Mechanical Keyboard Switches Guide

Table of contents

Mechanical Keyboard Switches Guide: Your Ultimate Resource for Choosing the Right Switches

Mechanical keyboards have become a staple for both gamers and typists seeking a more tactile and responsive typing experience. Unlike traditional rubber dome keyboards, mechanical switches offer distinct operating mechanisms that can greatly affect the overall feel, noise, and performance. Each component, from the housing and spring to the stem and contact leaves, plays a crucial role in the switch’s characteristics, whether it be linear, tactile, or clicky.

Choosing the right type of switch is vital for optimal keyboard performance, and with a variety of brands such as Cherry MX, Gateron, and others, it can seem like a daunting task. But understanding the nuances of how each switch operates can inform your decision, ultimately enhancing your typing or gaming. Frequently asked questions offer insights into how different switches impact your experience, catering to preferences from the soft feedback of a membrane switch to the precise action of a scissor switch on a printed circuit board.

Key Takeaways

  • Mechanical switches provide a distinct typing experience compared to membrane keyboards with their unique components.
  • Various types of mechanical switches cater to different preferences in terms of noise and tactile response.
  • When selecting switches for a mechanical keyboard, consider how different brands and switch types align with your use case, be it typing or gaming.

Mechanical Keyboard Switches Guide: Expert Tips for Optimal Performance

Mechanical keyboards elevate your typing and gaming experience with their individual switches per key, offering tactile feedback that membrane keyboards lack. Understanding the switch types is crucial:

For gaming, linear switches, like Cherry MX Reds, promote faster actuation, while tactile switches cater to typists needing precise keystrokes. Prioritize switch durability, actuation force, and travel distance for tailored use.

What Are Mechanical Switches?

Mechanical switches are integral to the experience of using a mechanical keyboard. Each switch under the keycaps defines how a keystroke feels, sounds, and even how quickly it can be registered based on:

  • Actuation Point: The distance at which your keystroke is recognized.
  • Actuation Force: The pressure required to register a key.

These variations in switch design ensure that you can personalize your typing or gaming experience to match your preference, with a key touch that’s as sensitive or resistant as you like.

Understanding The Characteristics Of A Mechanical Switch

Operation Force

Your keystrokes are influenced by the operating force—the amount of pressure required to actuate a switch. The operating force is not only a matter of personal preference but also impacts fatigue during extended use. Here’s what you can typically find:

  • Light: Less than or equal to 45g, suitable for users with a lighter touch
  • Medium: Approximately 50g to 55g, offers a balance
  • Heavy: 60g or more, favors those who prefer more resistance

Activation Point

The activation point is where your keystroke is recognized by the keyboard. It can significantly affect your typing speed and how the keyboard responds to input:

  • Short: Around 1.1mm to 1.5mm, great for rapid response
  • Medium: About 2mm, a standard distance for balanced typing
  • Long: 2.5mm or more, for those who prefer a deeper press

Total Travel Distance

Your switch’s total travel distance is how far the key moves from the point of initial contact to bottoming out. This distance defines the rhythm and flow of your typing:

  • Short: 3mm or less, allowing for quicker presses
  • Medium: Around 4mm, a standard feel
  • Long: 5mm or more, for full key travel experience

Tactile Position

The tactile position tells you where you’ll feel the ‘bump’ during key actuation, providing physical feedback for your keystrokes. Tactile feedback is essential for accuracy and can greatly enhance typing experience.

Debounce / Reset Point

Consider the reset point as the place where the key returns to a state ready for the next press. A lower reset point translates to swift readiness for subsequent strokes, which is crucial for tasks that demand rapid key actuation.


Regarding mechanical switches, your investment is protected by their durability. On average, these switches withstand millions of keystrokes, far outlasting alternatives like membrane keyboards.

Mechanical Switches Components


Your interaction with a mechanical keyboard begins with the keycap. Manufactured from sturdy plastics such as ABS or PBT, these caps come in a myriad of profiles and designs and attach directly to the switch stem. Customization and replacement are a breeze due to their detachable nature.

Top Housing

Securing the keycap in place, the top housing supports the structure of your key switch. Constructed predominantly of plastic, you can find this element in multiple shapes, enhancing both the visual appeal of your keyboard and potentially influencing the sound each keystroke makes.

Switching Slider / Stems

The stem is the core of the switch’s tactile and auditory feedback. It links your keycap to the inner mechanisms of the switch and varies in shape, which governs the actuation force and travel distance. This component dictates how your keyboard feels with each press, whether you prefer a smooth glide or a pronounced bump.


Crafted from metal, the contact leaves are vital for the detection of key presses. These leaves connect electrically as the stem is pressed, which completes the circuit and signals your device. With different leaves, you can tune the feedback you receive to suit your typing style.


Nestled within the switch housing, springs are the essence of a key switch’s resistance. The weight and size of the spring define the effort you need to apply to activate a key. This element is directly responsible for the tactile response you feel both when you press and release a key.

Bottom Housing

The bottom housing anchors the switch’s components, including the spring, stem, and leaves. Its design and build quality are key to the switch’s stability and can also alter the sound of your keystrokes. You’ll find it can be tailored for different acoustics, offering a personalized auditory typing experience.

Types Of Mechanical Switches

Linear Switches

When you engage with linear switches, you’ll notice their consistency and smoothness along the entire keystroke. They are uncomplicated and direct, offering no tactile bump, enabling a quicker return to the neutral position. This feature is particularly favorable if you’re into gaming, where rapid key presses are crucial. The quintessential linear switch, such as the Cherry MX Red, exemplifies these characteristics.

  • Examples: Cherry MX Reds
  • Characteristics: Smooth and consistent keypress
  • Ideal use case: Gaming keyboards

Tactile Switches

Engaging a tactile switch means you’ll feel a bump during the keypress. This bump indicates the activation point without any loud clicking sound. You’ll often find tactile switches satisfying and efficient for typing, as they can help you minimize errors by not having to press the key all the way down. The Cherry MX Brown is a typical tactile switch that typists might favor for its blend of feedback and quiet performance.

  • Examples: Cherry MX Browns
  • Characteristics: Noticeable tactile feedback
  • Ideal use case: Typing that demands precision

Clicky Switches

If you appreciate both tactile feedback and auditory cues, clicky switches are suitable. This type of switch provides a distinct click sound at the point of actuation, confirming your keystroke without the need to bottom out the key. The Cherry MX Blue is a well-known clicky switch. However, bear in mind that the clicky noise might be disruptive in shared or serene spaces, which could be a consideration in your selection process.

  • Examples: Cherry MX Blues
  • Characteristics: Tactile bump with an audible click
  • Ideal use case: Environments tolerant of sound

The Brands

Cherry MX

Cherry MX, a German brand, sets the standard for mechanical switches offering a variety of options like the linear Cherry MX Red, tactile Cherry MX Brown, clicky Cherry MX Blue, heavy-duty Cherry MX Black, and the fast Cherry MX Speed. These switches are well-regarded for their durability, enduring up to 50 million keystrokes.


Offering an affordable alternative to Cherry MX, Kailh, from China, provides a diverse array of switches including the Kailh Box and Box Jade. Razer has collaborated with Kailh to craft specialized switches for gaming keyboards, combining quality with value.


Gateron is recognized for its smooth mechanical switches, offering you affordable yet quality linear, tactile, and clicky variants. Their switches are favored in the community for offering a comparably smooth actuation at a lower cost than Cherry MX.


Matias, a Canadian switch producer, uses the Alps mechanism for their switches, bestowing a unique feel and sound through their clicky and tactile switches. They provide you with an alternative experience in the keyboard market.


Outemu presents a cost-effective option with switches similar to Cherry MX varieties in terms of tactile, clicky, and linear feedback. These are accessible choices for those beginning their foray into mechanical keyboards.

Gazzew X Outemu

In a collaborative effort, Gazzew and Outemu have created bespoke switches that have earned the admiration of keyboard aficionados for their customized smoothness and typing sensation.


Razer has developed its own Razer Yellow switches, optimized for gaming. These linear switches are designed to be quick and precise, catering to gamers’ need for speed and reliability.


Logitech’s Romer-G switches are tailored for gaming keyboards. They provide a tactile feel with a shorter actuation point, ensuring rapid response times crucial for gaming.


Zeal offers premium mechanical switches that are known for their exceptional smoothness and unique typing experience. They stand out in the market for their high-quality build and performance.


These brands collaborate to provide premium custom switches, drawing in mechanical keyboard enthusiasts with options tailored to their specific preferences.


BSUN, GSUS, and YOK switches are specialized in bringing you variations of the beloved Holy Panda switch design, known for their tactile bump and distinctive sound profile.


Tecsee gives you a varied selection of switches, including linear, tactile, and clicky, allowing for a personalized keyboard experience.


Known for their customizable keyboards, Glorious offers tactile Glorious Panda switches, celebrated for their feel by the mechanical keyboard community.


TTC produces a wide range of switch options similar to Cherry MX types, expanding your choices with linear, tactile, and clicky mechanisms.

SP Star

SP Star specializes in premium switches that provide a smooth and responsive key-feel, revered by enthusiasts for their high performance.


KTT brings forward a variety of mechanical switches, catering to diverse tastes and preferences within the mechanical keyboard landscape.


Huano, a Chinese brand, competes with Cherry MX by offering a selection of similar tactile, clicky, and linear switches.


As a newer entrant, HaiMu focuses on developing switches that meet the varying demands of the mechanical keyboard audience.


Meirun offers a suite of mechanical switches for those keen on customizing their typing experience.


To refine your typing experience, modifications like lubing, spring-swapping, and filming can be applied to mechanical switches, enhancing their feel and acoustics.

Optical Switches

Optical switches use light-based actuation for a faster response, making them an excellent fit for gaming applications. Leading brands like Razer and Logitech are at the forefront of advancing optical switch technology for enhanced gaming keyboards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of switches used in mechanical keyboards?

Mechanical keyboards come equipped with a variety of switches, each with distinct characteristics. The prominent switch types are:

  • Cherry MX: A popular choice renowned for durability and reliability.
  • Gateron: Known for smooth keystrokes and budget-friendliness.
  • Romer-G: Often recognized for their quiet operation and durability.

How do different switches impact typing experience and performance?

Your choice of switch can significantly impact your typing experience and performance:

  • Linear Switches: Offer a smooth, consistent keystroke, ideal for quick typists and gamers.
  • Tactile Switches: Provide physical feedback during actuation, preferred for a responsive typing feel.
  • Clicky Switches: Deliver audible feedback, favored by those who enjoy the sound of their typing.

What are the characteristics of Cherry MX switches that differentiate them from others?

Cherry MX switches stand out due to:

  • Variety: A broad spectrum of switches, including Red, Blue, Brown, and Black to suit various preferences.
  • Performance: Recognized for their consistent keystroke feel and precise actuation.
  • Durability: Renowned for long-lasting performance, capable of millions of keypresses.

Which mechanical switch color is optimal for gaming and why?

Gamers often prefer Cherry MX Red switches for their:

  • Low Actuation Force: Enables faster key presses, crucial for gaming.
  • Linear Response: Lacks tactile bump, providing a seamless keystroke for rapid actions.

What are the benefits of using Gateron switches in mechanical keyboards?

Gateron switches offer:

  • Smooth Keystrokes: Noted for their silky, less frictional feel compared to other switches.
  • Affordability: More budget-friendly, often providing good value for the cost.
  • Variety: Available in different styles, making it easier to find a switch that matches your preference.

How does one determine the best switch for their personal use, be it typing or gaming?

To find the best switch for you, consider:

  1. Actuation Force: Choose a heavier or lighter actuation based on what feels comfortable for your fingers.
  2. Tactile Feedback: Decide if you prefer a noticeable bump as you type or a smooth actuation.
  3. Noise Level: Think about your environment; do you need a quieter keyboard or can you go for a clicky one?
  4. Testing: Try out different switches through switch testers or at a store to experience them firsthand.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of mechanical keyboard switches available?

There are primarily three types of mechanical keyboard switches:

  • Linear switches: These provide a smooth and consistent keystroke and are generally quieter. Key examples include Cherry MX Red and Gateron Red.
  • Tactile switches: They have a noticeable bump mid-actuation, providing tactile feedback to indicate a keypress. Examples include Cherry MX Brown and Zealios.
  • Clicky switches: These switches offer both tactile and audible feedback in the form of a clicking sound when activated. Notable ones are Cherry MX Blue and Razer Green.

Which switches are considered top-tier for gaming keyboards?

For gaming, top-tier switches often feature:

  • High responsiveness
  • Low actuation force
  • Short travel distance
  • Durability Switches that commonly meet these criteria include Cherry MX Speed Silver, Razer Yellow, and Kailh Silver Speed.

How do Cherry MX switch colors correlate with typing experience and gaming performance?

Cherry MX switch colors are differentiated by their actuation force, feedback, and sound:

  • Red: Light actuation force, linear, silent – suited for gaming.
  • Brown: Moderate actuation force, tactile, quiet – a balance for typing and gaming.
  • Blue: Heavier actuation force, clicky, loud – provides satisfying feedback for typing.
  • Black: Heavier actuation force than Reds, linear, silent – preferred by some gamers for their firmness.
  • Speed Silver: Very light actuation force, linear, silent – designed for fast response in gaming.

What is the significance of different stem types in mechanical keyboard switches?

The stem type affects keycap compatibility and the switch’s feel:

  • Cross-shaped (MX): Compatible with most keycaps, found in most mechanical switches.
  • Box: Reinforces the stem, protecting against dust and spill – offers stability.
  • Topre: A unique electrostatic capacitive stem found in Topre switches with a smooth, tactile response.

What characteristics should I look for in a switch for daily typing tasks?

For daily typing, consider switches with:

  • Satisfying tactile feedback
  • A sound level that is comfortable for your environment
  • An actuation force that won’t cause fatigue over long periods Tactile switches like Cherry MX Browns or Topre switches are commonly preferred for their balance of feedback and force.

How can I distinguish between the various pin configurations on mechanical keyboard switches?

Mechanical switches come with different pin configurations, which determine how they’re mounted on the keyboard’s PCB:

  • PCB-Mount (5-pin): Has two extra plastic pins for stability, requires PCB support.
  • Plate-Mount (3-pin): Lacks extra plastic pins, plate-mounted keyboards are compatible.
  • Hot-Swappable: Allows switches to be changed without soldering; look for special sockets on the PCB. To identify them, check the underside of a switch for the number of metal contacts (usually 2) and plastic pins.

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.