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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:34   #1
longweight
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Longweight's Mechanical Keyboard Guide

Keyboard Guide

Contents

I have started a blog for all this content, I haven't been happy with the layout for quite a while now. The blog is http://www.key-bored.net and I will keep updating this page too to keep the content on here

1. Switches
2. Layouts
3. Key caps
4. Manufacturers
5. Shopping links
6. Guide Sources

So firstly I just want to say that all of the descriptions and opinions are, well, my own. I have used images, links and data sheets from other websites and have referenced these at the end of the guide. If anyone thinks that I have done anything wrong then please do comment and I will do my best to put the error (if any) right.

I have mainly written this guide as I had to search around lots of sites before buying my first board to get different bits of information on switches, layouts, key caps etc... Also the mechanical keyboard thread in the hardware section has become quite chatty and more about buying more boards than what to look for in your first board, I hope that this thread will help split the two as I will enjoy posting in both. Please do let me know what you think, I will be constantly updating and improving this guide as and when I have time.

Switches

There are two main types of switches used in mechanical keyboards, cherry MX and Topre. Cherry switches are far more common and cost a lot less so I am going to focus on these for the time being.

There are four main flavours of cherry switches, brown, blue, black and red. Each switch has its own unique qualities and many mechanical keyboard users have different switches for different uses. I use browns at home where I game and do a bit of typing whilst at work I use blues as I spend all day typing. I have broken down the switches by type giving an explanation, GIF of the switch motion and a personal description of each switch type.

Cherry Browns, the beginner switch.



I call them the beginner switch as they are usually recommended as the first switch to try, the perfect balance of tactile and linear feedback which provides a best of both worlds for gaming and typing. Browns were my first switch and I still love them today, quiet but with enough feedback to make the keyboard feel special.

Here is a diagram showing the switches motion, you can see that there is a noticeable tactile bump as the switch is depressed:



Type: Tactile Switch
Link: http://docs-europe.electrocomponents...6b8014611b.pdf
Tactile: Yes
Clicky: No
Actuation Force: 45g (55g Peak Force) (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

Cherry Blues, the typists switch.



MX blues are the iconic “clacky” switches, the noise always makes me think of primary school computer lessons using Apple and BBC computers. They are generally considered to be the noisiest switches and I would agree, the tactile bump of the browns has been replaced with the audible click of the blue switch.

Blue switches aren’t recommended for gaming but that doesn’t mean that you cannot use them for gaming. I spent a weekend gaming on my board with blues and had no issue with the tactile feedback nor did I experience issues with key spamming. The release point of the blue switch is above the actuation point, if you hover over the actuation point of a rubber dome key then you may have an issue with key presses not being registered. I did however notice the blue switches click whilst gaming, this was a small but constant reminder of the real world and I find gaming with the blues less immersive.

At work I use blue switches all day long and I cannot tell you how much of a joy they have been. I love typing on them and the audible click makes me want to type faster! If you are a heavy handed typer and constantly bottom out the keys then blue switches are very loud. This can be rectified in two ways, type in a lighter fashion or use rubber o-rings. These are fitted to the rear of the key and soften the blow against the base of the switch. I tried O-rings for about an hour and hated it, they remove the smooth motion and just spoilt the keyboard for me.

Here is a diagram showing the switches motion, you can see the tactile bump and that the release point is above the actuation point:



Type: Tactile & Clicky Switch
Link: Datasheet
Tactile: Yes, precise
Clicky: Yes
Actuation Force: 50g (60g Peak Force) (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

Cherry Blacks, the heavy handed gamer switch.



I don’t like black switches.I bought a KBC Poker with black switches and used it for both typing and gaming. The switches just felt too heavy and linear, I know that this is exactly what they are supposed to be but I couldn’t get passed it. After about 20 minutes of typing the back of my hands started to hurt, this was even worse when gaming especially in my little finger! Owww!

The switches are loved by many for both gaming and typing, I didn’t get the same special feeling from them that I got from the blues or browns. I can see why some people love them, lovely smooth action and it is quite hard to bottom out on them which makes them very quiet.

Here is a diagram showing the switches motion, you can see that there is no tactile bump and that the release point the same as the actuation point:



Type: Linear Switch
Link: Datasheet
Tactile: No
Clicky: No
Actuation Force: 60g (40g-80g overall)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

Cherry Reds, the gamers switch.



This will be the shortest section of my guide as I don’t have any experience of them yet. All I can say is that they have a linear action and are lighter than black switches making them perfect for gaming but apparently this can cause problems when typing as you can’t really rest your fingers on the keys without getting unwanted key presses.

Here is a diagram showing the switches motion, you can see that there is no tactile bump and that the release point the same as the actuation point:



Type: Linear Switch
Link: Datasheet
Tactile: No
Clicky: No
Actuation Force: 45g
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

Finally here are a few videos showing you the noise generated by each switch:




Last edited by longweight; 15th Jul 2012 at 09:06.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:35   #2
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Layouts

If you are American then you will more than likely have grown up with ANSI layout boards, if you are lucky enough to be English then you will be more familiar with the ISO keyboard layout.

The two layouts have only a few differences but in my eyes they do make a big difference. All of my keyboards are ANSI and I struggle to use ISO boards now due to the small changes between the two.

So first off here are the two layouts:

ANSI



ISO



As you can see the layouts are very similar, the differences are:

ANSI has a longer left shift, this replaces the short shift of ISO and the \ key.
ANSI has no dedicated # button, this is number button 3 on the shift layer.
ANSI has a smaller ENTER key, this facilitates the \ key sitting above ENTER.
ANSI also has a different shift modifier on the number 2 button, this is @ not ", if you are a mac user then this won't be an issue for you.
ANSI has the tilde button located next to number button 1, on ISO the grave accent key is found here.

Form Factors

100% Size Boards

Traditional ANSI and ISO boards have 105 keys with the number pad on the right hand side.




~80% Size Boards

Many mechanical keyboards have no number pads, this is called TenKeyLess (TKL) layout which is slightly misleading as you lose more than just 10 keys. You actually lose 17 keys in total but I guess the TKL name comes from the number of numerical keys lost. Many brands offer true TKL boards, Filco, Ducky, Realforce CM Storm, the list goes on and I will cover the manufacturers in the sources section.

I really like TKL layout, it means that you have much more deskspace to work on and brings your mouse hand in closer to the keyboard making it quicker and easier to type. The one downside is obviously the loss of the number pad. I spend most of my day at a computer doing AutoCAD / Excel work and I couldn’t live without a number pad in the office. To solve this problem I bought a Logitech wireless number pad which sits on the left hand side of my keyboard, this allows me to input numbers very quickly without moving my hand off the mouse.

Voila!



The other thing to consider is ASCII code input. You cannot use the number row of the keyboard to do this so a number pad is essential, some boards such as the Noppoo Choc Mini have an embedded keypad but this has to be accessed through the FN and NUMPAD keys which a bit of a faf.

75% and Below Sized Boards

This is where things start to get really interesting! Once you go smaller than TKL the layouts change drastically. Many functions are combined so you will start using the FN regularly to access keys like ESC, F1-F12, number pads, arrow cluster and the lesser used keys such as insert, print screen etc...

If you find the jump from ISO to ANSI too much then I would not recommend going for a smaller board as it takes a while to learn each new layout. I have taught myself to reserve judgement on a board for at least a week as I usually get quite annoyed by the strange layouts each company uses, there is no standard way of doing things as each board is slightly different.

Two extreme examples of smaller keyboards would be:

Happy Hacking KeyBoard 2 (HHKB2):



KBC Poker:



while boards such as the Noppoo Choc Mini and KBT Race are slightly less drastic with the key cull.

Noppoo Choc Mini:



I will be reviewing all of my boards soon and I currently have:

Black Filco TKL Ninja ANSI with browns
Black Noppoo Choc Mini ANSI with blues
White Noppoo Choc Mini ANSI with browns
Grey HHKB2 with Topre switches - in transit to me
Black KBC Poker with Blues - will be ordered in the next couple of weeks if I can find one!

Last edited by longweight; 4th Jun 2012 at 07:49.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:35   #3
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Key caps

Zinc caps

Ok so the Zinc key caps I ordered from Feng's group buy over at Geekhack.org have arrived!

Hurrah!



Well the excitement died after about 30 seconds. The caps are beautiful and have a lovely feel to them but they don't fit! Ripster did a much better job of reviewing these caps here so I won't say too much about it. I might be able to force the caps on but I am not willing to try that with my Filco!



Me attempting to make one of them fit:



The keys seem to have quite large variations in wall thickness and also how the stem fits in, some only have the X like a standard MX cap but some have a clean cross cut across them:



The one I broke then decided to fit so here it is!





The keys feel lovely and make a very different sound which I quite like, I would probably fall in love with the noise if I ever got them to all fit! Here is a quick sound comparison, first I bottom them all out once, then I bottom them out a few times and then I press them each gently one time....



Over all I think I paid about $100 for them which is pants as they are lovely to look at and touch but they don't fit yet....


Aluminium Caps

I love couriers! I ordered these caps on Tuesday from the Netherlands and they arrived today!

The caps are Closer to Cherry profile but they still fit wonderfully on my FIlco, there is a noticeable difference in key height and I think that the pictures below demonstrate this. The keys are certainly heavier which makes the keys feel lighter, I have brown switches on my Filco and I feel a spring change coming on The aluminium stays very cool which is lovely, such a nice material to type on!

The key caps are amazing quality, each one fitted perfectly and they all sit properly, I need to jiggle a few around but there are none that really stand proud or sit wonky. I have been hunting for these for about a year now and Webwit was kind enough to let me join a very special club

I have tried to weigh them both at work on our postal scales and also at home on some cooking scales, the aluminium R1 keys weighed 7g and 3g respectively which is quite a wide range! I will try to get a more accurate weight tomorrow.

Ok so on with the pictures!























Sorry for the poor image quality, all pictures were taken on my iPhone as I don't have my camera with me!

I will take some better pictures if people want them soon

Here is the typing test, I have tried to type normally which does involve some bottoming out and to also press the keys as lightly as possible.


Last edited by longweight; 2nd Jun 2012 at 15:28.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:35   #4
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Manufacturers
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:36   #5
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Manufacturers

UK Sources


There are very few UK based suppliers of mechanical keyboards, most carry quite a limited range too. I have listed the UK suppliers and given details if I have used them.



UK based supplier of Filco, Topre and some other strange keyboards! I bought my first mechanical keyboard from these guys and the service is great, I’ve never heard a bad thing about them! The site does display the prices ex VAT by default so be careful when looking at the pricing!



Scan offers a limited range of mechanical keyboards, mainly Corsair and Coolmaster.

We all know Scan's service record.



Amazon offers a few boards, mainly listed by individuals so they may disappear quickly once the seller has sold the few that he has.

Always worth checking to see if Amazon stocks the board that you are considering as the prices are pretty good!




CCL are about to start carrying Ducky boards, no confirmation of exactly which boards will be in stock yet but most are to be ISO layout for you UK layout fans!

I have never used CCL myself, heard good and bad things.





eBay is great for finding cheap mechanical boards, not many used ones come up in the UK but plenty of overseas sellers ship to the UK and the shipping prices are reasonable.

Qtan5370 is great, regularly updates the stock and is easily contactable through Geekhack and Deskthority.

I have bought a couple of things from him and always been happy with the service.


Overseas Sources


Most sites will ship to the UK, again I will add my own experiences where possible.



EliteKeyboards are probably the US equivalent to keyboardco here in the UK. They supply Realforce, PFU and Leopold boards along with some great accessories. Elitekeyboards are the only place that carries stock of Topre key caps and they cost a lot!

I have only bought clacks from them so no idea yet on service but I hear that it is very good. Shipping to the UK is steep, $55!



Smartimports supply HHKB's and occasionally Realforce kit. They are based in Japan and shipping takes around 5 day if you pay for the fast service which isn't much.

Great communication and packaging, I will be buying from them again!




Geekstuff4u supply a range of boards and accessories, good pricing and shipping from Japan.

The only source that I know of for the HHKB JP version, I haven't bought from them in the past but I will be doing so soon!



Are based in China and France selling a range of boards such as KBT, KBC, Noppoo, Filco and Keycool.

Last edited by longweight; 8th Jul 2012 at 21:54.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:36   #6
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Article Sources

Ok the following links are where I found the images and datasheets used in the above guide:

GIF's and datasheets

Switch images

Youtube video of switches

Ripster's Zinc cap review

Last edited by longweight; 28th May 2012 at 18:30.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:43   #7
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I found this video to be a bit better for getting sound levels, typing styles and what it would sound like with or without the rubber gasket "mod". Plus they're all from the same manufacturer, because I've tried a Black Widow with browns and it feels and sounds a lot different than my WASD keyboard with browns.

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Old 23rd May 2012, 22:45   #8
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OK thanks, I will also include that one in the OP.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 23:12   #9
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I'm kinda new to mechanical but I have a steelseries 7G with black switches, got to say I love it.
I was wondering if it's possible to change the actual switches or is it a solder job?
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Old 23rd May 2012, 23:15   #10
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It isn't really worth it, it would require resoldering all of the switches. Sell it and try another board!
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Old 23rd May 2012, 23:41   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by longweight View Post
It isn't really worth it, it would require resoldering all of the switches. Sell it and try another board!
108 keys to desolder and then 108 to resolder, unless you're REALLY REALLY good with the iron, it would be faster and cheaper to just buy a new keyboard.


Plus if you don't like the new switch you could just return the keyboard instead of repeating the process all over again.
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Old 24th May 2012, 00:01   #12
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Although I'm not to bad with a soldering iron thats to much soldering lol I like the keyboard and gaming on it is fine for me tbh the only niggle is the space bar needs to be hit in the middle to work every time.

I'll keep it and just buy another keyboard I have 5 rigs lol
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Old 24th May 2012, 11:42   #13
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Awesome work so far LW, keep it up!
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Old 24th May 2012, 11:58   #14
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Another absolutely great community guide from the Bit Tech community!

Rock out! Great work Longweight!
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Old 24th May 2012, 12:25   #15
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Personally don't see the need for the thread since the info is available in pretty much the same format on several other sites.

But good work none the less, hopefully will mean less of the exact same questions happening in the Mechanical Keyboards thread.
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Old 24th May 2012, 12:26   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GeorgeStorm View Post
Personally don't see the need for the thread since the info is available in pretty much the same format on several other sites.

But good work none the less, hopefully will mean less of the exact same questions happening in the Mechanical Keyboards thread.
That was my idea and to group all of the information into one guide i.e. layouts, key caps etc... It can take quite a while to find all that information on GH / DT. It might be pointless but I am enjoying doing it and learning more about keyboards!
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Old 24th May 2012, 13:50   #17
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Ace. This is good.

Still loving my cherry g80 with blues at work. But I want a das keyboard with Brown's. Need the dosh though...
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Old 24th May 2012, 14:15   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GeorgeStorm View Post
Personally don't see the need for the thread since the info is available in pretty much the same format on several other sites.
What are the sites? I don't know what they are? I didn't have much more than a passing interest in Mechanical Keyboards before reading the above. The mechanical keyboard thread has levels of bloatware similar to that found on an Acer laptop.

The above succinctly summarises the different keycaps for Mechanical keyboards, and is a useful addition to the community. Shall we just have one hardware site for everything, and one writer for every review? Should Bit Tech and Anandtech even bother to review new GPUs or CPUs? After all the reviews are available in pretty much the same format on several other sites.

Longweight has taken the time out of his day to write a guide for the benefit of the community, and for that I applaud him.
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Old 24th May 2012, 14:15   #19
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Have you seen Hamza's FS thread in the marketplace?
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Old 24th May 2012, 14:17   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Parge View Post
What are the sites? I don't know what they are? I didn't have much more than a passing interest in Mechanical Keyboards before reading the above. The mechanical keyboard thread has levels of bloatware similar to that found on an Acer laptop.

The above succinctly summarises the different keycaps for Mechanical keyboards, and is a useful addition to the community. Shall we just have one hardware site for everything, and one writer for every review? Should Bit Tech and Anandtech even bother to review new GPUs or CPUs? After all the reviews are available in pretty much the same format on several other sites.

Longweight has taken the time out of his day to write a guide for the benefit of the community, and for that I applaud him.
Calm down, no offence was meant.
For the record, Deskthority and Geekhack are the best sites for information in my opinion.
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