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Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: Everything You Need to Know

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Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: Everything You Need to Know

Suppose you don’t know the difference between a mechanical and a non-mechanical keyboard. In that case, you’re probably not someone who spends hours a day sitting at their computer.

The use of mechanical keyboards is mainly by people who spend many hours typing or playing games with their keyboards, but that doesn’t mean that the layperson can’t benefit from an upgrade from a non-mechanical keyboard to a mechanical one.

Let’s examine the differences between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards. We’re confident we can convince you to switch!

Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: A Side-By-Side Comparison

MechanicalNon-Mechanical
Switch TypeMechanicalMembrane
Types of SwitchesVariousMembrane, rubber dome
Actuation Force40+ g60+ g
Price$50+$20+
Tactile Feedback OptionsClick, tactile bumpTactile bump

Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • The most popular keyboard key is the space bar.
  • The QWERTY keyboard layout is designed to slow people down, as typewriter hammers couldn’t keep up with people’s typing speeds when the keys were placed in alphabetical order.
  • Japan’s spacebar keys are shorter than Western space bars.
  • Movie studios, music studios, and design agencies use unique keyboard layouts.
  • Many of the world’s fastest typists use the Dvorak keyboard layout.

Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards is the method by which the keyboard registers keypresses and relays which keys are pressed to your computer.

The typical keyboard that people use makes use of a rubber membrane underneath the keyboard. On the other hand, mechanical keyboards use a matrix of spring-loaded switches. Let’s examine some of the differences between the membrane and mechanical keyboards.

Design

Mechanical keyboards are named for the mechanical switches they utilize to send inputs to the computer. Different switch designs provide different tactile feelings, sound output, and other features. You can even get “hot-swappable” switches that can be easily pulled out of the frame and replaced with different types of switches if you so desire!

There are three standard types of keyboard switches that are typically differentiated using colors. Blue switches make a tactile “click” when the key is actuated. Brown switches have a tactile bump when the key is actuated. Finally, red switches provide little to no tactile feedback when pressed. Instead, they’re silent and actuate quickly.

Conversely, non-mechanical keyboards have many designs. However, the most popular design is the membrane keyboard. Membrane keyboards are easy and cheap to produce, making them popular amongst manufacturers who don’t care about quality. Membrane keyboards use a soft membrane stretched over a matrix of circuits.

Another membrane keyboard design that’s growing in popularity is the rubber dome keyboard. This design uses stiff rubber domes built into the membrane above the circuits. The rubber domes provide more tactile feedback and make the typing feel of the keyboard less “mushy.”

Feel

One of the primary reasons that people switch from a membrane keyboard to a mechanical keyboard is the feel of the keys when you press them. People typically find that membrane keyboards feel “mushy” when depressed.

In addition, the keystrokes don’t have a good definition, which can lead to typos and awkward or inconsistent typing habits. Thus, mechanical keyboards are widespread purchases for people who use their keyboards a lot, such as writers, programmers, and gamers.

On the other hand, mechanical keyboards use spring-loaded switches that have a defined feel when the key is pressed down. Even red switches — which typically don’t have much tactile feedback — have a very defined keypress, unlike membrane keyboards where the keystrokes tend to blend together.

Price

Another deciding difference between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards is the price. Mechanical keyboards have many moving parts and many more parts than their non-mechanical counterparts. Thus, mechanical keyboards are typically more expensive than membrane keyboards.

One can usually find a membrane keyboard online or in stores for a few bucks. Mechanical keyboards tend to start at a lower-end price point of around $50, with some keyboards sitting in the price range of hundreds of dollars.

For people who aren’t using their keyboards often, it may be worthwhile to stick with a cheap membrane keyboard if there aren’t any issues with typing. For people looking for a keyboard on a budget, consider purchasing a Tenkeyless keyboard. These keyboards lack a keypad, and since they’re smaller and have fewer switches, they are typically a little bit less expensive.

Actuation Force

The difference between mechanical and non-mechanical keyboards that makes them so good for people who use their keyboards often is that membrane keyboards have a higher actuation force than their mechanical counterparts.

Actuation force is the force needed to get the keyboard and computer to recognize that a key has been pressed. The higher the actuation force of a key, the harder it must be pressed to get the computer to respond.

Since membrane keyboards have high actuation forces, using them often can lead to severe hand injury and even long-term illnesses like carpal tunnel. In addition, the different types of switches you can use with mechanical keyboards have various actuation forces.

Still, mechanical switches have a nearly universal lower actuation force than non-mechanical keyboards.

Due to their lower actuation force, mechanical keyboards are easier on the hands and fingers than membrane keyboards. That’s right! They’re actually good for your health!

mechanical keyboard switch springs
Mechanical keyboards offer a variety of benefits!

Durability

Finally, the durability of mechanical keyboards is universally better than membrane keyboards. As membrane keyboards rely on the plastic membrane being tightly stretched across the keyboard matrix, the silicone or plastic that the membrane is made of will degrade.

Conversely, mechanical keyboard switches are good for hundreds of thousands to millions of key presses before they degrade.

Additionally, most keyboard switch manufacturers will stress test and give a rating of how many key presses a person can expect to get out of a switch. Unfortunately, membrane keyboard manufacturers rarely, if ever, publish data about the durability of their keyboards as they aren’t very durable.

Going a bit further, mechanical switches can usually handle being bottomed out — or pressed so hard that the keycap hits the keyboard’s backplate — without causing extra degradation to the switch. On the other hand, membrane keyboards are very susceptible to damage from pressing the keys too hard.

Aggressive typists might want to consider a mechanical keyboard since they’re already putting great stress on their hands with their aggressive typing.

Mechanical vs. Non-Mechanical Keyboards: Which One is Better for You?

People who use their keyboards a lot will almost universally tell you that mechanical keyboards are superior to the membrane, and they’re right. On nearly every level, mechanical keyboards outperform membrane keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are also better for your health.

Suppose you don’t use your computer often. In that case, you likely don’t need a mechanical keyboard, as the occasional internet browsing or typing isn’t going to lead to any clinical hand strain.

However, anyone using their keyboard often or those looking to reduce hand strain for other reasons should consider a mechanical keyboard. Regardless of what switches the keyboard comes outfitted with, it will be less strenuous than using a membrane keyboard.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do mechanical keyboards have to make noise?

No! Red switch keyboards are designed to make as little noise as possible.

Are mechanical keyboards faster?

Yes. Mechanical keyboards register inputs faster than membrane keyboards.

Are mechanical keyboards more expensive?

Yes. Mechanical keyboards are typically two to three times the cost of a cheap membrane keyboard.

What makes a keyboard mechanical?

The use of mechanical switches interfaces the keyboard matrix with the user.

Are mechanical keyboards better than non-mechanical keyboards?

Mechanical keyboards outperform non-mechanical keyboards on virtually every level.

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