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There are two major types of keyboards around, membrane and mechanical. What they are and how they function, we can discuss down below; but if you were to take mechanical keyboards to the test when it comes to gaming, what would the answer to “Are mechanical keyboards better for gaming” be?
Mechanical keyboards are better for gaming. They’re much more customizable, much more functional, and much more durable than membrane keyboards.
This can be observed if you take top-o’-the-line keyboards from gaming giants like Razer, Logitech, Corsair, and Steelseries, just to name a few.
Mechanical Keyboards vs Membrane Keyboards
So before we get into why mechanical keyboards are better for gaming, it might be good to take a cursory look at what the main differences between a mechanical keyboard and a membrane or rubber dome keyboard are. After all, if one thing is better than the other… the two have to be different.
So at the base of it, mechanical keyboards differ from membrane keyboards in that mechanical keyboards have plastic switches beneath the keycap while membrane keyboards don’t have any physical plastic switch mechanism underneath the keycap. That’s why membrane keyboards don’t make as much sound as mechanical keyboards; it’s way mushier inside a membrane keyboard.
The switch being there in the mechanical keyboard makes all the difference since that’s the part that decides how your keyboard behaves. How it responds, if it gives you feedback, is it snappy or does it take some energy to type on. These are all things that are related to what lies underneath the keycaps of your keyboard.
Membrane keyboards don’t have any plastic switches underneath, they have membranes onto which circuits or patterns have been engraved, and when you press a key, the circuit is completed and a signal flows to the system. Membrane keyboards feel mushier than mechanical keyboards, they age worse, they aren’t as durable and consistent as mechanical keyboards and they generally lack the functionality that a mechanical keyboard has to offer.
Membrane keyboards are relatively common and understandably so; mechanical keyboards are usually more expensive than membrane keyboards and membrane keyboards still get the job done… so why not? But if you’re a gamer -or anybody that cares about their craft and their equipment for that matter- “getting the job done” means another level of performance out of your keyboard since, in a competitive gaming environment, every little advantage that you can get your hands on counts and your keyboard is probably up there in what makes or breaks your gaming success.
Just take the n-key rollover feature, for example, something that can be crucial to fast-paced, snappy games. Typical membrane keyboards don’t have the same ability to notice simultaneous keystrokes that mechanical keyboards may and when you’re gaming you can type pretty fast since you want to win against some pretty daunting gaming competition. Mechanical keyboards often have better key rollover so they can cope with the pressure and demand of the game much better than membrane keyboards.
Are mechanical keyboard better for gaming?
Let us now go down to specific differences and reasons that separate the two as well as make one superior over the other.
Functionality and switch diversity
Functionality can be a vague word but here it simply means that a mechanical keyboard can serve you better if you’re a gamer membrane keyboard can.
A big part of why mechanical keyboards come out on top when it comes to performance is the mechanical switch that they use. As mentioned above, that makes all the difference.
Mechanical keyboards come with three types of switches although there are many many different switches that belong to the same type. The three types are linear, tactile, and clicky mechanical switches.
Linear switches are switches that don’t offer any feedback on actuation, they’re fast and snappy and you may easily push them down to the end or in other terms, bottom them out. These may be good for games that require snappy reactions but may be prone to unintentional key presses if they’re too light to the touch. Examples include Cherry MX Red and Cherry MX Black switches.
Tactile switches are one of the two switches that do offer feedback on actuation i.e. they let you know when the keypress has been registered. Membrane keyboards don’t do that until you bottom them out; you wouldn’t know for sure whether or not you have pressed the key far enough. Tactile switches, as the name implies, give tactile feedback like a bump in the middle of the travel where the keypress is registered by the system. The most typical example of this type of switch is the Cherry MX Brown although as mentioned, there are many different types of switches within every category and each switch can be just a little different. These are middle of the way kind of switches so they’re great both for games and for people that have to type a lot… like writers and journalists, etc.
The third type of mechanical switches are Clicky switches. These are the second type of the two switches that offer feedback (the first ones being tactile switches). They just give feedback in a different way i.e. the feedback they give is more audible than what you might get with a tactile switch and these are generally louder as well. They’re harder to press than the other types of switches and some switches like the Cherry MX Greens or Cherry MX Blues may remind you of how typewriters sound. They’re better suited for writers that want to avoid typos and they may not be suitable for people that prefer light keypresses. These may be applicable for games that don’t require snappy reactions but demand accuracy and deliberation on each keystroke.
Notice how even at the level of general categories, different types of switches hold specific advantages for different types of games. And the exciting thing is that these advantages become more and more utilizable as you get into the specific types of switches. Like do you want a keyboard that’s quiet and snappy? Do you want a keyboard that lets you type faster and gives you feedback so that you don’t make any mistakes? Or do you want a keyboard that requires deliberation and gives you quite the audible feedback? That’s all available when it comes to mechanical keyboards and there’s a ton of variety in every category of switches.
Customizability and ergonomics
Since there’s a ton of variety when it comes to mechanical keyboards and you can change the type of switch you use, your customizability goes up way higher than what you would get with a regular old membrane keyboard. Some keyboards come with switches that can just be swapped out for other switches which gives your keyboard pretty much all the customizability that you may want. Other keyboards require more work in order to replace one switch for the other but the point is that you may still be able to do it. That’s not something you get in membrane keyboards.
The thing about mechanical keyboards is that since they have the basic advantage of having plastic switches… that are more functional, feel better, respond better, and have more options, the industry has capitalized on them. That means that manufacturers don’t just go around trying to cram functionality into the type of keyboard that had the disadvantage to start with. So with mechanical keyboards, you get improvements and iterations of design so that the market is always kept up to date. With that comes competition and so mechanical keyboards come with a lot of customizability and design advantages because of the focus that the market places on them.
For example, Kinesis and ErgoDox are a couple of brands that focus on ergonomics, and both of them, by no surprise, use mechanical keyboards. The variations come in the form of split designs and stuff like that but comfort can be more of a focus in the mechanical keyboard domain compared to membrane keyboards.
Programmability and companion software
Since we’re talking about gaming here, the subject of companion software becomes much more relevant since companion software helps so much in regulating and administrating your gaming experience. You can do a bunch of stuff on these softwares as mentioned below. Typical examples may be Razer’s Synapse, Logitech’s G-Hub, and Corsair’s iCUE.
- You can create different layouts and different profiles which can be saved. If there is more than one user or if you want to have different profiles, that’s an available option. With some gaming keyboards, you can switch between the layouts on-the-fly.
- Keys can be re-binded or remapped to suit your specific gaming needs.
- There are dedicated keys for macros so you won’t need to compromise on any existing key if you want to bring one more function into your gaming experience.
- You can also customize RGB settings to have different patterns or different themes set up on your keyboard. This will depend on the keyboard itself so just like with other functions, look for the keyboard that suits you best.
Macro keys are one of the nifty features that can be ever so valuable for the best gaming experience. Typical mechanical keyboards may not have all the functions of a good gaming keyboard available but if you buy a keyboard from any of the established brands, chances are that the keyboard comes with some sort of companion software if you want to do any adjustments.
Build quality, durability, and consistency
Mechanical keyboards are also known for their sturdiness compared to other types of keyboards, especially membrane keyboards. They have much better build quality which is partly why they’re more expensive than membrane keyboards. And really, the only reason that membrane keyboards may be around, being such a common sight, is because they’re cheaper and they get the job done well enough.
So mechanical keyboards can take some pounding when you’re prancing on those buttons during an RPG or an MMO or a battle royale game. They’re much more consistent than membrane keyboards so your keys won’t get wobbly over time. And add to that some lubrication when needed and your mechanical keyboard will see you through some demanding times.
Typical mechanical switches are rated for 50 million keystrokes and this goes up to 70 and even a hundred million depending on how much you want to invest in your keyboard. That’s compared to the typical 5 million keystroke lifespan of the membrane keyboard so the difference is obviously astounding.
You can easily find mechanical keyboards that have PBT keycaps that will last you longer than other cheaper keycaps that might get with a membrane or rubber dome keyboard.
Brands like Razer also offer quick return policies and 2-year warranties with their products so you should be covered from all sides in the unlikely case that your keyboard develops some defect.
Not only are membrane keyboards flimsier, but they’re also relatively inconsistent, they don’t have the same functionality, they might be designed with cheaper material so the build quality might suffer.
Mechanical keyboards have been around for a long time even though you may not see them around in offices or typical set-ups. That is partly due to them being more expensive than membrane keyboards. But they have tons of advantages over membrane keyboards and most manufacturers like Razer, Logitech, Steelseries, etc. champion mechanical gaming keyboards. You might never see a gaming giant championing a membrane gaming keyboard because of the same reasons mentioned above.
Mechanical keyboards work much better, they offer more functionality, they’re often programmable, they come with dedicated macros which can be priceless in gaming, they’re more durable, more consistent, offer better build quality, and what’s more; there’s so much variation available in mechanical keyboards that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that suits your personal needs exactly as they might need to be addressed.
So if you’re looking to invest in a better keyboard; to take your gaming to the next level, mechanical keyboards are the way to go. They won’t be hard to find and you can easily find top-tier mechanical keyboards from gaming giants all around. They’re packed with the sort of functionality that you’re generally not likely to see in membrane keyboards and they can really be the stepping-stone to take your gaming experience to the next level.