Ever wonder why Zuckerberg hauls a Model M keyboard with him to work everyday? Or why Stephen King puts his Rosewill to bed each night in a violin case underneath his desk? Ok sorry, some exaggerations there, but you get the idea. People who make a living on their comps nearly always fall in love with mechanical keyboards on first touch. But why?
Before we get into the technical reasons, let’s talk about the real reason mechanical keyboards have become so popular these days. Drumroll please….it’s because they feel better. They type better. They sound better. And you get more work done. Everything about them is vastly superior when compared to the rectangular frisbees that shipped with your desktop system. And yes, they’re better than your laptop keyboards too.
See, about fifteen years ago manufacturers started shipping keyboards that used rubber dome switches. They put a membrane layer underneath the keys that gets pushed down to a bottom membrane when you press a key. This closes a circuit and the keystroke registers. Why did companies start using this method? Because it was cheap! So cheap in fact that over time the membrane deteriorates and forces users to apply more pressure to actuate the key. A forced bottoming out that gets harder over time? No thanks.
Enter mechanical keyboards which use individual keyswitches underneath each key cap. No membrane here, no deterioration over time, and most importantly it doesn’t take a full keypress to actuate the keyswitches, most only require about a half-press to register. Touch typists love this because your muscle memory quickly adapts: less pressure needed, less fatigue, greater typing speeds. And gamers are drawn to this for the speed and efficiency (see our top gaming selections here). Companies will throw around terms like ‘increased Actions Per Minute’, but it’s really more about the keyboard being an ally in your work now, not an adversary.
And did we mention they last longer? Rubber dome switches are built to last 5-10 million keystrokes. Mechanical keyswitches are rated for 50 million keystrokes. So how much money are you really saving when you buy a rubber blubber? And even better, mech switches don’t deteriorate over time, they go full force their whole life, and probably your whole life too.
One more thing before we get to your best mechanical keyboard options. German-engineered Cherry Corp. is the dominant player in the keyswitch world. They sell their switches to all the main players, and they also sell them in different styles. So not only will you have the choice of which keyboard to buy, you’ll frequently have the choice of which keyswitch model you want onboard. Don’t worry if you’re new to all of this, we’ll make some basic recommendations and it won’t matter too much which keyswitch you initially choose, you’ll be blown away regardless. But then once you get more picky with your actuation force (heh) then it is well worth your time to check out the options. Look here for the most common Cherry switch options.
So keeping all of that in mind, here’s our 2014 list of the Best Mechanical Keyboards available to you today. Our selections are based on typing feel, product reliability, company history, product features, and user feedback.“Cherry MX Blue Switches” photo courtesy of Cherrymxblue CC 3.0 Wikimedia “Cherry MX Red Switch Animation” courtesy of Lethal Squirrel via Geekhack.org
Keyboards Guide 2014 Best Mechanical Keyboard
|Das Keyboard Ultimate||No keycap inscriptions, Cherry keyswitches||$$|
|Rosewill 9000||Cherry keyswitches, 3 year limited warranty||$|
|Corsair Vengeance K70||Cherry keyswitches, red LEDs backlighting, textured keycaps||$|
|Ducky Shine 3||Cherry keyswitches, fully customizable backlighting||$$|
Uber uber uber sums up the top entry on our mechanical keyboard list. German engineering gives the Das a sturdy, ‘no messing around’ feel.
The main attraction: the Ultimate doesn’t have keycap inscriptions! That’s right, a totally blank keyboard and touch typists love it. Your muscle memory will skyrocket once you stop looking down at your keyboard.
Combine this with an option of Cherry Blue or Cherry Brown switches and you are upgrading from a frisbee to something interstellar. But don’t worry, if a blank keyboard is too much of a leap, they offer a Professional model that has the same build quality as the Ultimate but with the usual inscribed keycaps.
The Cherry Browns are a great introductory keyswitch. They have tactile feedback, a felt bump when the key is activated, and minimal audio feedback, i.e. not too ‘clicky’. The Cherry Blues will offer both tactile and audio feedback, and are noticeably more ‘clicky’.
Gold plated keyswitch contacts for increased durability. Media controls with super-cool oversized volume dial. Built-in USB passthrough.
But the Rosewill 9000 build quality and choice of Cherry Reds, Blues, Browns, or Blacks make this mechanical keyboard a massive step up from traditional keyboards.
3 years limited warranty make this a viable choice for first time mech buyers. You’re still getting the main benefits of a mechanical keyboard (think touch typing) at nearly half the price of the bigger players.
Red LEDs for full backlighting give the K70 a modern feel compared to other keyboards on our list. And even better, the backlighting can be programmed key-by-key, with onboard memory to save the light maps.
Ships with the option of having the w-a-s-d and 1-6 keys textured for accelerated access. This is mostly for gamers, but it also includes standard keycaps and a keycap replacement tool if you don’t like the textured ones and want to swap them out. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to do.
Also has USB passthrough and multimedia controls.
Immaculate build quality, there’s no flex or wobble in this shiner. Laser printed ABS keycaps. Also comes with option of full layout or tenkeyless (i.e. no number pad).
Your choice of Cherry Red, Brown, Black or Blue. The Reds and Black are both linear switches with no tactile or audio feedback, and are extremely popular with those who are a little more picky with their actuation force.
Completely LED backlit with a staggering array of lighting display options, from fully lit to key-by-key lighting.
This is a high-end keyboard built for users who know exactly what they expect from their keyboard. Still difficult to find in the States, best option is mechanicalkeyboards.com
And what mechanical keyboard list is complete without the Model M?! Commonly referred to as the ONE that started it all, it’s built with old school buckling spring keyswitches that were, uhmmm, built a long time ago.
Definitely for aficionados only, but that being said there are still 1000s of you out there producing work on the Model M. And yes we know, in order to swap it out for something modern we will have to pry it from your cold, dead….desktop.
Manufacturers are always upgrading models so we’ll keep this list up to date with any changes. In the meantime, ask any questions below.