What is a mechanical keyboard and why would you want one? Close your eyes and see if you can remember or image the feeling of using a keyboard from an old computer. A really old computer with a clicky clacky heavy keyboard. You might imagine something like the IBM Model M keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are not like the typical keyboards that we see today. Most modern keyboards are composed of three plastic membranes with a rubber dome underneath each key. When you press a key the rubber dome gets pushed through a hole in the middle membrane and connects a circuit between the top and middle membranes. This circuit sends a signal to the computer. This type of keyboard is inexpensive and resistant to spills, but it lacks tactile and audible feedback and subsequently feels mushy. The lifespan of such a keyboard is also shorter than a quality mechanical keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards, however, use physical switches that are underneath each key. Each switch has a base, a springs, and a stem. Different models of switches will have different actuation and travel distances, and also different amounts of pressure to actuate. The major mechanical switch producer is Cherry. Their MX series of switches include Blue, Green, Brown, Clear, Red and Black switches. The different color-coded switches offer various degrees of tactile feedback, actuation force, and audible click. Different users will prefer different switches in their keyboards, and a single keyboard can have multiple types of switches; for example using MX Black switches for the WASD keys most commonly used in gaming, and MX Brown switches for the other keys.
For this reason, mechanical keyboards feel very different. Each key requires a certain amount of force to actuate, and does not move until you push down with enough force. Each keystroke feels more intentional and pronounced on a mechanical keyboard than on a standard keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are also louder than standard keyboards. Of course this will depend on what kind of switches are in your keyboards. If you’re typing in a quiet environment this may distract your colleagues. Mechanical keyboards are also very heavy – usually around 3 lbs. or so. This, combined with the fact that each switch is mounted to a heavy steel back plate and soldered to the PCB gives a very solid feel.