Any gamer or PC enthusiast will tell you that mechanical keyboards are superior to any possible keyboard type that is available in the market right now. But you might be wondering, what are the exact reasons why mechanical keyboards are better than anything out there?
Mechanical keyboards are built better and give you more customization options compared to membrane keyboards. They not only offer a better feel but also better durability, they allow you to customize certain aspects, such as the keycaps. And while they aren’t for everyone, mechanical keyboards are undoubtedly the superior choice.
In this article, we dive deeper into the realm of mechanical keyboards. We’ll go through a brief history, discuss the pros and cons, and ultimately help you decide which keyboard type is for you.
What are Mechanical Keyboards?
Mechanical keyboards have dominated the peripheral market. They are incredibly popular in the gaming market and can often be seen being used by professional gamers for different Esports titles. However, they can also be seen in the mechanical keyboard hobby.
But what are mechanical keyboards, and what differentiates them from standard keyboards? In a nutshell, the main differentiating factor between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards is their internals. Mechanical keyboards feature more complicated internals.
There is a switch underneath each key. Also, there are different materials that can be found, such as a plate.
Mechanical keyboards first came into the market back in the late 80s and early 90s. They were originally meant to replicate the feel of typewriters which were more commonly used before the age of computers. Companies such as IBM and Cherry helped develop a lot of the technology that we still use today.
However, during the late 90s, manufacturers wanted to make keyboard production cheaper and more efficient. And thus, mechanical keyboards were replaced in favor of membrane keyboards.
For the next few years, mechanical keyboards were only available for a certain niche. However, mechanical keyboards made a resurgence after gaming companies such as Razer and Logitech G started promoting mechanical keyboards as superior options for gamers.
The demand for mechanical keyboards later skyrocketed in the next couple of years and is now considered a mainstream hobby. Today, there are many options found in both the general consumer/gaming space as well as the enthusiast space.
What Are Membrane Keyboards?
Membrane keyboards are the default keyboard option that is available to most consumers. If you aren’t using any special keyboard with a big name brand, then you are probably using a membrane keyboard. These are the keyboards that you see in schools, libraries, offices, and even sometimes come for free when you purchase your desktop PC.
As we have mentioned earlier, these keyboards replaced mechanical keyboards and became the only option for both consumers and enthusiasts. The goal of these keyboards was to simplify the components of a keyboard. A lot of the major components found on mechanical keyboards, such as the mechanical key switches and plates, have been replaced with a thin plastic membrane.
Membrane keyboards receive a lot of flack in the keyboard community due to their subpar feel and build quality. However, this is not always the case.
There are a lot of well-built membrane keyboards. Some even offer tactile feel and feedback. And before mechanical keyboards made their grand comeback, there were a lot of high-end membrane keyboards with advanced functionality, such as the Logitech G19. Additionally, despite using membrane key switch technology, a lot of laptop keyboards still feel good,
Mechanical and Membrane Hybrid
Mechanical keyboards were extremely expensive back when they first hit the mainstream market. Options in terms of sizes and switches were also very limited. This is why companies tried to find alternatives in achieving a mechanical feel without using actual mechanical switches.
The result was the mechanical membrane hybrid switch (also often referred to as memchanical switches). These switches were still based on the design of membrane keyboards. However, they were often more tactile and had a more satisfying feel compared to normal membrane keyboards.
Despite the best efforts of companies, mecha membrane switches were not very successful. They could not fully capture the feel of mechanical switches. Switch options were also vastly limited compared to traditional mechanical switches.
And with how affordable entry-level mechanical keyboards are these days, mecha membrane switches are no longer practical. You can pretty much get an entry-level hot-swap keyboard that will perform better than most mecha membrane switch keyboards. Today, only a few manufacturers are still producing mecha membrane switches. One of them is Razer with their Razer Ornata V2.
Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboards
Pros of Mechanical Keyboards
Mechanical keyboards have lots of advantages over membrane keyboards. The main ones include better build quality, more durable design, more reliable keystrokes, more variety, and better customizability. Let us discuss each of one these.
Most mechanical keyboards are better built than membrane keyboards. And if you go through the custom keyboard route, then you will even have more premium options such as an aluminum or polycarbonate chassis. Some mechanical keyboards even come with a brass weight to further add to the premium feel.
Also, it’s not only the exterior that is more durable. The internal components are also designed better than membrane keyboards.
The switches, for instance, are rated to last longer than membrane keyboards. They are also easier to repair in case something goes wrong with them.
Additionally, mechanical keyboards have more reliable keystrokes. Since a dedicated switch handles every single key, you are ensured that the keys you press will register.
In terms of variety, you are getting a lot with mechanical keyboards. You can choose between different key switches, different sizes, and different aesthetics. And if you have a custom keyboard, you will be able to handpick all of the components of your keyboard.
Cons of Mechanical Keyboards
Despite all the good things with mechanical keyboards, they still have their downsides that you need to consider. The first major downside of mechanical keyboards is their cost. Most of these keyboards have a premium price tag.
And while there are some entry-level keyboards, you still have to spend a pretty penny to truly get into the mechanical keyboard hobby. Also, if you wish to experience higher-end mechanical keyboards, you will usually have to go through a group buy. These not only cost lots of money but you will also have to wait for several months or even an entire year. We have covered most of these in our dedicated mechanical keyboard FAQ.
Another potential downside is that most mechanical keyboards are quite noisy. Of course, this is part of the appeal of mechanical keyboards.
However, if you are in a place where it is absolutely necessary to use a quieter keyboard, then you will lose most of the benefits of your mechanical keyboard. And while it is possible to get quieter mechanical keyboards, you will most likely have to go through a custom build.
And lastly, the key height of most mechanical keyboards is mostly the same. There are low-profile mechanical keyboards that are meant to emulate chiclet-style keyboards. But for the most part, most mechanical keyboards have the same key height.
Pros of Membrane Keyboards
Membrane keyboards still provide a lot of advantages over mechanical keyboards. The most obvious one is their price.
Most membrane keyboards are pretty accessible, which helps if you have a tight budget or if you want to buy them in large quantities for office use or in an internet cafe setting.
Also, if your current keyboard breaks, then you can easily replace it with the same model. Additionally, if you are planning on purchasing bulk orders for school or office use, then membrane keyboards are the clear choice.
In terms of their quality, not all membrane keyboards are bad. There are plenty of high-quality membrane keyboards that won’t break the bank.
Some have a tactile feel and have good acoustics. They won’t rival mechanical keyboards, but they can certainly bring a satisfying experience at a significantly lower price.
Cons of Membrane Keyboards
Of course, membrane keyboards aren’t going to have the same performance ceiling as mechanical keyboards. This means that the typing feel and the acoustics of most membrane keyboards will not be as good as midrange to high-end mechanical keyboards. This also means that they won’t be as reliable as mechanical keyboards for tasks such as professional work or gaming.
Additionally, membrane keyboards will never have the same customization options as mechanical keyboards. So if you are someone who wishes to tinker around with the feel, sound, and aesthetics of your keyboard, then membrane keyboards will not be for you.
Which Should You Buy?
If you are someone who is critical with aspects such as typing experience, reliability, durability, and customizability, then mechanical keyboards are without a doubt the best option. They may have their downsides. However, there is arguably no better option available right now.
However, if you are someone who is looking to purchase something simpler and do not want to tinker around with different options, then membrane keyboards are still a good choice. They may be technically inferior to mechanical keyboards, but they can still get the job done.
At the end of the day, it is all about preference and budget. Choose the keyboard type that best suits your needs.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.