When it comes to your perfect gaming setup, your keyboard is just as important as the components inside your PC. Like choosing a graphics card and processor, picking the right switches will enhance your gaming experience.
Intro to Keyboard Switches
Part of choosing the right gaming keyboard is understanding different switch types, whether rubber dome or mechanical.
Not sure how switches work? Read more, then scroll back up!
Compared to rubber dome, mechanical switches offer a much more reliable and consistent experience. Mechanical switches come in a variety of makes and models, often identified by colors (red, blue, black, etc). Finding the right combination of feel and sound can make a huge difference in your everyday life.
Types of Mechanical Switches
Despite their differences, mechanical switches fall into one of three categories: linear, tactile, or clicky.
Popular Models: Red, Black
Feel: Smooth, No Bump
Sound Profile: Quiet
Linear switches feel smooth and consistent, with no tactile (physical) “bump” or audible click as the keypress registers. The lack of feedback allows for quick, twitch reactions with very little resistance.
Linear switches are a favorite of fast-paced gamers. The same lack of feedback and resistance can, however, mean accidental keypresses.
Popular Models: Brown
Feel: Tactile Bump
Sound Profile: Quiet
Tactile switches are named for the tactile “bump” felt on actuation (when a keypress is registered). This physical feedback increases accuracy, but reduces speed.
Tactile switches are perfect if accurate keypresses and tactile feedback are more important than speed.
Popular Models: Blue, Green
Feel: Tactile Bump
Sound Profile: Loud Click
Clicky switches are easily recognized by their loud, clicky actuation. Like tactile switches, clicky switches feature a tactile “bump," but also create a distinctive “click” when pressed.
Clicky switches are best for typing, but the actuation force required can slow reaction time. If you have roommates, the loud clicking of these switches WILL drive them insane.
Mechanical vs. Rubber Dome
Mechanical keyboards actuate when two metal components (known as "leaves") make contact. A keycap is mounted to a plastic stem, which sits on top of the switch housing. The switch housing contains all the moving parts, including the metal leaves, a plastic slider, and a metal spring. The slider sits inside of the metal spring, which provides resistance and resets the key to its resting position. When the key is pressed, the spring buckles and the slider pushes one metal leaf against another, triggering a keypress. When the key is released, the spring pushes up and the connection between the leaves is reset.
If you're looking for something incredibly silent, a membrane keyboard is for you. Membrane keyboards operate by completing a circuit. A keycap is attached to a plastic housing, which sits on top of a membrane sheet layered on top of printed circuits.
When a key is pressed, a rubber dome on the membrane collapses, pushing the circuits together. These connected circuits register a keypress. When the key is released, the rubber dome pushes the key back up, separating the circuits. While all rubber dome keyboards function this same way, different materials and construction make some better than others. For example, the Apex 150's Quick Tension Switches feature low-friction POM thermoplastic housings, a custom-tuned spill-resistant membrane, and an iron base for smooth actuation and durability.
New in 2019: OmniPoint Switches
OmniPoint switches have the smooth and linear feel of red mechanical switches, but with 8x faster response, 5x faster actuation, and twice the durability. Adjusting the actuation point affects when the keyboard registers the keypress, but not how the key physically feels under your fingers. Each key travels the same distance when bottoming out at any actuation point.
Using magnetic fields (also known as Hall effect), OmniPoint switches measure the exact distance that a key is pressed at all times. This allows each key to be adjusted to the exact point at which you want it to register. The result is a durable keyboard that lets you adjust each individual key from a featherlight 0.4mm sensitivity all the way down to a deep 3.6mm.
OmniPoint switches are available exclusively on the SteelSeries Apex Pro (also available in TKL).
Which Switch is Best for Me?
The best switch ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you like the classic, clicky "typewriter" sound and feel, you'll love blue or hybrid blue mechanical switches. If speed is a consideration, stick to linear switches. And if sound is a factor, rubber dome keyboards are basically silent. If you want the most advanced offering, spring for OmniPoint switches.
While keyboards have tons of features and options to consider (check out our keyboard guide) here, make sure not to overlook quality switches that fit your needs.