Keyboards are indispensable devices in the use of PCs. Over the years, thousands of different copies have come on the market. Which brings with it all kinds of different advantages and disadvantages. There are different switches, layouts, keycaps, and so on. But of course there is also the difference between membrane and mechanical keyboards. That is the part that we are going to zoom in on here.
You read it everywhere: “A real PC Gamer needs a mechanical keyboard.” But why actually? A membrane keyboard also works fine, right? Well, yes and no. The very first keyboards were mechanical, but over time membrane keyboards have become the new normal. However, the mechanical keyboards have been preferred in recent years by almost the entire PC-Gaming community.
To understand why mechanical keyboards are praised by gamers, it is first important to know what membrane keyboards are.
Membrane keyboards are nowadays seen as 'normal' keyboards. This is due to the fact that they can be found everywhere. If you buy a ready-made PC with all the trimmings. Then there is a good chance that a membrane keyboard is included. Membrane keyboards are always used in laptops, although more and more options have recently been introduced for mechanical keyboards in laptops. The way membrane keyboards are made is cheaper for manufacturers than mechanical keyboards, which of course also leads to cheap prices in the store. Most membrane keyboards have a lifespan of one million to ten million taps per key. Of course this sounds like a lot, but if you game a lot or write reports. Then you'll be right through this.
Membrane keyboards consist of several layers.
- top plate
- Upper membrane layer
- Lower membrane layer
- hole layer
These layers ensure that a specific key is pressed by the user. The signal of the pressed key is then sent via a chip (Integrated Circuit-chip of IC-chip) processed to the action that is co-related with this key. The correct information is then sent to the PC via the chip. This chip works the same in both keyboards.
The top plate is the part you see. These are the keys you press and the shell of your keyboard. This record can often be removed, but the individual keys can never or rarely be removed. This often makes cleaning the keyboard very difficult. In addition, the keys cannot be replaced and are therefore not suitable for customisation.
The top membrane layer is often made of a rubber-like material. It is a layer located directly below the key in the form of a dome containing a plate of conductive material. When the button is pressed, the rubber dome with the plate is pressed downwards.
When the plate is pushed all the way down, it touches the lower membrane layer. This layer is the circuit under the keys. Under each key on the lower membrane layer is a piece of interrupted conductive material that you connect to the plate that is under the rubber dome. This can be clearly seen in the animation below. When closing this conductive material, a signal is sent from the specific key to the IC chip and thus the chip knows which key has been pressed.
Finally we keep the hole layer. this layer is located between the two membrane layers. This layer ensures that only the rubber dome of the key you actually press is pressed. For example, this prevents you from typing three different letters when you press just one.
But what are the advantages and disadvantages of such a membrane keyboard. All the pros and cons will be listed below. One of the main disadvantages of a membrane keyboard during gaming is the so-called “Key Rollover”.
Due to the cheaper production of membrane keyboards compared to the mechanical variant, this also results in cheaper prices in the store.
Due to the rubbery material in the keyboard, typing the keyboards doesn't sound as hard, but more like a soft landing.
The parts used in a membrane keyboard are often not that heavy, which also makes a lighter keyboard.
A membrane keyboard can only register one keystroke at a time. This results in some keystrokes not being registered while gaming or typing fast. This is, of course, an incredibly big drawback for gamers.
Due to the top plate it is often impossible to remove keys easily. This makes it difficult to get into the keyboard.
The materials used in these keyboards make it feel like your keys are moving in slow motion.
The rubbery materials or silicones break down. This means that after a period of use, the keys will feel increasingly stiff and the keyboard performance will gradually decrease. The keyboards are often only good for a million to ten million taps, while you already notice that the keys deteriorate over time.
Because the rubber dome has to go all the way down to give the signal, you get a slower response time. This may feel like nothing, but during gaming this adds up to your reaction time and results in a lower performance from you as a gamer.
Mechanical keyboards are "the" keyboards according to gamers. But why do gamers love these keyboards so much? What are the pros and cons of this variant? And what is the difference with a membrane keyboard.
Mechanical keyboards are becoming more and more popular. Among gamers, it is actually an indispensable device in their ultra-cool PC gaming set-up. Some like clean colored keyboards and others prefer as many different colors as possible with RGB. Mechanical keyboards are actually a must.
Mechanical keyboards consist of different parts than a membrane keyboard, as you might have expected. They consist of the following parts
- Loose keycaps
- Key switches
- key tag
- PCB (Printed Circuit Board)
The keycaps are the equivalent to the top plate of a membrane keyboard. The keycaps can be removed on these keyboards, so it is easier to customize and clean the keyboard.
The key switch is the key on which the keycaps are attached and therefore makes the big difference with a membrane keyboard. Key switches are made by the manufacturer in a way that reduces the response time. An example of such a manufacturer is Cherry. For example, they make Cherry MX Brown switches (see image below).
The process takes place in these switches, which ensures that the IC chip receives the correct signal. The IC chip also works the same as with the membrane variant.
The switches are mounted on the key plate. This is also known as 'Plate mounted key switches'. It ensures that all switches stay in place. However, this is not done with all keyboards.
Finally, we have the 'Printed Circuit Board' or PCB. This is the printed circuit board that is connected to the IC chip. If the switches are not mounted on key plates, they are soldered to the printed circuit board. They call this PCB mounted key switches. The animation below shows how this all works together.
You can see that when you press the switch, two metal pins connect to each other. This is the closing of the circuit. Compared to a membrane keyboard, it takes much less time to press the key to close the circuit and pass the correct signals to the IC chip. How the key switch works inside will be explained in a later blog.
All the pros and cons of a mechanical keyboard are listed again here.
Easy to clean and customize
The removable keys make it easy to clean. In addition, you can also better customize your keyboard with different keycaps.
Due to the design of the keycaps and the absence of rubber or silicone, you feel much sharper and more reactive. In addition, it provides the real click sound of a keyboard
Mechanical keyboards last much longer. This is because the keyboard is built around the many switches. Each switch is small and sturdy, so they will do their job well for a long time. No pressure is exerted on the printed circuit board, but the connection is made in the switch. This makes the printed circuit board last much longer.
Because the key does not have to go all the way down, that means that the response time of the keys is just faster. There is also no key rollover. That means the keyboard can handle multiple keys at the same time, resulting in better performance while gaming
Due to the materials used, a mechanical keyboard is simply heavier than a membrane keyboard. However, this can also be an advantage, as it keeps your keyboard in place better.
The price is significantly higher than membrane keyboards. This is due to the many different individual components and better materials. For example, the metal pins in a key switch are often made of gold, for the best conductivity. So you pay more, but the keyboard also lasts longer and has better qualities.
Perhaps the biggest noticeable drawback is the noise. When pressing the keys you really hear a good CLICK sound. Many people find this sound too loud and especially people around you may find it annoying. Fortunately, there is a solution for that. You have certain 'foam' that you can place in your keyboard to mute the sound. A better solution in my opinion, are O-rings. You place these rubber rings under your keycaps, so that your keycaps don't hit the key switch as hard.
Mechanical keyboards win in response time and durability. Many gamers therefore often choose a mechanical keyboard rather than a membrane keyboard. In addition to the fact that the quality is better, they can also be customized with, for example, our Tai-Hao rubberized gaming keycaps. Yes, they are more expensive, but the price/quality ratio is much better with the mechanical keyboards. Because of their durability, you should even buy them if you have to type a lot for work, since mechanical keyboards last over a longer period of time.
All in all, do you spend hours a day typing on your keyboard? Then a mechanical keyboard is perfect for you!
- Yoël Groenhof