6 Reasons Why Mechanical Keyboards Are So Heavy
If you’ve used a mechanical keyboard or held one in your hands, you would’ve noticed they are heavy. There’s a significant weight difference when you compare them with membrane keyboards, which you’ll find commonly in offices and other workspaces. So, why are these keyboards so heavy?
- 1. Mechanical Keyboard Cases Use Thick and Heavy Materials
- 2. Keyboard Cases Can Come With Metallic or Wooden Inserts
- 3. Mechanical Keyboards Have High-Quality Keycaps
- 4. Switches Increase Keyboard Weight
- 5. The PCB Contributes to the Mechanical Keyboard’s Weight
- 6. Plate, Stabilizers, and Other Parts Affect the Weight
Mechanical keyboards are heavy as the case is made from aluminum and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic. Cases also sometimes come with metal inserts to increase their weight. High-quality keycaps made from ceramic and thick polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) plastic increase the weight.
In this article, I’ll highlight the various components that make mechanical keyboards heavy. I’ll also cover why heavy parts are preferred in the mechanical keyboard space.
1. Mechanical Keyboard Cases Use Thick and Heavy Materials
All the working components of a mechanical keyboard reside in the case. In other words, this is the bottom part of the mechanical keyboard.
Generally, it uses materials like plastic and metal, but sometimes, you may also come across peripherals that use wood.
Cheaper keyboards tend to use acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic. Although you’ll find this material in the lower price range, this type of plastic is durable. Adding weight to the case is helpful as this stabilizes the base.
If you type with a lot of force or play video games and use the keyboard on a smooth surface, there’s a high chance the peripheral will move. Not only is this inconvenient, but it also affects your typing accuracy.
Increasing the weight of the case makes it harder to move the keyboard when you use it.
Look at keyboards in the mid or upper price ranges, and you’ll notice that the cases use metallic materials like aluminum. You may also find stainless steel variants, which are hefty. Certain keyboards also come with wooden cases.
Metallic cases, especially those made from aluminum and stainless steel, last longer because they are more durable.
Generally, they can be from a single metallic block, which makes the keyboard heavy. For instance, anodized aluminum is a common keyboard case material on premium peripherals. However, you can also find keyboards that use thin metal sheets to reduce weight.
Aluminum and plastic are common mechanical keyboard case materials as they are easy to manufacture and produce at scale.
Another reason why people prefer cases that use heavy materials is because of how it sounds when you type.
When the keycaps touch the plate or the printed circuit board (PCB), it produces distinct sounds. With different materials, you can change these sounds according to your preferences.
Also, people tend to associate heavy cases with premium products, which is why manufacturers tend to add weight to their keyboards.
2. Keyboard Cases Can Come With Metallic or Wooden Inserts
The whole point of getting mechanical keyboards is that you can customize them to your heart’s content.
Some people prefer heavier keyboards for various reasons. For instance, they are heavy-handed while gaming, which will move the keyboard. Not only is this distracting, but it also makes the experience of using the keyboard unpleasant.
Others prefer to change the sound profile of the keyboard as they don’t like how the keys sound with the stock case. This can be noticeable when you bottom out the keys, i.e., you push the keys all the way down.
One way to increase the weight is to add an insert at the bottom of the case. Depending on the keyboard, the insert can also improve the weight balance, enhancing the feel of the peripheral.
Now, you can get inserts made from brass and stainless steel, as they are heavy materials. You may also find wooden ones.
Based on your preferences, you can increase the total weight of the keyboard by 2.2 lbs (1 kg) with these types of inserts.
3. Mechanical Keyboards Have High-Quality Keycaps
As highlighted earlier, mechanical keyboards provide a typing experience like no other type of keyboard in the market. Every component is designed to enhance the feel of the keyboard, especially the keycaps.
It’s not a given that you’ll get high-quality keycaps in every mechanical keyboard. In most cases, they are only reserved for premium models.
However, this hasn’t stopped people from upgrading their keycaps to improve the tactile feel of the keyboard.
Types of Keycaps and Materials
These days, you can get keycaps in various shapes and sizes. Some common types of keycaps are Cherry, DSA, OEM, SA, and XDA. Generally, they use materials like ABS and PBT plastic.
Cheaper keycaps are made from ABS, while the premium versions use PBT. However, there are also other materials that aren’t as common as plastic.
There are keycaps made from ceramic. When compared to plastic versions, these variants are relatively heavy. For example, it is possible to find ceramic keycaps that weigh 0.13 oz (3.75 g) per key. If you were to replace four keys WASD, the total weight would go up by 0.52 oz (15 g).
Let’s assume you’re running a 100% keyboard, which will come with 104 or 108 keys. If you replace all of them with ceramic, the keyboard’s weight will go up by 13.75 oz (390 g – 104 keys) or 14.28 oz (405 g – 108 keys).
If you get a keyboard with a metallic case like aluminum with a brass insert, the keyboard will easily weigh over 2.2 lbs (1 kg).
Heavier keycaps that use PBT plastic also exist. They tend to be thicker than their counterparts, improving how the keys feel when you type on them. For example, you can find PBT keycaps where each key weighs 0.05 oz (1.6g).
To give you a comparison, if you were to use regular ABS or PBT keycaps (i.e., the ones that come default with the keyboard), they’d generally weigh under 0.03 oz (1 g) each. Now, this is not a lot individually.
However, when you consider all the keys on the peripheral, it contributes to the heaviness of the keyboard.
This is only referring to the mass-produced keycaps. If you were to go for artisanal keycaps, the weight of the keycaps could vary significantly.
Depending on the variant, you can find keys that use materials like resin, wood, plastic, and metal.
Although these keycaps aren’t functional, i.e., the design can get in the way of regular use, they add a creative touch to your keyboard.
As these keycaps aren’t mass-produced, they tend to be heavy, especially when you compare them with regular ABS and PBT keys. In fact, you’ll be able to find artisan keycaps where a single key can weigh 1.28 oz (32.2 g).
Let’s say you wanted to replace four keys with artisanal ones, as you don’t use them at all. These keycaps (just four) can add 5.12 oz (145 g) to the total weight of the keyboard. There are also peripherals where each key is metallic, which increases the weight significantly.
4. Switches Increase Keyboard Weight
One major difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards is switches. You can think of switches as parts that allow you to interact with your keyboard.
Membrane keyboards don’t have switches. Instead, when you press a key, it sends an electrical signal.
However, this isn’t the case with mechanical keyboards. Every key you see on the peripheral has individual switches.
Generally, when there is an issue with a single key on a membrane keyboard, you’ll most likely have to continue using the peripheral without the key or get a new one.
Fortunately, you don’t have to do this with mechanical keyboards, as you can swap out the damaged switch for a new part.
Another benefit of switches is that they are a lot more durable than what you’ll find inside a membrane keyboard.
However, the downside of high-quality switches is it increases the keyboard weight. The weight depends on the type of keyboard switch you use, but in most cases, they will weigh at least 0.03 oz (1 g).
Again, the total weight of the switches depends on your keyboard layout. If you only go for a 60% keyboard, the switches alone can contribute 2.18 oz (62 g, i.e., 62 keys).
The switches are essential in how it feels to type on the mechanical keyboard. It influences the keys’ sound when they touch the plate or PCB.
Also, it determines how much pressure you have to apply on the key and how far the key has to travel before it registers an input.
5. The PCB Contributes to the Mechanical Keyboard’s Weight
You might be surprised by how much the PCB weighs on a mechanical keyboard. This is because of all the components that are on this board.
The PCB is responsible for converting the electrical signals it receives when you press a key to be sent to the computer as input.
In other words, it helps the keyboard communicate with the computer. If you were to take apart a mechanical keyboard, you’d notice how crowded it is.
For starters, it contains resistors. These parts make it easier for the keyboard to understand the input, even when you press multiple keys (this will frequently happen if you play video games or use macros).
Also, most mechanical keyboards come with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). You can either get zonal RGB (i.e., you can change the color for a specific zone of keys) or per-key RGB, where you can change the color for each key individually. Some keyboards can also only display a single color.
Now, you need to power the keyboard, which you can do through a USB port attached directly to the PCB.
Some keyboards come with an additional USB port, which you can use to connect other peripherals, like a receiver for a wireless mouse.
Also, the PCB will have supporting circuitry if the mechanical keyboard comes with a knob. When you put all these components together, you won’t be surprised to learn that it can weigh over 3.5 oz (100 g).
If you have a wireless mechanical keyboard, which you can connect via a receiver or Bluetooth, the transmitting components will be on the PCB.
6. Plate, Stabilizers, and Other Parts Affect the Weight
The plate inside your mechanical keyboard plays an essential role. When you install the switches, you mount them on the keyboard plate, which ensures that the switches don’t move when you type.
However, this isn’t its only job, as it also influences the sound the keys make when it comes in contact with the plate. You get a higher pitch sound if you go for stiffer materials, like aluminum, brass, or stainless steel.
You can also get a deeper sound by opting for flexible options like FR4 or other similar plastic-based materials. You may also find carbon fiber plates inside if you pick up premium mechanical keyboards.
Stiffer materials are heavier as they easily weigh over 1.7 oz (50 g).
Another keyboard component that adds to the weight of the mechanical keyboard is stabilizers. When you examine a mechanical keyboard, you’ll notice that not all keys are the same size.
For example, keys like the space bar, backspace, enter, and shift are considerably longer than others. As a result, these keys need some sort of support to remain balanced. One way is to use stabilizers.
When you remove the keycaps of larger keys, you’ll notice they have different components at each end. This is the stabilizer, and it is usually connected via a metallic wire. A good quality stabilizer will ensure the key goes down smoothly.
Also, it prevents the keycap from rattling, which is unpleasant to your ears. The stabilizer and the wire can easily go over 1 oz (28.3 g) on a standard-sized mechanical keyboard.
Generally, premium keyboards come with additional parts designed to improve the sound and feel of the keyboard.
For example, if the manufacturer finds that the keyboard case sounds hollow, they may add rubber or foam. These materials absorb the sound when the keycaps bottom out.
Although they may not weigh as much when compared to other parts of the mechanical keyboard, they still increase the overall weight of the peripheral.
Mechanical keyboards are the most favored for gamers and non-gamers alike, making them suitable for most applications.
Luckily their weight doesn’t affect our daily lives for the most part and adds a better quality feel to them when using them.