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What is an opto-mechanical keyboard?

It’s like a mechanical keyboard, but with beams of light.

ortho-mechanical keyboard
Image: KnowTechie

You‘ve probably heard of mechanical keyboards by now, since they’re so popular with gaming companies nowadays. As a major upgrade from your usual membrane keyboards, they bring increased typing comfort, the ability to tweak to your preferences, and an increased lifespan.

The basic design of mechanical key switches hasn’t changed much for decades, ever since Cherry created the first Cherry MX switch. That’s starting to change now, with other companies coming up with new ways to actuate mechanical key switches.

Some of those new methods resulted in a new type of mechanical key switch, the opto-mechanical key switch. But, what does that actually mean?

So, what’s different about opto-mechanical keyboards?

Short answer: They use a light sensor to actuate instead of a physical metal switch

Whether it’s Razer’s Huntsman Elite, the Wooting One we reviewed a couple of years ago, 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.

opto-mechanical keyboard

Image: Razer

On the Huntsman Elite, it’s actuated when the light beam is cut off by the travel of the sliding part of the switch. On the Flaretech switches used on the Wooting One, the switch has a more complicated light path and sensor that allows full analog motion to be read from the switch.

Both of these methods promise quicker actuation times, and longer-lived switches, as there are no physical moving metal contacts.

What do you think? Does this type of keyboard seem interesting to you? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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