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Mechanical keyboards vs. normal keyboards: which to choose?

Looking to update your keyboard experience? Here’s what you need to know.

wombat keyboard for mac on a desk
Image: Kevin Raposo / KnowTechie

A mechanical keyboard uses physical switches under the keys to determine when someone has pressed a key, whereas an ordinary keyboard is a different setup.

In this article, I will discuss the differences and how to choose a keyboard.

A keyboard and a mouse are essential devices when interacting with a computer. Apart from typing, a keyboard can perform other functions using its different keys.

Modern keyboards are a direct inheritance from the typewriter, which was developed as early as 1868. Technically, the first mechanical keyboard was patented all the way back in 1714 by Henry Mill.

two images of the dvorak querty layout  showing original typewriter and old man on a purple background

QWERTY remains the popular keyboard layout since it is considered more efficient than the Dvorak layout, which was patented in 1936.

Selecting the right keyboard is very important when designing your computer workstation because you don’t want to have your hands and wrist aching or do your work uncomfortably.

What is a mechanical keyboard?

A mechanical keyboard has small switches under every key.

That’s different from how membrane keyboards are constructed, which have a membrane over the entire keyboard with small rubber domes.

They essentially work like your light switches. Here’s how they work:

That sends a signal to the microcontroller on the keyboard, which then sends the corresponding signal to your computer.

As the individual switch design enables customizations, mechanical keyboards can come in many layout options.

The most common layouts include:

wombat keyboard for mac on a desk
mechanical keyboard on table
nuphy air60 wireless mechanical keyboard
  • Full size, with 104/105 keys
  • TKL, with 88 or 87 keys
  • 60 percent, which has 60 to 65 keys

Mechanical vs. normal

Razer BlackWidow TE Chroma v2 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard
Image: KnowTechie

A mechanical keyboard uses a mechanical switch placed under every key to record each keystroke you make.

This physical switch is triggered when you press the key before bouncing back quickly to return the key to its original position.

On the other hand, an ordinary PC keyboard uses a rubber dome and membrane to allow for the depression and recording of the key. It is a common keyboard type since it is easy and cheap to produce.

When choosing between the two types of keyboards, it is important first to understand what they have to offer:

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Durability

When going through mechanical keyboard reviews, the main concern is usually to get a good keyboard that lasts longer, especially if you will be using it regularly.

Mechanical keyboards are long-lasting despite the manufacturer since they use mechanical switches that are certified to be durable.

They are highly resistant to repetitive strokes since they use metal-on-metal contact points and can withstand over 50 million key presses compared to cleaning mechanical keyboards.

Collapsed rubber domes and sticky keys make ordinary keyboards deteriorate easily.

nuphy low-profile keyboard
Image: Kevin Raposo / KnowTechie

Feel

When choosing a keyboard, the most crucial aspect is the feel and key resistance.

If you value the solid ‘thuck’ click that comes with a mechanical keyboard, you may not like the mushy and spongy feel of the ordinary keyboard.

This is because the rubber dome underneath the ordinary keyboard keys offers a nonlinear resistance to pressure, giving it a wobbly feel.

The problem with mechanical keys is the audible sound they produce when clicked, although some people find this feeling pleasurable.

What is an opto-mechanical keyboard?

Opto-mechanical key switches use light to actuate the switch. Instead of two metal contacts that touch when you press down on the switch, opto-mechanical switches have a beam of light that triggers the switch.

N-Key rollover

Mechanical keyboards allow you to press more keys simultaneously compared to an ordinary membrane keyboard.

This means you won’t have a problem using a mechanical keyboard for a good gaming experience. You get good mechanical gaming keyboards even if you’re on a budget.

Maintenance of mechanical keyboards

Keyboards are prone to dust, spillage, and dirt, and they need to be cleaned and maintained from time to time.

While ordinary keyboards are highly susceptible to dirt due to the sticky rubber, they are very problematic to remove and clean compared to mechanical keyboards.

Mechanical keyboards are, therefore, easy to maintain, given that it takes no time to separate, clean, and reattach the self-contained switches and the flat plastic.

nuphy nutype mechanical keyboard macbook pro black
Image: Kevin Raposo / KnowTechie

Typing experience

An ordinary keyboard may have nearly the same typing experience as a mechanical keyboard. Still, the audible click of an actuated button sets the mechanical keyboard apart.

This feature ensures that you don’t keep pressing down the key longer than needed, as opposed to annoying anyone in the room.

With an ordinary computer, there is a high tendency for your hands to get tired since you will use more force every time that you push the keys more than necessary.

mechanical keyboard with white led lights
Image: Steve Smith / KnowTechie

Mechanical keyboards allow you to type faster, more accurately, and lighter than an ordinary PC keyboard.

It is also durable, customizable, easy to maintain, and allows you to press more keys simultaneously.

It is, however, expensive and loud compared to an ordinary keyboard which is let down by its mushy feel and quickly wear out.

Therefore, choose a mechanical keyboard if you intend to use it for long periods of time and an ordinary keyboard if you use it for light work.

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What kind of keyboard do you prefer? Do you have a favorite mechanical keyboard? Let us know below.

Check out some of our recent mechanical keyboards review here:

Just a heads up, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the sale. It’s one of the ways we keep the lights on here. Click here for more.

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Kevin is KnowTechie's founder and executive editor. With over 15 years of blogging experience in the tech industry, Kevin has transformed what was once a passion project into a full-blown tech news publication. Shoot him an email at kevin@knowtechie.com or find him on Mastodon or Post.

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