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If you’re a big fan of the keyboard industry (like us), you probably take the tactility of your keyboard switches very seriously. Some people (like us) really appreciate a tactile keyboard switch that lets you know when the keypress has been registered. However, there are many reasons that someone might prefer a linear switch over a tactile one. But… what’s the difference?

Let’s take a look at linear and tactile keyboard switches to answer this question and more!

Linear vs. Tactile Keyboard Switches: A Side-By-Side Comparison

LinearTactile
Tactile Feedback?NoneClick, Bump
WeightVaries (30+ grams, typically)Varies (45+ grams, typically)
Silent?YesNo
SpeedFasterVaries
UsesGaming, typingAny

Linear vs. Tactile Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

Linear and tactile keyboard switches have a few notable differences. Still, the most noticeable difference between the two types of switches is what kind of feedback the switch gives for its actuation. Tactile switches are designed to provide tactile feedback when the switch is actuated using either a bump or a click that indicates the actuation. However, linear switches are devoid of most tactile input unless you’re like us and bottom out your keys like it’s your job.

Linear Keyboard Switches: What Are They?

Linear keyboard switches are the fastest keyboard switches on the market, typically. Linear switches have a linear chamber that contains the switch stem. Linear switches are one of the three keyboard switch types; the other types are tactile and clicky switches. They’re made for people who value speed over all else or those who want to reduce hand strain when using their keyboards.

The reason linear switches are ideal for these use cases is that the linear chamber reaches actuation a few fractions of a second faster than tactile keys, which have to use a little bit of that time to produce the tactile sensation when you press the keys.

Linear switches are also typically outfitted with lighter springs if the springs are different at all. Using lighter springs allows the user to actuate the keys with less pressure overall, reducing hand strain and increasing the actuation speed.

The most notable use cases where linear switches are ideal are gaming and typing. People who like to game on their computers will use the keyboard a lot to control the game, and typists and writers will use the keyboard a lot to do their work. In these cases, hand strain and fatigue can be huge issues for users. By reducing the actuation force of the keys through lighter springs and linear switches, users can use their keyboards more frequently and for extended periods. This extra time can be precious to people who use their keyboards often.

Linear switches are also faster to actuate than their tactile and clicky counterparts. This speed can be crucial for competitive gamers who need to get their inputs down to the fraction of the second to give themselves an edge in-game.

Tactile Switches: How Are They Different?

The term “tactile” typically refers to bumpy switches with only moderate noise levels. Unlike clicky switches with a tactile bump that make a loud “click” noise when actuated, tactile switches are designed only to have the tactile bump feel when the key is actuated. Tactile switches make a bit of noise, but it’s nowhere near as oppressive as clicky switches.

Tactile switches are satisfying and make an excellent option for people who aren’t super invested in speed but want to know that their keyboard is working as intended. The tactile bump you feel when using tactile switches is an excellent indicator of whether your keypress should have been registered. So, they make a perfect tool for reading your keyboard’s functionality. If you felt the bump, but the key didn’t actuate, that indicates something is going on with your keyboard.

Most people who use tactile switches do so for the switch’s feel. The preference for a tactile bump where the key actuates makes them excellent for beginner and intermediate keyboard enthusiasts who may not have the skills to crack open a linear keyboard to check for overuse.

Tactile switches are a bit lighter than clicky switches and have an intermediate pressure need. This feature makes them excellent for people who are a little too aggressive with their keyboard for linear switches but need a lighter touch than clicky switches.

tactile switch keyboard
Tactile switches are great for beginners to intermediates who don’t need a super-fast keyboard but enjoy the “bump” feeling when a keypress is actuated.

©Syafiq Adnan/Shutterstock.com

Clicky Switches: What You Need to Know

Clicky switches are the other primary type of keyboard switch you’ll see for sale. Unfortunately, these switches are a bit… controversial. People tend to either love them to death or hate them with the flaming passion of a thousand suns. The reason for their controversiality is the loud click noise they make when the keys are actuated.

People tend to either find the clicking noise satisfying or viciously annoying. So, people tend to have big feelings about clicky switches one way or the other. Clicky switches are the hardest to actuate of the three types, requiring the most force to depress the switch because they have both a tactile bump and a clicking mechanism inside the switch.

Clicky switches are excellent for beginners. The tactile bump and loud clicking noises allow you to ascertain whether your keyboard is working easily. Thus, you can tell when the keypress is intended to trigger, unlike linear keys, which provide little feedback as to whether your keyboard is working as intended.

However, clicky switches tend to take longer to trigger than linear and tactile switches because of the extra time needed to both depress the switch and activate the click. As a result, if speed is essential to you, you’ll want to become accustomed to using linear switches, providing you with the fastest input registration.

Linear vs. Tactile Switches: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • Every time you hit the spacebar on your keyboard, approximately 6 million people hit the spacebar at the same time as you.
  • The most efficient keyboard layout is the Dvorak Keyboard, not the QWERTY keyboard.
  • The QWERTY keyboard is designed to slow down typing. When keyboards were used for typewriters, people would type too fast for the hammers to actuate effectively if the keys were in alphabetical order.
  • Chorded keyboards use combinations of keys to actuate a full range of key inputs with a limited number of buttons. The name comes from hand motions, which are similar to piano chords.
  • Scroll Lock is designed to lock page scrolling with the arrow keys. But in modern computing, it’s almost exclusively used for keyboard macros.

Linear vs. Tactile Keyboard Switches: Which is Better? Which Should You Use?

Keyboard switches are a unique item that doesn’t have an apparent better-worse dichotomy. Rather than thinking of them as “better” or “worse,” you should think of them as “ideal” or “unideal” for you. An ideal key switch will provide better results within the specific use cases. However, you can use whatever key switches you like best! The real difference in use comes between membrane and mechanical keyboards rather than switches. Still, we’ll highlight a few specific use cases where you might want to choose a particular switch over the others.

Typists

Typists and other keyboard-heavy job-havers will probably want to choose linear switches, even if they’re a little less beginner-friendly than tactile switches. This keyboard switch is ideal because the lower actuation force can reduce hand strain. Reducing hand strain can make the work day more pleasurable and help stave off permanent joint damage like arthritis and carpal tunnel.

Gamers

Gamers should also choose linear switches. However, rather than reducing hand strain, gamers tend to prefer linear switches because the switches are a bit faster to actuate than their tactile counterparts. In addition, being able to input data more quickly means your character in-game will respond faster.

Beginners

People new to the mechanical keyboard game will want to choose clicky or tactile switches, depending on whether they can handle the noise. Clicky switches are ideal for beginners as they provide the most feedback about the keyboard’s functionality. However, tactile switches can be a good middle ground for beginners who can’t tolerate or need to reduce the noise their keyboard makes.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the inner machinations of a keyboard is the first step to becoming a keyboard master. By understanding the inner mechanisms that drive our typing, we can improve our hardware and environments to provide the most pleasurable and satisfying keyboard experience.

Linear vs. Tactile Keyboard Switches: Full Comparison FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is the alternative to a mechanical keyboard?

In the modern day, the most economical alternative to a mechanical keyboard is a membrane keyboard.

What do keyboard switch colors mean?

Keyboard switches are often separated by color. Generally, red switches will be linear, brown will be tactile, and blue will be clicky. However, some companies use alternative color schemes, such as Razer, which uses yellow, green, and purple.

What’s the best kind of keyboard switch?

The best keyboard switch will be determined by what you’re doing with your keyboard more than the switch itself. As a result, different switches are ideal for other use cases.

What’s the difference between the three types of switches?

Linear switches provide almost no tactile feedback to indicate a key press. On the other hand, tactile and clicky switches offer different levels of tactile feedback when the switch is actuated.

What are the three main types of keyboard switches

The three main types of keyboard switches are linear, tactile, and clicky switches.

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