If you’ve made it to this post, you’re likely in the market for a new keyboard. And, it’s also likely that you’ve heard others talking about how awesome mechanical keyboards are and have probably been told that you need to get one.
But, are they really that great? Do they offer a significant improvement over membrane-style keyboards?
In this post, we’re going to dive into the differences between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards and discuss the pros and cons of each so that you have a better idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
*Note, though, that this isn’t a primer on what mechanical keyboards (and switches) are. This post will mainly discuss the pros and cons of mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards. For a rundown on the different mechanical switches, check out this guide.
It’s Important to Note that Not All Mechanical Keyboards Are the Same
Before we jump into the main differences between membrane and mechanical keyboards, it’s important to clarify that not all mechanical keyboards will perform the same.
So, if you hear someone say something like, “mechanical keyboards are great, but they’re also very loud,” the reality is that they have likely only experience using one type of mechanical keyboard (or, rather, one type of mechanical switch).
Mechanical keyboards get their name from the mechanical switches that are used on each key. And, there are a number of different switch styles.
- Certain mechanical keyboards come with switches that are lighter and have a lower actuation point (the distance the key must travel to register the click) and, thus, are able to produce quicker keystrokes. This is ideal for gaming, where quicker keystrokes can be the difference between victory and defeat.
- Other mechanical switches are a bit heavier, which can help with typing accuracy as they require more force and therefore help cut back on accidentally clicking the wrong key (typo).
- Some switches provide a very “clicky” sound which some users enjoy.
- Other mechanical switches are designed to be silent for those who need to use their keyboard in a work environment.
So, the reality is that, while membrane switches are, on average, quieter than the average mechanical keyboard, the reality is that you can find mechanical keyboards that were designed to be quiet. And, so there really aren’t a lot of instances where you can say that a membrane keyboard is a better option than a mechanical keyboard, because there are so many different variants of mechanical switches that, regardless of the user, there should be a specific type of switch that will meet that user’s needs.
In Terms of Cost, Membrane Keyboards Are More Affordable
There is really only one significant advantage that membrane keyboards have over mechanical keyboards and that is that membrane keyboards are cheaper to manufacture and, therefore, cost less.
So, if you don’t have a huge budget, but you still want features like RGB lighting or a full set of 104 keys (or even additional macro keys), you’ll find all of those things at lower price points on a membrane keyboard than you will on a mechanical keyboard.
For instance, as seen in the image above, you can find full-size membrane keyboards with backlighting for under $20. You can actually find quite a few budget mechanical keyboards under $50, and some even under $20. But the cheaper options typically come with the smaller tenkeyless (87-keys total) format.
So, overall, on a feature-for-feature basis (this means additional features outside of the typing experience itself), membrane keyboards will cost less than mechanical keyboards.
Performance in Typing and Gaming
On average, more users are going to find that typing and gaming on a mechanical keyboard is going to offer better performance than typing and gaming on a membrane keyboard. That’s not to say that membrane keyboards aren’t viable options for both typing and gaming. In fact, the real world difference between the two won’t be so significant that your typing and gaming will be taken to an extraordinary level just because you switched from a membrane keyboard to a gaming keyboard.
However, as there are different switch styles to accommodate a wide range of users, you can definitely find a keyboard option that is more tailored to your specific needs with a mechanical keyboard than you will with a membrane keyboard.
If you’re a gamer and you need a keyboard that has lighter keys and lower actuation distances for quicker keystrokes, a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX switches (or an equivalent) will be your best bet.
If you do a lot of typing, you’ll probably want to get a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches (or an equivalent) as they are heavier and will improve your typing accuracy (by reducing misclicks and typos). If you’re typing a lot in a work setting, you might want to check out a mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Brown switches (or an equivalent) as they are quieter and will still provide a solid all-around typing experience.
While Membrane Keyboards Cost Less, They Won’t Last As Long
Another important thing to remember is that, while membrane keyboards are cheaper to manufacture and, therefore, will cost less on average than a mechanical keyboard, mechanical keyboards also come with longer lifespans due to their better construction quality.
So, while a membrane keyboard might cost less now if it only lasts you a few years before wearing down, will it really be a better investment than a mechanical keyboard that costs more now, but will last a couple of years longer?
The Bottom Line: On Average, Mechanical Keyboards Are the Better Option
The reality of using any keyboard is that it is all going to come down to personal preference. If you’ve spent the last 10 years using a membrane keyboard, you’re going to find that switching to a mechanical keyboard is going to take a bit of time to get used to and adapt to. And, in that regards, even switching from one mechanical switch to another is going to take some time to adapt as well.
What this means is that, while certain mechanical switches might be tailor-made for specific use-cases, the reality is that most users will eventually adapt to whatever keyboard they have. So, while there may beadvantages that can be gained by switching from a membrane keyboard to a mechanical keyboard, the difference between being fully adapted to a membrane keyboard and fully adapted to a mechanical keyboard probably won’t be as significant as you’d think.
A mechanical keyboard with a switch-type that is best suited for your needs will likely feel better, but what kind of actual performance difference will that mean? For users who do a lot of typing, will the difference between a membrane keyboard and a mechanical keyboard result in a 2% increase in your words-per-minute rate? For competitive gamers, will a switch to a mechanical keyboard result in you winning 1% more of your matches?
Would those performance increases be worth it?
I think that will really depend on a user-to-user basis. But, most keyboard enthusiasts and gamers (and tech enthusiasts in general) are the types of consumers that are used to paying extra for small performance gains anyways. And, again, while mechanical keyboards cost more upfront, their long-term value will likely exceed that of a membrane keyboard.
So, the bottom line is that, while mechanical keyboards won’t take you from an average to a pro in both typing and gaming, the longer lifespan and the small real-world performance boost that they will likely provide will be worth it for the majority of users who are in the market for a new keyboard.