What is the Difference Between a Keyboard and Mechanical Keyboard? A Simple Explanation

When it comes to choosing a keyboard, you may have heard about mechanical keyboards and wondered how they differ from traditional keyboards. In order to make the best decision for your needs, it’s important to understand the key differences between them.

A mechanical keyboard uses individual mechanical switches for each key, providing tactile feedback, faster actuation, and increased customization options. On the other hand, a regular keyboard, also known as a membrane keyboard, relies on a rubber dome under each keycap to press against a circuit board and register your keystrokes.

As you dive into the world of keyboards, you’ll quickly discover that mechanical keyboards are a popular choice for both typists and gamers. This is due to their precise and reliable performance, offering you a superior typing experience compared to regular keyboards. With this information in hand, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed choice when selecting your next keyboard.

Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboards

When considering a new keyboard, one main decision you’ll need to make is whether to go for a mechanical or membrane keyboard. Each has its own unique characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. In this section, we’ll discuss the key differences between mechanical and membrane keyboards, focusing on their switch technology.

Mechanical Switches

Mechanical keyboards use individual spring-loaded switches for each key. These switches provide a tactile and audible feedback when pressed, giving you a more satisfying typing experience. Some advantages of mechanical switches include:

  • Durability: Mechanical keyboards are known for their long lifespan, often tested to last between 30 and 70 million keypresses.
  • Consistent key feel: The spring-loaded switches ensure each keypress feels consistent, enabling you to type faster and more accurately.
  • Customization: Mechanical switches come in various types, such as linear, tactile, and clicky, allowing you to choose the switch that best suits your preferences.

However, mechanical keyboards can be quite noisy due to their switch design, making them less suitable for quiet environments like offices.

Membrane Switches

Membrane keyboards, on the other hand, utilize a rubber dome sheet underneath the keys. When you press a key, the rubber dome collapses and makes electrical contact with a printed circuit board (PCB), registering your input. Some characteristics of membrane switches include:

  • Quieter operation: Membrane keyboards generally produce less noise compared to mechanical ones, making them a better choice for noise-sensitive environments.
  • Softer feel: The rubber dome sheet gives membrane keyboards a more “spongey” or “mushy” sensation when typing.
  • Lower cost: Membrane keyboards are typically more affordable than their mechanical counterparts.

One downside to membrane keyboards is their shorter lifespan. They’re often rated for around 5 million keypresses before they begin to degrade in performance.

Now that you’re familiar with the main differences between mechanical and membrane keyboards, you can make a more informed decision about which one is the best fit for your needs.

Types of Keyboard Switches

In this section, we will introduce you to the three main types of keyboard switches used in mechanical keyboards: linear, tactile, and clicky. Understanding the differences between these switch types will help you select the perfect mechanical keyboard for your specific needs and preferences.

Linear Switches

Linear switches are the simplest type of mechanical switches, characterized by their smooth and consistent keystroke without any tactile or audible feedback. These switches rely on a straight up and down motion, without any bumps or clicks to indicate a keypress. They are often preferred by gamers due to their fast and precise actuation. Some popular examples of linear switches include Cherry MX Red and Cherry MX Black.

Tactile Switches

Tactile switches offer a slight bump during the keypress, providing you with a tactile feedback confirming that the key has been actuated. This feedback helps you to type more accurately and confidently since you know exactly when a key has been registered. Tactile switches are ideal for typists who want a balance between smoothness and responsiveness. Common tactile switches include Cherry MX Brown and Cherry MX Clear.

Clicky Switches

Clicky switches, as the name suggests, produce an audible click in addition to the tactile bump when the keys are actuated. This clicky feedback is loved by many typists who enjoy the sound and feel of traditional mechanical keyboards. However, the noise generated by clicky switches might not be suitable for shared workspaces or quiet environments. Well-known clicky switches are Cherry MX Blue and Cherry MX Green.

Here is a quick comparison of the three switch types:

TypeFeedbackBest for
LinearSmooth, no bump or clickGaming
TactileBump, no clickTyping & Mixed Use
ClickyBump and clickTyping (with noise tolerance)

When choosing a mechanical keyboard, it’s important to consider your personal preferences and usage requirements. Try out different switch types if you can, and remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution – what works best for you might not work for someone else.

Performance and Gaming Experience

When it comes to the performance and gaming experience, a mechanical keyboard offers you several advantages over a regular keyboard. As a gamer, these benefits can significantly enhance your overall gaming experience, particularly in fast-paced games where quick responses are vital.

One of the main differences between a regular keyboard and a gaming keyboard lies in the key switches. Mechanical keyboards use individual mechanical switches for each key, providing a tactile feel and a faster keystroke response. This allows for more precise control, ensuring that every keystroke registers accurately, even when you press multiple keys at once.

Furthermore, mechanical keyboards often feature n-key rollover (NKRO) capabilities. N-key rollover enables your keyboard to register multiple simultaneous key presses without any input dropouts. This is particularly helpful in fast-paced games where you may need to perform multiple actions at once.

Gaming keyboards also tend to have additional features designed specifically for gamers. For instance, programmable keys allow you to create custom macros and commands, making it easier to execute complex in-game actions. RGB backlighting not only adds a touch of personalization to your gaming setup but also helps you see your keys in low-light conditions.

Beyond performance and gaming-specific features, gaming keyboards are often built with durability in mind. Sturdier materials and higher-graded key switches ensure that your keyboard can withstand the rigors of extended gaming sessions without wearing down quickly. This added durability becomes even more important as your keyboard must endure countless hours of intense gaming action.

In summary, the differences between a mechanical and a regular keyboard significantly affect your gaming experience. By providing you with faster response times, improved accuracy, and helpful gaming features, a mechanical gaming keyboard can elevate your gameplay and enhance your overall enjoyment of your favorite games.

Durability and Maintenance

When it comes to durability, there’s a notable difference between mechanical keyboards and regular keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are known for their long-lasting life expectancy, mostly due to the use of metal contacts in each key. On the other hand, regular keyboards tend to have rubber or plastic keys, which wear out more quickly.

So, what does this mean for you? With a mechanical keyboard in your hands, you’ll notice that the sturdy metal-on-metal contact points remain functional for much longer before needing any replacement. This also contributes to the distinct thick clicking sound you’ll hear as opposed to the softer sound of a regular desktop keyboard.

When it comes to cleaning and maintenance, mechanical keyboards have an advantage as well. With the help of a keycap puller, you can easily remove the keycaps of a mechanical keyboard for thorough cleaning. This is an essential step in keeping your keyboard in good condition, as dirt and debris can accumulate over time, affecting its performance. Regular keyboards, on the other hand, might be more challenging to clean due to their pressure pad construction.

Here are some maintenance tips for your mechanical keyboard:

  • Use a keycap puller to remove keycaps easily and safely.
  • Use compressed air or a soft brush to remove dust and debris from the switches.
  • For stubborn grime, use a slightly damp cloth to clean the keycaps and let them dry completely before reassembling.

By following these simple steps, you can prolong the life of your mechanical keyboard and enjoy a better typing experience.

Customization Options

One of the major differences between a regular keyboard and a mechanical keyboard is the customization options available. Mechanical keyboards offer a wide range of features that you can tailor to your preferences.

Firstly, you can choose from various keyboard layouts, such as the standard QWERTY or the alternative Dvorak layout. Experimenting with different layouts can help you discover the most efficient and comfortable typing experience for your needs.

When it comes to key switches, mechanical keyboards have a plethora of options. You can select switches based on their actuation force, travel distance, and even the noise they make. Some popular switch types include linear, tactile, and clicky switches. The choice is yours to create a typing experience that suits your preferences.

Another way to personalize your mechanical keyboard is through RGB lighting. Many mechanical keyboards come with customizable backlit keys, allowing you to choose the colors and patterns that match your style or setup. With numerous lighting modes available, your keyboard can be both functional and visually appealing.

Finally, mechanical keyboards often have interchangeable keycaps. This means you can swap out the keycaps with different materials, colors, and designs to further customize your keyboard’s aesthetics and usability. With countless keycap options on the market, the possibilities for personalization are nearly endless.

Overall, the customization options offered by mechanical keyboards let you create a unique and enjoyable typing experience tailored to your needs and preferences.

Price Differences and Budget Considerations

When choosing between a mechanical and a membrane keyboard, the price can play a significant role in your decision. Mechanical keyboards tend to be more expensive, with prices ranging from $50 to $200 and up, while membrane keyboards are generally more affordable.

It’s important to consider your budget when selecting a keyboard. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option, a membrane keyboard may be the most suitable choice for you. However, keep in mind that while mechanical keyboards may come with a higher price tag, they often offer additional benefits such as durability and a longer lifespan.

Mechanical keyboards are tested to last between 30 and 70 million keypresses, while membrane keyboards typically have a lifespan of approximately 5 million presses. This could mean that investing in a mechanical keyboard may save you money in the long run, as you won’t need to replace it as frequently.

Some factors that can affect the price of both types of keyboards include the brand, level of customization, and additional features such as backlighting or programmable keys. To make the best decision for your needs, compare the features and costs of various keyboards within your budget.

Remember, it’s not just about the initial cost of the keyboard. Consider the value you’ll be getting in terms of durability, lifespan, and features to ensure you make the most informed decision for your investment.

Noise, Feedback, and Typing Experience

When considering the differences between keyboards and mechanical keyboards, noise, feedback, and typing experience are crucial factors that affect your comfort and performance as a typist.

Mechanical keyboards often produce more noise compared to regular membrane keyboards. The clicks and clacks from mechanical switches can be loud, especially when engaging keys with clicky or tactile switch types. However, if you value silence, there are also some quieter mechanical switches available.

Feedback is another distinguishing aspect of mechanical keyboards. Unlike membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards offer better tactile feedback, which helps you know when a key has been actuated. This improved feedback can enhance your typing experience, as it results in fewer typos and a more satisfying feel as you press the keys.

Typing experience on a mechanical keyboard tends to be more enjoyable for many typists due to the responsiveness provided by the mechanical switches. Some keyboards have very light switches, while others have heavier switches to cater to different preferences. Finding the ideal switch for your typing style can result in a more efficient and comfortable experience.

Keep in mind that every typist is unique, and the ideal noise, feedback, and typing experience can vary depending on personal preferences. Take the time to explore various switch types and keyboards to determine what works best for you.

Popular Brands and Variants

If you’re looking to upgrade your typing experience, it’s essential to know some popular brands and their mechanical keyboard variants. This will help you choose the perfect one for your needs.

First off, let’s talk about Apple. Although Apple doesn’t produce mechanical keyboards themselves, their keyboards are known for their sleek design and reliable performance. However, if you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard specifically for use with your Apple devices, you can find great options from well-known brands such as Keychron and Varmilo that are designed to be compatible with macOS.

For Windows users, Microsoft also offers a line of keyboards, but they mainly focus on membrane keyboards. However, there’s no shortage of brands out there catering to mechanical keyboard enthusiasts who prefer working with Microsoft devices. Some renowned brands that offer mechanical keyboards compatible with Windows include Corsair, Logitech, and Razer.

Now, let’s dive into some specific brands that cater to different preferences:

  • Corsair: Known for high-quality gaming peripherals, Corsair mechanical keyboards, such as the K70 RGB Mk.2, are widely sought after by gamers and typists alike for their durability and customization options.
  • Logitech: Logitech offers a range of mechanical keyboards like the G915, which boasts a sleek design and fast, efficient performance. Logitech is popular for its focus on ergonomics, providing comfort and ease of use.
  • Razer: Razer is another popular brand in the gaming community. They provide a variety of mechanical keyboards, such as the BlackWidow series, that feature customizable RGB lighting and numerous switch options to suit your typing style.

Remember, when choosing a mechanical keyboard, it’s essential to consider factors like switch type, keycap material, and your personal preferences. Take your time to explore various brands and models to find the perfect fit for you.

About the Author

Dan was initially only focused around gaming reviews and other content back in 2019ish on this platform. Since then he has decided to focus on the hardware and software side of things instead of just the games themselves. He has been focused on PC gaming and wants to give back to his community as much as possible.