80g clicky.

  • Noise Level: Consider the environment you'll be using the keyboard in. Clicky switches can be quite loud, while linear switches are near silent.

  • Durability: Mechanical switches are generally quite durable, but some variations offer higher keystroke ratings than others.
  • Compatibility: Ensure the switches you choose are compatible with your mechanical keyboard’s PCB by comparing the number of pins the switch has with the number of sockets. Make sure your chosen switches have a compatible stem shape for the keycaps you want to use.

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