Mechanical Keyboards


Hey everyone, this post is kind of close to the last one because I delayed the previous one from Wednesday until Saturday. Today is kind of a random post about “Mechanical Keyboards“.

Keyboards
Photo by Karol D from Pexels

Mechanical Keyboards?

Yea.

This is kind of a random, but let me explain how I went down the rabbit hole that is “high end” or “custom” keyboards. Remember how I explained that because of how my office was laid out I was demotivated to write my posts? Well, I think a lot of that stems from the fact that typing on my laptop isn’t comfortable and to be honest, using it for writing a post was joyless. For this same reason, you may recall I bought a keyboard for my daughter.

Since that time I started looking into getting a new keyboard for my laptop. As with most things, I threw myself into research about keyboards. I was surprised to find a whole community dedicated to keyboards. I suppose I’ve never really thought about it, but keyboards have changed over the years.

The keyboards I learned to type on are the old gray ones made by IBM. Apparently, they are called “Model M” keyboards. Also, you can STILL buy these. Some company called Unicomp in Kentucky makes them. They’re definitely not cheap, but Model Ms have a reputation for holding up over the years. Just to be clear, Model Ms are not mechanical keyboards. They use a characteristic “buckling spring” design.

Interesting…

It IS interesting. I never really thought about it, but those old keyboards are just WAY better than the keyboards we use nowadays. This is mostly because the cost to make those keyboards is very high and in general, most people don’t care too much about their keyboards. This would include me.

Since then, I’ve used whatever keyboard came with my computer(s) after leaving home for college, Dell, HP, whatever. Then I got used to using whatever keyboard my laptop(s) had, Dell, Asus, IBM, whatever. When it comes right down to it, I can pretty much type on anything.

So then that begs the question:

Why buy anything else?

Well, let’s delve into things further… you guys know I like researching things.

There are some major differences between the “old” keyboards and the new ones. The most notable difference is audible. The older keyboards were either buckling spring (IBM Model M) or mechanical (Apple IIe), and there was definitely a tactile element to typing back then. In general, mechanical keyboards are usually louder than the membrane keyboards. Membrane keyboards became mainstays by the mid 90s. This most likely came about because of the desire for a quieter office environment. The incessant “clacking” of keys would probably grate on the ears nowadays.

I don’t want to get too much into the details of mechanical versus membrane, but it boils down to what happens to send the signal from the circuit board to the computer. Is it a switch (mechanical) or is it a rubber dome (membrane)? A good explanation can be found here:

https://techguided.com/mechanical-keyboard-vs-membrane-keyboard/

Ok, but why opt for a mechanical keyboard?

Well, there are two main reasons.

The feel from a mechanical keyboard can be better than that of a membrane keyboard. The other reason is that objectively mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane keyboards. On average, mechanical keyboards last up to 50 million keystrokes. The reason membrane keyboards are so common is because they usually come with computers when you buy them, and are significantly cheaper to manufacture. When your computer inevitably becomes outdated, most people will throw it out and buy a new one (with a new keyboard).

Another major reason (for some) would be customizability. In general, you can’t do anything to membrane keyboards. However, with mechanical keyboards you usually have the ability to change out your switches. At the very least, the majority of mechanical keyboards let you change out your keycaps. Then of course, there are RGB and face plates to customize your look even more.

Long story short, a mechanical keyboard is something you will probably keep for a long time and not just throw away when you upgrade your PC.

Switches? Keycaps? RGB? Face Plates?

Switches

Yes, now we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards. It doesn’t end with just deciding “I want a mechanical keyboard”. There are a ton of things to consider. The most important of which (in my opinion) is what kind of “feel” you want.

Credit goes to Steel Series for this GIF

Switches come in “color types” depending on what is important to you. This is what I mean by the feel you desire (Linear, Tactile, Clicky). There are good writeups on what switches do what and how they feel. Unfortunately, there is no good way to figure out what you want unless you go try them out somewhere.

However, the general overview is that the Red/Black are good for gaming and some typing. Browns are good for hybrid usage of gaming/typing. Blue/Green is good for people who do mostly typing. However, be warned the Blue/Green switches are VERY loud.

If you are really interested, you will learn the terminology of Key Roll-over (aka Anti-Ghosting), Actuation Force, Actuation Distance, Bottoming Out, etc. However, these kinds of things are beyond the scope of this article.

Keycaps

Keycaps are just the type of plastic used on the keys. In general, most membrane keyboards use PVC (cheap). However, mechanical keyboards use ABS, which is considered better and last longer. However, the “best” keycap is probably PBT since it is stiffer, durable, and doesn’t lose its color or shine over time. There are also POM and POC, but those are uncommon and mostly aesthetic.

RGB

Ahhh yes, what defines a “gaming PC”?

Obviously, the usage of RGB lighting everywhere.

This is no different for mechanical keyboards and is common. However, not all RGB is the same. The amount of customization here may be dependent on software available for your keyboard or you may be limited to only a few pre-selected options.

Faceplates

We’re really getting into pure aesthetic customization now. However, for some enthusiasts, they like the ability to change the color of their entire keyboard. For example, let’s say your gaming pc is an all black case and your custom gaming keyboard is black. That’s great, everything matches, and life is good.

However, you get an awesome new case that only comes in white… and now your much loved mechanical keyboard doesn’t fit in anymore. No problem! If your keyboard has it, snap a white magnetic faceplate on it, and change your keycaps over to white and boom — everything is where it should be again… although you may need a new mouse now.

Whoa, lots of stuff.

Yea dude.

Trust me when I tell you I fell down the rabbit hole on this stuff to try to come up with what keyboard and switches to buy.

Anyways, after much deliberation, I decided on this one:

Tecware Phantom 87

Like I said, I did a ton of research and watched a lot of reviews before I settled on this one. A lot of different reviewers have cited this one as the best budget mechanical keyboard to start with. I opted for the Outemu Red switches. In general, the Cherry brand switches are kind of the gold standard. However, there are now a bunch of other companies making them like Kailh, Gateron, etc. The “gaming” brands like Razer, Logitech, etc, have their own in-house switches as well. However, Outemu is considered to be the most “Cherry-like” without being the Cherry brand name. I felt this was a good starting point.

As you would expect, this keyboard allows for removal of keycaps. However, it also allows for changing out the switches. The website says you can only use Outemu, but others have said they’ve used Gateron and other brands without a problem. While this isn’t too important to me, having that option is nice.

The keyboard comes with ABS keycaps, but they also have PBT options, as well as PBT Pudding Keycaps. A Pudding keycap allows for better lighting from RGB. Also, you guessed it, this keyboard has RGB lighting with a lot of customizability — which I will likely not use.

Anything else?

Yea, one last thing.

This particular keyboard is an 87 key keyboard, meaning that it smaller than a full size keyboard and doesn’t have a number pad — “tenkeyless”. In general, the majority of keyboard users don’t use the number pad at home. However, in an office/work environment, it is significantly more important for data entry, database, coding, etc. For me, I don’t use my number pad at all so it just takes up space on my small desk to have it. As such, I decided to take the plunge and opt for the smaller tenkeyless (TKL) version.

For those interested, there are even smaller keyboards which are 60% of normal size with the bare minimum of keys. In my opinion, a 60% keyboard is for people who only play First Person Shooters (FPS).

I’ll do an update after a few weeks/months with this new keyboard once I get it. I may eventually buy one for my daughter too to give her more space on her desk.

TL;DR

Membrane versus Mechanical Keyboards

I’m giving a Mechanical Keyboard a try.

Read for the details.

Three Variations of Bunny Sensei

-Sensei

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