Understanding Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards seem to be everywhere these days. I browse SlickDeals, an online deal sharing website, a lot. And it seems like every other time I log on, there’s a deal for a mechanical keyboard. The point is that they are extremely popular. They have risen from the olden days of IBM. I actually remember one of my IBM keyboards from way back whenever I see a mechanical keyboard. These new models are essentially designed after IBM ones. You have your raised keys rather than the toned down keys on modern keyboards. You have your clacking noises. And in general, you have the usual bulkiness of the entire thing.

I wanted to create this post to further clarify some things about these keyboards in terms of gaming. I want to answer whether or not you even need one, what benefits they provide, and where you might buy some on the low if you ever decide they are for you.

What’s so good about mechanical keyboards?

The main difference you need to understand when it comes to mechanical keyboards vs. regular keyboards are the keys under the keycaps. In regular keyboards, you push on a key and it displays on the screen right? With mechanical keyboards, you add an extra step. When you push a key slightly, it stops before having to reach the switch underneath it. Push even harder and the switch opens up, displaying the keypress on your screen.

Think of this switch as a gateway. Before you press any key, it has to pass through a gateway before you enter it officially. This gate could be blue, green, brown, or red. The color of the gate factors in on how quickly it will let you in. You may also think of the switch as some sort of filter to prevent accidental keypresses from registering. Regular keyboards do not have these gateways and so if you press them even slightly, you could run into many typos. For more on switch, or “gateway”, colors, I usually refer to this Reddit post.

Another benefit of mechanical keyboards is that they are typically tailored toward the gaming audience. Because they already have a market with them, the products they create continue to become “gaming keyboards” just as much as they are “mechanical keyboards”. This means you have a series of backlighting, some programmable buttons, more ability to personalize and customize your board, etc.

One other thing to mention in this section is that they are relatively expensive. Now, that isn’t necessarily good but that does mean one thing in general: they are typically of higher quality than regular keyboards are. That is just a general rule; obviously, there will be some regular keyboards that are made better than mechanical keyboards. Likewise, there may be mechanical keyboards that are utter junk despite costing more. But the general rule is that a keyboard that is mechanical has better build quality than a keyboard with regular keys.

Why is this, you ask? Because mechanical keyboards tailor to an extremely heavy-use audience. You don’t buy a mechanical keyboard to only use it for 10-20 minutes a day. You buy a mechanical keyboard to play games on or work with. I’m talking several hours a day, just heavy banging on their keyboard. That is the audience that these mechanical manufacturers target. Naturally, their product has to stay on top of the game and be able to keep up with these heavy users. If their keyboard falls apart, heavy users no longer trust that brand. So, yes, it is true that generally mechanical keyboards are favored in quality over regular keyboards.

Do I need one then?

Mechanical keyboard manufacturers create their products based on two types of audience that I’ve mentioned before:

  1. The PC gamer
  2. The heavy computer user

Those two could be the same person or be distinctly separate among themselves. But the point applies: if you are on your computer a lot, whether you are gaming or just typing away, mechanical keyboard companies are looking at you to purchase their product.

As I’ve mentioned before, typing on a mechanical keyboard is much more satisfying that typing on a regular keyboard. You get noticeable feedback to help you type much faster. The switches feel much better to push down and they don’t require you to push all the way down to get a press logged in. If you are a heavy user or play PC games frequently, consider getting yourself a mechanical keyboard because they offer a plethora of benefits.

Even if you don’t fall under those two categories, mechanical keyboards might still be right for you. I don’t want to push buying them too much, but they honestly change the game (or reinvent it at least!) so much that I’d recommend a purchase even for non-heavy users. Even if you aren’t typing or playing 2+ hours a day, they still could be beneficial for you. They help me write articles much quicker, and at minimum that only takes around 45 minutes without editing/revising.

Again, you don’t have to be a heavy user to make use of a mechanical board. Even if you’re at the computer for half an hour to an hour a day, I can almost guarantee you will enjoy mechanical more than your regular board.

There are only a few reasons I can think of for not purchasing one:

  • You mainly use a laptop to work or play video games on. In this case, a mechanical keyboard would not be beneficial as it would be far too heavy to lug around. It would also be messy to set up and pack up consistently.
  • You need portability (eg. if you frequently go over to a friend’s house to play LAN games). Mechanical boards lag significantly behind regular boards in terms of portability. They are heavy and even the shortened ones without keypads are not as easy to bring around.
  • You don’t care for tactile feedback or the clicking sound.

How much for a mechanical keyboard?

Best mechanical keyboards for $50

Click to read our mechanical keyboard buying guide.

So at this point, you’ve probably made your mind already on whether or not you want a mechanical board. The next step is to buy one. But how much do they cost? Well, they could be as cheap as $30 or as expensive as $200. The cheaper ones, of course, have a higher chance of being garbage or just not worth it so you might actually lose money by trying to save. The most expensive ones are tailored to mainly advanced gamers, those who have already had a mechanical keyboard and want to upgrade to the best available.

For beginners, I would recommend somewhere in between, though more on the budget side. Lucky for you, we already have a post on the best mechanical boards under $50. We examine and actually test the budget keyboards we’ve chosen, unlike other similar articles around the web. There, we also go a little more into detail when it comes to explaining switches, tactile and linear feedback, etc. Check that out by clicking on the image to the left.

Make sure you spend money on other parts of your desktop, if you’re building one. Mechanical boards aren’t expensive, but they can be if you get sucked into the hype. I’d rather my readers wisely spend their money upgrading other parts first than putting $80-$100 toward a new keyboard before a better processor or graphics card. If you do have a little extra cash, though, try to find keyboards around the previously mentioned budget range. That is the sweet spot when it comes to overall value for the money. Sure, our “mechanical keyboards under $50” post have a ton of value, especially at the price. But $80-$100 mechanical keyboards offer more features and typically better switches. If you have that money saved up and you’ve checked that you cannot get any better hardware already, a mechanical board might be your next best purchase.

Leave a Reply