In recent years, mechanical keyboards have gotten increasingly more popular.
The reason for this is quite simple. Most gamers would agree that they are simply better for gaming than regular keyboards. This still comes down to personal preference, however.
But shopping for a new mechanical keyboard can be confusing. Mainly because of all the different key switch types and colors.
And the switches are actually very important, and knowing the difference can be crucial to finding the perfect one for you.
In this guide we will go over the main characteristics of the different colored switches, and what they are usually used for.
Everything You Need to Know about Mechanical Switches for Your Keyboard.
Keyboards are an essential part of any PC gaming setup. The quality of your keyboard goes a long way in increasing or decreasing your performance and endurance. Things like tactile feel, feedback, and things are the hallmarks of a great keyboard. There are mainly two types of keyboards on the market today Membrane and Mechanical gaming keyboards. A third type has also emerged recently which is a mecha-membrane hybrid. The latter type is designed for people who like having membrane characteristics along with the performance of mechanical switches.
What are mechanical switches?
Mechanical keyboards are by far and away the most popular choice among gamers all over the world. At the core of the mechanical keyboards are the mechanical switches. So what are they? Keyboard switches, in essence, contain a Keycap – which is the top essentially. You can easily remove these in mechanicals. A slider is also present which is designed to disrupt the connection to the metallic components on the side of the switch. These metallic components or contact leaves are what registers a single keystroke. The slider base has an extension which houses a spring which pushes the key back into place after release. This is a rather simple yet powerful setup which can deliver varying levels of performance while being remarkably durable.
Hysteresis – This is basically a reference to the actuation point being lower than the switch’s release point. In a nutshell, when the hysteresis is more, tapping the same key twice will be much harder and vice versa.
Actuation point – This is the exact point at which the keystroke is recognized and registered by the keyboard. A similar term is actuation force which basically refers to how hard you need to press the key for it to register.
Tactile Point – This is almost synonymous with Actuation point.
Key lifetime – This basically a number that related to the durability. Mechanical switches are much easier to fix in general. The lifetime mentioned varies across brands with Cherry MX and Kailh offering a rating of 50 million keystrokes. Razer boasts an 80 million keystroke lifetime on their keys.
Types based on the desired behavior
Mechanical switches can behave many different ways. Brands have utilized the different combination of features and actuation levels to provide different types of keyboard. In the gaming space, the most common colors you come across are RED, BLACK, BLUE & BROWN. Different brands like Razer opt for things like Orange & green but they can be matched up to the standard set quite easily. Cherry MX is the most popular brand when it comes to mechanical keyboards and some of the specs we have on offer below have used them as a base.
Related: Complete List of the Best Mechanical Keyboards for Gamers.
Typically these keyboards have the following characteristics
- Linear Behavior
- Light Feel
The actuation force varies between the 45g & 50g mark depending on the brand. These keyboards are great for those who play games where they need to spam actions. The key resistance needs to be at a minimum for swift & repetitive actions, and this keyboard does just that. The speed is due to the fact that there isn’t any bump or resistance in the middle. However, this is not a great choice for typing since the keypresses can’t be felt. This type of key is commonly sought after by those who play FPS & MMOs which involves spamming of spells & combinations.
- Linear Behavior
- Heavy Feel
Another type that is offers Linear behavior. Primarily offered by Cherry MX, this type of switch basically requires a higher actuation force than the RED. The actuation force across brands, however, is the same at 60g. It’s essentially a RED with a bit more key resistance. Another feature is that the degree of hysteresis is practically 0 so you can spam comfortably.
- Clicky Behavior
- Heavy Feel
The loudest of the lot is the BLUE. This type of switch is ideally suited for typing thanks to the construction of the slider. The two-piece design results in a larger hysteresis and a clicky sound when the tactile point is crossed. The actuation force is usually 60g across all brands. In a nutshell, this switch is great for typing and not for activities like spamming. The popularity amongst gamers also stems from the satisfaction that comes with the click sound associated with it.
Note* – The Razer Green possess a similar key configuration.
- Tactile Behaviour
- Medium Feel
The list wouldn’t quite be complete without an option hitting the middle ground, and the BROWN does just that. These switches have a reasonable amount of hysteresis and not a significant amount like the BLUE switch. The keyboard using this switch has a nice sweet tactile bump and travels silently at the same time. The actuation force is around the 45g – 55g mark depending on the brand. These are great for MOBA type games where APS or actions per minute really matter. The BROWN is a very popular choice amongst pro gamers in the industry.
Note* – The Razer Orange is similar to this key configuration.
Hybrid Switches – Mecha Membrane
Another type of semi or hybrid mechanical keyboard was developed quite recently by Razer. The Mecha-Membrane as they call it is seen in the Razer Ornata Chroma keyboard. This keyboard is primarily for gamers who like the soft press of a membrane keyboard and the tactile feel that clicky mechanicals has to offer. The essence of the keyboard or the part of the switch that transmits a stroke is a membrane, however. The keycap is half the height of typical mechanicals which allows it to match full mechanicals in terms of the time taken to register actions. Razer claims that this is one of the quietest keyboards out there but we think the sound is in between a BLUE and BROWN switch.
Related: Full Guide to the Best Membrane keyboard.
Complete info table of the most popular mechanical switches
|Switch||Behavior||Feel||Actuation force||Actuation point||Sound||Lifespan|
|Cherry MX Red||Linear||Light||45g||2mm||Silent||50 Million keystrokes|
|Cherry MX Brown||Tactile||Medium||45g||2mm||Quiet||50 Million keystrokes|
|Cherry MX Blue||Clicky||Heavy||60g||2mm||Loud||50 Million keystrokes|
|Cherry MX Black||Linear||Heavy||60g||2mm||Silent||50 Million keystrokes|
|Cherry MX Speed||Linear||Light||45g||1.2mm||Silent||50 Million keystrokes|
|Razer Green||Tactile & Clicky||Heavy||55g||1.9mm||Loud||80 Million keystrokes|
|Razer Orange||Tactile & silent||Medium||55g||1.9mm||Silent||80 Million keystrokes|
|Razer Yellow||Linear & silent||Light||55g||1.9mm||Silent||80 Million keystrokes|
|Romer G(Logitech)||Semi-tactile||Light||45g||1.5mm||Silent||70 Million keystrokes|
|QS1(Steelseries)||Membrane||Light||45g||1.5mm||Silent||60 Million keystrokes|
|QX1(Steelseries)||Linear||Light||45g||1.5mm||Medium Loud||70 Million keystrokes|
|Topre(Steelseries)||Tactile||Light to medium||30g, 35g,45g,55g||2mm||Silent||70 Million keystrokes|
|Kailh Red||Linear||Light||50g||2mm||Silent||50 Million keystrokes|
|Kailh Black||Linear||Light||60g||2mm||Silent||50 Million keystrokes|
|Kailh Brown||Tactile||Medium||50g||2mm||Quiet||50 Million keystrokes|
|Kailh Blue||Clicky||Heavy||60g||2mm||Loud||50 Million keystrokes|
|Romer-G Tactile||Tactile & Silent||Medium||45-50g||1.5mm||Silent||70 Million Keystrokes|
|Romer-G Linear||Linear & Clicky||Medium||45g||1.5mm||Medium Loud||70 Million Keystrokes|
Note: Amount of keystrokes are per individual key, not an estimated total.
Sources: Informative websites we used to research this article.
Logitech. Official Logitech Romer-G website.
Razer. Official Razer mechanical switches article.
Cherry MX. Official Cherry MX Website.
SteelSeries. Offical Steelseries mechanical switches website.
Keyboardco.com. Introductory article to Kailh switches.