Welcome to MechBoardsUK guide the mechanical keyboards! This guide is for anyone not quite sure about something related to mechanical keyboards. Maybe you are new to the whole subject and just want some guidance? Or maybe you have had your eyes on mechanical keyboards for a while, and just want to learn some of the facts? Which ever it is, this is the guide for you. We won’t go into to much of the technical and needlessly complicated side of things, but focus on the practical reasons to help you with your decisions when it comes to buying yourself a new keyboard. So what that said, let us get into the heart of it.
A mechanical keyboard uses solid, physical “mechanical” switches under the keys that must be depressed in order to register a keystroke. This is different to the standard keyboard switches that use “rubber domes”. Rubber domes have become far more widely used due to the ability to be produced cheap, but mechanical switches still remain far higher quality.
The most common question asked when people hear about mechanical keyboards is “Why should I get one?”, or, the longer version “Why should I spend more money for a mechanical keyboard, when I can buy one from Logitech for £10?”. TO answer this, I must tell you about the alternative. Any cheap keyboard, either bought in a retail store or bundled in with a computer package, will use “robber dome” switches. Rubber domes are built for one purpose – to be as cheap as possible. This means not only will they break, get stuck, and various other problems, but they will also perform and feel incredibly inferior when matched up against a mechanical keyboard.
Generally speaking, there are three reasons why you would want to buy a mechanical keyboard.
The Feel – It is not something you can describe in words or show with a video. For this, you would need to get your hands on a mechanical keyboard to truly see (or rather, feel) for yourself. Everyone who has gone from rubber domes to mechanical keyboards will know this experience. Once you realise how good it feels to use one, you will never want to go back to rubber dome.
Durability – Most rubber dome keyboards will break or fail within a year or two. Mechanical switches are built to withstand 50 million keystrokes. That means each button can be pressed 50 million times before it is expected to break. That is a huge improvement over the the rubber domes.
The Choices – There are multiple different kinds of mechanical switches out there, each one with a different purpose and unique feeling to it. I will go over this more in the “Switch Types” section down below.
Due to the many different types of mechanical switches and the large amount of information on them all, for this guide I am going to keep it short and sweet, and then later write up a much more indepth switch guide to help people pick. But for now, I shall keep it simple.
Cherry MX Black – The black switches require the most amount of force to activate a key press out of all the common Cherry MX switches. The black switch is a little controversial in what people think about it. The extra force required to depress a key means that you are far less likely to hit the wrong key by accident while typing or playing quickly. However, it also means that you fingers can get fatigued quicker than usual.
Cherry MX Brown – Much less force needed to activate a brown switch, but still more than the most common cherry switches. The brown is considered an “all rounder” of mechanical switches. Very good for typing and very good for gaming. It is definitely a switch recommended to first time buyers.
Cherry MX Blue – The Blue MX switch requires roughly the same amount of force than the Browns, but the Blue is known as a “clicky” switch. A added bit of plastic around the spring causes a nice “click” sound to be made each time you depress the key. The blues have become very popular because of this, and are lovely to use when typing. However, they are very loud and can annoy people in the office.
Cherry MX Red – The red switches are considered the best for gaming. They require the least amount of force to activate the keystroke out of all the ones listed here, which can enable really quick usage of the keys, making it very popular with gaming.
There are many more switches, but these are the most common and the ones you will see most on this website. I will add a much more in depth guide to switches on a separate page in the future.
When it comes to keycaps, there are two common plastics used, referred to as “PBT” and “ABS”. So when you see people referring to either of these, they are talking about their keycaps.
PBT – These are the more “high quality” keycaps. They are heat resistant up to 150 degrees C, resistant to solvents, very strong and they do not dull or shine quickly. The only downside is they are expensive.
ABS – These are almost completely opposite from the PBT. Solvents melt them, and they dull or shine much quicker. The advantage comes in that they are thin, lightweight and very cheap.
When picking a new keyboard it is important to pay attention to the layout. There are two types of layouts, and if you pick the one you are not used to then you may spend a few weeks hitting wrong keys until you finally get used to it. The layouts are:
ISO – ISO is used mostly in the majority of European countries. If you are from the UK or Europe, you will most likely want to get yourself an ISO layout keyboard. ISO have a much smaller left shift key, but a much larger enter key.
ANSI: Ansi is used mostly in the US. There are a few European countries that use it, so you may want to double check before you buy. ANSI keyboards have a much larger left shift key, and a smaller enter key.
Now time to move on to some of the most frequently asked questions.
“How much should I expect to pay for a mechanical keyboard?”
This questions depends on what keyboard you buy and when you buy it. Generally speaking, you won’t get one for less than £50. For a good one you could be looking at between £70 and £90. If you want to splash out on a top of the range one, then expect to pay even more. However, they are often on sale. So if you don’t have the money but really want one, keep your eyes on the prices and wait for them to drop during holiday sales.
“Which switch is best for me?”
There is no way of knowing that until you try. Originally, I thought Cherry MX Blacks were my favourite, until I had a go on Cherry MX Reds. Then I tried MX Browns and have since changed my mind again. If you are new, I would say going for Browns or Reds is a safe bet, but you may be someone who prefers a key more clicky, or more tactile, or more stiff. You never know until you try.
“Which size mechanical keyboard should I get?”
Again, this is totally personal preference. I have a friend who loves compact 60% boards, and another friend who needs a full size board with as many extra function keys as he can get, and I myself have come to love tenkeyless boards. For this one you really need to think about what you want to use it for, then decide how the size will impact that. If you travel a lot, then think about a 60% or tenkeyless. If you play a lot of RPGs or MMOs then maybe you need a full size board with function keys.
“When will Corsair release an ISO version of their RGB keyboards?”
We don’t know. No one but Corsair knows right now, and that is even if they will. The Corsair RGB keyboards have gained a lot of popularity over the last few months, and we ourselves are excited to get our hands on an ISO one, so we will promise to let you know as soon as we do.