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I want a comfortable, responsive mechanical switch keyboard. My only concern about mechanical switch keyboards is the noise. Boards based off of the Cherry MX Blue seem to be the loudest, but apparently offer increased tactility. I don't mind a clicky noise (I would actually prefer a bit of noise), I just don't want anything overpowering.

What are the different types of Cherry mechanical switches are out there, and what separates one from the other?

Also, where would I be able to test one out?

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Model Ms are not that expensive - i'd be using one, but my order got cancelled for some reason. I'd also note with a few exceptions (the black widow, i believe some steel series models, and maybe deck), you're likely to end up ordering a keyboard online anyway - and there's always ebay so getting a cheap second hand keyboard is an option. –  Journeyman Geek Dec 11 '11 at 10:37
    
@jour rolling this back; the OP specifically mentions Cherry blue -- and Cherry is by far the most common option -- and I think this question is best when it is specific. It is fine for other answers to go above and beyond to touch on different switch types, of course. (The OP also said he was concerned about noise and buckling springs are deafening, even louder than the blues which are quite loud, so personally I think that's a very unlikely choice.) edit: see this video youtube.com/watch?v=9J0ZAKd8mF4 –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 10:54
    
Precisely why they should be mentioned. OP mentioned the cherry cause its common, but having the question general seems to be the best fit to me. The wider question is really about keyboards than the nitty gritty of switches to me. I'd really wish we could get some input from the original poster on this, rather than have a rollback war, and guessing on intent. –  Journeyman Geek Dec 11 '11 at 10:57
    
@jour based on three bits of data -- 1. OP explicitly mentioned cherry blue 2. OP specifically mentioned noise (see my video link above) 3. OP said "being sold in keyboards for a sane price" it is clear that we're in "let's compare the most common mechanical switch type" territory. As I've said repeatedly, it is fine and encouraged even for some answers to provide more than what was asked for. I don't think a "let's compare all the really obscure mechanical keyboard switch types in ridiculous detail" question would be particularly useful to the OP. Let's focus on specifics. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 11:03
    
@jour also, I challenge anyone to try buying a new mechanical keyboard right now, today, without being forced to learn about cherry switch colors. It is literally impossible, since the vast, vast majority of new mechanical keyboards being sold use Cherry switches in a rainbow of incomphrehensible colors... part of the reason I wrote the answer I did is because I needed to remind myself what the differences are when looking at the new Corsair keyboard, etc, and I already went through the mechanical keyboard buying process once! –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 11:23
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5 Answers

up vote 75 down vote accepted

First, be warned: all mechanical keyboards are going to be substantially louder than typical rubber dome keyboards you may be familiar with. However there are "quieter" mechanical switches.

I've attempted to summarize the most common Cherry switch information in the below diagrams derived from the original overclock.net thread. That thread has a lot more detailed information about each switch, so definitely click through to learn more..

Cherry Black

Cherry black mechanical keyboard switch actuation graph Cherry black mechanical keyboard switch animation

No tactile bump when key actuates. Considered by some to be better for "gaming" than typing for that reason, but I think it's personal preference.

Cherry Blue

Cherry blue mechanical keyboard switch actuation graph Cherry blue mechanical keyboard switch animation

Very commonly used on "clicky" mechanical keyboards. For example the Das Keyboard and Razer BlackWidow use this switch. It's a fine switch but quite loud in my opinion, so be careful! My wife complained when I had keyboards using this switch in the house..

Cherry Brown

Cherry brown mechanical keyboard switch actuation graph Cherry brown mechanical keyboard switch animation

I've tried this switch and IMO it is basically a Blue without the extra noise. For example the Das Keyboard S (silent) uses this switch.

Cherry Clear

Cherry clear mechanical keyboard switch actuation graph Cherry clear mechanical keyboard switch animation

This one, for what it's worth, is my personal favorite. Considered a "stiffer, slightly more tactile brown". It is not a huge difference but I prefer it over the brown and it is much closer in feel to a quiet blue in practice.

Cherry Red

Cherry red mechanical keyboard switch actuation graph Cherry red mechanical keyboard switch animation

Rare variant of Cherry Black, also no tactile bump but with different parameters. Available on the Corsair Vengeance K60 and K90, though.

I now own one of these keyboard switch testers:

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You can think of it this way:

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And this way:

enter image description here

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Could you let us know what keyboard you are currently using after trying all these? –  Saeb Feb 13 '13 at 6:08
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@Saeb Today Jeff announced that he created a keyboard and he chose clear switches for it. So I would assume clear. –  Ricket Aug 28 '13 at 0:48
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I'd REALLY suggest trying the keyboard before buying it if you can, since there's a lot of variation. Unfortunately, the best way to test a keyboard really, is to find someone with one, or hope for a demo model. The one I have bought had a window to press the arrow keys, and felt good.

I do think mechanical keyboards are the bees knees (and often quite well made to boot), so, as long as you do your homework, you probably will find the right keyboard.

That said, I use a black widow ultimate, and the major issue I have with it is it makes every other keyboard I have feel crappy- mechanical keyboards are AWESOME in my opinion. In addition to OCN, I've found geekhack has a really good guide to mechanical keyboards.

My experience with cherry blues is, as with any mechanical keyboard, you need to unlearn some membrane keyboard bad habits, such as bottoming out keys, but once you do, its fast. They aren't also mushy, which to me, even the best laptop and membrane keyboards are in comparison.

The loudest, supposedly best keyboards are based on the model M keyboard and use buckling springs. Only unicomp makes them, and they use a buckling spring design. These need quite a bit of actuation force.

Cherry makes 4 different types of switches, and most mechanical keyboards seem based on "Click Tactile" is Blue or "Ergonomic" which is brown. There are three other types - "Soft Tactile" which is clear is Clear as well as "Linear" is Black and Red. "Ergonomic" is Brown. Tactile keyboards don't have a linear force curve - you feel a point where the force of the key you press changes, and you can release the key then. The keyboard I have is loud and clacky, but there's a stealth version with cherry browns. With most smaller keyboard makers, you can probably specify which switch type you want, apparently - so if you're going for a quieter mechanical keyboard, cherry browns are a good bet. I like the clackyness, since I often touchtype, and its oddly reassuring. Once you've gotten used to it, the low actuation weight and the activation point being midway through the stroke, least to me makes a big difference.

Practically most mechanical keyboards I've seen tend to be cherry mx blue (clicky) or brown (silent), though there's some alps and topre ones - for example the happy hacking keyboard uses Topre capacitive keys iirc, which are nicer than your standard membrane keyboard, and are worth looking at for silent keys.

I prefer clicky keyboards since, well, I use the noise to tell when I hit the actuation point - and as such its better for the first timer. Silent keyboards may be better in work environments.

While the key types determine noise levels, its also a matter of design - geekhack has a forum full of sound clips if you want a rough idea of how they sound - two keyboards of the same switch type may sound different based off physical design. You can also retrofit a keyboard with rubber o rings, or by other means to quieten it apparently, if its too loud. I don't find my specific keyboard ( a razer blackwidow ultimate) to be that much louder than a cheap membrane keyboard (and there's differences there. I have an extremely horrible mushy silent perx keyboard, and a slightly louder, but decent Logitech - both membrane based), but it apparently seems to be built with good sound damping.

I also have a video here, comparing an utterly cheap mushy membrane keyboard (apparently a'perx Windows keyboard') a generic Logitech, and a standard blackwidow ultimate with cherry mx keys - your Compaq should be similar to the Logitech.

Some folk also consider being able to press more than x keys at once (NKRO) essential for a good keyboard. It's less of a factor in typing IMO, but something that's mentioned a lot on keyboard sites.

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also, there may be a blog entry on this topic in future. I am currently polishing up my own article on it, either for SU blog or for my own personal wiki ;p –  Journeyman Geek Dec 9 '11 at 7:21
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How can you try a keyboard before buying it? Maybe if you can go into a store, but keyboards like these are not likely to be at BestBuy (and even if they are, they won’t be at a good price). :-( –  Synetech Dec 10 '11 at 22:16
    
The keyboard i ended up getting an open window in the box for poking at keys ;p. I rather miss the good ol days when they had demo units for everything though. –  Journeyman Geek Dec 10 '11 at 23:18
    
FWIW I had a Topre Realforce ($250+) and I did not care at all for the feel of the capacitive keys, way too mushy for me. I sold that off quickly. Definitely illustrates how the "you gotta try it yourself to see" factor can be a challenge for the more obscure keyboards... –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 11:36
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There is an in-depth guide to mechanical keyboards with diagrams, animations, and more information that you could ask for. Click the Search This Thread link and enter “noise” to view the posts discussing noise levels.

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just to note, there's a bit of apparent rivalry between OCN and geekhack, Check both, and have a nice healthy pinch of salt when reading reviews anywhere ;p –  Journeyman Geek Dec 9 '11 at 9:32
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it would be more helpful if you summarized the relevant threads here... –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 10:20
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My advice would be: If you are going to invest in mechanical keyboards, be prepared to invest more than once.

There are many more variables to a mechanical keyboard than just the keys. The height and small variations in the layout do make a difference over the long run. Some may look prettier on your desk than others. And because very often they change (improve mostly!) your typing habits, your preference for a keyboard may change as well.

In my case I bought a Cherry MX Red on a whim, without knowing what I was buying. It felt completely useless to me and I started reading as much as I could about mechanical keyboards just to understand what I had under my fingers (and why I had paid so much for a "crap" keyboard!). Based on many geekhack.org visits I decided to buy a Cherry MX Blue keyboard with blank keys. I loved that one to bits.

What I also bought was an extra set of o-rings which I placed on my Cherry Red, but left it at that. Then, I took it out of the closet after about a year on the Blue keys. And it felt like it gave me wings typing. None of the awkwardness I remembered on the first week of trying. It is softer and feels like it gives less strain and the sound agrees better with me.

The point is I might never have bought my current preference if I had made a conscious decision. And I would not have improved my typing as I have without the blank Blue. And now I relax in the fact that I may wake up another day and prefer the Blue again, and most definitely will just try out another keyboard somewhere in the future. The grass is always greener on the other side, just as the keyboard that you do not own can seem more comfortable.

It is absolutely impossible to "know" what a keyboard will be like for you based on reviews and youtube movies. So try to make the best decision you can based on what you read. Use it for a couple of months and then read again (you will recognize more of the subtleties that people are talking and blogging about), and then put the next best model on your wanted list.

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I consider the blues the starter switch since the audibility and tactility lets you learn how to type without bottoming out like you do on a membrane keyboard, and both mechanical keyboards we have at the moment are blues - and the folk who use the shared computer actually took to it pretty well. I may switch in future, no pun intended, but I think that might be why the reds felt odd at first - you changed the way you typed with the blues, and that made the reds easier –  Journeyman Geek Sep 5 '13 at 4:31
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In a universe that contains the IBM model-m (see unicomp for modern versions of the same keyboard) with the buckling spring technology, all of these other switch technologies are simply pointless redundancy. Just get a model-m.

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IMO the other sort of switch keyboards also have a place. The model M is lovely brutal oldschool loud typing. There's a place for less in your face tools ;p. Its worth looking at other keyswitch technologies as well. That said, i'd love a Model M/unicomp customiser some day. –  Journeyman Geek Dec 11 '11 at 10:32
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OP said "I don't mind a clicky noise (I would actually prefer a bit of noise), I just don't want anything overpowering.". Buckling spring is the loudest option there is, short of typing by firing handguns at the keyboard.. youtube.com/watch?v=9J0ZAKd8mF4 –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 12:08
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