Basic Keyboard Info
All you need to know to build your dream board
- How a keyboard is built
- Switches: The enthusiast guide
- Keycaps and profiles
- A list of the major keycap profiles
So you've decided to jump into this black hole of a hobby, but don't know where to start.
Nobody likes wasting hours on research, so I've done the research for you and organized the info here.
With the info from this section of the wiki, you can confidently work towards your dream keyboard without being tricked by marketing and hype.
== In progress ==
How a keyboard is built
To build a keyboard, you must know how one is built.
Here's a generalization of how most keyboards are built:
- Keycaps: What you press to type. The plastic bits at your fingertips.
- Switches and stabilizers: The parts that toggle as you press them. Can have differing weight, sound, and feel. Stabilizers (not pictured) make sure that large keys get pressed evenly instead of wobbling all over.
- Plate: What the switches snap into physically. Its material can affect sound and feel. Usually secured to the case.
- PCB: The brains of your keyboard. Reads the switches and sends the signals to your computer.
- Case: The box surrounding it all.
Of course, very unique keyboards can add and omit some of these parts. But for a general overview, you can expect most keyboards to be comprised of these parts.
Switches: The enthusiast guide
What the big brands don't tell you.
So, what are switches anyways?
To put it simply, they're just buttons.
They're similar to any general buttons such as ones on elevators, your car stereo, or even the power button on your phone. The only difference is that they're tuned to be used in a keyboard.
The three main types
If you come from buying mechanical keyboards sold by large brands, you may recognize this:
- Linear: They simply glide down until they hit the bottom. The actual key input is sent somewhere in the middle along the press (known as the actuation point).
- Tactile: There is a noticeable bump or finger-felt feedback along the press before they hit the bottom. A tactile feedback, as per its name.
- Clicky: A physical clicker makes an audible sound before the switch hits the bottom.
If you've read around before, a few colors may come to mind: red, brown, blue, black. However...
Feel the rainbow
The reality is that the main colors of switches offered by Cherry aren't anywhere close to the only ones.
In fact, they're often the least preferred switches of all.
Since the Cherry MX switch was originally produced starting in 1984 and their patents have expired, various brands produce compatible switches. Often, they are superior to authentic Cherry switches in the following ways:
- Linear - Non-Cherry brand switches are often smoother, and are offered in more variants of weights.
- Tactile - Non-Cherry brands often have significantly more tactile switches with a far more enjoyable feedback.
- Clicky - Non-Cherry brands often have a cleaner, crisper click.
The only way to know which exact switch is for you is to try them all.
Fortunately, I've compiled a flowchart so you can home in on your possible favorites quickly. More on that later.
One concern newcomers to the hobby often have is "off-brand" switches being more fragile than the authentic Cherry ones.
To put it simply, it is not of any concern.
Cherry switches and its clones are usually rated for 50 million keystrokes. That's how many times you need to press a single switch before it has a chance of breaking.
For reference, if you pressed a single key 3 times per second without eating, sleeping, or resting, you would need to need to do so for 192 days straight before the switch might break. You would break first.
Some people in this hobby harvest vintage switches from decades ago to reuse in their new keyboards. They still run fine after years of abuse.
Best of all, they're cheap and easy to swap if they ever do give out.