Mechanical keyboard and how it works

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Quite often we see people using mechanical keyboards. Some of them are very noisy, others are glowing. Also, people often customize them themselves, creating rather beautiful colored or strict dark keyboards. But not everyone understands why they should or shouldn’t get one, and they don’t know what their differences are or what their advantages are. For example, many people who know a bit about this subject don’t know why some switches are red and others blue and why it’s important to know this when choosing a keyboard, especially if you want a silent keyboard.

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Pressing mechanism

Keyboard — a set of keys located in a certain order to control any device or to enter data. Buttons that are in the keyboard, as a rule, are made in different ways, and have different mechanisms for pressing keys, and now we will understand them.

Mechanical — are keyboards with metal springs and metal contacts in the switches. In its turn, mechanical usually refers to a keyboard where the contact tracks are on a printed circuit board, and the switches that close them are separate mechanisms soldered to the board. Textolite is similar in its properties to plastic, and, coupled with thin, copper wires, is almost anything better than a membrane solution.

Before you buy make sure you know what switch colors are, you may buy very loud or uncomfortable keyboard.

Electrostatic switches

This type of keyboard was first introduced in 1983, on the Topre switches. The Topre switch has the following structure: there is a key above a convex rubber pad and a conical steel spring below it; the spring itself, in turn, is placed directly above the circuit board. While these switches are separate components of the keyboard, they are mounted all together on a single plate. The rubber dome is the source of much of the resistance and tactility. The structure of such switches can be characterized as “hybrid”: as their structure includes a rubber membrane, it is impossible to refer them unambiguously to mechanical switches. However, they cannot be called membrane switches either, because they have springs.

Optical switches

The optical switches are designed so that a movable part either covers the light beam emitted by a laser or, conversely, allows it to reach the sensor. Accordingly, when the state of the sensor changes, the contact closes. The contact is not mechanically influenced, and therefore lasts longer, but you can also feel changes in the tactile sensation of the presses.

Low-profile keys

Low-profile keys can be either standard mechanisms (scissors, butterfly) or mechanical ones (Cherry ML, Kailh Choc). There are even low-profile switches with an optical mechanism (Gateron Low Optical in Keychron K3 keyboard).

The most popular type of switches are mechanical switches, because they have good durability and great tactile feedback when pressed. Keyboards with mechanical switches have been in production since the 1930s, from many manufacturers, with different types of construction. However, only Alps switches became popular, and later Cherry, and later other companies started to make switches based on these two switch types. Nowadays Alps switches are not very popular and all new switches are made MX-like (Cherry series switches).

A little about custom keyboards

As a rule, a custom (self-made) keyboard is assembled from scratch by the user out of separately purchased parts. It can be either full-featured or just modified from purchased keypad, which was taken as the base. The uniqueness of such keyboard is that it is assembled according to the consumer’s whims and can be equipped with some components which are absent in ready-made keyboards (e.g. 40% form factor PCB, wooden case, Kailh Speed switches, GMK stabilizers and braided twisted cable). However, if you are an average consumer who can’t afford a ready-made product and you’re not ready to spend a fortune on a keyboard, then you’d better not start building such a keyboard. The best option for such people is to buy a keyboard with HotSwap technology, and test something new for yourself in small batches. Then it’s up to you to decide what is best for you, and whether it’s worth building a self-made keyboard from scratch.

All these beauties are also very good looking at computer working desk, check out how my Keychron K8 looks:

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