Bringing Back the Mechanical Keyboard

If you’re a “vintage” computer user, you may remember the original IBM keyboards, that were heavier, and felt wonderful to use, and had that special “clack” sound when you pressed the keys – you didn’t need to bang on them to get audible and physical feedback. Finally – mechanical keyboards are back on the market!

Chances are you are on a computer that has a standard “rubber dome” keyboard. These are the keyboards that usually come with computers, and are the average keyboard product found at most stores. Rubber dome keyboards have rubber membranes underneath the keys. When a key is pressed, it pushes through the rubber and completes the circuit, which sends a signal to the computer. In order for this to happen a key must always be pressed all the way down or “bottomed-out”.

With mechanical keyboards, each key has its own physical switch. Mechanical keyboards now come in many different configurations as far as the weight and feel of each key is concerned. This all translates into a completely different typing experience. The real benefit of this is that the keys don’t need to be bottomed-out in order to register, which reduces the overall impact and strain on your fingers during a long day of typing. There are also different types of keys that suit different typing styles such as:

  • Cherry MX Red – The lightest key available. These keys are the smoothest available and suited for people who type lightly and look at the keyboard while typing.
  • Cherry MX Brown – The same weight as the red switches. The difference is that there is a tactile bump that lets you know when the key registers. These are geared towards touch typists since the bump lets you know when to go to the next key.
  • Cherry MX Blue – These keys are slightly heavier than the previous ones but these are perfect for people who type all day. Not only do they have the slight bump just like the Brown keys, but they also make a noticeable “clack” sound that reinforces the message that you have pressed the key.
  • Cherry MX Black – The heaviest keys available.  They are the same as Red in that they are smooth, but they are suited for people who like to press harder on the keyboard.

So what does all of this actually mean? Well it means that mechanical keyboards can complement your individual typing style. Lighter keys make it so that you don’t have to press harder than you find comfortable, and heavier keys make is so that you don’t bottom-out the keys as often. This help you type longer and faster than with a one size fits all keyboard. Another plus is that since each key is separate from the others, you can remove keys easily for cleaning or to replace damaged keys.

Throw in the fact that cleaning is easier and that you can replace individual keys instead of the whole keyboard and it starts to show that mechanical keyboards have their merits. I would definitely recommend you at least try one out, you may find that typing can become far less tedious. There are no proven studies yet which show that mechanical keyboards are “better” for you, but this author loves his keyboard, and is now happy to do things like writing this technical blog.

If you are using a mechanical keyboard, and feel it has reduced strain and perhaps helped with a carpal-tunnel problem, I would love to hear how it helped you.

Marcus Alli is our Quality Assurance manager at Palm Beach Software Design, Inc.  He is currently studying software development, and helping us to develop our own issue tracking system for commercial distribution.