Mechanical vs. Membrane Keyboards: Advantages and Disadvantages

Even though mechanical keyboards have been around for quite a while, they only took off in popularity in the last decade. This is attributed to various factors, but the most notable one is probably the growth of the gaming sector. Today, many people enjoy the benefits of their mechanical keyboards, including non-gamers.

As with many similar things, there is still an active debate regarding the benefits and disadvantages of using a mechanical keyboard compared to a traditional membrane one. If you’re curious about what actually happens beneath your fingers with each keypress, read on.

How Membrane Keyboards Work

Membrane keyboards are very simple in their design. They can basically be seen as a device composed of several layers. The bottom layer is a circuit board with connectors that trigger each key. Above that is a membrane made of a flexible material like rubber, with contact points for each key elevated by default.

Finally, we have the actual keys sitting on top of the membrane. When a key is pressed, this squishes the membrane downwards, pressing the contact point to the circuit board and closing the circuit for that key. This allows the keyboard to register a keypress.

This design is cheap to produce and replicate, and it’s been the traditional approach for most desktop keyboards for a long time.

How Mechanical Keyboards Work

A mechanical keyboard is slightly more complicated than that. Each key has its own switch underneath the keycap, which is a mechanical device that activates when it reaches a certain threshold.

Key switches are defined by several characteristics, including the travel time required to register a keypress, the noise they produce when pressed, and the keystroke resistance they provide.

This makes mechanical keyboards very flexible in their design. Some require very light taps to trigger their keys. Others are known for making a loud clicking noise when typing, which is actually a desired feature by some users. But the most notable difference is reliability.

Mechanical keyboards tend to be much more predictable on each keypress—more on that below.

Membrane vs. Mechanical: Pros and Cons to Keyboards

As we mentioned earlier, membrane keyboards are quite cheap and easy to produce. This makes them ideal for low-cost office users or home users who don’t care that much about precision and the quality of their typing experience.

Membrane keyboards can also be quite sturdy, including in situations like spilled drinks. In addition, the simple design makes them easy to take apart and clean.

Some users also prefer the feeling of typing on a membrane keyboard as opposed to a mechanical one, despite the fact that mechanical keyboards are designed around the idea of typing comfort in the first place. Some typists can achieve high words-per-minute levels on membrane keyboards, but not so much on mechanical keyboards.

Mechanical keyboards are all about tactile feedback. Some value them for the comfortable typing experience, while others appreciate the higher level of control that they offer. However, that’s not universal, and it can take a while until you find the type of switches that work best for you.

On the note of switches, one notorious aspect of their functionality is that they make a distinct clicking noise on each keypress. This is actually a positive feature for many users, with some focusing on specific switch types because of the sound they produce.

Mechanical keyboard switch actuation and noise is a highly individual preference, but it’s worth noting that loud mechanical keyboards can be unsuitable for certain environments.

While not directly related to their mechanical operation, many mechanical keyboards also come with advanced features that make them more attractive for gamers and others who value a precise typing experience.

One notable example is anti-ghosting capabilities. Ghosting refers to the inability of inexpensive keyboards to register multiple key presses at once, often failing after the 4th or 5th key is depressed. This might not matter much to a regular user, but it can make a huge difference in contexts like gaming.

Many mechanical keyboards come with anti-ghosting functionality by default, although some membrane models also offer similar features. Generally, more expensive models can be expected to offer this out of the box, and it’s something that many buyers actively look for when searching for the ideal keyboard for themselves.

There’s also a huge market for mechanical keyboard keycaps. Because of the way most switches are designed, keycaps are typically easy to remove and exchange, opening a lot of potential for customizing and creativity.

This has become a particularly prominent trend with the advance of 3D printers in recent years, which has enabled many users to produce unique keycaps.

Are Mechanical Keyboards More Expensive?

It’s also important to consider the average price. Mechanical keyboards are generally seen as a premium product, and the average price of one reflects that. On the other hand, membrane keyboards can be bought very cheaply, to the point where some people don’t care about abusing and destroying them because they’re easy to replace.

The higher price point of mechanical models often also comes with nifty features like additional warranty and support. But ultimately, it’s because of the more expensive materials and production involved in those models. Mechanical keyboards can last a long time, but so can membrane models, with the average design withstanding more than 5 million key presses before beginning to show signs of wear.

Which One Should You Choose?

As we mentioned above, this is mostly a personal preference. The decision comes down to a matter of opinion. If you’ve never used a mechanical keyboard before, you should give one a try before choosing to invest any amount of money into one.

It’s something that you may discover you simply don’t like, and it’s important to know that before going down the rabbit hole of spending a lot of money on one.

Author: Stefan Ionescu

Source: Stefan Ionescu.” Mechanical vs. Membrane Keyboards: Advantages and Disadvantages”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/mechanical-vs-membrane-keyboards-advantages-disadvantages/

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