Cherry MX Mechanical Switch Guide
28 Sep, 2011
A lot of the keyboards that are being released for gamers are now coming with mechanical switches, they are presented as a better switch than standard keyboards and have lots of terminology like NKRO. This guide will answer some of the questions that gamers have been asking about why they should buy a mechanical gaming keyboard.
So what are Cherry MX Mechanical key switches, Cherry are the company behind the switches, they design and provide these switches to the keyboard manufactures. They are a switch that is based upon 4 things,
Feedback - what you feel when you push the key
Weight - how much force you must use to active the key, the heavier the switch the more force required.
Actuation point - when the key sends the signal to the computer
Reset point - where the switch has completed the cycle of the press and can now another press can be completed.
This is very important to consider when buying a mechanical keyboard as there are many different types of switch which comprise these various options.
What is NKRO?
NKRO stands for N Key Roll Over, this essentially means that a large amount of keys can be press at the same time without any lag. Sometimes, when you have a standard keyboard that works over USB, the keyboard will only allow for 6 keys to be pushed at the same time. This can be a hindrance if you are trying to get a large amount of APM or like to float keys. This is often referred to as 6KRO and can lead to key strokes not being recognised or strokes taking longer to be processed by the computer. NKRO is important for gaming and for speed typing as it allows for no lag while also recognising every key stroke, something that gamers want in a high action scenario.
USB or PS/2
Some keyboards like to use PS/2 connectors instead of USB, bundled along with these keyboards is a USB adapter, but you lose the NKRO feature, why? In most cases, a standard keyboard will use the standard driver on Windows, which is not designed for high end gaming keyboards. Manufacturers can create their own driver that allows for more key strokes, which is why some keyboards have NKRO using a USB connector. It is easier for companies to simply use a PS/2 connector, it may have a tiny amount more overhead on the system, but allows for a simple NKRO experience. If you are unsure whether your keyboard has NKRO, simply look at what connector it uses, only a few gaming keyboards feature a USB connector with NKRO, so identifying what you have should be easy.
Cherry defines the switches by colour, the main types are Red, Blue, Black and Brown. Each has its own unique setup of the 4 things we discussed before. When deciding what switch to get, which can determine what keyboard you get, it is important to know that key switch is more of preference decision. There is not a perfect switch for all, which is why there are so many, so it is best to try a switch before you buy.
Cherry MX Blue : 50g (60g Peak Force) - Blue switches have 2 very distinct features, an audible click when you push the key, and secondly, the reset point is above the actuation point. What this means, is that in order to press the key a second time, you must allow the key to travel high than the point where you here it click(actuation point). The switch has a small amount of downward travel before the key is activated, on a standard keyboard the key has a consistent feel through the key stroke, but by having the small amount of travel, the user can anticipate the actuation point and therefore respond quicker. This switch has been considered the best for typing, however it has good FPS properties, APM(Actions Per Minute) may be an issue for some due to the reset point, but the blue switch is a solid choice for typing and gaming.
Cherry MX Black : Actuation Force: 60g (40g-80g overall) - The Black switch is essentially the opposite to the Blue switch, a non tactile, non clicking switch. The actuation point and the reset point are the same, meaning that high APM can be achieved with no obstacles. This is a leaner key has no feedback, meaning that you don’t know when you have completed the keystroke except when you bottom out(the key won’t go down any farther). The other interesting feature about the Black switch is the fact it has a consistent feel all the way through, meaning that the key doesn’t feel heavier as you actuate the switch, it feels the same when you don’t actuate as when you do. The Black switch is considered a gaming switch because feedback can be considered a better feature when typing, not having feedback, such as the black, can leave you repeating key pushes when you hit the key too lightly. If you are the type of gamer who does push keys by accident, this could be the switch for you, FPS, RTS and MMO gamers have found that Black switches are nice to game on, though can leave typing a bit of a chore.
Cherry MX Red : 45g - The Red is a similar switch to the Black except it has a much lighter feel to it, this is due to a lighter switch. This switch is linear, non clicking with no feedback, but it’s lightness does have advantages. By being lighter, there is less force needed to complete the key stroke, this allows you to bottom out the key faster than any other switch. Although the Red switch has no built in feedback, many gamers prefer the key to bottom out as that gives them the indication the key has been pushed. The Red switch takes the Black switches strengths and tries to reduce its weaknesses, this could be something for FPS, MMO or RTS gamers, though this is the lightest switch of them all, so depending on your typing style, this could be the choice for you.
Cherry MX Brown: 45g (55g Peak Force) – The Brown switch is a light tactile switch that has properties of the Black and the Blue switch. It has a nice amount of feedback in the form of a bump when you actuate the key, plus the actuation and reset points are very close. The actuation and reset points being close together means that there is the opportunity to have high APM while having a nice feedback. The weight of the switch is less than the Black switch but higher than the Red, which when you add the other features, makes the brown a very solid and comfortable switch for typing and gaming. This switch is great for FPS and RTS gamers and is considered the second best typing switch.
Which should I buy?
The switch you choose will often narrow your choice of keyboard as some manufacturers will only use one switch type for their keyboard. In choosing a certain switch, you may not be able to get a keyboard with USB hub or back lighting. In making a choice of USB or a certain type of switch, always pick the switch which you think is going to improve your gaming, not compromising on extra features over what is going to be the best experience for you.
To help in your decision, here is a diagram that shows the weight against the feedback of the switch.
Where to Buy?