One of the best things about mechanical keyboards is that they give you many switch options to play around with. However, when it comes to optical and mechanical switches, you usually have to commit to one of them since mechanical keyboards are only compatible with one switch type. So naturally, the question is, which one should you choose?
Optical switches are technically superior to mechanical switches. They are made to last longer and have a faster response time than mechanical keyboards. However, the number of options that you have is considerably more limited. And considering how their performance is near identical, their advantages aren’t that obvious.
In this article, we will be diving deeper into the differences between optical and mechanical keyboard switches. We are going to talk about their differences as well as their advantages and disadvantages. And by the end of this article, you should have a clear idea of which switch type you should use.
What is the Difference Between Optical and Mechanical Keyboards?
Optical Keyboards, also known as photo-optical keyboards, use light to trigger a particular key. It also uses optical switches that help detect the light underneath each key. When pressed, the light will be blocked, making the keyboard notice the blockage as a keystroke. Since optical switches do not rely on metal-to-metal contact and have no debounce delay, they are considerably faster than mechanical switches.
On the other hand, mechanical keyboards are known for using individual moving parts for their electric switches, which is different from optical keyboards, where there are no moving parts. When you press a key, two pieces of metal connect that will then complete the circuit.
The key difference between these two keyboards is that the optical keyboard uses light to activate while the mechanical keyboard uses mechanical connections and switches.
Are Optical Keyboards Considered Mechanical Keyboards?
The answer is yes. Optical keyboards are still considered mechanical keyboards. Optical switches still have mechanical components that mechanical keyboards possess, thus considering it still a mechanical keyboard.
To be more specific, optical switches are no different from any other usual switches, which include linear action (like Reds), tactile (Browns), and clicky (Blues). The difference between these two keyboards is how they receive and transmit the inputs on the keyboard. While mechanical keyboards can suffer from metal debounce noise that often delays the signal between the keyboard itself and the PC, an optical keyboard doesn’t seem to suffer from that.
What are the Advantages of Optical Keyboards?
With the continuous rise of optical keyboards, their precision, moisture resistance, and the absence of debounce issues are considered some of its advantages.
Speed and Precision
As we have mentioned earlier, optical switches actuate faster than mechanical keyboards. Some gaming-oriented brands have even optimized optical switches to have an even faster actuation time, making them vastly superior in terms of speed to traditional mechanical keyboards.
Resistance to Moisture
Optical keyboards are designed to protect themselves from different liquids and moisture that may damage their switches, unlike the mechanical keyboards, which are vulnerable to water and different liquids because they may go straight to their individual switches, damaging them.
Since the optical keyboard inputs at the speed of light, most optical keyboards can confirm that there is zero (0) debounce delay when using this keyboard. This simply means that there is no noticeable delay between the time you press the key on the keyboard and when it registers on the PC’s monitor.
What are the Advantages of Mechanical Keyboards?
Mechanical keyboards have long been famous not only for gamers and programmers but also for average consumers. Some of its advantages include durability, anti-ghosting features, and switch selection.
Most mechanical keyboards are rated to last for at least 50 million clicks. While this figure is still lower than optical keyboards, which are usually rated to last for up to 100 million clicks, they are still generally more durable, given how they don’t have sensors that can fail over time. The light sensors that optical keyboards possess make them more vulnerable to dust and electrical failure.
Anti-ghosting and N-Key Rollover
The majority of gamers around the world prefer mechanical keyboards because of their anti-ghosting features. Anti-ghosting allows people to press multiple keys simultaneously without encountering ghost presses.
In addition, most mechanical keyboards have a feature known as N-Key rollover. This allows a specific number of keys to register at any given moment. For a lot of gaming keyboards, you can press all ten keys, and they will still register in the exact same order that you pressed them.
With mechanical keyboards, you get access to lots of different switches. Aside from the usual linear, clicky, and tactile variants, you also get access to different brands such as Gateron, Gazzew, Kailh, Durock, JWK, and many more. Each brand brings something unique to the table and allows you to have a completely new experience.
Which Keyboard Type Should You Use?
Both mechanical and optical switches are, without a doubt, great options for mechanical keyboards. However, if you were to choose one, we highly suggest going for mechanical key switches. This is because you get more variety with mechanical switches.
As we mentioned earlier, you get access to lots of different brands and models of mechanical switches. And while optical switches also allow you to choose between different models, the selection just isn’t the same. You are just limited to a couple of brands, most of which are simply clones of mechanical switches.
Of course, optical switches still have lots of benefits. And if you are someone who is looking to have an extremely fast switch for gaming or someone who wants the most durable key switch available, then optical switches are still a great option. But if you wish to dive deeper into the hobby and explore other switch brands, then mechanical switches are certainly the way to go.
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.