Keyboards: mechanical vs rubber dome

Thanks to Mwave.com.au, Corsair, Tt eSPORTS and Mionix, we’ll be bringing you a series of mechanical keyboard reviews over the course of the next week. Corsair’s Vengeance K60 and Vengeance K90, as well as the Zibal 60 from Mionix and Meka G1 from Tt eSPORTS are all on the list.

The models on hand for review this first trip around the block all feature Cherry MX Black or Cherry MX Red switches. These models are arguably some of the best gaming focused mechanical boards on the market and we hope to help you make the right purchase choice for your foray into Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Before we do this however, I wanted to write a brief article addressing the “mechanical or membrane” argument and explain why a mechanical keyboard is the clearly better choice despite the additional cost.

A matter of force:

While the pressure requirement to trigger a mechanical switch keystroke varies from 45g to 60g typically, your application of pressure is never wasted. Applying enough pressure to cause a rubber dome flex and trigger a keystroke asks for more force than what should be required, which is 65-80g and beyond. This additional pressure requirement can lead to finger fatigue in extensive typing or gaming sessions.

You may laugh at “finger fatigue”, but you will instantly understand how much of a chore it is typing or gaming on a membrane keyboard after using mechanical switches. A mechanical keyboard may take some adjustment however – most users switching from membrane will initially be applying too much pressure, causing the key to ‘bottom out’ with a louder than usual “clack”.

Consistency is key:

Mechanical keyboard switches mean you can be sure that the pressure and distance required to register a keystroke is exactly the same, every time, on every key. Conversely, rubber dome distances and force requirements will change key-to-key over the course of its life due to rapid wear of the membrane. W will eventually be different to A, for example.

Rapid response:

Keys on a mechanical board snap back into position very fast, ready to be pressed again almost instantaneously. The key return speed is slower with a rubber dome and you can expect it to get even slower over the life of the keyboard due to changes in its elastic properties. To nullify accidental multi-strokes when your intentional was only one, a mechanical switch only needs a “bouncing” delay of 5ms, during which time it prevents additional keystroke registers. This period needs to be substantially longer for rubber domes due to their fatigued movement, as high as an astronomical 50ms.

Confidence in touch:

Because you need to force a rubber dome to flex, there’s a dynamic “squish” as it drops past its “break through” point and jumps back up. A mechanical keyboard with the aforementioned Black or Red switches means the press path is linear and more importantly, predictable in performance and response.

Reliability counts:

Keyboard membrane will last between 1 and 10 million keystrokes before needing to be binned, while a mechanical switch will kick on for up to 50 million. The properties of each rubber dome will change over its life, while a mechanical switch will remain exactly the same until complete failure.

All of these factors may seem small, but when you’re looking for every competitive edge attainable – or just want to type efficiently for long periods of time – they’re not to be overlooked.

Now that we have the pros of mechanical switches out of the way, let’s talk about the differences in switches themselves. What’s the difference between Red, Black and others? Cherry MX Red, Black, Blue and Brown are the common variations seen in popular boards today.

Red and Black are non-tactile – top to bottom of your keystroke, they present a linear path. These are preferred by most gamers. Red is more sensitive needing only 40g of force to trigger, 20g short of Black, which requires more force than any other mechanical switch at 60g.

 

 

Brown and Blue have a non-linear press, requiring 45g and 50g of force respectively. They have a detectable actuation point between being fully depressed and the bottom of your keystroke, still without nearly as much force required as a rubber dome. Old school typists generally prefer this type of switch, as it’s more like an old type writer.

Blue however, which are still very popular, are the switches that gamers love to hate. This is due to the fact that the release point is above the actuation point, which causes trouble with double-tapping. The “click” is also highly audible, and the “hard transition” is considered a trait that better suits typing specifically.

I think that about does it for your crash course on mechanical boards. We’ll have our first review up soon! Click here to visit our Keyboard Review index for a read of them as they’re published.