Mechanical keyboard switches: Here’s everything you need to know

Asus ROG Azoth keyboard with naked switches.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There’s one big question when buying your first mechanical keyboard: What switch should you use? Between more than a dozen brands, each with different switch models, it can be tough to know what switch is right for you. Each switch has a different feel and features, making the decision doubly difficult.

We’ve rounded up all of the mechanical keyboard switches from leading peripheral brands to help you sort through the options. There are many differences between keyboard switches, but the one you should use mostly depends on personal preference. If you still can’t decide after reading our guide, we recommend picking up an inexpensive mechanical keyboard switch tester to see what kind of switch works for you.

Important terms

When analyzing different switch types, it’s helpful to know what some of the terms and specifications for them actually mean. Here’s a handy list of some ways switches are described to help you better understand what that means for each switch.

  • Actuation point: Pressing a keyboard key doesn’t necessarily mean it’s been registered by your PC. For that, you have to hit the actuation point. The height of that differs from switch to switch, but all of them have one.
  • Actuation force: All keys require some pressure to press them down, but some switches require more force than others. That metric is known as actuation force, and it’s typically measured in grams. While that might be hard to imagine, just know that those with higher actuation force requirements tend to need a firmer press and can tire fingers out sooner when typing for long periods. They can help avoid miss-presses, however.
  • Clicky: Some switches make a light click when pressed; others make one that’s much more audible. Clicky switches are much louder.
  • Tactile: Some switches come with a tactile bump that lets you feel when you’ve reached the actuation point. On keyboards without it, you might feel the need to bottom out the key to confirm it’s been pressed.
  • Linear: Some switches lack a click or tactile bump, making them linear. These keys don’t have any physical force letting you know when the key has been pressed short of bottoming out the key. That makes them ideal for gaming, in particular.
  • Silent: So-called “Silent” switches are rarely that quiet, but they are usually quieter than other mechanical switch designs due to additional sound dampening within the switch itself, and likely in whatever keyboard they are fitted to.
  • Speed: Speed switches typically have shorter actuation points or the ability to manually adjust them so that they become shorter, thereby making actuation faster. Their actuation force is usually lower than other switch types, too.
  • RGB: RGB stands for Red, Green, and Blue and typically references multicolored backlighting offered by some keyboards. Most mechanical switches support RGB in some guise, but others have improved features, such as clear housings to improve light dissipation throughout the keycap.
  • Switch type: Mechanical switches are a switch type in their own right, but newer standards exist within that broader label, too. Optical switches use an optical sensor to detect when the switch has been actuated. That typically gives a faster actuation time than a more traditional mechanical switch, and they’re more durable with fewer moving parts. There are also magnetic switches, or “Hall Effect” switches, which can actuate just as fast and as quietly as optical, but with the ability to adjust actuation height dynamically with software. They also feel more like a traditional mechanical switch.

Cherry MX — Red, Black, Brown, Blue, Speed

Cherry is a switch manufacturer founded in 1953 and is rightly considered by many to be the grandfather of modern mechanical keyboards — because its switches were in all of them at one point or another. Although it does produce some keyboards of its own, it’s most well-known for its switches, which end up in keyboards from almost every mechanical keyboard manufacturer out there.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Red 45g No No
Black  60g No No
Brown  55g No Yes
Blue  50g Yes Yes
Speed (Silver)  45g No No

Cherry MX switches have a typical shelf life of 50 million actuations, so they should last several years before you run into any problems, even if you’re a prolific typist. Gamer favorites include the Red, Brown, and Speed switches for their light actuation force. The Speed switches are also slightly shallower than the others, allowing for a faster actuation.

Typists tend to enjoy the Brown and Blue switches for their tactile feedback, so a lighter touch is possible when typing. Some like the added click sound of the Blues, but it’s not for everyone.

Cherry MX switches are available in other, more niche guises that offer different combinations of clicks, actuation force, actuation distance, and tactile feedback. However, the above switches are the ones most commonly available in mainstream keyboards, particularly in Western markets. Cherry MX Green and Grey switches are tactile with an actuation force of 80g, but Green switches come with a click, while Greys do not. There are also Clear switches, which are tactile without a click, with an actuation force of 65g, and “silent” versions of Reds and Blacks.

You won’t encounter Grey, Green, or Clear switches out in the wild very often. You may, however, encounter Cherry low-profile switches. Cherry offers Red and Speed low-profile switches right now, and they’re identical to their larger counterparts in all ways but one: Low-profile switches have a total travel of 3.2mm, while standard switches have a travel of 4mm. It also has a few Ultra Low Profile switches, but those are very niche cases.

If you care about RGB lighting, buy a Cherry MX board with clear switch housings, as those provide better illumination throughout the entire keycap.

Logitech — Romer G, GL, GX

Logitech manufactures keyboards with Cherry MX switches in them, though it has slowly phased these models out for those with Logitech-branded switches. The GX models are identical to Cherry switches in almost every way.

Developed in partnership with prominent Japanese switch maker Omron, the Romer-G switches feature shallower actuation points than the Cherry MX switches. They also have a set of redundant contacts inside, which extend the switches’ life to 70 million keystrokes.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Romer-G Tactile 45g No Yes
Romer-G Linear  45g No No
GX Brown 50g No Yes
GX Red 50g No No
GX Blue 60g Yes Yes
GL Tactile 50g No Yes
GL Linear 50g No No
GL Clicky 50g Yes Yes

The two Romer-G switches are virtually identical, with the only difference being that one has tactile feedback and the other doesn’t. They’re both quiet, fast switches that are great for gaming and typing. Both Romer switches employ a hollow center, too, for placement of LEDs for backlighting. These have a much more uniform keycap lighting than other switches, like the Cherry MX alternatives.

GX Blue, Brown, and Red switches are nearly the same as their Cherry counterparts. The difference is slightly more actuation force on Blue and Red switches and slightly less force on GX Brown switches. The GX switches are also rated for 70 million keystrokes.

The GL switches are Logitech’s lower profile versions of its larger mechanical switches. They come in the same tactile, linear, and clicky options of the larger GX models, but have a shorter actuation height of just 1.5mm — compared to the 1.9mm on GX. They’re a little faster, and Logitech claims they allow for a more natural hand position and comfortable typing. You’ll find these in the excellent Logitech G915.

Razer — Green, Orange, Yellow, Opto-Mechanical

Razer is a phenom in the world of gaming gear, and mechanical keyboards are no different. When supply problems with Cherry MX switches hit in the mid-2010s, Razer began manufacturing its own switches, making up the bulk of its keyboard lineup, including the stellar BlackWidow range.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Green 55g Yes Yes
Yellow 45g No No
Orange  55g No Yes
Red Linear Optical Switch 45g No No
Purple Clicky Optical Switch 45g Yes Yes

Razer switches offer something slightly different from the more traditional switch manufacturers. While the Yellow switches and Opto-mechanical are light-touch actuation, the others require a slightly heavier actuation force. Most have tactile feedback, and the Green and Opto-Mechanical options are also clicky, with a distinctive sound when actuation occurs. The Green is effectively a Cherry MX Blue analog, while the Orange is a little closer to the MX Brown.

Green, Yellow, and Orange offer 80 million keystroke lifecycles per key and have off-center placement for RGB backlight LEDs.

The Opto-Mechanical switches are quite different. They employ an optical sensor that’s triggered when the key is pressed. It allows for what Razer claims to be the fastest actuation of any switch and even greater durability. Those switches are rated for up to 100 million keystrokes and come in linear and clicky styles.

SteelSeries — QX2, Optipoint, and OmniPoint

SteelSeries turned to Kaihua Electronics to design its mechanical switches, taking them through a couple of generations. What started with the QS1 has now evolved into the QX2, and it’s available in a variety of configurations. It now has mechanical, magnetic, and optical switch options.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
QX2QX2QX2 Red 45g No No
QX2 Blue 45g Yes Yes
QX2 Brown  45g No Yes
Optipoint Yellow Linear 35g No No
Optipoint Pink Tactile 55g No Yes
Optipoint Blue Clicky 55g Yes Yes
QX2 OmniPoint  45g No No

Some important factors of SteelSeries’ switches help them stand out from the pack, like the centrally-located LED, making for much better backlighting coverage throughout the keycap. They also all have a 45g actuation force requirement, making them light and snappy compared to some heavier-handed switches.

There are clicky and tactile versions in line with Cherry MX coloring, too. All SteelSeries switches are slightly shallower than contemporaries like Cherry MX and Logitec Romer G switches, allowing for slightly lower-profile keyboard designs. They are all rated for 50 million keypresses.

OmniPoint switches are rated for twice as long at 100 million key presses, but that’s not all that separates them. OmniPoint are magnetic switches and have an adjustable actuation distance. SteelSeries keyboards with OmniPoint switches allow you to adjust the distance on a per-key basis. The downside is that OmniPoint switches only come in a linear configuration, focusing more on gamers than typists.

For more variance, try its Optipoint optical switches, which are lighter and faster than Omnipoint if you don’t account for actuation distance. They come in linear, tactile, and clicky forms, with the yellow offering very light and fast operation.

Roccat — Titan

Roccat is a relative newcomer in the custom switch space, but it has already made quite an impact with its single Titan switch design. It makes bold claims and could be a force to be reckoned with in future years.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Titan Linear 45g No No
Titan Tactile 45g No Yes

Roccat claims to use higher-than-average-quality components in constructing its Titan switches, allowing for a 20% reduction in keypress detection time. It also enjoys a 1.8mm actuation point, meaning it registers even faster than traditional mechanical switches.

There are two versions of the Titan switch: tactile and linear. They’re mostly identical, though the linear switch has a 1.4mm actuation point and lacks the tactile switch’s signature bump.

The Titan also employs a central LED placement and a clear switch housing, allowing for a uniform spread of backlighting for each key.

Kaihua/Kailh — Red, Black, Brown, Blue

One of the longest-running mechanical switch manufacturers, Chinese-based Kaihua Electronics, has helped many Western keyboard manufacturers develop their own switches and has a selection of its own to offer, too. They are often affectionately termed Cherry MX clones because they almost entirely ape the classic Cherry MX design and feature set.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Red 50g No No
Black 60g No No
Brown 50g No Yes
Blue 60g Yes Yes

As with Cherry MX, Kaihua offers a selection of clicky, tactile, and linear switches with a variety of midrange actuation force ratings. All switches are rated for 50 million keystrokes per key and have the typical 2mm actuation point.

They support the same off-center LED backlighting as switches like Cherry MX, offering almost an identical feature set overall. However, they tend to come in at a lower cost than Cherry switches, so you’ll typically find Kaihua switches in more affordable mechanical keyboards.

Kaihua also has a range of more niche switches you can use in custom keyboards called “Box.” These come in a similar range of colors and types, though with a different stem design, which gives them a little more stability on the key press, and they have a higher IP rating, making them practically spill-proof.

It also has a range of “Speed” switches, which come in the same tactile, linear, and clicky options but with a shorter actuation point, and a few “silent” switches with additional sound dampening.

Gateron — Red, Black, Brown, Blue, Clear

Gateron, like Kaihua, makes Cherry clones and has been at it for quite some time. The company started making switches in 2000 and now offers a variety of choices matching Cherry’s offerings. There are a couple of distinctions in actuation force, but generally, Gateron’s lineup matches the Cherry lineup.

Switch Actuation Force Clicky Tactile
Red 45g No No
Black 50g No No
Brown 45g No Yes
Blue 55g Yes Yes
Green 80g Yes Yes
Yellow 50g No No
Clear 35g No No

The standard version of the Glorious keyboard consists of Gateron Brown switches, but you can always customize the keyboard with a different set of switches that you like better.

Gateron switches are pleasing to the touch, highly sensitive as they have a 2mm actuation point, and incredibly durable with a 50 million keystrokes rating.  They come in RGB variants and are fitted with a clear outside.

For Western markets, you won’t find Gateron switches frequently. They’re mainly targeted at mechanical keyboard enthusiasts and tend to pop up on boards like the Glorious GMMK in a modular fashion. Like Kaihua and other Cherry clones, no particular reason exists to go out and find a board with these switches. Nevertheless, we’re sure that Gaterons will suffice on a keyboard you’re keen on buying, even if it means foregoing Cherry switches.

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