Best Linear Keyboard Switches: Guide to a Smoother Typing Experience

In the world of mechanical keyboards, the switch is the heart of the experience. If you prioritize a smooth and consistent keystroke, linear switches are your go-to option. Unlike tactile or clicky switches, linear switches offer a straightforward path down to the actuation point without any tactile bump or audible click. This quality makes them an excellent choice for both gaming, where rapid key presses are essential, and typing, where a quieter environment might be needed.

Selecting the best linear keyboard switches for your keyboard is a delicate balance of preferences and performance. You’ll want to consider factors such as actuation force, which is the amount of pressure needed to register a keypress, and the smoothness of the keystroke itself. Some linear switches, such as Gateron Ink Black V2, are revered for their smooth actuation and minimal sound profile, providing an experience that many describe as ‘buttery’ or ‘silky’.

Your ideal switch should align with your uses—be it fast-paced gaming or lengthy typing sessions. Renowned for their speed and precision, linear switches like Gateron Yellows offer a balanced actuation force, making them accessible to newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts alike. Whether you’re assembling a new keyboard or upgrading your current set-up, meticulous selection of linear switches can elevate your overall experience to new heights.

Understanding Keyboard Switches

When you’re navigating the world of mechanical keyboards, the variety and specifics of keyboard switches are fundamental to your typing experience. From the feedback they provide to the materials they are made from, each aspect affects performance and feel.

Types of Switches

There are three primary types of mechanical switches: linear, tactile, and clicky. Linear switches offer a smooth keystroke without feedback or noise. Tactile switches give a noticeable bump at the actuation point, signaling the keypress. Clicky switches are similar to tactile ones but include a distinct sound at actuation.

Mechanism of Action

The core function of a switch involves the actuation point and travel distance. The actuation point is where the keypress is registered before reaching the bottom, known as bottoming out. Linear switches, for example, have a consistent travel without feedback.

Switch Materials

Switches can be made from various materials like nylon or POM plastic. These materials influence the smoothness and acoustics. For example, POM, known for its durability, often makes for a smoother keystroke due to its self-lubricating properties.

Switch Lifespan and Durability

Durability is indicated by the switch’s lifespan, usually rated by the number of keystrokes, which can be up to 60 million or more. This lifespan reflects how long the switch will typically perform before it starts to degrade.

Customization Options

You can customize mechanical switches with lube and switch film to alter acoustics and feel. Lubrication can reduce friction, leading to a smoother keypress, while films can fine-tune the stability of the switch housing.

Your selection of switches will greatly impact your typing experience. Understanding these aspects of mechanical switches helps in making an informed choice that aligns with your preferences for keyboard feel and performance.

Linear Switches Explained

Linear switches offer a seamless keystroke experience that you may prefer for a variety of tasks from typing to gaming. Learn about their unique characteristics and how to select one that suits your needs.

Characteristics of Linear Switches

Smoothness and stability are the hallmarks of linear switches. They ensure a uniform keypress without tactile feedback or audible clicks, which can be beneficial for both rapid typing and gaming. Actuation force and travel distance are consistent throughout, resulting in a seamless bottom-out that allows for quicker subsequent strokes.

Sound Profile

When it comes to sound, linear switches are known to be quieter than their tactile and clicky counterparts. This results in a sound profile that leans towards a soft ‘thud’ rather than a sharp ‘click’. Silent switches such as the Cherry MX Black further reduce the noise, making them ideal for shared spaces.

Gaming with Linear Switches

Your performance in fast-paced games can benefit from the fast actuation and low latency linear switches offer. The lack of tactile bump minimizes the interruption between keypresses, which can give you an edge in competitive gaming. Popular choices such as the Cherry MX Red and Gateron Yellow are well-regarded in the gaming community.

A few names stand out when discussing popular linear switches. The Gateron Ink Black offers a 54gf actuation force and is pre-lubed for enhanced smoothness. Gateron Oil King switches are praised for their ultra-smooth press. And for those seeking a classic feel, Cherry MX Red and Cherry MX Black switches have been reliable choices for years.

Key Considerations for Linear Switches

When choosing linear switches, you should consider:

  • Actuation force: How much pressure you’ll need to apply.
  • Travel distance: Determines how far the key travels before actuation.
  • Bottom-out force: The resistance felt as you press the key all the way down. Some switches come pre-lubed, while others may require you to apply lubricant for optimal performance.

Linear Switch Maintenance

Maintaining your linear switches involves cleaning and, depending on the switch, periodic lubrication to ensure they continue to operate smoothly. Pre-lubed switches like the Gateron Ink Black provide a smoother experience out of the box, but may still benefit from maintenance over time.

Comparing Switch Types

When selecting keyboard switches, it’s crucial to consider types, pricing, and use cases to find the ideal match for your needs.

Linear vs Tactile Switches

Linear switches offer a smooth keystroke without any tactile feedback or clicking noise. They’re often favored for their consistency and quietness, making them suitable for gaming and office environments where noise levels matter. Tactile switches, on the other hand, provide a noticeable bump mid-actuation, giving you physical feedback when a keypress is registered—ideal for typing to help prevent errors.

Linear vs Clicky Switches

Clicky switches are distinct from linear ones due to their audible click sound at the point of actuation. They offer tactile feedback similar to tactile switches, enhancing the typing experience for those who value auditory cues. However, for gaming or in noise-sensitive areas, linear switches are preferred for their quiet operation.

Price and Availability

Linear switches range from affordable options like Gateron Yellows to higher-priced alternatives such as Cherry MX Reds. The market is diverse, allowing you to find switches at various price points, especially during a sale. Budget options provide value without compromising key switch performance.

Choosing Switches for Typing or Gaming

For typing, tactile feedback can reduce errors, so tactile or clicky switches might be ideal. Gaming requires responsive and quick actuation, where linear switches are often chosen for their smooth keypress. Consider actuation force and travel distance that match your touch.

Community Favorites and Recommendations

Among community favorites, Gateron Yellow switches are known to be a top budget-friendly linear switch with a good balance of smoothness and resistance. For a thocky sound and quality at a low cost, they come recommended, especially in their Milky Yellow variant.

Advancements in Switch Technology

New technologies like optical switches and features such as self-lubricating designs have enhanced switch durability and performance. RGB compatibility allows for backlighting customization, while silent switches reduce noise further, a sub-category that even linear switches have adopted.

Installation and Compatibility

When selecting linear switches for your mechanical keyboard, it’s crucial to understand the installation process and compatibility factors. Different switches require specific mounting types, keycap sizes, and may have varying compatibility with custom builds.

Switch Mounting Types

Your mechanical keyboard’s PCB (Printed Circuit Board) determines which switch mounting type you can use. There are primarily two types:

  • Plate-Mounted Switches: These switches are supported by a metal or plastic plate. Look for three pins—one for the signal and two for stability. Your PCB must have corresponding holes for plate-mounted switches.
  • PCB-Mounted Switches: They often have five pins—two additional plastic pins for added stability on the PCB. Ensure your keyboard’s PCB accommodates these extra pins, or you may need to clip them to fit a plate-only mount.

Keycap Compatibility

Keycaps connect directly to the switch, and not all keycaps fit every switch type. Pay attention to the stem design of your linear switches:

  • Cherry MX Stems: The most common, characterized by a + shape fitting most keycap sets.
  • Other Stems: Some switches, like Topre or ALPS, require specific keycaps. Check the stem design and ensure your keycaps are compatible.

Also, consider the transparency of the keycaps if your switches or keyboard features RGB lighting for optimal illumination.

Custom Build Considerations

If you’re building a custom keyboard or modding an existing one:

  • Switch Films: Adding films between the top and bottom switch housings can reduce wobble and improve stability, giving a better typing experience.
  • PCB Compatibility: Confirm that your PCB can accommodate the switches you’re interested in—whether it’s hot-swappable or requires soldering.
  • RGB Lighting: If your keyboard has RGB lighting, choose switches with transparent housings to enhance the effect.
  • Stabilizers: To avoid wobbly to type on keys, especially for larger keys like space and shift, use quality stabilizers that fit your switch type.

Select switches that align with your keyboard’s specific requirements for a seamless integration and to ensure optimal performance and durability.

Advanced Switch Modifications

Modifying your linear switches can significantly enhance their performance and feel. From lubrication to dampening, these tweaks are aimed at achieving a consistently smooth, stable, and precise keystroke.

Lubrication Techniques

When you lubricate your switches, you aim for a smoother operation and reduced friction. Here’s how to proceed with confidence:

  1. Disassembly: Carefully open your switch to access the inner components.
  2. Lube Choice: Select a lube appropriate for switches, typically a thin grease or oil.
  3. Application:
    • Stem: Apply a thin layer on the stem’s sides, avoiding the stem legs if you want to retain the original actuation force.
    • Housing: Lightly coat the bottom housing’s interior where the stem slides.

For pre-lubed switches, assess their consistency prior to adding more lube. An unevenly lubed switch can lead to varying experiences across keystrokes.

Film and Dampening

Adding films and dampeners can improve the stability and reduce wobble:

  1. Switch Film: Install films between the upper and lower switch housing.
    • Use a thin film material to tighten the switch housing, enhancing stability.
    • The switch should close with a noticeable reduction in wobble after filming.
  2. Dampeners:
    • O-Rings: Apply o-rings on keycaps to dampen the sound upon bottoming out.
    • Silencing Clips: Attach clips if you desire a quieter downstroke and upstroke.

Evaluate if pre-lubed switches already have adequate stability to determine if films are necessary.

Switch Springs and Actuation

Customizing springs affects the actuation force and can make a switch more sensitive or firm.

  • Spring Weight: Swap out the spring to alter the force required to press the key.
    • A heavier spring increases resistance, potentially leading to a more deliberate keystroke.
    • A lighter spring creates an easier press, making the switch more sensitive.

To maintain consistency in actuation force, ensure the new spring is evenly compressed and centered during reassembly.

Selecting the Right Keyboard Switch

When considering a keyboard switch, factors such as ergonomics, speed, noise, and professional use play critical roles in finding the optimal switch for your needs.

Ergonomics and Personal Preference

Your comfort is paramount when choosing a keyboard switch. Gateron Ink Black V2 switches, known for their smooth travel and stability, cater to those seeking a fluid typing experience. For medium resistance that’s versatile for newcomers, the Gateron Yellow switches offer a balanced approach, making them a favored budget-friendly option.

Performance and Speed

For gaming, where every millisecond counts, speed switches like Cherry MX Speed Silver, Kailh Super Speed Silver, and Akko CS Silver switches can provide the responsiveness and fast actuation needed for competitive play. Actuation force and travel distance are minimal, ensuring quick keystroke registration.

Switch TypeActuation ForceTravel Distance
Cherry MX Speed SilverLightShort
Kailh Super Speed SilverLightShort
Akko CS SilverLightShort

Noise Considerations

Silent switches are essential in shared spaces to minimize disturbance. Durock Silent Linear switches and Razer Yellow are popular silent switches, providing a quiet yet sensitive typing experience. Those sensitive to auditory distractions will benefit greatly from these switches.

Switches for Professional and Competitive Use

In professional and competitive gaming environments, the demand for swift and reliable keystrokes is high. Cherry MX Speed Silver switches and Gateron Oil Kings are esteemed for their prompt and consistent actuation, essential for those moments where precision is key. These switches are crafted to withstand the rigors of frequent, fast-paced use, ensuring lasting performance.

Cherry MX Speed Silver vs Razer Linear Optical

Choosing between Cherry MX Speed Silver and Razer Linear Optical switches depends on your preference for speed and feel during typing and gaming. Cherry MX Speed Silver switches offer a light actuation force and a quick response with their 1.2mm actuation point. They’re known for reliability and a smooth keystroke without tactile interruption, favored by fast typers and gamers.

Razer Linear Optical switches, utilizing light-based actuation, provide an incredibly fast response with the same actuation distance but boast a longer lifespan due to less physical wear. They might offer a slight edge in speed, which can be crucial for competitive gaming.

Sound and typing experience are subjective; some may find Cherry MX switches smoother, while others prefer the Razer’s unique feel. Your choice should align with your preferences for speed, durability, and typing sensation.

Are Cherry MX Red Switches Linear?

Yes, Cherry MX Red switches are indeed linear. They are one of the most popular linear switches on the market, favored for their smooth keystroke. Linear switches, like the Cherry MX Red, have no tactile bump or audible click during actuation, which provides a consistent and smooth keypress from top to bottom. This makes them a preferred choice for both gaming and typing, especially for those who appreciate a quieter keyboard without the tactile feedback. Their linear nature allows for rapid actuation, which can be beneficial in situations where speed is paramount.

Are Cherry MX Brown Switches Linear?

No, Cherry MX Brown switches are not linear; they are tactile. Unlike their linear counterparts such as the Cherry MX Red, the Brown switches have a small bump on each keystroke, providing tactile feedback to indicate the key has been actuated without the need for a full keypress. This tactile bump is appreciated by typists who prefer physical feedback as they type, while still being relatively quiet when compared to clicky switches. While they offer a different typing experience than linear switches, Cherry MX Brown switches are versatile for both typing and gaming, giving users a middle ground between the smoothness of a linear switch and the tactile response of a clicky one.

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.