The Lofree Keyboard has stunning good looks, imitating the typewriters of old, but not only does it look like an old typewriter, it also feels like a typewriter. Just what exactly is a mechanical keyboard? Here at Grouphunt, we don’t claim to be experts (we are far, far from it) but here is our dummies guide to mechanical keyboards!
What is a mechanical keyboard?
There are 2 main types of keyboards, membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards. Membrane keyboards are the type of keyboards that we normally encounter on our laptops.
This is how the inner workings of a membrane keyboard looks like. When you press a key, the membranes touch and a circuit is completed. That is how your computer recognises that there is a key that has been pressed down when you use a membrane keyboard!
Mechanical keyboards use actual switches (the brown plastic protrusions you see in the middle of the picture above) such as those seen above. When you press a key, instead of membranes touching, a switch gets pressed down, which sends a signal to your computer that the key has been pressed.
This does not sound like it is a very significant difference, but once you start using a mechanical keyboard for yourself, the difference becomes apparent.
Some basic terms
Now we go into some basic terms you must know, when it comes to mechanical keyboards.
Switches look something like these, and they come in different colours. Each colour represents a type of the switch which differs in terms of tactility, sound and force required, i.e. as how hard it is to press, how far down it you need to press, how loud it is etc! Here’s a table that compares the Cherry MX switches.
Of course there are other brands of switches so if you want to find out more, you can check out this website!
Keycaps are what goes on top of your switches, and tells you where each letter belongs. We’ve seen people getting completely blank keycaps as a challenge to themselves - type masters?
Why would you want a mechanical keyboard?
Mechanical keyboards are much more durable than their membrane counterparts. A membrane keyboard averages around 1 - 5 million presses per key before the membrane gets worn down, and the keyboard stops functioning. On the other hand, a mechanical keyboard can take up to 50 million presses per key.
Once the membrane of a single key on the membrane keyboards wear out, you’ll have to replace the entire membrane for the keyboard. For mechanical mechanical keyboards all you have to do is replace the key that’s not functioning.
While regular membrane keyboards come in a few standard layouts, mechanical keyboards can be customised to suit very specific tastes and needs. As mentioned, there are many different types of switches available, so you’ll definitely be able to choose something that will fit your needs. Furthermore, you can easily customise the keycaps of your mechanical keyboard to tailor it to your specific style. Especially for mechanical keyboards aimed at gaming, there are keys where you can programme, to have a specific function! If you prefer, you can even build your own mechanical keyboard from scratch, much like how some prefer to build their PC from scratch.
Key rollover simply means how well a keyboard can register multiple keys being pressed down at the same time. Mechanical keyboards have higher key rollover than membrane keyboards. This may not seem paramount to everyone, but if you game, or if you happen to type fast, this will be a feature that would definitely be appreciated.
Who needs a mechanical keyboard?
Mostly, people who need mechanical keyboards can be separated into a two groups, gamers or typists. Or people who generally just want a better typing experience.
Gamers and typists both benefit from the durability that mechanical keyboards have. Typists would especially need the durability and customisation options that come with mechanical keyboards. Especially for keys such as the backspace, space bar and the letter ‘e’. These letters wear out much faster than other letters, and with mechanical keyboards, you can simply change the specific key, rather than changing the whole keyboard.
Gamers would definitely gain from the programmable buttons that can come with a mechanical keyboard. As they would be able to optimise their gaming experience!
Another thing you’ll often hear when checking out mechanical keyboards is “what kind of layout are you looking for?” The most common layouts include a full keyboard, tenkeyless (TKL), and 60%.
A full keyboard is a keyboard with a normal alphanumeric cluster, function keys, print screen/scroll lock/pause, standard navigation cluster with arrow keys, and a number pad to the right of the navigation clusters.
TKL are like full keyboards, without the numberpad.
60% keyboards have no navigation cluster with arrow keys or a function row. These keyboards normally rely heavily on secondary functions, such as pressing a modifier key then pressing the WASD keys to get the arrow keys!
Some links to get you started
If this article managed to pique your interest in mechanical keyboards, here are some helpful links that hopefully will help you navigate the very extensive networks of information online!
Keychatter has a Mech 101 section that is great for you to start understanding how mechanical keyboards function and other great information!
This reddit page is a great way to get started! The Mechanical Keyboard enthusiasts there are very friendly and willing to help you along the way as well.
This rounds up our dummies guide to mechanical keyboards! We are still learning about mechanical keyboards ourselves, so if anyone has more knowledge or information about them, please share your knowledge!
Written By Kang Jia Rui
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This article first appeared on Grouphunt's Blog.
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