Choosing the right keyboard switch

Mechanical keyboards are defined by their switches. The most common switch is the Cherry MX type, but Alps and Topre are also choices. This guide will focus mainly on Cherry MX switches, but will also include a brief overview of the other switch types.

Linear switch

Linear switches are the simplest type of mechanical switch, moving straight up and down without any additional tactile feedback or clicking noise. The two common types of linear switches are Cherry MX Black and Cherry MX Red.

Cherry MX Black
Cherry MX Black switch illustration
  • Type: Linear
  • Tactile: No
  • Clicky: No
  • Actuation force: 60 cN
  • Datasheet (PDF): Link

Originally released in 1984, this one of the older Cherry switches. At 60 cN actuation force, this is the highest of the four most common Cherry switches. Cherry MX Black are commonly found in POS (point of sale) machines, but are relatively uncommon elsewhere due to their relatively high weight. Fatigue may become an issue with this switch.

However, some gamers may prefer a smooth keypress with no detectable clicking point. MX Black switches do provide some audible feedback, and their high weight make accidental keypresses less likely.

Cherry MX Red
Cherry MX Red switch illustration
  • Type: Linear
  • Tactile: No
  • Clicky: No
  • Actuation force: 45 cN
  • Datasheet (PDF): Link

Originally released in 2008, this one of the newest Cherry switches. At 45 cN actuation force, they are tied with Brown for having the lowest actuation force of the four most common Cherry switches. Cherry MX Red is geared and marketed towards gamers, since their light weight facilitates rapid switch actuation.

Serious typists may find MX Red to be too light, with frequent accidental keypresses. If you’re a serious gamer, especially twitch games like Call of Duty or Overwatch, this is the switch you want.

Cherry MX Brown
Cherry MX Brown switch illustration
  • Type: Tactile
  • Tactile: Yes
  • Clicky: No
  • Actuation force: 50 cN
  • Datasheet (PDF): Link

First introduced in 1994, the MX Brown quickly became one of the most popular switches. Appropriate for both typing and gaming, MX Brown is suitable for office environments, where a louder switch may annoy coworkers.

Tactile, clicky switches

Clicky switches deliberately add a louder ‘click’ in addition to the tactile bump, for even greater typing feedback. This is this made possible by a complex mechanism, with a blue plunger and a white slider. When the actuation point is reached, the slider is propelled to the bottom of the switch and the click noise is produced. Cherry MX Blue is the most common type of tactile, clicky switch.

Cherry MX Blue
Cherry MX Blue switch illustration
  • Type: Tactile
  • Tactile: Yes
  • Clicky: Yes
  • Actuation force: 50 cN
  • Datasheet (PDF): Link

First released in 2007, MX Blue switches are ideal for typists, offering great typing feedback. They are less suitable for gamers however, due their relatively high weight at 50 cN, and a bit harder to double tap, as the release point is above the actuation point. Blue switches are noticeably louder than other mechanical switches, which usually makes them unsuitable in office environments.

Less common switches

While the four switches described are the most popular for Cherry MX compatible keyboards, there are other less common switches.

Clear
A stiffer version of the MX Brown, with an actuation force of 65 cN.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
Grey
Used for spacebars on Clear keyboard, with an actuation force of 80 cN.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
Silent Black
A quieter variant of the MX Black, featuring a rubber dampener which reduces the sound of the switch when returning to its default position. The actuation force remains unchanged at 60 cN.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
Silent Red
A quieter variant of the MX Red, featuring a rubber dampener which reduces the sound of the switch when returning to its default position. The actuation force remains unchanged at 45 cN.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
Speed Silver
A shortened version of the MX Red, actuating at 1.2 mm instead of 2 mm and with a total travel of 3.4 mm compared to 4.1 mm. This is the fastest Cherry switch.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
Nature White
Similar to Cherry MX Red, with a slightly higher actuation force of 55 cN and completely clear housing specially engineered for multicolour RGB lighting.
Datasheet (PDF): Link
RGB
Variants of the other switches with clear housings. These switches are ideal for LED backlit keyboards.

Topre switches

While Cherry MX switches are the most common switch type, there are others available; one of which is Topre. The Topre switch is unique in that it uses electro-capacitance to provide the resistance, as opposed to a physical plunger. Because there is no physical mechanism, actuation can be very smooth. Without any moving parts to wear out, the lifetime of the switches may theoretically be longer than Cherry MX. However, considering Cherry MX switches are rated for 50 m keypresses, this may not be much of an issue.