Most keyboards use rubber domes to resist the user’s keystrokes, but some keyboards make use of mechanical switches. They’re much more expensive, and as a result the keyboards that use them are often $100 or more. That’s a lot – but let me make a case as to why the price is justified.
Better Key Feel
Some users, once they’ve tried a mechanical keyboard, swear never to go back to the typical rubber-dome model. Why? It comes down to key feel.
Key feel is a vague term, and always will be, but it generally refers to characteristics such as the speed with which a key returns to its normal position and the resistance a key provides your fingers. Rubber-dome keyboards often feel “mushy” because resistance isn’t linear and/or because the individual keys wobble on the rubber domes below them. Mechanical keys also usually return to their positions more quickly than do rubber-dome keys. This is due to the increased resistance that a mechanical mechanism provides when compared to a rubber dome design.
Of course, the audible feedback given by a mechanical keyboard should be mentioned as well. Mechanical keyboards are louder than rubber-dome keyboards because of the mechanical action. While this can be a troublesome trait if you’re trying to use a computer quietly, this additional feedback makes typing more pleasurable.
The long life of mechanical keyboards, compared with all other keyboard technologies, has long been citied as an advantage. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the IBM Model M keyboard, which was released in 1984 and continues to be produced today. Many made in the 80’s are still around, and fully functional. In fact, they’re one of the cheapest options for users looking to buy a mechanical keyboard, as used IBM Model M keyboards can be found on eBay and Craiglist frequently.
The durability of mechanical keyboards comes down to the design. The switches are made entirely of metal, and most use a metal-on-metal contact (the portion of the key’s design that lets the computer know a key has been pressed). As a result, mechanical keyboards can stand up to 50 million key presses or more – the typical rubber-dome keyboard is good for 10 million at most. In addition, the rubber in a rubber-dome keyboard often degrades over time, resulting in sticky keys, collapsed domes, and other issues.
Many rubber-dome keyboards are a real pain to maintain. The rubber itself tends to attract dirt, particularly if it ages and becomes somewhat sticky, which can be a problem with some rubber. In addtion, many rubber-dome keyboards are constructed by laying down a single bit of layer across the entire width of the keyboard, with domes placed in the appropriate places. This can make removal of the rubber for cleaning very difficult or impossible.
In addition to this, rubber-dome keyboards often use key attachment methods that are not maintenance friendly. Technically, the keys themselves merely need to rest in the proper place, so a small piece of metal is used to keep the key attached. This metal can be thin, however, and difficult to reattach.
Most mechanical keyboards, by contrast, let you remove each individual key. The switches are self-contained, and the area between them is merely flat plastic. This makes cleaning easy, and keys can be re-attached with firm pressure.
Mechanical keyboards typically aren’t cheap. The least expensive new models are from Unicomp, the company that continues production of the old Model M keyboard. The. More modern keyboards, such as the SteelSeries 7G and Das Keyboard, run for between $120 and $150.
Not everyone will appreciate a mechanical keyboard. If you only spend an hour or two on your PC per day, they’re probably not for you. Those who spend a lot of time on your PCs daily, however, should seriously consider the points outlined above.
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