Mechanical Keyboard Switches: The Definitive Guide

Guide, Keyboard

Gearrate earns commission if you purchase through links on our site. Learn more

Mechanical keyboards are not cheap, so you should always make sure it’s worth the money.

One of the most important things about them is the key switch. But there’s so many different types of switches nowadays, it’s really hard to find out what’s the best.

That’s why we did all the research and created this guide for you. Keep reading to find the perfect key switch for you!

Image by Wikimedia

What’s The Best Keyboard Switch?

According to our research, 48.6% of the pros use Cherry MX Red switches, which makes it the most popular keyboard switch in esports.

Cherry MX Red is used by many gamers because it can be pressed easily, which means you’ll be able to react quickly.

(We’ll learn more about each key switch very soon.)

So does that mean you should just buy Cherry MX Red switch keyboard?

The answer is no – at least not yet. Like any other gaming peripherals, nothing is universally the “best”. It depends heavily on the user’s preferences and style.

For example, if you’re not comfortable with Cherry MX Red switches, you might misclick your keys during crucial moments.

How To Find The Best Switch For You

Source: Wikimedia

Now we’ll go over some important things you should consider when choosing your next switch.

1. How The Keys Feel

To fully understand how the key switches feel, you should know two terms that are frequently used in key switches: actuation force and actuation point.

Actuation force is the amount of force you need to press the keys before it’s recognized by the computer. Higher actuation force means you need to press it harder. Actuation force is measured in centinewton (cN) or gram-force (gf).

1 cN equals 1.02 gf, so they are basically the same. Both terms are used often by manufacturers.

The best way to find your keys’ actuation force is to check the manufacturer’s website, or check the key switch manufacturer’s website. For example you can find actuation force and actuation point of Cherry MX Red on the Cherry MX website.

If you can’t find it, a simple way to measure the actuation force is to use nickels. You measure it by stacking nickels on top of a key, until the key gets registered by the computer.

This method is useful because each nickel weighs exactly 5g, so you can get a pretty good estimate of your keys’ actuation force. But you can use any type of coin you would like, as long as you know the weight of the coin.

Actuation point is how far the keys needs to be pressed down in order to be recognized by the computer. Higher actuation point means you need to press it further down. Actuation point is measured in millimeters (mm).

2. Switch Types

Source: Medium

Next thing to consider is how the switch reacts when you press the keys.

There are three types of switches: linear, tactile and clicky.

Linear switches get harder to press as the key goes further down, and there is no bump at the actuation point. The most common linear switch is Cherry MX Red.

Tactile switches get easier to press after the key reaches the actuation point, where you can feel a bump. The most common tactile switch is Cherry MX Brown.

Clicky switches make a distinct “click” noise at the actuation point. The most common clicky switch is Cherry MX Blue.

Take a look at the comparison table of the most common key switches:

SwitchActuation Force (cN)Actuation Point (mm)Switch Type
Cherry MX Speed SilverCherry MX Speed Silver451.2Linear
Cherry MX Silent RedCherry MX Silent Red451.9Linear
Cherry MX RedCherry MX Red452.0Linear
Cherry MX BrownCherry MX Brown552.0Tactile
Cherry MX BlackCherry MX Black602.0Linear
Cherry MX BlueCherry MX Blue602.2Clicky
Cherry MX ClearCherry MX Clear654.0Tactile
Cherry MX WhiteCherry MX White702.2Clicky

We recommend you to find out your current keyboard’s switch first, so you can estimate how other switches would feel.

Now that you have an idea, simply think about the how much actuation force, actuation point and what switch type you want.

Compare your current keyboard’s switch to what your needs are. For example if your current keyboard’s keys need too much weight to be pressed, you could go for keys with lower actuation force.

If you want your keys to be registered faster, you could try switches with a lower actuation point.

Or maybe you want the satisfaction of the “click” sound when you’re typing – then you should go for clicky switch types.

3. How Much Noise It Makes

Another important factor to consider is the noise, because some switches are louder than others.

For example if you’re going to be typing next to other people, you should understand that clicky keys like Cherry MX Blue will make a lot of noise.

Compare how loud and “clicky” it sounds compared to Cherry MX Brown:

If noise is a concern, we recommend you to avoid clicky switch types and go for linear or tactile switches.

If you absolutely need to be as quiet as possible, there are mechanical key switches that are designed for low noise such as Cherry MX Silent Red.

4. How It Fits Your Hand

When choosing your new key switch, the size of your hand and fingers should also be considered.

That’s because people with bigger hand and fingers tend to misclick the keys more often.

If you use a keyboard with low actuation force and actuation point, it only takes a small error for the wrong key to be registered.

If you often misclick your keys, you should consider using keys with higher actuation force and actuation point.

Using A Keyboard Switch Tester

If you’re not sure where to start, we recommend you to try a keyboard switch tester. Keyboard Switch tester is a small keypad with different switches, so you can try them yourself before buying a keyboard.

We at Gearrate use the one from WASD, which is a reputable keyboard brand.

Pros & Cons

Still not sure what key switch to use? Let’s go over the pros and cons of the popular key switches – this should paint a clear picture of how each switch works.

Cherry MX Red

Pros

  • Cherry MX Red has a low actuation force and low actuation point, which means your keys will be registered very easily and quickly.
  • It also means your hand and fingers won’t be too tired from pressing keys, so you can play longer more comfortably.
  • Linear switch means you can spam a key without delays.

Cons

  • Low actuation force and low actuation point means you can also misclick on keys easily.
  • There is no bump that lets you know that the key has been registered.

Recommended for: Players who want the keys to react as fast as possible, and are not worried about misclicks. Also excellent for players who need to spam a key as fast as possible.

Cherry MX Brown

Pros

  • Cherry MX Brown has slightly higher actuation force and same actuation point as Red, so your keys will be registered easily and quickly.
  • It has a bump that lets you know that the key has been registered, with a more quiet noise than the Cherry MX Blue.

Cons

  • Although not as bad as Cherry MX Red, it’s still possible to misclick keys.
  • You can’t spam a key as fast as Cherry MX Red, due to the bump.

Recommended for: Players who want keys to react fast, but still want the bump. If Red feels too light and Blue feels too heavy, Brown may be suited for you.

Cherry MX Blue

Pros

  • Cherry MX Blue has a bump and makes a crisp “click” sound, which feels satisfying.
  • Very difficult to misclick keys compared to Red and Brown.

Cons

  • Because it has higher actuation force, slightly higher actuation point, and the bump, it’s not as easy to press a key as other switches.
  • Your hands will get tired faster due to more strains on your hands and fingers.
  • You can’t spam a key like linear switches.

Recommended for: Players who want the satisfying “click” bump, and not worried about hands and fingers getting tired. Very good for people who tend to misclick keys on lighter switches.

Cherry MX Silent Red

Pros

  • It doesn’t make as much noise as other key swithces.
  • It has the same actuation force and slightly lower actuation point as Cherry MX Red, so keys will be pressed easily and quickly.
  • Your hands won’t get tired fast from prolonged usage.
  • You can spam keys quickly because it’s a linear switch.

Cons

  • Not as widely available as Cherry MX Red, Brown or Blue.
  • Easy to misclick keys.
  • There is no bump that tells you the key has been registered.

Recommended for: Players who need to be as quiet as possible when using the keyboard.

Cherry MX Speed Silver

Pros

  • Cherry MX Speed Silver has even lower actuation point than Cherry MX Red, so your keys will be registered even faster.
  • Your hands will not get tired fast from pressing keys.
  • Very easy to spam keys, thanks to the linear switch.

Cons

  • Not as widely available as Cherry MX Red, Brown or Blue.
  • It’s even easier to misclick keys.
  • There is no bump to let you know the key has been registered.

Recommended for: Players who want an even faster reaction time than Cherry MX Red, who are confident that they won’t misclick keys during games.

Cherry MX Black

Pros

  • Linear switch lets you spam keys easily.
  • Not easy to misclick keys compared to lighter switches.

Cons

  • Not as widely available as Cherry MX Red, Brown or Blue.
  • More strain on your fingers and hand compared to lighter switches.
  • There is no bump to let you know the key has been registered.

Recommended for: Players who want a linear switch, but prefer higher actuation force than Cherry MX Red.

Cherry MX Clear

Pros

  • You can feel the bump of the tactile switch when the key is registered without making a clicking sound like Cherry MX Blue.
  • Not as easy to misclick keys as lighter switches.

Cons

  • Not as widely available as Cherry MX Red, Brown or Blue.
  • More strain on your fingers and hand compared to lighter switches.
  • You can’t spam a key like linear switches.

Recommended for: Players who want a tactile switch, but prefer higher actuation force than Cherry MX Brown.

What key switch are you using? Tell us in the comment section below!

Leave a Reply

Author Info
Andrew is a lifetime gamer and a former amateur esports player. He has worked as the manager for teams such as the New York Excelsior and the Los Angeles Gladiators. Andrew has been mentioned in ESPN, Inven, The Ringer and other esports magazines and journals. andrew@gearrate.com