Keyboard Key Switch Mechanisms

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

This page is a guide of computer keyboard key switch mechanisms.

Rubber Dome Switch

Most keyboard's key switch mechanism is rubber dome switch. Basically all Laptop Keyboards, and Microsoft Keyboards , Logitech Non-Gaming Keyboards .

Rubber dome switch is cheap to make, but is not as good as other mechanisms that use spring. Rubber dome's tactile feedback is not precise, is wobbly, and wears out. Usually what made it worse is the cheap key housing that goes with it. (ever had squeaky keys that make ugly noises and sometimes stuck midway due to friction?)

keyboard construction
Laptop keyboard construction. image source
keyboard rubber dome
Rubber dome switch. image source

Scissor Switch

Scissor-switch is rubber dome with a scissor-like mechanism as stabilizer. It is found in laptop computers, starting around ~2002.

laptop keyboard scissor-switch mechanism 2-2
Scissor switch on laptop
keyboard scissor switch mechanism
keyboard scissor switch

Buckling Spring Switch

Buckling spring switch is most famous as used by IBM Model M keyboard from 1980s and 1990s, and is loved by many keyboard nerds. It has a crisp tactile feel, but makes the loudest key noise.

keyboard buckling spring
Buckling spring mechanism
model M keyboard s386x162
IBM Model M, 1984

[see Mechanical Keyboard Noise Comparison]

You can buy Buckling Spring keyboard from Unicomp Keyboard

Cherry MX Switches

Cherry Corporation of Germany makes a series of mechanical key switches called Cherry MX.

Cherry MX series of switches are first introduced in 1983. They are the most popular switch. There are several different models, with different feel to them. These models are color coded.

cherry mx switch tester 08767 s
Key Switch Tester
Cherry MX keyswitch
Cherry MX key switch, disassembled. Notice the spring. It is the spring that determines resistance of the key.

Linear Action: Red, Black

Cherry MX red MXStd Red v004 4v8ss
Cherry MX Red. Smooth linear action. Popular in gaming keyboards.

MX Red requires the least pressure to activate the key. It's really nice. Typing on it is effortless.

CHERRY MX Red switches

Cherry MX Black is same as Red, except more force is required. I don't like MX Black at all.

Tactile Action: Brown, Blue

The Brown and Blue types have a tactile bump. When you press down, after certain point, there's a bump feel, then after that the pressure is reduced.

The Brown and Blue types are often preferred by programers and writers.

Cherry MX Brown v004 j3qr3
Cherry MX Brown Switch mechanism. Light bump.
Cherry MX Blue v004 62b6w
Cherry MX Blue Switch mechanism. Sharp bump, with audible click.

The difference between Brown and Blue are:

cherry mx switch contact 45337
animation showing Cherry MX switch's electric contact mechanism
Cherry MXbrownblueredblack
Key FeelTactile BumpTactile ClickSmooth (Linear)Smooth (Linear)
ResistanceMedium-LowLowVery LowFirm
Cherry MX keyswitch force travel diagram
Cherry MX key switches force travel diagram. [image source http://deskthority.net/wiki/File:CherryMXForceTravel.png ]
Max Keyboard Premium PCB mount Cherry MX Switch, O-Ring and Keycap Sampler Kit

Key Switch Tester

There are many other color-coded Cherry MX switches, but less common.

Cherry MX Compatible Switches

Many Chinese companies make Cherry compatible switches.

Cherry MX compatible switches are not EXACTLY the same as those from Cherry the company. For example, Cherry MX Red has a actuation force of 45g, but Kailh Red is 50g. That 5g difference, as far as key feel goes, is a big difference.

There is no agreement on whether the Chinese ones are better or worse. I recommend the Chinese ones, because keyboard with them are usually cheaper and is not worse.

Kailh

Kailh KT Switch series are Cherry MX compatible switches, made by Kaihua Electronics (凯华).

see Kailh Switch

Gateron

Gateron switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gateron (惠州佳达隆电子科技有限公司).

Gateron KS-9 Key Switch Buy at amazon

Outemu

Outemu switch is Cherry MX compatible made by Gaote Corp. 东莞市高特电子有限公司.

Kailh BOX Switch

Improved Cherry MX compatible.

kailh box switch 2020 fJs7c-s250
Kailh BOX Switch

Zealio Switch

“Zealio Switch” from Gateron. Cherry MX stem compatible. Improvement of Cherry MX, smoother, less scratchy.

Kailh Choc Switch

Choc Switch is a low-profile mechanical switch, from Kaihua.

kailh choc switch 7n3wg-s250
Kailh Choc Switch

Logitech GX Blue Clicky

Logitech GX Blue Clicky came out in 2018. It is made by Kaihua. It is just a variation of the Cherry MX Blue.

The stem is Cherry MX compatible, so you can buy keycaps. [see Cute Keycaps]

Romer-G Switch

Logitech invented Romer-G switch in 2015.

Romer-G key switch 41681-m
Romer-G Switch

Roccat Titan

This came out around 2018-10.

Roccat Titan key switch rhpz5-s433x830
783×1500 Roccat Titan key switch

the Titan Switch is a tactile switch, and supposedly faster reaction time.

Used in Roccat Vulcan Keyboard

The switch may be made by a Chinese company named TTC. http://www.ttc9.com/

TTC (惠州市正牌科电有限公司 — Huizhou Zhengrui Electronics Co., Ltd., abbreviated 正牌科电) is a manufacturer of switches, digital encoders and connectors. TTC appears to be related to Trantek Electronics Co., Ltd., also founded in 1998, and who appear to offer the origin of the abbreviation “TTC”.

[https://deskthority.net/wiki/TTC]

Optical Key Switch

optical switch 95YB7
Optical Switch

Gateron Optical Switches

Gateron also makes optical switches. Cherry MX compatible stem.

Gateron Optical Switches
WhiteBlueBrownRedYellowSilver
FeelLinearClickyTactileLinearLinearLinear
Audible ClickNoYesNoNoNoNo
Actuation Force355555453545
Total Travel44443.23.2
Pre Travel2.02.32.02.01.01.0

Gateron optical Switches Buy at amazon

Topre Switch (Electrostatic Capacitive Switch)

Topre switch is most famous for used in Happy Hacking Keyboard

Topre key switch-2
Topre Switch

Niz Plum Switch

Niz Plum is inspired by Topre.

niz plum switch2 nxdxb2
Niz Plum

Varmilo EC Switch

Varmilo EC Switch is like a Cherry MX, but with contactless electro capacitance mechanism for eletric switch.

Varmilo EC Switch c7Mpk-s250
Varmilo EC Switch

White Alps Strongman Switch

Don't know how this switch works, but i have used one for a couple of years. It's excellent. See: Keyboard: Matias Mini Tactile Pro. This keyboard has strong presence in Mac community.

Matias mechanical key switch
Matias mechanical key switch

The Matias mechanical key switch is used by Keyboardio model 1. See Keyboardio Review

Hall Effect Switch Keyboards

Hall Effect Switch Keyboards

Key Noise Comparison

Mechanical Keyboard Noise Comparison

Does Mechanical Keys Matter?

Mechanical Keyboard and Repetitive Strain Injury

What Does “Mechanical” Keyboard Means

computer keyboard key switch expert Thomas Ran (aka Chyrosran22) tells us

When is a keyboard “mechanical”? by Chyrosran22 Published on Dec 19, 2018

Demo of Different Force-Displacement Curves for Key Press

One Button to Rule Them All: Rendering Arbitrary Force-Displacement Curves
Oct 9, 2018
User Interfaces Group, Aalto University

Which Switch is Best?

It's impossible to rank them, as different people have different preferences.

My own preference is ROUGHLY this, and they shoud be 45g or less:

  1. Epomaker Niz Plum (China topre. 35g)
  2. Optical Switch or Hall Effect. At 45g or less. Great Tech.
  3. Varmilo EC Switch at 45g or less. (cherry mx with capacitance)
  4. Kailh BOX Switch at 45g or less.
  5. Kailh Choc Switch clicky, lowest is 50g. (low profile)
  6. Cherry MX linear or clicky or clone. 45g or less. Some linear clones are 50g, too high.
  7. Buckling Spring (too loud)
  8. Topre Switch (hate it)
  9. Cherry MX black (hate it)

Ancient Switches

Invac Optical

invac optical switch 20171111 86729-s-s289x217
Invac PK-200, 1966

Univac Magnetic Separation Switch

univac keyboard 201711 01214
Univac, 1971

Key Switch Topic

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