Effective Programming

where agility meets computer science

May 16, 2020 - LB

Mechanical Keyboards - The Basics

What exactly is a mechanical keyboard?

I recently took an interest in workstation conveniences and more specifically, mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards vary by switch, casing and form factor. The following serves as a brief overview as I understand the space. Be sure to see my favorites in my followup article. Maybe you’ll find it helpful in your own quest for the perfect mechanical keyboard!


Switches fall into 2 broad categories, rubber dome and mechanical. Mechanical keyboards were original OEM equipment on many computers sold in the 80s and 90s but not anymore. Mechanical switches are generally preferred by gamers and niche groups that appreciate the aesthetic, customizability and feedback provided by the switch.

Mechanical switches generally fall into 3 groups: clicky, tactile, and linear. Clicky switches tend to have make the most noise and have the most distinctive audible and physical feedback. Tactile switches tend to focus on physical feedback, similar to clicky switches but noticably quieter (or just different sounding). Linear switches do not provide any physical or audible feedback.


A less obvious distinction is the casing. You might think that metal is naturally better then plastic but I’ve not found that to be the case :-) While metal certainly lasts longer then plastic, I generally prefer the feel and sound associated with a well made plastic case. The metal cases I’ve used tend to ring. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve come across some awful plastic builds and immediately sent them back but just keep it in mind as another dimension to consider. The casing contributes more to the overall feel of the keyboard than you might guess.

Form Factor

One of the more obvious distinctions has to do with the keyboard size and number of keys. Full-size keyboards typically have 4 sections: function keys, QWERTY keys, arrow and auxilliary keys, and then a number keypad. TKL (Tenkeyless) keyboards are similar to full size keyboards but do not include a number keypad section. This results in a width of about 80% of a full size keyboard. Mini keyboards shrink down even further and do so on 2 dimensions - dropping both the aux/arrow key and function key sections. This results in an overall size reduction of 60% that of a full size keyboard.

If this all makes sense to you, checkout my followup article where I discuss my favorites!

What do you think? Give me some feedback if you have a chance!