Introduction to Mechanical Switches
Mechanical switches utilize a stem and moving contacts, actuating a keypress when the current is broken between the metal contacts. Traditional membrane/rubber dome switches actuate or register a keypress, only when the dome is fully compressed and reaches the bottom, where the contacts meet. On a mechanical keyboard, switches actuate prior to bottoming out, allowing for shorter key travel and faster actuation.
The main benefit of mechanical switches is the typing feel. Membrane and rubber dome keyboards are known to feel “mushy”, “squishy” and unpleasant. Mechanical switches typically feel much snappier, having a smooth, consistent keystroke. Mechanical switches also come in a vast variety of both switch design and key feel.
What are Cherry MX Switches?
Cherry is a German manufacturer, most well known for their widespread lineup of Cherry MX mechanical key switches. Cherry MX switches can be found in almost all high-end gaming keyboards, from large brands such as Corsair, Logitech, and SteelSeries. With an estimated lifespan of 50 million keypresses, they are much more reliable and durable than standard rubber domes. First produced in 1983, MX switches are formed from a switch housing, stem, spring, and internal contact leaves. Cherry MX switches are actuated when the stem pushes the contact leaves apart, breaking off the connection.
MX switches have a “plus” like stem design (+), which can fit almost all of the third party keycap sets on the market. There are three types of MX switches – Tactile, Linear, and Clicky variants. MX Blues, Browns, and Reds are most common in gaming keyboards due to the lower actuation force. However, there are a plethora of other different MX-switch types.
Linear MX Switches
Linear MX switches include MX Reds, MX Blacks, MX Linear Greys, MX Nature Whites, and MX Speed Silvers. Linear switches have a consistent, uninterrupted keystroke, smooth from the top to bottoming-out. They are also usually the quietest of the three. Linear switches are great for both typing and gaming.
Tactile MX Switches
Tactile MX switches include MX Browns, MX Clears, and MX Tactile Greys. Tactile switches have a slanted leg on the stem, which results in a bump around halfway through the keystroke. Once the switch is actuated, the bump registers a tactile feedback. Tactile switches are fairly quiet, and suitable for both gaming and typing.
Clicky MX Switches
Clicky MX switches include MX Blues, MX Greens, and MX Whites. Clicky MX switches have a click-jacket on the stem of the switch, which snaps back once pressed down halfway through the keystroke, resulting in a sharp tactile bump. They are by far the loudest, with high-pitched, audible feedback. Clicky MX switches are great for typing, but the design of the switch makes it prone to hysteresis when repeatedly tapping at keys, resulting in unregistered keypresses, making them not very suitable for gaming.
Cherry MX Speed Silver switches have a reduced travel distance, with a 1.2mm actuation distance and a 3.4mm total travel distance. These linear switches are designed for gaming, allowing the switch to actuate sooner than regular MX switches. Originally exclusive to Corsair’s Rapidfire keyboards, these switches are great for gaming, but they may cause an increase of typing errors.
Cherry MX Silent switches used to also be exclusive to Corsair-branded keyboards, featuring rubber dampeners on various parts of the stem to minimize bottom-out noise. MX Silent switches are available in either Red or Black linear variants. The rubber dampeners do significantly reduce the sound production, and may even be quieter than standard membrane keyboards, but the dampening does affect the typing experience, making the switch feel more “mushy” or “soft” with a cushioned bottom-out.
Cherry’s most recent addition to the MX lineup is the Low Profile MX switches. These have a circular stem design, and though the stem design fits standard keycaps, normal keycaps aren’t usable, as they are too tall. The Low Profile MX switches have a total travel of 3.2mm, and while the Red variant has an actuation distance of 1.2mm, the Corsair-exclusive Speed variant has an actuation distance of only 1.0mm.
Cherry MX Switch Charts
|Switch Variant||Switch Type||Actuation Force||Actuation Distance||Travel Distance|
|MX Linear Grey||Linear||80g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX Nature White||Linear||55g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX Speed Silver||Linear||45g||1.2mm||3.4mm|
|MX Silent Red||Dampened Linear||45g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX Silent Black||Dampened Linear||60g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX Lo-Pro Red||Low Profile Linear||45g||1.2mm||3.2mm|
|MX Lo-Pro Speed||Low Profile Linear||45g||1.0mm||3.2mm|
|MX Tactile Grey||Tactile||80g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX White (Old)||Clicky||50g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
|MX White (New)||Clicky||70g||2.0mm||4.0mm|
MX Switch Revisions
There have been 3 major Cherry MX Black revisions. MX Blacks were first produced in the 1980s, and they have continued in production until the 1990s when the materials and tooling were slightly altered. These early switches are called “vintage blacks”, and are sought after for their smoothness. The change in materials was mainly to reduce manufacturing costs, but the alteration caused the “new” revision to suffer from scratchiness. Called “pre-retooled” blacks, these are the least desirable variant. Finally, in 2016, Cherry once again updated their tooling, producing much smoother “retooled blacks”. Retooled blacks have stem, housing, spring, and contact leaf adjustments, making the smoothness comparable to vintage switches.
Aside from MX Blacks, the lineup of MX Reds, MX Blues, and MX Browns have also been minorly retooled, at around 2016. Retooling has made each of them smoother and less scratchy, as well as slightly increasing the tactility of MX Browns and MX Blues.
MX Switch Clones
When Cherry’s patent for the MX switch design expired in 2013, a plethora of MX clones flooded the market, from manufacturers such as Kailh, Outemu, and Gateron. In the beginning, Cherry MX clones were usually inferior and had worse quality. However, within the past few years, certain cloned switches have greatly improved. For example, Gateron’s MX clones are known to be smoother and have less key wobble than genuine Cherry MX, and are similar or even cheaper priced. Overall, MX clones are a great choice as an alternative for mechanical key switches.
Mechanical switches are usually superior and more durable than rubber dome switches, with Cherry’s MX lineup being no exception. Although there are over hundreds of MX-style switches, there is no such thing as the “best switch”. It’s all up to preference. Prior to buying a mechanical keyboard, I’d recommend buying a switch tester, to try out multiple variants of switches and see which ones are best for you. Investing in a well-built, reliable mechanical keyboard can enhance both your typing and gaming experience, as well as last you far longer than a cheaper membrane keyboard.
“An Introduction to Cherry MX Mechanical Switches.” The Keyboard Company, www.keyboardco.com/blog/index.php/2012/12/an-introduction-to-cherry-mx-mechanical-switches/.
“Cherry (Keyboards).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Feb. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherry_(keyboards).