The transition of the gaming scene, from a simple entertainment pastime, into a profession funded by a multibillion-dollar industry, has elevated PC peripherals into the realm of work tools, that can either assist, or inhibit, the performance of professionals competing for prizes of tens of millions of dollars. The beauty of this appropriation of funds into said peripherals, is that you don’t have to be a professional gamer to enjoy the intricate varieties of these multifaceted tools. A great paradigm of such instrument being the ever-essential keyboard, a tool from which the majority of commands of PC games originate, while at the same time being necessary for workers and students alike.
Types of keyboards for gaming
There are two main types of keyboards: rubber dome membrane keyboards, and mechanical keyboards. The former is both uncostly and portable, but has a short lifespan, is difficult to clean, uncustomizable, and (most importantly for gaming) is unable to register multiple simultaneous keystrokes. This inability is popularly named “ghosting”; referring to N-Key rollover (NKRO), which can be easily experienced through Capcom’s flagship fighting game: Street Fighter. In Street Fighter, the command to throw an opponent is a dual-button simultaneous press of LP and LK. Holding a direction together with this two-button command will also determine the way in which the opponent will be thrown, ultimately becoming a three-button input. Holding no direction will result in what is called a “neutral throw”. Now, a membrane keyboard will allow for a neutral throw, but when inputting a directional throw, all three inputs are dropped, and nothing happens.
This would render a key aspect of this game unplayable, whereas a mechanical keyboard has no issue allowing for these multiple simultaneous inputs on a whim. In addition, the mechanical keyboard can be customized via the changing of keycaps, or, in some cases, even the changing of switches. Switches are the components that register a keypress, and come in a wide range of different specifications. The difference between switches are what can make mechanical keyboards feel completely different from one another.
Types of mechanical switches
There are three distinct categories of mechanical switches: Linear switches have a consistent and smooth keypress that is usually quiet, whilst having a high actuation point (meaning that the key needs to travel a smaller distance in order to register the keypress.) Next, Tactile switches have a “bump” in the travel of the keypress, that can usually be felt around the actuation point (where the keypress registers), and are of quiet-to-medium, loudness. Finally, the appropriately named Clicky switches may or may note also have a bump mid-keystroke, while the actuation point is accompanied by a distinct clicking sound, similar to those heard in old typewriters.
To put this information in terms of the qualities that each of these switches represents, it is safe to say that Linear switches typify speed, Tactile and Clicky switches represent control, one via feel, the other via audible confirmation. Deciding which of these three categories will suit you best is a decision based entirely upon your style and preference.
After deciding on which type of switch you’d prefer for your mechanical keyboard, next comes actually finding the best build switches in that category. To help with that choice, we’ve gone through and found some of the best switches for each of the three types.
Note, that these are the best entry-level switches, as the end decision for which switches are best relies solely upon personal preference. If you find the right switch for your needs, then it will benefit you no matter what you use it for; be it gaming, typing, or any such other application.
Best Mechanical Switches for Gaming – My Recommendations
Best Tactical Switches for Gaming
These tactile keyboard switches manufactured by Japan’s Topre Corporation come in varied actuation forces, though the mid-end 45g should be the best for a tactile switch optimized for gaming applications. The Topre 45g keyboard switches have a pre-travel to the actuation point of only 2mm, and a total travel distance of 4mm. These switches are speedy, smooth, quiet, but also offer tactile feedback near the top of the keystroke.
Though Topre switches utilize a rubber dome, one can argue that these are actually semi-mechanical. On the other hand, their light keystroke feel, mid actuation point, and N-key rollover capability mean that either way you distinguish it, these switches holds all the best qualities found in mechanical keyboards.
If you enjoy how rubber dome keyboards feel more so than traditional mechanical keyboards, then this is the ideal switch for you, as it utilizes the best qualities of both rubber dome and mechanical keyboards for a smooth, quick, and tactical feel, that is also very responsive. All-in-all, these Topre switches are great switches for any use, but are especially nice as an entry point towards mechanical keyboards.
Best Clicky Switches for Gaming
Kailh BOX White
Kailh BOX switches are well distinguished by their box enclosure, which allows them to be IP56-resistance rated waterproof and dustproof. These switches have a 1.8mm pretravel to their actuation point, with a total travel of 3.6mm. They have an actuation force of 50g, and bottom out at 60g. The distinct sound and feel from these switches are made when a “click bar” springs back into its initial position and hits the housing of the switch. There is also a click in the upstroke where the leg of the stem pushes past the click bar once again; providing ample audible feedback for every keystroke.
Overcoming the click bar in each actuation provides a very subtle tactile bump, so these switches can provide a tactile feel without actually being tactile in nature. Kailh’s design also removed the hysteresis (the need for the switch to rebound above the actuation point in order to register another keypress) which is found in equivalent MX switches, meaning that there is no delay between multiple keypresses. Also, important to note, is that these switches have gold plated contacts, giving them a high rating of over 80 million keypresses.
If you’re looking for a mechanical keyboard with a unique feel and sound, then the Kailh Box switches are the best option for you – but be warned, the clicking sound may be annoying to family members, coworkers, or spouses – so do use responsibly.
Best Linear Switches for Gaming
Cherry MX Speed Silver
Made from one of the most popular and successful switch-making companies, the Cherry MX Speed Silver has an incredibly high actuation point, resulting in a pre-travel of only 1.2mm, with a total travel distance of 3.4mm per keystroke. Also, amazingly light, this switch requires an actuation force of only 45g, and bottoms out at 65g. The switches are made to handle up to an impressive 100 million actuations.
These switches are incredibly smooth and fast, and offer no tactile feedback, other than the switch being bottomed out. In fact, if you avoid bottoming out, these switches are incredibly silent, as this is the only noise emanating from a keyboard equipped with Cherry MX Silvers.
These switches come in two variants, one of which being the MX RGB switches, that feature a clear case for keyboards that utilize RGB lighting beneath the switches.
For their high precision, extremely fast speed, and pleasurable smoothness, these keyboard switches are ideal for gamers with faith in their level of control, in order to make full use of the speeds allowed from these switches.
Best Budget Switches for Gaming
Both clicky and tactile, the Outemu Blue switch is one found on keyboards with prices as low as $30, which is used to be an unheard of price for mechanical keyboards. These switches are ultimately Chinese Cherry MX clones, though many argue they feel more like Gateron switches than Cherry. These switches have an actuation point after a 2mm pretravel, with a 4mm distance to bottom out, a 50g actuation force, and a 60g bottom out force.
Due to there incredibly low price, and the fact that they have both tactile and audible feedback (both being quite considerable), these switches are great entry-level options for those wanting to try mechanical keyboards for gaming, or typing.
The click/bump of these switches is situated slightly before the actual activation point, which is not in and of itself hysteresis by definition (as the reset position of these switches is under the activation point) but may make them feel as such, since it is possible to pass the click/bump travel but not actually hit the activation point. It is therefore important to note that this type of hysteresis might become an issue for certain types of games that require rapid, and repeated, striking of single key commands.