What is a Mechanical Keyboard? (And How They Work)

Mechanical keyboards have come back into popularity especially with gamers. But if this is the first time you are hearing about them, here is an explanation about what a mechanical keyboard is.

What is a mechanical keyboard? A mechanical keyboard is a computer keyboard that has mechanical contact switches with a return spring under each key. This is different from the silicon/rubber dome cup style for each key, delivering a better tactile response.

While you get a better tactile response from a mechanical keyboard, there are various types of mechanical switches.

Depending on your personal preference, mechanical switches in keyboards can be designed with specific properties that will be more suited to your taste.

mechanical key on mechanical keyboard
Mechanical Key
inside of an ordinary membrane keyboard
Membrane Keys

More about what a mechanical keyboard is

Mechanical keyboards have actual switches under each key as mentioned before.

However, these switches can be designed with these following properties in various levels and combinations to suit an individual’s preferences.

  • Actuation point: This is the travel distance when the key is pressed and reaches the point at which the key is registered electronically. It is usually accompanied by a click or a slight bump of a feeling.
  • Actuation force: This is the required mass in order to complete a keystroke. Usually defined in the grams scale. For example, it takes 40g to complete a full keypress.
  • Travel distance: This is the total travel distance from the point before the key is pressed, to the point at which no more travel is possible at the bottom of a keypress.
  • Sound level: How much ‘click sound’ or noise is given off when a key is pressed and released.
  • Behavior: There are three main categories of behavior. Linear: The keystroke if consistent and smooth. Tactile: Has a bump around the actuation point of the keypress. Clicky: A sharp click sound is accompanied near the actuation area of the keypress.

How do these switches and their differences benefit you?

Depending on whether you are a person that prefers some sound when pressing a key, like a sharp click or a dull clack, or maybe very little sound, could be one of the things you feel is important to you.

Another thing could be the feel when pressing keys as you are typing. Having a key that responds quickly when you press it, or maybe you prefer some travel before the key is activated on your computer.

All these sensations you experience while typing can be more tailored so you get a more satisfying feeling as you are typing.

If you are a gamer, it will be more about the feeling and response you get when pressing the keys.

How long do mechanical switches last?

Mechanical switches have a longer lifespan compared with membrane-based keyboards.

Mechanical switches can last anywhere between 20 to 50 million keystrokes compared to the 5 million keystrokes of membrane-based keyboards.

Related Questions

What is the benefit of a mechanical keyboard?

There are a few different benefits when it comes to mechanical switches:

  • Longer lifespan.
  • Personal customization of sound and feel.
  • More of a solid feeling with keystrokes.

There are more, but these are some of the bigger, more important advantages.

Are mechanical keyboards more expensive?

In general, yes they are more expensive. This is due to the increased materials and complexity of their manufacturing process. Mechanical keyboards are simply a better quality product compared with membrane keyboards.


A mechanical keyboard is a must since I changed over to one. If you want to see my personal favorite keyboard, I talk about it in this article and why I chose it.

Give one a try and see what you think. It’s a completely different feel to a rubber dome keyboard and it may improve your typing skills too.