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Strange, Unusual, and Uncommon Mechanical Keyboard Switches

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From beams of light to tiny springs crammed into rubber domes, there’s a handful of mechanical keyboard switches that are hardly ‘mechanical’ at all.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the specs and designs of the most common non-traditional mechanical keyboard switches!

 

Razer Switches

Mecha-Membrane

Razer introduced their mecha-membrane design in 2016 and marketed it as a hybrid of traditional membrane keys and mechanical switches. Unfortunately, they were little more than typical rubber dome keys with clickers inside to resemble the sound of mechanical switches. This resulted in a long actuation distance that (ironically, given that they are clearly marketed toward gamers) wasn’t well-suited for gaming. These switches weren’t very popular, so the exact values below may not be 100% accurate, due to a lack of available information on them.

Actuation Force: ~60 grams

Actuation Distance: 2.5mm

Total Travel: 2.5mm

Mechanism: Membrane

Feel: Tactile + Clicky

Durability: Unknown (If they share durability with common membrane keyboards, ~5 million presses, but hopefully it’s more than that!)

Best suited for: Typists, I guess?

Razer’s mecha-membrane switches can be found in the Razer Ornata Chroma V2 for $99.99 (Also available in the Razer Tartarus Pro, but that’s hardly a mechanical keyboard… Or is it?).

Razer Clicky Optical Switch

Razer’s second attempt at reinventing the mechanical switch hit the market in 2018 with their Optical-Mechanical lineup, featuring three completely new switches. Unlike mecha-membrane switches, these are actually a good fit for gaming!

These clicky switches use a laser mechanism to register your click rather than traditional metal contacts. Using light bypasses some common mechanical issues, including contact bounce and durability concerns. Their simple mechanism and added stabilizers give these switches a lifetime of around 100 million clicks, matching some of Cherry’s improved switch lifespans and exceeding many others!

         Actuation Force: 45 grams

         Actuation Distance: 1.5mm

         Total Travel: 3.5mm

         Mechanism: Optical

         Feel: Tactile + Clicky

         Durability: 100 million presses

         Best suited for: Gaming/Typing

The clicky Razer optical switch is available as the only switch option in the full-size Razer Hunstman keyboard for $149.99.

It can also be found as one of two switch options in the Razer Hunstman Elite for $199.99.

Razer Linear Optical Switch

These switches rely on the same light-beam mechanism as the Razer clicky optical switches, but feature no click or tactile bump (like Cherry Red switches, which are also called ‘linear’). They have a very short actuation distance of only 1mm, and an actuation force of just 40 grams, making them extraordinarily light and sensitive. While potentially a benefit for competitive gaming, a switch this light won’t hesitate to fill your overdue assignment with typos from accidental key activation; essayists, beware!

Actuation Force: 40 grams

Actuation Distance: 1mm

Total Travel: 3.5mm

Mechanism: Optical

Feel: Linear

Durability: 100 million presses

Best suited for: Gaming

Note that these switches were updated in summer of 2020 due to common noise complaints. As such, buying one of the following keyboards second-hand means it may contain worse switches.

The linear Razer optical switch is available as the only switch option in the ten-keyless Razer Hunstman Tournament for $129.99.

It can also be found as one of two switch options in the flagship Razer Hunstman Elite for $199.99.

Razer Analog Optcal Switch

These sleek black switches are the third, newest addition to Razer’s optical lineup. They feature an analog mechanism that detects not just whether a key is pressed or not, but how far it’s pressed too! This allows you to control a variety of video game functions more precisely by only pressing each key down as far as you need.

As a result of their unique method of operation, these switches also have a wide range of customizable actuation distances from 1.5mm to 3.6mm; what’s not to like? …Probably the fact that they’re only in a $250 keyboard, actually.

Actuation Force: 54-74 grams (Depending on set actuation distance)

Actuation Distance: 1.5mm-3.6mm

Total Travel: 3.6mm

Mechanism: Optical

Feel: Linear

Durability: 100 million presses

Best suited for: Gaming/Typing

The analog Razer optical switch is only available in the Razer Hunstman V2 Analog for $249.99; that’s as much as a custom keyboard full of Topre switches! (Also available in the Razer Tartarus Pro, if that’s your thing. No judgement. Really.)

 

Corsair Switches

OPX Optical Switches

Similar to Razer’s optical switches, the Corsair OPX switch relies on a beam of light for operation. They use a simpler design that allows them to claim a lifespan of over 150 million clicks; very impressive! Additionally, they feature a similar actuation force and identical actuation distance as Razer’s linear optical switch, which means they are similarly great for gaming, but may be a bit headache-inducing depending on how precise of a typist you are.

Actuation Force: 45 grams

Actuation Distance: 1mm

Total Travel: 3.2mm

Mechanism: Optical

Feel: Linear

Durability: 150 million presses

Best suited for: Gaming

 

The Corsair OPX switch is available only in Corsair’s K100 flagship keyboard for $229.99

 

Topre Switches

Electrostatic Capacitive Switches

Topre switches are a unique option from a Japanese company whose products are more mechanical in name than operation. Topre’s design has been around for nearly 40 years, and remains a favorite of those who can afford their high prices.

Instead of a traditional mechanical design, these switches utilize a rubber dome over a capacitive spring. Unlike a typical membrane keyboard, these switches can activate mid keystroke like a true mechanical switch, making them more responsive. Compared to Cherry MX brown, Topre switches feature a similar tactile bump but provide an overall much smoother, “softer” keystroke that reduces strain when furiously typing overdue work. These switches come in a variety of actuation forces, all of which are quite low.

Topre switches can be found in a variety of keyboards from an array of sources, most of them small-time keyboard shops. As a result, they tend to be quite expensive and lack many features you might find on a typical Corsair or Razer keyboard. If you’re willing to fork up the cash and plan to use them primarily for typing, you won’t regret it!

Actuation Force: 30, 35, 45 or 55 grams, depending on model

Actuation Distance: ~2mm

Total Travel: 4mm

Mechanism: Capacitive spring

Feel: Tactile

Durability: ~50 million presses

Best suited for: Typists

 

Looking for a small 60-key form factor? Check out the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional Classic, available for $211

Looking for a full 104-key keyboard? Take a look at the Leopold FC980C for $259.00.

Looking for a flashier Topre board? Check out the full-sized Topre Realforce R2 at $229.99.

 

Conclusion

While this short list is hardly exhaustive, these are the most common non-traditional switches you’ll find in the wild. Whatever your choice, the most important thing to consider when picking a switch is your intended use.

Topre switches are excellent for typists because their smooth mechanism feels soft and pillowy. Despite this, they are slow to return to their initial position after being pressed, making them a relatively poor choice for gaming. Corsair’s OPX switches, while only in a single keyboard, are an excellent gaming choice due to their short actuation distance and light feel. Razer’s optical switches are another good choice for gaming, and are used in cheaper (On average) keyboards than Corsair’s K100, increasing accessibility and value. However, they are even touchier than Corsair’s OPX switches, making them a poor choice for those without a very precise typing technique.

The choice is yours! Let us know in the comments what your thoughts about these oddball switches are, and whether the keyboards containing them even count as mechanical keyboards!

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