The last several years have seen a major shift in the type of keyboards that peripheral manufacturers are producing. Mechanical keyboards have of course been around for decades in various forms but became a much more niche product with the rise of rubber dome membrane keyboards. These are much cheaper to produce but lack the quality and customization of mechanical keyboards.
Then there was a resurgence of mechanical keyboards. There are several different kinds of them, but they all have one thing in common: tactility. What makes these tick?
Have you ever bought a keyboard and wished for more color choices? A more stiff feel with each key press? Or maybe even a little steam logo where the escape key belongs?
The options for customization are unmatched in the keyboard world; custom keycaps being the most obvious. Any color or text imaginable is available with vendors offering individual caps, full sets, or even completely custom sets. Caps are available in different materials as well. The cheaper sets are usually made of ABS while thicker PBT caps are more expensive but much more durable, avoiding the eventual “shine” you get with cheaper material. The disadvantage to PBT is that most vendors, such as WASD, only offer fully customizable keycap sets in ABS; However, there are lots of PBT cap sets on the market that provide a unique look without doing a fully customized set and losing the quality that PBT offers.
Keycap customization goes even deeper than color and text; many artisans produce a plethora of handcrafted caps ranging from raised textures that look like mummy wrapping to full blown characters that you know and love. The options are essentially endless.
A good keyboard is an investment so it’s important to have switches that respond how you expect them to while providing comfort for those long gaming sessions. The mechanical keyboard's greatest strength however is in typing feel. They tend to have more tactile key travel and response than membrane keyboards—although Razer has its mecha-membrane Ornata that feels surprisingly good to type and game on. Originally clicky and loud, switch manufacturers have come up with various ways to reduce coworker/spousal annoyance by coming out with quieter mechanical switches, but the essence remains the same.
While switches are generally soldered to the board and therefore can’t be swapped easily, most manufacturers offer various switch options for each keyboard model. The benefit of course being that chances are, if you like the look of a keyboard, you can find the same model with the switches you prefer. Cherry switches come in many different “flavors”, from loud and clicky, to silent and smooth.
Several vendors sell o-rings for this purpose though they aren’t exactly cheap. It may be tempting to save some cash and head to Ebay but keep in mind that many of the cheaper options ship from China which can take months. There are alternatives to o-rings; small foam pads can be placed on the base of each switch that dampen sound just as well. These will cost you about as much unless you buy a full sheet of foam and cut them yourself. But I’d like to think my time is worth more than a couple lattes.
One of the most customizable aspects of your PC setup is often thought of the least. We spend a lot of time with them and the right mechanical keyboard will provide a comfortable and unique experience for years.