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How are mechanical keyboards different from membrane keyboards?

They both accomplish the same things, but they go about it in different ways.

mechanical keyboard on table
Image: Joe Rice-Jones / KnowTechie

If you bought your computer pre-built from any of the big companies, you probably got a cheap keyboard bundled with it to start you off. Thanks to the push in the ’90s for cost-cutting in the computer world, most bundled computer keyboards, including those on laptops, are what’s known as membrane keyboards.

You might have also seen advertising from gaming companies, trying to get you to buy a mechanical keyboard with all the RGB lighting you could shake a glow stick at. So, what’s the difference between those cheap keyboards, and the more expensive, mechanical keyboards from the gaming brands?

So, what makes a mechanical keyboard different from a membrane one?

Short answer: It’s all in the key switches

While both types of keyboards work in a similar way, how the keyboard registers your keystrokes is different. On a mechanical keyboard, pressing down on the key makes two metal sections touch, completing the circuit and sending a signal to the computer.

This method produces key switches with longer life, and the ability to customize your keyboard to your liking, including switch type and lighting options. It also allows the keyboard to be designed so you can press more keys at once, or even all of them on some designs. Oh, and there’s that sweet, sweet, clacking sound when typing.



On a membrane keyboard, you’re still pressing down on the key but instead of metal contacts, a conductive pad on a rubber dome is pressed down, completing the circuit on the board and sending the signal to the computer. This method is cheap to produce as it has less moving parts, but the rubber used to make the dome is fairly thin, so individual keys wear out quickly.

Once one key on a membrane keyboard is broken, the whole keyboard is pretty much unusable, as you can’t replace individual keys like you can on a mechanical one. Even if you could get the replacement parts needed, they’d be expensive and it would be hard to do the repair.



Now you know the main differences between how mechanical and membrane keyboards work. If you can afford it, we always recommend buying a mechanical keyboard, the typing and gaming experience is just better in every area.

What do you think? Surprised that mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane ones? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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