Mechanical Keyboards: A Guide for Beginners

Lisa_Shettle
edited January 30 in PC Tech

Between work, school, and play, many people spend a significant amount of their daily life using a keyboard. And while most people still use membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards have become significantly more popular in recent years. In fact, what started as a niche product for gamers and tech enthusiasts has now become mainstream.

That said, just because it’s gaining in popularity doesn’t mean the world of mechanical keyboards is simple or easy to navigate. In fact, part of the appeal of mechanical keyboards is that they are complex and customizable. And with so many options on the market, it can be hard to know where to start.

If you’re new to the mechanical keyboard space and want to learn more, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a guide to mechanical keyboards for beginners.

What Are Mechanical Keyboards?

The typical membrane keyboards that many of us are used to don’t have separate, moving keys. Instead, they have a single membrane layer with a printed circuit set between the keys and an underlying circuit board. When the keys are pushed down, they act as pressure pads, completing the circuit and sending information to the computer.

Mechanical keyboards, on the other hand, have individual spring-loaded switches under each keycap, all of which send their own signals to the computer. This adds a satisfying sound and feel to each keystroke and improves the accuracy and responsiveness of the keyboard.

Types of Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards are typically categorized by which switch type they use under the keycaps. Most of the mechanical keyboards currently on the market have one of three main switch varieties:

1. Linear

Linear switches are sensitive and give limited tactile feedback. Minimal effort is needed to push down each key, making them easier and faster to activate than other switch types. As a result, they can be difficult to type on, but are very popular for gaming and esports.

2. Tactile

Tactile switches give more feedback than linear switches, with a noticeable bump to let you know that the key has been activated. More versatile and quieter than the other switch types, they are a good option for in-office work.

3. Clicky

Clicky switches have the same bump as tactile switches, as well as a click sound with each keystroke. This makes for a satisfying experience reminiscent of a typewriter but may not be ideal for use in shared spaces.

There are many variations within these three categories, each defined by their actuation force (effort needed to activate a key) and their actuation point (how far you need to press a key down to activate it). It may take some leg work to find the perfect switch type for your purposes, but many manufacturers offer switch testers or trial programs. Some keyboards are also compatible with multiple switch types, which can be swapped in and out as needed.

Who Needs Mechanical Keyboards?

With so many variations available, mechanical keyboards can be a great option for anyone. That said, they are highly recommended for developers, writers, and gamers, especially those who play fast-paced or competitive games like esports. Mechanical keyboards are also best for people who want a customizable experience and are ready to make a long-term investment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Mechanical Keyboards

Mechanical keyboards have many advantages, including:

1. Durability

Designed to sustain millions of keystrokes, mechanical keyboards are typically more durable and easier to repair than standard membrane keyboards.

2. Responsiveness

Since each key has a separate switch, mechanical keyboards register keystrokes faster than membrane keyboards. They also have better key rollover, meaning they are more likely to accurately respond to multiple simultaneous key presses.

3. Customization

Mechanical keyboards are highly customizable, with a wide range of sizes, layouts, keycaps, and switch types available. Many also have programmable keys that can be assigned to specific actions or commands.

4. Experience

The spring-loaded keys add a click sound and tactile feedback that many users find satisfying. Mechanical keyboards are also typically more comfortable and easier on the fingers than membrane keyboards.

That said, mechanical keyboards have disadvantages as well, including:

Cost

Mechanical keyboards are more expensive than membrane or scissor-switch keyboards and are best for people looking to make a long-term investment.

Size

Mechanical keyboards are often larger and heavier than other keyboard models, which may be inconvenient for people who move around a lot or have limited desk space.

Noise

While the clicking sounds from mechanical keyboards may be a selling point for some, they may cause a disturbance in shared spaces.

Complexity

The complex design and customizable features of mechanical keyboards may be overwhelming for people who are accustomed to more standard keyboard specs.

What to Look for When Buying a Mechanical Keyboard

With such a wide variety of mechanical keyboards currently on the market, it can be hard to know where to start. Along with the range of switch types described above, here are some important things to look for:

Layout

Mechanical keyboards come in a range sizes and layouts, including full-sized, tenkeyless, and compact. Ergonomic options are also available. Consider comfort, form, and function when selecting the best layout for your needs.

Compatibility

Mechanical keyboards are compatible with many different operating systems and devices, including PCs, Macs, and gaming consoles. Make sure you select a keyboard that will work with the rest of your setup.

Connectivity

Most mechanical keyboards have wired connectivity, but wireless and Bluetooth options are also available. Wireless and Bluetooth keyboards often have plastic cases, while wired varieties offer an aluminum finish.

Aesthetics

Not only do mechanical keyboards have a premium look, but they have a highly customizable appearance. Choose from a range of colors, keycaps, backlighting options, and more to create a keyboard that matches your personal style.

Purpose

The most important thing to consider when shopping for a mechanical keyboard is what it’s going to be used for. Whether you’re gaming, coding, or writing a dissertation, the keyboard’s purpose should help determine which features and specs are right for you.

Mechanical Keyboards from Acer

The Predator Aethon 700 is an excellent choice for gamers and esports enthusiasts. A powerful mechanical gaming keyboard, the Predator Aethon 700 has features like an adjustable toggle for tactile/linear press, a rough-textured volume rollover, full n-key rollover, and per-key RGB backlighting.

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About Lisa Shettle: Lisa is a writer, editor, and content product manager with over 15 years of experience. She has a special interest in travel and tech writing, marketing, and AI. She is based in the United States.

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