Mechanical Keyboards

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102 Replies - 8520 Views - Last Post: 29 September 2014 - 11:18 AM

#1 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 11:52 AM

So, I'm a keyboard nerd. Yes, there is such a thing. I've been using mechanical keyboards for the past few years, and I absolutely love them.

For those not "in the know", standard or "rubber membrane" keyboards (the vast majority of keyboards made now are this) have one large sheet of rubber with "dimples", and a contact point on the bottom of the dimple. The keys have a plunger that pushes this dimple down, and the contact point touches the PCB, and a signal is sent. The downside of these is that they feel like crap, wear out at different rate per key (i.e. not all keys will feel the same when you press them), and are generally not very customizable. The upsides are that they're super cheap and come in pretty much any shape/size/layout imaginable. Laptops use scissor switches, which are very similar. The scissor replaces the plunger and still activates a rubber membrane. They just take less vertical space.

"Mechanical" keyboards are different, in that each key has a mechanical switch underneath it. These switches vary based on brand and type, and each has its own properties that matter when choosing. For example, one of the most classic keyboards of all time, the IBM Model M uses "buckling spring" switches. Unicomp owns the rights to these switches and makes a current clone of this board. Probably the most popular mechanical switch is "Cherry MX". The color defines the action. For example, "MX Blues" are clicky and have a bump at the actuation point. "MX Reds" are linear with no click or bump. And each has an area with its own forte: blues are better for typing, reds/blacks for gaming, browns are a great middle ground, etc...

The upsides of a mechanical keyboard: lasts forever, consistent feeling across each key, much more comfortable to type on, keys return to your fingers faster because of physical springs, different switch options, highly customizable, and the general feeling of nerd pride. The downside: quite expensive compared to standard keyboards, fewer overall options.



So, with that out of the way:

Do any of you own/regularly use a mechanical keyboard? If not, have I intrigued any of you to look into them? Granted, they're much more expensive than regular keyboards. You can find a cheapo membrane keyboard for $10 (USD), whereas the cheapest mechanical you're probably going to find is going to be more than $80, and that's likely to not have features you're used to, like backliting. But I figure that professional developers are like any other pro: If you're going to be using your tool for 8+ hours a day every day, might as well get "the best".

Here's what I use at work every day:

http://imgur.com/a/xeH7r

It's a KBC Poker II with Cherry MX Browns.

Here's what I use at home:

http://imgur.com/a/SpHX3

It's a monoprice rebrand of some chinese keyboard, got it to test out Cherry MX Reds.

So, if any of you have some you want to share, post them! If you have questions about them, ask! And a great resource is reddit's /r/mechanicalkeyboards subreddit.

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Replies To: Mechanical Keyboards

#2 h4nnib4l  Icon User is offline

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:16 PM

What do you think of the Reds? I've got a Das Model S Professional, and I love the feel, but it's pretty loud. I'd love to get a quieter one for the office and take this one home, but I don't want to switch if it loses too much of the feel.

And yeah, I thought the whole $100+ mechanical keyboard thing was stupid until I used one for a while. I don't like working on rubber bump keyboards anymore; I'm a lot faster and more precise on this. I seriously added over 20 words per minute just learning to lightly depress the keys, since they'll trigger before they bottom out.

I've kicked around the idea of getting a Model S Ultimate for the office, too (there are no etchings on any of the keys - they're all solid black). I hardly ever use them, and honestly could probably remember them if I didn't have the option to look. And it would be kind of funny when someone tries to use my machine for anything.

This post has been edited by h4nnib4l: 14 April 2014 - 12:21 PM

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#3 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:23 PM

The switches themselves are quiet, but you're probably going to bottom out on them, since there's no tactile bump or audible click, so you kinda lose what you gain. But they're super light, so if you have a soft touch, you could probably fly across it. But I find that I don't particularly care for reds.

If you're looking for something a bit quieter than blues but still have some of the feeling, check out a keyboard with MX Browns. They have a bump, but no click. So the only real noise is from bottoming out, which I do no matter what switch I use, so I'm just going for comfort.

Another option is to add o-ring dampeners to your keycaps. I'm not a big fan of that either, because it changes the distance and feel of bottoming out, but it does make your boards significantly quieter, and there are a few different options on how much reduction.

I've heard tell of people "lubricating" their switches so that they're much quieter. I don't particularly want to do surgery on 104/87/whatever (full size, tenkeyless, custom) switches, so I've never tried that.

A Das Pro w/ blues was my first mechanical. I loved it, but I'm into smaller boards now. Check out the link I included with the Poker II. It's a 60% keyboard. No tenkey, no F-row, no command or arrow cluster. Everything's driven by FN+key combinations. For instance, the arrows are FN+WASD, or FN+space to lock them. I thought it would drive me insane for a week, but it's actually way more comfortable to type, because you never have to move your hands from the home row. Now I find myself reaching for my FN key on normal boards, and it's throwing me off.
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#4 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:34 PM

Eh.. I would almost get worked up for one, but the price is off putting as well as having some place near by to go get fingers to keys to evaluate the sound or the other 'feels'. Though I am probably due for a new keyboard in the next few months so maybe I'll poke around for one.
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#5 andrewsw  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:37 PM

I wanted to buy a blank Das Keyboard, but 100+ just seems a little too extravagant.

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Maybe next year.
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#6 h4nnib4l  Icon User is offline

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:39 PM

Interesting. I generally really like having the 10 key, but I'm also a huge fan of not ever moving my hands from typing position, so I'd be curious to see if I could get used to it. I might try out the browns on my next one, I certainly don't want to lose the bump. I'm not bothered enough by the noise for that, or to want to pull this thing apart and do surgery either.
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#7 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:45 PM

View PostCurtis Rutland, on 14 April 2014 - 02:52 PM, said:

So, with that out of the way:

Do any of you own/regularly use a mechanical keyboard?

I have 6 Focus 2001 mechanical keyboards, all in various conditions. I used to pick them up from thrift stores, & I got the first one from calvinthedestroyer.

The keyboards are run through A USB to PS2 converter, & then from PS2 to AT converter.

View PostCurtis Rutland, on 14 April 2014 - 03:23 PM, said:

The switches themselves are quiet,

Not mine! One of the long time complaints (from before computers were cool & in every house hold), was that because I type so fast it sounds like rain.

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#8 DarenR  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:47 PM

yes I use a mechanical one-- I kinda prefer them-- I like the feel of it when I type knowing that I am hitting the keys.

I should invest in this

http://www.amazon.co...puter+keyboards

This post has been edited by DarenR: 14 April 2014 - 12:49 PM

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#9 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:51 PM

@Andy, you should check out their latest model:

http://www.daskeyboard.com/

It's beautiful. But pricey, no doubt. But they're not the only option; there are plenty of great boards for less. And if you like the blank keycaps, you're in luck, because Cherry MX boards are pretty much the most customizable. There are countless keycap sets available in various colors, plastics (PBT kicks ABS's ass), and printing methods (laser etched, printed, dye sublimated, doubleshot)...you can get really into it.

@Modi, you can order a "switch tester" from one of several companies. They'll send you a small board with one switch of each type. It's not perfect, because you only feel it with one finger instead of a full board, but it's better than nothing. They usually run about $20. But depending on what you can do, there's some general advice to be had. Blues are best for pure typing (but they're noisy), greens are identical to blues but require more force to actuate. Browns feel closer to blues than anything, but are a bit different and don't click. Reds are great for gaming, blacks are similar but heavier. Clears are like browns but heavier, but you'll probably never see them unless you really seek them out.

@no2, awesome! I've never seen those before. I'm a fan of the classics (not to own, but to look at). Try to find some Model M's, you can clean them up and flip them for a profit on ebay/craigslist. Enthusiasts pay good money for original buckling-spring Model Ms.

And the "quiet" thing was in reference to Cherry MX Red switches specifically. Most switches aren't that quiet. Looks like this is the keyboard you mentioned, it uses Alps switch clones, which I know very little about. They're not very common these days. But they are noisy, I hear.

@h4nnib4l, it does take some getting used to, but it's great once you get used to it. If you're interested in a Poker II w/ browns, search "qtan vendio" to find a e-store that sells them. Qtan is a well-known name in mechanical keyboard circles like geekhack.

@Daren, what make/model do you use?
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#10 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:58 PM

Speaking of keycap sets, if you use Cherry switches, WASDkeyboards has a really cool option. They can take a custom graphic and print it on their keycaps. Or you can order a set printed with whatever characters you want, in various colors. It's a really cool tool. Check it out here:

http://www.wasdkeybo...keycap-set.html

Edit, @Andy, do they use the ANSI or ISO layout in the UK? Either way, WASD has you covered:

http://www.wasdkeybo...keycap-set.html
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#11 Ntwiles  Icon User is offline

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 12:59 PM

I generally definitely prefer a mechanical keyboard. I am using a chiclet style keyboard now (the Razer Deathstalker), which does use a membrane, but provides much better tactile feedback. There's a second layer of individual rubber keys above the membrane, that produce a sudden collapse in the membrane. They're ridiculously loud, but I don't mind that. It's kind of satisfying to type on.

This post has been edited by Ntwiles: 14 April 2014 - 12:59 PM

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#12 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 01:06 PM

Cool. Membranes themselves aren't the problem, it's the implementation. For example, "Topre" switches involve a rubber membrane, but are typically considered the best switch money can buy. And good thing, because boards that use them are crazy expensive. The Happy Hacking Keyboard 2 (often considered one of the best 60% keyboards) is like $250 because it uses Topre. The cheapest Topre board I've seen is like $150, and it's a boring, basic-looking keyboard. (the Type Heaven, if anyone's checking).

Can anyone tell I'm really into this? Seems like a silly thing to be a nerd about, but I absolutely love it. When I get brave, I might try building an ErgoDox:

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#13 andrewsw  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 02:29 PM

View PostCurtis Rutland, on 14 April 2014 - 07:58 PM, said:

Edit, @Andy, do they use the ANSI or ISO layout in the UK? Either way, WASD has you covered:

http://www.wasdkeybo...keycap-set.html

It is generally ANSI in the UK I believe, with a back-slash at the bottom-left.

We generally distinguish between a US and UK-layout, the most annoying aspect of which is the switching of the double-quote with the @-sign.

BTW I have found that one of the best keyboards is actually one of the very cheapest, an HP Standard.
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#14 Curtis Rutland  Icon User is online

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 02:43 PM

Ugh. Hate to disagree with you there, but I have never used a good OEM keyboard from a PC company. HP's is no worse than the others, but that's the best I can say for it. That's the one they gave me here at work, gave it back the first day :P .

On the other hand, I'm completely spoiled by mechanicals now, so pretty much any membrane keyboard feels like crap to me.

But cool to know about the layout. Best thing is, if you're a touch-typist, you can always set the layout to whatever you want, regardless of what's printed on the keys. Worst case, you use AutoHotKey to change what code gets sent with what keys get pressed.
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#15 creativecoding  Icon User is offline

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Re: Mechanical Keyboards

Posted 14 April 2014 - 04:28 PM

I absolutely love mechanical keyboards and have no doubt I'll be using them as long as keyboards are still the primary form of communication between man and computer.

Whenever I have friends over the ones that are doing the typing fall in love while the ones who haven't are wondering why the hell it's so loud. I'm pretty sure my next keyboard will be MX Browns.

If you're skeptical about mechanical keyboards, Monoprice's MX Blue is one of the cheapest 110-key keyboards you can buy at $60 ($70 w/ prime on Amazon). Or visit your nearest frys/computer place and try one out. I must warn you though... You won't be able to go back. Literally. Your hand will cramp and hurt on a membrane.
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