Mechanical keyboards: bigger and better

Aug. 12, 2022, 3:07 p.m. | By Alexander Liu | 1 year, 10 months ago

An easy way to make your home setup a lot more exciting

Mechanical keyboard in 60% form factor with RGB lighting (photo courtesy of Beck Rowe). Photo courtesy of Beck Rowe.

Most computer keyboards are plain and boring. They have cheap plastic bodies with white lettering on solid black keys. Most keyboards are cheap, membrane keyboards. This means that each keystroke depresses a membrane dome to make an electrical connection and register a stroke. Each press is mushy and unsatisfying, not to mention the lackluster sound – more of a bump than a click. For most people, it’s the only type of keyboard they’ve ever known. 

What if I told you that it didn’t have to be that way? Mechanical keyboards offer greater customizability and overall quality than most membrane keyboards. A cyberpunk keycap set? Yep, that’s out there. A keycap set based on a cup of coffee? Sure, why not. A keycap set in red, with gold accents and katakana instead of romanized lettering? Yep, that’s out there. The point is, whatever your dream board is, you can probably make it. 

The keyboard case is no different. From brass to aluminum to acrylic, cases come in a variety of different materials and finishes. While most keyboards have 104 or 101 keys, mechanical keyboards come in many different form factors. “TKL” or “TenKeyLess” keyboards forgo the numpad, while “40%” boards only have alphanumeric keys. With this large variety, each board’s shape can be customized to whatever the user prefers.

Don’t get me wrong though –mechanical keyboards don’t just look good, they also feel great. Instead of using rubber domes to actuate a press, mechanical keyboards use plastic switches, which house a stem held up by a spring. The stem holds apart two metal pins, and when you push down, the stem lowers allowing the pins to connect and a click to be registered. 

Even these switches are customizable. Springs can be adjusted so the actuating force required for a press is heavier or lighter. In fact, the actuating pressure can be adjusted down to the gram. The switches can be silent or clicky, linear or tactile, green or purple and so much more. Many avid keyboard fans even perform their own modifications, adding lubrication or films to make each keystroke feel just the way that they like it. 

With all of that functionality, it’s no wonder that the demand for mechanical keyboards is exploding. The subreddit for mechanical keyboards has surpassed 1 million users, and the market for mechanical keyboards is rapidly expanding.

Now, before you rush out and buy one, you should note a few drawbacks of mechanical keyboards too. First and foremost, they’re expensive. A budget mechanical keyboard will cost at least $50, while a custom keyboard can easily go for hundreds of dollars. Additionally, buying one may cause your family to hate you as the constant clicking of the keyboard slowly drives them crazy. 

Putting the keyboard together also poses a challenge. While many keyboards are hot-swappable, meaning you can install switches without soldering, many aren’t. That means you’ll have to bust out the soldering iron and manually solder each switch in place, which can be a long and tedious endeavor.

Owning a mechanical keyboard is like owning Jordans instead of Asics or driving a Tesla instead of a Subaru. It gets the same job done, but looks and feels better. If that’s gotten you interested in trying mechanical keyboards out, many sites offer parts or even pre-built models. Wallets beware however, as once you’ve gotten hooked on mechanical keyboards it can be hard to stop. 

Last updated: Aug. 12, 2022, 3:10 p.m.

Tags: Technology computer mechanical keyboard

Alexander Liu. Hi, I'm Alex (he/him) and I'll be a staff writer for SCO this year. I'm passionate about public policy and international relations. In my free time, I enjoy drawing and watching terrible rom-coms. More »

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