You may have noticed: mechanical keyboards are a real hype in the gaming world. Undoubtedly, however, you have many questions. Are mechanical keyboards really that much better for gaming? What exactly makes them so unique? Is it the keycaps? In this short article, we’ll explain everything you need to know.
What is a mechanical keyboard?
What exactly is a mechanical keyboard? In essence, they use a ‘switch’ for each individual key, often in combination with a spring, which pushes back when you have hit the key. As a result, you get a pleasant feeling of resistance and feedback when typing. With a good mechanical keyboard, you can feel that feedback in your fingers. It is often reminiscent of typing with an old typewriter. This is in contrast to most cheap keyboards today, which are ‘membrane’. The keys of membrane keyboards give no feedback in terms of both sounds and feel because there is rubber or silicone underneath.
Therein lies the first important reason to choose a mechanical keyboard: typing or gaming with a mechanical keyboard feels and sounds better. You feel the keys react when you press them. Because of that feeling of feedback, the ‘click’, you intuitively feel that you have activated the key during gaming – even during hectic moments. And in terms of typing, thanks to the extra feedback, you can type faster and more accurately.
Mechanical keyboards better record your actions
Mechanical keyboards are also the better choice for gaming due to their higher ‘n-key rollover’. That expresses how many keys you can press on your keyboard at the same time and they are still registered correctly. For example, if your keyboard has a ‘2-key rollover’, only two keys can be pressed and registered at a time. A low ‘n-key rollover’ is mainly found with membrane keyboards. Mechanical keyboards usually go much higher. As a result, you really have more options in games. For example, if you play Rainbow Six Siege, it is not inconceivable that you want to move forward with W, leaned with Q, squat with CTRL, and tag something on your screen. With mechanical keyboards, this works perfectly; the only limit is how agile your fingers are.
Mechanical keyboards give you more choice
It will undoubtedly start to make you dizzy when you are confronted with the many types of switches that exist for mechanical keyboards. However, the choice of a certain type of switch is crucial, because it determines the feel and sound of your keyboard. ‘Linear’ switches are often relatively quiet and have a kind of ‘travel time’ where you can press the keys gradually and that is registered at a certain moment. ‘Tactile’ switches have a ‘bump’ at a certain moment when pressing. You then feel as it were when your key press is registered. Often this is also accompanied by a soft click. Finally, there are ‘clicky’ switches. They not only have a ‘bump’ but also a loud click with every keystroke. As a result, you have clear feedback in terms of both feel and sound.
In the end, there is no ‘right’ or ‘better’ choice: you mainly have to choose switches that you feel good about yourself. Clicky and tactile switches are pleasant because it’s always clear when you’ve pressed a key. Especially for more chaotic games, it’s useful to feel and hear that you’ve pressed the right key. If you have roommates, you have to take into account that these types of switches are loud. Even during gaming sessions, your headset or micro can sometimes pick up the loud click. A linear switch is a bit more subtle in terms of feel, but that is precisely why some gamers prefer it. Here you also do not have a loud click with every pressed key. The great thing about mechanical keyboards is that you have that choice in your hands.
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Which switches belong to you?
But there are still important elements to keep in mind. Also, take into account the actuation power and the ‘travel’ of the switches on a keyboard. The actuation force indicates how hard you have to press to register a key. The standard is around 45 grams, but there are also lighter switches of around 35 grams. So here you hardly have to press to get input. The travel then indicates how many millimeters you have to press the key before it registers. The higher the travel, the deeper you have to press. The standard here is 4mm. For laptops, this is usually a little less, because there is simply less space.
For gaming, it’s a good idea to buy a keyboard with a higher travel but a relatively low acting power. Because of the higher travel, you reduce the chance that you accidentally press the wrong key. If your finger does pass another button, your character won’t suddenly start bending over or changing weapons. Due to the low acting force, it is still possible to quickly get the response of the key you had in mind, and you can quickly press that same key several times in a row. Handy for fast bunnyhops for example!
The market leader in terms of switches is Cherry, with a whole range of unique switches. For example, the Cherry MX Blue switches are sensitive and give a clicking, rattling sound when you type. The Cherry MX Red switches have a bit more nuance when pressing and are also a bit less loud and ‘clicky’. Hardware manufacturers that specialize in gaming are now also starting to make their own switches. MSI is a good example of this. The new MSI Vigor GK71 Sonic mechanical keyboard works with MSI’s own Sonic Red Linear switches. They have a high travel but a particularly low actuation force, which makes the typing experience much looser. It’s almost like typing on velvet.
Mechanical keyboards are more often made with gaming in mind
Finally, the popularity of mechanical keyboards in gaming has the nice advantage that mechanical keyboards have unique features that are perfect for gaming. For example, many models now have dedicated ‘media buttons’, such as a pause button, mute button, and a volume wheel. Many mechanical keyboards also have a nice suite of RGB lighting options. You can sometimes even have it synchronized with your game via accompanying software. Hardware manufacturers all have their own software that allows you to customize aspects of your keyboard. The MSI Vigor GK71 Sonic is particularly innovative because you can even control the RGB lighting with your voice!
If you often play on the move (for example because you participate in e-sports tournaments), you can also consider a tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard. These omit the ‘Numpad’ (the numeric keyboard) on the right. This way your keyboard weighs less and you also have more space for your mouse. With a mechanical TKL keyboard, you get the best of both worlds: all the advantages of mechanical keyboards that we mentioned earlier, and at the same time easy to transport and with extra space on the right for your mouse and other accessories. The MSI Vigor GK50 Low Profile TKL is a good example of an excellent mechanical TKL keyboard.
You hear it, the world of mechanical keyboards is wonderful. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to the switches, but once you’ve chosen a keyboard that fits your typing and gaming needs, you’ll never be able to go back to a membrane keyboard. The future is mechanical – especially for gaming.