If you’re following along with the build you’ve probably decided on a keyboard model. We chose the GK61 which sells for about $50. We reviewed it here if you want a deep dive into its build and features.
As I promised I am going to start off talking about mechanical key switches. When your building or buying a custom keyboard one of the first things you need to decide on is the key switches.
NOTICE: I’m only scratching the surface when it comes to mechanical switches.
Most keyboards are going to have the options of Cherry MX Blue, Red Or Brown switches. These are the most common. Razer along with a few others are moving to the more durable Optical switches ( like the ones we’re using). The newest key switch on the market are the Cherry low profiles, You can read about them in our Corsair K70 low profile review here. Cherry is only selling them to a few OEM to install in their boards, the 2 that I know of for sure is Cooler master in the SK line and Corsair in their low profile series.
There are a number of manufacturers that produce Cherry MX style switches, some have improved upon them some haven’t but most (NOT ALL) of them use the same color scheme to label their base switches… Blue, Red, and Brown.
Let’s start with the good old Blues. There are the super clicky switches that most of us have heard at some point in time. They have been around for over a decade. I suggest that you take a trip to the nearest BestBuy or a store that sells keyboards, they almost all ways have a few keyboards with blue switches on display so you can press and hear the blues in person. Blue switches are going to be the firmest of the 3 switches to press, they are also the only one of the 3 that has a purpose-built mechanism to make it click when pressed.
This clicking noise is made by a plastic jacket that surrounds the switch. When the Blue switch is pressed down far enough the jacket pops down this is what makes a clicking sound. Many people say this causes a slight rattle sound, most people won’t pick up on it though. The rattle is more noticeable after you’ve used a click bar switch (more on this later). Overall, blues are a great switch if you and the people around you can deal with the clicking, They offer a good tactile feeling in the fingers and the click is nice audible feedback that lets you know when the switch is activated. *Mechanical switches unlike the cheaper membrane keyboards don’t need to be pressed all the way down to be activated. Blues click and activate around the center point in the key travel.
The next is the complete opposite of the Blues, and that’s the Reds. The Red switch is a linear switch. So, you’re wondering whats a linear switch. Well, I’ll tell you. The linear switch doesn’t have the tactile bump. When pressed the key has a lighter smooth stroke and no click, the complete opposite of the Blue switch. Reds have the benefit of being one of the quietists of the key switches. In fact, Cherry has gone one step further and made a silent red switch that brings the noise level down even more by using a dampener built into the switch. They are called silent reds. Back to the regular reds, most people have no problems typing on the Reds because they feel closest to the cheaper membrane keyboards that most people learn to type on.
Reds actuate faster than Blue switch at about 1.5mm vs the 2.0mm of the blues. When it comes to gaming there is technically an advantage to the Reds due to this faster activation. Keep in mind though that it’s not that much of a difference but if 2 people pressed the key at the exact same time at the same speed the faster switch is going to win and that’s the Red.
The last of the most common switch is Brown. They are also the rarest to find in the big box OEM such as Logitech, Corsair, Cooler Master, etc. They do make keyboards with them but the most common to find are the Blue and the Red. The Browns are a balance of the Blue and the Red switches. Browns have a tactile bump when pressed like the Blue, they, however, don’t have a click mechanism making them decently quiet. They also have the same actuation distance of the Red around 1.5mm. It’s easy to see why Browns are becoming one of the most popular switches, you get a tactile bump that making typing feel fantastic while also having a faster much quieter switch when compared to the Blue. Browns or should I say tactile switches have become my personal switch of choice.
All of these switches should be on display if you have a local Bestbuy or big box electronics store.
The next switch that I want to mention is a Silver/ Speed switch. These switches are more or less the same, The color is silver and its built for speed so either name can be used when referring to them. It just depends on how the company that builds the keyboard chooses to refer to them. Corsair calls them rapid fire, but the artwork/picture on the box will usually show a switch with a silver stem. These are the same linear switch as RED just with a faster activation. They activate around the 1mm on the low profile switches or another way to put it is they activate in HALF the distance of the Blue switches.
The silver switch is another switch that’s commonly found on display in many retailers, especially stores that sell the Corsair brand of keyboards. What the display won’t let you feel is the typing experience and that is where the Silver switches start to become a letdown. When it comes to competitive gaming where every millisecond matters the Silvers reign supreme when it comes to traditional key switches. I’ll be honest most people will notice how fast they actuate, but most people won’t become a better gamer just because of the faster actuation. However, most people will notice all the extra keys that get pressed when typing on the Silver Speed switches. The same hair trigger like nature will completely bite you in the butt if you aren’t a very, very, very accurate typist. If you think that maybe you might have grazed that other key when typing then you probably did. You’ll either get very frustrated or become a much better typist… Or buy A second keyboard for typing…
Here is a chart of most of the Cherry switches that you’ll come across. The chart shows the switch name(color). The switch type, Linear, Tactile or Clicky(AKA clicky and tactile). The force needed to actuate it, the distance the switch needs to be pressed and the total the distance the switch can be pressed down.
Chart from: gamingverdict.com
Now that I’ve covered most of the common switches that you’ll find in the run of the mill big brand keyboards I’ll touch briefly on some of the switches that are most commonly found in enthusiast grade keyboards.* It’s worth mentioning that enthusiast keyboards don’t always mean expensive keyboards, which is the point of this series.
When you start looking at keyboards from brands like Ducky, Obins lab etc, you’ll see the name Gateron and Kailh along with Cherry. They both started making replica Cherry switches when Cherry’s patient expired.
Most people will argue that the Gateron switches are the smoothest feeling of the 3. As far as the colors go Gateron closely follows the same scheme as Cherry. The weights of the springs the distance for actuation is really close. The overall feel of Gateron is normally considered to be better when compared to Cherry. The Browns and Blue are said to be slightly more tactile when compared to Cherry Brown and Blues. The linear switches such as the Reds are said to be smoother. If you have the option of Gateron switches you’ll probably be happier with them over the Cherry MX brand.
Just like Cherry, Gateron makes a ton of switches that you won’t find in most OEM keyboards, some you’ll have to buy separately and install yourself or find a vendor that sells a keyboard that has the switches that you want. You’ll find that if you like linear, tactile or clicky that Gateron makes different colors that use springs of different weights so you can find a switch that matches the style and feel that you want.
Kailh is a similar story to Gateron. Instead of focusing on making the switches smoother like Gateron Kailh made them more robust and durable. Again the color scheme is similar to Cherry and Gateron. You can find Kailh that looks identical to the Gateron and Cherry but the switches I’ll be focusing on is the BOX series of switches.
Kailh Boxes switches are easy to spot due to the box that is seen around the stem. Despite the way they look they can use the same Cherry style keycap sets that the Cherry and Gateron use. The reason the switch are called Box switches is actually that the metal contact portion of the switchers is enclosed in a box. Kailh designed these switches for the famous internet cafe located throughout China, Japan and Korea. This design makes the Kailh boxes switch IP57 dust and water resistant, meaning these switches have a much longer life span in an active environment where food or drinks around the keyboards are a way of life.
As for the feel of the Kailh box switches, some people say that they feel scratchy, I haven’t found this at all. I believe in Kailh earlier switches, years ago, they might have had some problems but they seem to be fixed now. Again, these bump Cherry further down the list for most enthusiast. Yes, you read that right Gateron and Kailh are both considered to be better feeling switches when compared to the Original German made Cherry switches.
When compared to Gateron and Cherry switches Kailh have an even more tactile feel. The bump on Gateron is more noticeable and nicer than Cherry. Kailh bumps that up even more. There is definitely more of a feel with the Box switch but it is at the beginning of the keypress. The Cherry and Gateron keys will go down a little before you get the tactile bump feel. The switches that I can compare them to is the Logitech Romer G tactile switch. Logitech with Romer G are typically on display at all the big box electronic stores like Fry’s and Bestbuy. I’d go pressed them in the story to see if you like the feel, I will say the feeling is the same but the Kailh Box Brown switch is smoother and require slightly less pressure to press.
The Blue variant is the Boxswitch are the Box Whites. These use a different click mechanism called a click bar. The best way to describe it would be someone plucking a guitar string. Its a thin piece of metal that the switch strums as it passes by. This makes a higher pitch click sound when compared to other Blue switches. It also doesn’t have the rattle after the click that traditional blue switches have due to the click jacket sliding around inside the switch.
If you want to try a switch that has a more tactile feel and cleaner click try out the Kailh Box series. The linear Red Box is similar to the other Red switches. If you don’t think you need the extra dust or water resistance I’d go for the Gateron for the smoother feeling. Just like the others switches Kailh has more Box switches such as the speed series, royals and others that might only be possible to get in a keyboard that you swap the switches in or special order from an enthusiast keyboard vendor.
The last area of switches I want to mention is all the other mechanical switches..lol
I’m just scratching the surface when it comes to switches. I’ve not named the next switches that I’m getting personally. They are the Zealios V2 which are said to have the near perfect level clean, crisp tactile feedback.
They were designed to replicate the feel of switches people were custom making by taking parts from two different switches to make one. Yes, that is the level that some true enthusiast go to. Buy 2 sets of switches to make one. There tons of quirks that exist. I could never cover all mechanical switches or all the details such as lubing switches etc. The important thing is to find a way if possible to touch the switches and see what overall feel you like. One easy way to do this to go into a store the other is to buy a key switch tester. Key switch testers are plates that come with various switches premounted so you can press them and get a feel for the switch before spending money on a full keyboard.
The most important information that I can give you is to find out if your a tactile, linear, or clicky person. Once you know that start reading up on switches. There are tons of forums that have great info. Check out youtube for people reviewing the switches you’re considering and if budget premits jump in a try out the switch that you think fits you best and adjust from there if you need to.