Mechanical keyboards are different from typical keyboards that are generally available from most major manufacturers. Due to the higher cost of mechanical keyboards, they are less prevalent in today's general consumer market. A typical keyboard uses rubber dome technology which is similar to that used in your TV remote. They don't provide much tactile feedback and subsequently feel mushy. The lifespan is much shorter since rubber dome keyboards can wear out much faster than a quality mechanical switch keyboard. Rubber dome switches are often the culprit of "mushy" feeling keyboards. Another common type of keyboard is the scissor-type switch keyboard. These are commonly found on laptops and some low profile keyboards. They still use membrane technology, but the scissor switch design allows a much shorter travel stroke and usually gives better tactile feedback.
All WASD Keyboards use mechanical Cherry MX switches for each individual key. These switches are of the highest quality, offering a life span of over 50 million operations and feature gold plated contacts. They come in different configurations so the user can choose which one fits their typing style the best. Each mechanical switch is mounted to a heavy steel backplate and then soldered to the PCB for a very solid feel while typing.
There are many reasons to switch over to a mechanical keyboard. Despite the higher price, the construction, reliability, features, and feel of a mechanical keyboard are well worth the initial expense.
The main benefit of a mechanical keyboard is the way it feels. If you have never typed on a mechanical keyboard, you will be in for surprise. Almost all people that switch from a rubber dome to a mechanical keyboard would never switch back. With rubber dome style keyboards, you have to "bottom out" a key, meaning you have to fully depress the key, for it register. With mechanical switches, the actuation point is much higher in the key stroke allowing you to quickly change keys without pressing the key down all the way. This allows for less finger fatigue and faster transitions to the next letter. Of course, this is not something that is developed overnight. Like a high end musical instrument, it will take some practice before you appreciate its finer qualities.
Each switch type has its own distinct characteristics, so you can choose a switch that would best suit your personal preference. Whichever switch you decide to use, you can be sure that the overall feel and response of a high quality mechanical keyboard will be an experience you didn't know you couldn't live without.
Key Rollover (N-KRO, 6-KRO)
Another benefit that a mechanical keyboard can provide is something called Key Rollover. This terms describes how many keys can be registered when pressed at the same time. WASD mechanical keyboards all feature N-KRO (infinite keys) over a PS/2 connection and 6-KRO (6 keys) over a USB connection. Our mechanical keyboards uses individual diodes for each switch to provide true N-KRO. The reason why the keyboard only provides 6-KRO is due to limitations of the USB protocol.
When N-KRO is available, you could theoretically press and hold down all the keys on your keyboard at the same time and have every single key register. With 6-KRO, you can press up to 6 keys and 4 modifier keys (Ctrl, Alt, Shift, Windows). Effectively giving you up to 10 keys in that situation. Since most situations where multiple keys are being held down require the use of modifiers, you will probably never run into a situation where a key press is blocked. So, under most situations, N-KRO is not needed. Some instances where one might find N-KRO necessary are emulating musical instruments (such as a virtual piano) or while playing some games (such as some flight simulators).
The Cherry MX mechanical switches feature a 50 million operation life cycle. Your average rubber dome keyboard has a life cycle of 5-10 million. WASD mechanical keyboards also mounts the switches to a thick steel plate before the switches are soldered to the PCB. This provides a more stable typing platform and gives the keyboard its rigid body and heavy weight. You can expect many years of use on your mechanical keyboard.
There is no universally regarded "best" switch, but there is definitely a best switch for you personally. Deciding upon what switch type best fits your typing style and preference can seem daunting initially. The best way to figure out which switch is right for you is to try them out. If you don't have access to a retail store, LAN party, or a friend that can let you try their mechanical keyboard then the next best thing is to pick up a purpose built switch tester:
6-Key Switch Tester. This switch tester will let you get a feel for what each switch type feels like, how they sound and also whether or not o-ring dampeners are right for you.
The MX Blue switch is usually reminds people of the old "clicky" keyboards from the early PC days. The combination of the strong tactile feedback and simultaneous click gives a very satisfying feel while typing. However, the clicking can be loud, which can limit its use in shared computing spaces.
Light tactile feedback. No click. 45g actuation force.
The MX Brown switches can be considered a lighter version of the MX Blue switch without the audible click. The tactile bump not as nearly as distinct, but it does still provide enough feedback for your fingers to detect when the switch has been activated.
Light tactile feedback. No click. 65g actuation force.
The MX Clear switches can be considered a stronger version of the MX Brown switch. The tactile bump is as more distinct than MX Browns and provides more feedback for your fingers to detect when the switch has been activated.
No tactile feedback. No click. 45g actuation force.
The MX Red switches are almost identical to the Black switches, but have a softer spring for a much lower actuation force. Although this switch has the same actuation force as the Browns, it feels lighter due to the linear action. Also commonly marketed as a "gamer" switch.
No tactile feedback. No click. 60g actuation force.
MX Black switches are linear switches, so they have no tactile feedback unless the switch is "bottomed out," meaning the switch is pressed all the way down. The keystroke is smooth all the way down. The stronger spring is said to help the switch reset faster, which can be useful in some instances where "double tapping" is needed. The stiffer switches may also help with accidental key presses from straying fingers. Commonly marketed as a "gamer" switch.
Cherry MX switches are mounted to the keyboard via two popular methods; plate mounted and Printed Circuit Board (PCB) mounted. The most common method for mounting Cherry MX switches to a keyboard is Plate Mounted. This method allows the housing of the switch to grasp a metal or plastic plate providing a very secure mount, then the switch is soldered into the PCB below the plate. PCB mounted switches have a different molded housing with two prongs that allow it to pass through the PCB before being soldered, these prongs aid in stability when the switch is mounted directly to the PCB.
The two switch mounting types are virtually identical with the exception of the two molded prongs in the PCB mounted housing.
It is noted that you can easily modify a PCB mounted switch to fit on a plate mounted keyboard by removing these prongs cleanly with pliers, or a sharp razor. You cannot however put a plate mounted switch on a PCB mounted keyboard, as these prongs are missing and integral in providing a secure mount to the PCB.
The large keycaps on a mechanical keyboard need stabilization so that when you press on one side of the keycap or the other it remains balanced. This is achieved by a metal bar that connects one side of the keycap to the other.
There are two major designs when it comes to large keycap stabilization Costar style and Cherry.
The Costar style stabilizer setup features plate mounted stabilizer clips that attach to the plate, then hold a metal stabilizer spring (or bar). The large keycaps that are being stabilized must have stabilizer inserts pressed into the keycap to then accept the stabilizer bar before the keycap is then pressed onto the switch.
Generally it is a good idea to apply some silicone grease to the stabilizer inserts before mounting the keycap on the switch. This will smooth out the stabilizer operation and eliminate any unwanted noises or squeaks from the moving parts. The benefits of the Costar stabilizer setup is that it generally received as having a better "feel" to it than the alternative. The drawbacks are that the keycaps can be a bit trickier to install on Costar stabilizers.
Cherry: The Cherry stabilizer setup features a stabilizer bar mechanism similar to the Costar setup, however Cherry integrates the stabilizer inserts so that they do not come off the stabilizer setup when the keycap is removed. This benefits of this design is that it makes installing or removing keycaps very easy. The drawback of the Cherry stabilizer setup is that it colors your switch actuation as stiffer when depressing your keycap and provides a mushier feeling when bottoming out the keycap as per compared to the alternative.
There a few different materials available for keycaps, each with their own benefits and detriments.
ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) plastic is the most common keycap material due to its low cost and ease of injection molding manufacturing. ABS is impact resistant, lightweight and very durable. Uncoated ABS keycaps are more prone to becoming shiny over time than more expensive alternatives, however our unique UV coating process is much more resistant to key shine than bare ABS.
PBT (Polybutylene Terephthalate) is less common than ABS for keycaps due to its higher cost. PBT keycaps have a more "chalky" feel to them than ABS. PBT keycaps are also are more resistant to key shine than ABS due to a higher abrasion resistance. PBT is also known for being heavier in weight than ABS.
POM (Polyoxymethylene, also known as Acetal) is even less common than PBT for keycaps due to a higher cost of manufacturing. POM keycaps have similar properties to PBT with both resistance to key shine and heavier weight per compared to ABS. POM has high strength, hardness and rigidity.
Some people may find that mechanical keyboards are a bit too noisy for their preference. WASD Keyboards offers different rubber O-ring sound dampeners that can be installed onto the keycaps to dramatically reduce the sound created from when a switch is fully depressed or "bottomed out." Typically, when a switch is pressed all the way, the bottom of the switch stem hits against the switch casing creating a "clack" sound. An O-ring will eliminate this clack by stopping the stem from going all the way down. O-rings do slightly reduce the key travel by less than 0.5mm and creates a "soft landing" when you bottom out. Some users find the softer landing more comfortable and easier on the fingers and hands.
Please watch our Cherry MX Switch Sound Comparison video to demonstrate the different sounds of each Cherry MX switch type and with and without sound dampeners installed.
WASD Keyboards focus is to provide quality mechanical keyboards. We do not use any fancy marketing terms to trick you into thinking our keyboard is superior. Here are some things to look out for:
Key Polling Rate - Although this can make some difference in mice, it is largely irrelevant for keyboards. Even the fastest typist in the world wouldn't see any difference by increasing the polling rate of a keyboard. With Key Rollover, multiple key strokes, even when pressed together in between scan cycles, will be recognized in the correct order during the next scan cycle.
Gold Plated Connectors - Gold plated connectors makes no noticeable difference in connectivity or latency. If anything, it would be more important to look at cable shielding and overall length. Too long of a cable without proper shielding can cause a weak signal.
Gaming Matrix - This is similar to Key Rollover, but is far inferior. To save costs, some keyboards are designed so that only certain areas of the keyboard can register more keys at once rather than offering the true Key Rollover achieved by adding diodes to the circuit.
Anti-Ghosting - This is sometime used in place of Key Rollover, but the terminology is incorrect since ghosting is a different (and rare) issue. You will need to do more research to see what key rollover technology is being used. Ghosting is when two or more keys are pressed and a key that was not pressed registers instead.
Keeping your keyboard clean and free of dirt and dust will prolong the life of both your keyboard and keycaps.
First, dust off your keyboard with compressed air, be sure to spray between the keycaps to try to remove any dust and debris that may have fallen below your keycaps.
Next, we recommend using a diluted blend of 70% isopropyle alcohol and water. Mix a 50/50 ratio of alcohol to water, this will clean more thoroughly and evaporate more quickly than water, but not harshly affect painted surfaces such as the keyboard case. Lightly dampen a clean towel and wipe both your keycaps and keyboard until they are clean, you can use more cleaning solution on tougher areas.
It's a good idea to remove all your keycaps for a more thorough cleaning once a year or as needed. This will allow you to get all of the dust and debris that has accumulated over time beneath your keycaps and also give you access to clean the plate or PCB.
Sometimes you may need to grease your larger keys if they are noisey, or don't feel as smooth as they should. We recommend silicone grease for best results, but any grease that is safe for plastic will work.
Install your keycap back on your keyboard and actuate the switch a few times to test. If you're still hearing a noise, or feeling any grit, remove the keycap again and regrease. The action of your keycap and switch should feel smooth without any noise or binding.
Using key remapping software, your keyboard can be set up to suit your needs exactly.
Some of the most popular apps are available for your favorite OS.
Mac OSX: Karabiner
There are of course many other alernatives available.
Don't use your caps lock key? How about assign it to a key that is more useful? Wondering what the scroll-lock key actually does or why it's taking up space on your keyboard? Assign it to a key or macro that is helpful!
Aside from the simple task or reassigning keys, these powerful programs can automate complex tasks with a simple hotkey command. Define your own custom macros and keybind repetitve tasks to be performed with a click of your keyboard. Increase your productivity and efficiency by becoming a hotkey master.