Why mechanical keyboards are better than traditional membrane keypads

The loud clicking

I enjoy using a blue Cherry MX switch in my keyboard, which is regarded as one of the loudest solutions around. It's super loud, regardless as to which keyboard I opt to use. While this seemingly unnecessarily high level of audible clicking may put some people off — and infuriate housemates and family — I enjoy having a loud confirmation that keys have been pressed. If this sounds like a downside of mechanical switches, there are alternatives.

And if you don't know what switches are, be sure to read through our handy guide.

Using a keyboard with loud switches in a quiet office may be a bad idea unless you wish to engage in verbal combat with colleagues. They can also cause issues with recording voice through a microphone because the keyboard strokes are sometimes picked up in the audio. I managed to work around this by using a mount to place my condenser microphone above the keyboard, closer to my mouth, and then turning down sensitivity to help block out background noise.

But the clicking is there for good reason. I've learned to type by only pressing down on each key until I feel and hear it actuating, rather than mashing each key as far as it will go. In-game, it's a neat addition for reloading or using a skill, and moving a character now feels more physical thanks to the improved feedback. There's also the additional bonus of anti-ghosting technology that allows you to hit a number of keys simultaneously without the thing throwing a tantrum.

A sturdy beast

Tomoko Mechanical Keyboard

Tomoko Mechanical Keyboard

I've come to expect mechanical keyboards to be more durable than the traditional membrane counterparts. They're heavy, sturdy and could be used as a weapon to knock someone out with a blow. This is good for reliability and longevity, but also for general use. These keyboards won't move. For example, HyperX Alloy FPS, Razer BlackWidow, or even a more affordable Tomoko option, fail to move through heavy use.

This longevity is shared by the switches underneath each key. Usually, they're certified and tested to last up to 50 million presses. And while they may initially cost more than a membrane keyboard, a mechanical solution will last longer — much longer. I'd rather not have to pick up a replacement keyboard more often than I do now, which is every five years or so. That said, it's absolutely possible to see a membrane keyboard lasting just as long. But mechanical switches offer the same experience on day 1,347 as they do on day one.

I've also found that spilling liquids on the boards doesn't cause permanent damage. Even though I may preach that one should never eat and drink in front of a computer — just take a break — I have managed to knock over a few cans, bottles and mugs while working. Taking all that into account, I never damaged a mechanical keyboard. They're also super easy to clean, and it's simple to blow out debris that accumulates beneath keys.

Mechanical keyboards aren't created equally

Mechanical Keyboard

Mechanical Keyboard

Thanks to the massive array of switches available, from ZF Electronics (Cherry MX) and competing parties, it's possible to pick up mechanical keyboards that feel and perform vastly different than others. Couple that with unique designs, formats and additional features, and you have a strong catalog of options to suit various needs and requirements. For example, the BlackWidow has programmable keys, macro buttons and a dedicated gaming mode switch that disables specific Windows shortcuts. The HyperX Alloy FPS has only a gaming mode.

Typing thousands of words each day and spending a good number of hours locked in some virtual world or another, I've never felt the need to turn back to membrane keyboards. I dig the mechanical experience and will continue to do so in the future with my current or replacement hardware.

Mechanical keyboards aren't for everyone, though. If you simply are happy with a rubber dome keyboard then there's really no point looking to invest some more money. For everyone else, I absolutely recommend picking one up in a store for a quick typing session. Regardless of whether or not mechanical keyboards are for you, they're becoming more and more common. In fact, Razer's new Blade Pro comes with what the company says is the first true mechanical keyboard on a laptop.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.