Mechanical keyboards use physical mechanisms to operate. While membrane keyboards use rubber-domes beneath the keys, mechanical keyboards include spring-attached mechanical switches.
When you press a key, the spring touches the circuit, which signals the circuit to register a keystroke.
Alternatively, in membrane keyboards, you will find a rubber dome beneath the keys.
Since both keyboards consist of the same type of keycaps, you might not recognize the difference with bare eyes.
However, if you use them, you can clearly feel the immaculate difference between them both.
Mechanical keyboards come with varieties, all targeted to the specific use of the user.
Keyboard with linear switches simply goes up and down, without generating any clicky noise or feedback.
It allows you to reach faster actuation with smooth keystrokes with each keypress. For gaming, you can go for them.
Keyboard with tactile switches makes you feel a noticeable bump on your finger when you press a key.
The bumpy feeling helps you get the idea that your device has registered a key. Moreover, it also helps in limiting bottoms out.
For example- when you use membrane keys, you have to press more to register a key. Pressing a key too hard makes them bottom out, leading to technical issues.
Since tactile switches register keystrokes faster, such issues never usually occur in mechanical keyboards.
Such switches offer the same benefits as tactile switches plus offering a unique clicky sound when activated. The click sound is an extra addition to the tactile feedback.
Meaning, you get more response to a keypress, leading to more accuracy in typing and gaming.
Apart from technical differences, you will have other variances in mechanical keyboards like wired/wireless, tenkeyless, detachable wrist rests, and many more.
Advantages of Mechanical Keyboard
1. Better typing and gaming performance
Any professional programmer or gamer will surely prefer mechanical keyboards in terms of speed and precision.
Usually, in a membrane keyboard, you need to reach at least 4mm of actuation point to register a keypress.
However, in mechanical keyboards, the number goes down to less than 2 mm. With such advantages of a mechanical keyboard, you have to apply less pressure to achieve accuracy.
Therefore, once you get familiar with the new mechanism of a mechanical keyboard, you can type twice as fast in the long run.
The actuation force used to register a key in membrane keyboards is usually lower than mechanical keyboards.
However, as we mentioned earlier, the actuation point in the membrane remains twice as higher as mechanical ones.
As a result, in membrane keyboards, you have to apply more pressure to register a key, which messes up the whole ergonomics.
Therefore, people working with rubber dome keyboards often end up with finger fatigue within a small duration.
Typing style of a person varies from person to person. For example- People with big fingers tend to make typing errors compare to people with smaller hands.
However, this rule does not apply to everyone. Therefore, manufacturers of mechanical keyboards allow you to customize your keyboard according to your typing style, hand size, and force you utilize while typing.
i. Scenario 1: Big hands – Many Misclicks
If you have big hands and often make typing mistakes, then you can go for keyboards with activation points higher than 2mm. Actually, the farther you keep the activation point, the more you have to press to activate the key.
Also, make sure the operation force of the keyboard remains 55cN or higher. This works great if you tend to apply more pressure while typing.
In other words, you have to put slightly more pressure to activate a key, which helps you avoid misclicks.
You might be thinking- why not go for membrane keyboards as they provide higher actuation points. In reality, a higher activation point alone cannot help you reduce your misclicks, you also need a keyboard that accommodates heavy operating force.
Since membrane keyboards contain rubber domes and lightweight bodies, they simply cannot withstand heavy operating force in the long run.
ii. Scenario 2: Big hands – light typing habit
If you have large hands but type lighter, then you can enhance your typing speed and accuracy by switching to mechanical keyboards with activation points around 1.4 or higher.
Considering your light typing skills, we can assume that you have already learned how to control the strength of your fingers. Therefore, you can restrict the operating force from 55 to 75 cN.
Also, as a light typing, the chance of the key’s bottom out remains minimal. You have the natural tendency to identify the bump during keypress and move to the next key. Therefore, you can go for tactile or clicky switches.
iii. Scenario 3: Small to medium size hands – Bottoms out
If you have small to medium-size hands, but still face bottoms out issues, then consider buying speed switches. These switches are great for gaming as well as for typing. These switches come with a short activation point, enabling the device to register keypress faster than ever.
iv. Scenario 4: Heavy smashers
If you love or can’t help but put excessive pressure on keyboards, then simply go for mechanical keyboards with an operating force higher than 75cN.
3. Economical In The Long Run
With membrane keyboards, you cannot make such critical customization. However, with mechanical keyboards you can remove your key switches and replace them with other switches in the future.
For example- if a key of your mechanical keyboard stops working after a few years, then you don’t have to throw the whole thing away. You just have to buy a new key, pull the old key, and replace it with the new key. This is also beneficial in cases where you want to upgrade the tactile force and actuation force of your keyboard.
Apart from offering a 50 – 100 keystrokes lifecycle, mechanical keyboards come with a highly durable build and superior technology.
Most mechanical keyboards feature heavy-duty materials like ABS and aircraft-grade anodized aluminum. In addition to that, mechanical keyboards also include advanced dust-proof and spill-resistant features that add a few more years to it.
5. Anti-Ghosting property
The Anti-ghosting technology is among the top advantages of mechanical keyboards you will receive as a programmer/gamer. If you do not know, ghosting refers to the process when your keyboard fails to recognize a few keys when you press them together.
Such circumstances often occur when you type faster. With anti-ghosting, you get more precision with typing, leading to fewer typing errors. Besides, mechanical keyboards offer super durability as they often come with a hard metal, dust-proof and spill-resistant body.
Disadvantages of Mechanical Keyboard
Every product comes with some downside and mechanical keyboards are no exception.
1. A bit loud
If you are using a mechanical keyboard for the first time, then you might feel distracted by the noise. Most mechanical keyboards such as tactile and clicky switches often can be a bit louder than other keyboards. If you cannot bear the noise, you can go for silent models or use O-rings to decrease the sound.
Any keyboard with a durable body and mechanical key switches will feel heavy on the hands. However, considering its lightning-fast response, you would hardly feel the weight, unless you decide to keep the keyboard on your lap instead.
Mechanical keyboards are usually expensive when compared to membrane keyboards. Any good quality keyboard with a durable body, RGB lighting, and genuine MX switches will cost you $100 at a minimum. Meanwhile, you will also find some quality mechanical keyboards under $40.
How long do mechanical keyboards last?
A mechanical keyboard lasts around 10 years on average. However, the longevity of a mechanical keyboard completely depends upon your usage rate and maintenance. Generally, a mechanical keyboard comes with a life of around 50-100 million keystrokes, which counts as 10-20 times a regular membrane keyboard.
Several factors come to play while deciding the lifecycle of a mechanical keyboard. However, the major factor behind a long-lasting mechanical keyboard remains its strong key switches. For example- each key switch stays independent of each other, unlike the rubber dome from the membrane keyboard.
Most mechanical keyboards are repairable & upgradable, which means, with regular maintenance you can enhance its lifecycle even further.
Is a mechanical keyboard better for programming?
In one word, yes, mechanical keyboards offer the best programming experience you will ever have. Whether it’s due to lack of marketing or too much focus on the gaming industry, most people consider mechanical keyboards as a gaming device. However, to bust the myth, let’s focus on some technicalities.
Mechanical keyboards comprise several variants of key switches as tactical, linear, and hybrid. Most technicians prefer linear key switches as the best fit for gaming, while tactical switches for typing. Meanwhile, some prefer a combination of both.
Are mechanical keyboards more responsive?
Yes, mechanical keyboards respond to a keypress 2 to 3 times faster than a membrane keyboard. Mechanical keyboards offer impeccable tactile feedback. Those who don’t know, tactile feedback refers to the bumpy feeling, which you feel when you press a key. As you know, the bump tells us that the key you press is now activated.
Meaning, you can move to the next key. This actually helps in typing, especially when you type faster without looking at the screen. Not only typing, but mechanical keyboards also deliver better performance in games like shooting, or games where you have to use too many key combinations.
We expect now you must be in a condition to decide whether mechanical keyboards are worth the hype or not. We have tried to keep the discussion as subtle as possible. In case, you still have some queries to be addressed, do let us know in the comment section below. We will help you find answers to them for sure.