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How to choose the best Mechanical Keyboard?

Most laptop and desktop keyboards are terrible. A lot more customization options exist for the look and feel of mechanical keyboards, which also offer a far more pleasurable typing experience. They are also more robust and simple to maintain. It might be very pleasant to tailor every aspect of your keyboard to your precise needs if you type, program, or play video games all day. However, mechanical keyboards come with a lot of technical speak—layouts, switches, and keycap profiles, oh my—so here is a glossary of the terms you need be familiar with in order to choose the best keyboard for your requirements.

Here, we’ll talk about the factors to take into account while choosing the best mechanical keyboard for your needs and preferences. Maybe you’re playing at a level where a difference of just two millimeters in actuation determines whether you succeed or fail. Or perhaps you’re looking for a keyboard to get you through the workday and are unsure whether a mechanical switch keyboard is the right choice.

Most mechanical keyboards last longer, require less actuation to record a keystroke, and provide greater tactile and audible feedback. If you use the right mechanical keyboard, you might gain the advantage you need whether you’re programming, writing, streaming, or gaming.

Choosing a Form Factor

Your first and most crucial choice when purchasing a keyboard is the size and layout you desire. The four basic types of keyboards are full-size, tenkeyless, compact, and ergonomic.

Full-size: These keyboards have every key, including the arrow keys, number pad, modifier keys, function keys, and letters, numbers, and other characters. Only for those who want a built-in number pad do we propose this size. Wide keyboards make you move the mouse further away from your body, which might strain your neck, back, and shoulders.

The number pad is the only key missing from the tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard layout. Tenkeyless keyboards have all of the most utilized keys but are several inches smaller than full-size boards. If you need a numpad, you can use a tenkeyless keyboard that has a separate number pad, and when not in use, you can move the number pad out of the way.

The term “compact” refers to a broad range of sizes and configurations that occupy less horizontal desk space than full-size and tenkeyless machines.

75%: This layout is comparable to that of the majority of laptop keyboards; it includes almost all the same keys that tenkeyless versions have, but it crams the keys closer together to save space. If you frequently utilize the function keys in the top row, a 75% keyboard is the ideal choice because other compact keyboards don’t have those keys.

65% and 68%: Keyboards of this size keep the arrow keys and a few keys from the navigation cluster but remove the function keys from the top row. Because of this, 65% and 68% keyboards frequently have a similar width to 75% models but require less vertical desk space.

60%: These boards lack the numpad, function keys, arrow or navigation keys, and anything other than the basic block of letters, numbers, and modifiers. Although they are relatively small and portable, we only advise using a 60% keyboard if you don’t mind constantly having to learn new key combinations.

40% and less: Even smaller keyboards are available, however we do not advise them because the majority of people cannot function without the number row.

Ergonomic keyboards are split along the middle, allowing you to hold your hands, wrists, arms, and shoulders at a more natural angle than you would on a conventional flat keyboard. They can be found in any of the aforementioned sizes. Either fully or partially split keyboards are ergonomic. Although they still connect and have a little gap in the middle, partially split keyboards are less flexible than fully split keyboards and have a steeper learning curve. The most adaptable and versatile keyboards are those that are completely split, allowing you to position each half however you like.

Choosing a Switch

You already know the size of the board you desire, but how should typing feel to you? There are several clone switches that are compatible with Cherry because the major mechanical switch patents for Cherry lapsed a few years ago. Let’s discuss Cherry and Cherry clone switches since they are used on the great majority of boards.

Next, choose the switches you want to use for typing. Compared to membrane, scissor, or butterfly keyboards, mechanical keyboards are more robust, simpler to repair, and more individualized because each key has its own switch. There are three primary types of mechanical switches: linear, tactile, and clicky.

When pressed, linear switches seem smooth from top to bottom.
When you push a key on a tactile switch, you notice a perceptible bump that indicates the key has been actuated.
Tactile switches have a similar feel to clicky switches, except the tactile bump is accompanied by a click sound.

Numerous variations exist among these three primary switch types, each of which is distinguished by its actuation point and actuation force (the amount of effort required to activate each key) (how far down you have to press to activate each key).

We advise Brown switches made by Gateron, Kailh, or Cherry since they are well-liked, easily accessible tactile switches that are suitable for the majority of tasks and quiet enough for most offices for those who don’t already have a taste for switches. Although they can be challenging to type on for the same reasons, light linear switches, like Reds or Cherry MX Speed Silvers, are popular for gaming because of their comparatively little actuation force and continuous movement, which make them easier (and theoretically faster) to engage. Clicky switches, like Blues, can be entertaining and offer feedback that is more akin to a typewriter, but we don’t advise using them if you work or play in a shared place because they are extremely noisy and likely to irritate your coworkers or roommates. 1

When Cherry’s switch patents ran out in 2014, a ton of imitations of various quality that resemble Cherry MX switches in terms of their feel and its color-based naming system appeared from businesses including Gateron, Kailh, and Outemu. And during the past few years, there has been an utter explosion of switch types from various manufacturers, including more clones, new variants, Frankenswitches, and recolors. Many of these feel distinctive and no longer use the standard Cherry MX naming rules.

A switch tester or a hot-swappable keyboard are your two primary options if you want to experiment with various switches. Traditional mechanical keyboards without hot-swap require the tools, know-how, and time needed to remove the old switches and solder in the new ones. On a hot-swappable board, though, you only need to pull the switches out and snap in new ones. Historically, only the most costly, high-end mechanical keyboards could be equipped with hot-swap, but in the past year or two, more affordable versions have started to catch up. (Keychron offers a range of switches; I’ve personally purchased switches from NovelKeys, KBDfans, and 1upkeyboards with no problems.) In order to exchange a keyboard if you don’t like the switches, we suggest purchasing one without hot-swap switches from a retailer with a strong return policy.

Low-profile switches, which are shorter and have less travel, are also produced by switch manufacturers. There are also other, entirely distinct types of switches, like Topre, buckling spring, and Alps clones. While we don’t advise them for the majority of people, each of these other switch types has its own distinct appeal. However, none of them are compatible with the large variety of keycaps made for MX stems.

Picking a Keyswitch

An option to alter the appearance, feel, and even sound of your keyboard is via keycaps.
We advise choosing a board with a high-quality set of keycaps because personalizing your mechanical keyboard is half the fun of owning one. However, you can always purchase different keycaps for your keyboard afterwards.
There are some terms you should be aware of when looking for keycaps.

PBT keycaps are thicker and more durable than ABS keycaps, which are thinner and tend to shine. Keycaps are frequently composed of the plastics ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) or PBT (polybutylene terephthalate).

Cheaper ABS keycaps are thinner, have a higher pitch as you type, are more likely to wear out, and over time develop a smooth, shiny surface. PBT keycaps are often more expensive but thicker and more robust. There are four keycaps arranged in two rows of two, with the bottom keys facing the wrong direction

The letters, numbers, symbols, and functions displayed on keycaps are referred to as “legends” in keyboard jargon.
The two most common printing techniques used by keycap manufacturers for these legends, known as double-shot and dye-sublimation, have an impact on the appearance, feel, and longevity of the keycaps (or dye-sub).
The keycap color is layered over the legend color in double-shot keycaps, which can be constructed of ABS or PBT.
This procedure, which yields keycaps of superior quality and durability by using two different plastic colors and two distinct molds for each keycap, is more expensive. Shine-through legends are translucent legends that can be illuminated by the backlight on some double-shot keycaps.

Picking a Board

Finding the correct board is the challenge now that you are aware of the pieces you desire. I’ll start off by saying that I believe you should avoid “gaming-oriented” message boards. They try to entice you with flashing lights and names you recognize, but they frequently use lower-quality parts and call for unpleasant, unstable desktop software. Similar to this, you can simply search “mechanical keyboard” on Amazon to get a ton of affordable gadgets that will unquestionably input words. Simply put, they won’t look or sound their best while doing it. You must be at least a little discerning if you’ve read a thousand words about keyboards to get to this point. So let’s discuss some potential purchases for you.