If you’re new to the PC setup game, you’ve probably heard some people talking about keyboard switches and referring to them as “tactile,” “clicky,” or “linear.” But you may not know what these designations mean if you’re new to the scene.
Luckily, we’ve got your back! Here’s the down-low on keyboard switches, what makes them different, and which switches you should invest in for your setup!
What Are Keyboard Switches?
In short, keyboard switches are how your keyboard interfaces with your PC. The switches determine which button you’ve pressed, and your computer processes those inputs and determines what button was mapped to that specific switch. Then the computer executes what you’ve input.
Keyboard switches aren’t mapped to “letters” but “positions,” so to speak. In other words, when you press the ‘M’ key, the computer doesn’t recognize the switch as ‘M.’ It recognizes the switch as a specific button (we’ll say Button #1) on the keyboard.
Once the computer has determined that you’ve pressed “Button 1” it goes through your map settings to see what “Button 1” refers to. In “this case” Button 1 is ‘M’ but you could easily remap it to refer to ‘B’ if you wanted to.
Clicky Switches: What Are They?
Clicky switches are, well, clicky, just like the name implies.
Clicky switches produce a tactile ‘bump’ and a loud ‘click’ when the keys are activated. Clicky switches are often used for “Baby’s First Mechanical Keyboard” because they provide the most haptic feedback.
Clicky switches provide two axes of haptic feedback, tactile and auditory. From the feeling of the bump and the sound of the click you can tell that the keyboard is functioning properly. If the click sounds different or the bump doesn’t feel right, you’ll know right away that something is wrong with your keyboard.
The biggest downside to Clicky switches is that they’re loud. They make an absurd amount of noise which may not be a problem for people who work from home but may present an issue if used in an office or a library.
Should I Buy Clicky Switches?
Clicky Switches are a great option for people who aren’t used to mechanical keyboards yet. The dual action haptic feedback loop is a great way to get used to the feeling of mechanical keyboards while also allowing yourself to have more axes for troubleshooting should you need to do so.
However, people who will be taking their keyboard with them to work or who enjoy raucous LAN parties may want to consider a quieter switch type to avoid getting in other people’s ways.
Tactile Switches: What Are They?
Tactile switches produce the same tactile ‘bump’ that Clicky switches do when pressed, but they do so without the loud clicking noise that Clicky switches are so famous for.
Tactile switches make a great first mechanical keyboard for people who will be using their keyboard in locations other than their home office, or who live in close proximity to other people and don’t want to annoy their roommates or neighbours.
Tactile switches only provide one axis of haptic feedback for you to use when trying to figure out if your keyboard is functioning properly. So, keep in mind that the experience will be very different if you’re used to Clicky switches.
However, Tactile switches make great first keyboards because they’re low profile while still having effective haptic feedback for troubleshooting.
Should I Buy Tactile Switches?
Like we’ve said, if you’re looking for your first mechanical keyboard, Tactile switches are a great option. They create a great in-between for Linear and Clicky switches by providing more haptic feedback than Linear switches but are less unwieldy for use in public settings than Clicky switches.
Tactile switches might not be a good option if you don’t like the ‘bump’ feeling when you press the switch. The exaggerated bump might feel a bit strange to people at first, but those who get used to it will have a great experience with these switches.
Linear Switches: What Are They?
Linear switches are the ones with the least haptic feedback.
They’re designed to provide the fastest response with the lightest press of the key and the least haptic feedback that might hamper the responsiveness, since the key switches do not need to provide physical feedback to the user.
Linear switches are considered the top of the line when it comes to keyboard switches, but they’re generally the hardest to get used to. Linear switches are very responsive and don’t need a powerful press to respond like many cheaper rubber dome keyboards. As a result, people tend to do what’s called “bottoming out” their keys when they first switch to Linear switches.
Bottoming out refers to when someone presses a key too hard and the keycap will strike the keyboard’s backplate. When using rubber dome switches or other mechanical switches, it’s much harder—or even impossible—to bottom out your keys. With non-linear switches, the keycap stops before it can hit the backplate.
Bottoming out your keys can lead to increased finger strain when typing and gaming, but it doesn’t actually hurt your keys. So, if you find yourself bottoming out but your fingers don’t hurt, you don’t need to worry!
Linear key switches are generally not recommended for first time mechanical keyboard users because of the bottoming out problem, and the finger strain that it causes.
Usually, people won’t try out a Linear keyboard until they’ve had some experience with Clicky and Tactile switches since the switches have similar force needs to get the keystroke to register.
Going straight from rubber dome switches, which require a greater overall force to register the keystroke, to linear can lead to intense finger strain and even carpal tunnel or arthritis if you are unable to adjust your typing force.
However, for users with more experience with light-typing switches, Linear switches provide the lightest possible typing experience you can have!
Should I Buy Linear Switches?
Linear switches aren’t recommended for new users of mechanical keyboards because of the aforementioned finger strain. IF your current keyboard uses rubber dome switches, you’ll want to try out a Clicky or Tactile keyboard before you make the leap to Linear switches.
However, Linear switches provide the most responsive and light experience with typing and gaming. Many professional gamers prefer Linear switches because of their low response time and relative ease of pressing the keys. For professional gaming where the response time to react to things comes down to milliseconds, Linear switches are the perfect addition to any setup.
Rubber Dome Switches: What Are They?
While it may seem unusual to include a passage about non-mechanical keyboards in an article about mechanical keyboards, here at Swift Moves we wanted to give you all the information you could take with you to make an informed decision about the keyboard you’re buying.
Rubber Dome switches are a keyboard technology which uses collapsible rubber domes to indicate which keys you’ve pressed. They are a non-mechanical switch mechanism that is common in cheaper keyboards. Most modern—and especially cheaper—keyboards use a Rubber Dome switching mechanism.
Rubber Dome switches are usually considered bottom of the barrel. Rubber Dome switches generally require a larger amount of pressure to register the keystrokes. Their high pressure needs increase the strain on your fingers when typing and gaming. This can really be harmful for people who type often like writers or data entry specialists.
Should I Buy Rubber Dome Switches?
Rubber Dome switches are generally good for people who aren’t using their computer very often. Since Rubber Dome switch keyboard tend to be a lot cheaper, these a great budget option for anyone who doesn’t want or will not be using their keyboard often.
We’ve covered the most common keyboard switching mechanisms on the market today, and we hope you’ve learned something and will be able to make a more informed decision on the next keyboard that you purchase!
One thing to remember is that while one key switch may be better on paper, it’s always up to what you prefer! (This writer loves his Clicky switches even though they cause more strain than Linear switches when working!) So, it’s better to choose a switch that you like than rely on what the “best” choice is on paper.