Keyboards Knowledge Hub

Which Mechanical Keyboard Switch Is the Best? – Our Full Guide!

FI_Mechanical Keyboard Switches Explained

Mechanical keyboard switches come in three types: Clicky, Tactile and Linear. The sound and feel can massively change depending on the mechanical switches used in a keyboard.

Mechanical switches are the principal feature of any mechanical gaming keyboard. These unique devices are the main contributors to your experience during typing and gaming. And because mechanical keyboard switches are incredibly nuanced in their designs, this has resulted in a market filled with many options. But which mechanical keyboard switch is the best?

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about mechanical keyboard switches, discussing the differences between the vast choice of switches from an ever-growing range of manufacturers. Our series of knowledge hub articles seeks to provide all the answers for PC building and gaming, whether upgrading or starting from scratch.

What Are Mechanical Switches?

A mechanical switch is a piece of hardware that sits underneath the keycaps of your keyboard. When you push down a mechanical switch, your finger pushes a low-friction stem resisted by a spring. The main point to focus on is the resistance and feel each mechanical switch provides here.

Mechanical keyboards have been around for a while. Options like the IBM Model F and Model M brought mechanical switches into the limelight in the 70s and 80s. These keyboards used a ‘buckling spring’ switch. These nostalgic and shrill designs contained a spring that ‘buckled’ when pressed.

MPI_LoFree Flow Switch and PCB Hole

The vast majority of mechanical switches are all constructed similarly, but the resistance between them will differ, resulting in a different feel when you type and play games. Mechanical switches are made up of five parts, these are:

  • Top Housing—This half holds your mechanical switch together and, depending on the materials used, contributes to its sound and resistance.
  • Stem – The internal pole of the switch moves down a shaft, actuating a keypress while producing some form of feedback.
  • Leaves – Two leaves sit inside your switch and connect once your stem is pressed far enough, completing a circuit and actuating a keypress.
  • Spring – The spring provides the physical resistance of your switch and will entirely differ depending on the switches your keyboard uses.
  • Bottom Housing – This is the lower half of the switch that holds the entire mechanism together and holds the click or tactile jacket. The pins on the bottom also connect to your keyboard’s PCB.

Why is Choosing the Right Switch Important?

Choosing the right mechanical switch is vital for a few reasons. The main ones are feel, sound, and responsiveness. These factors are entirely preferential, but they are still important nonetheless.

The feel and sound of a mechanical switch go hand in hand. You could be looking for a creamy and silent keyboard with switches that offer minimal resistance or even instant feedback with high noise levels. However, because there are so many different types of switches on the market that provide a different feel, choosing the correct set of switches is vital.

MPI_Corsair K70 Core Red Switch and Keycap

Responsiveness determines how much force you must apply, which then actuates the switch. The resistance of the spring inside a mechanical switch changes depending on the switch you’ve chosen.

This is particularly important for both typing and gaming. Gaming requires speed and high responsiveness, so a switch with minimal resistance is essential. On the other hand, many typists prefer more resistance, as using more than just a couple of fingers makes this a preferential characteristic.

Mechanical Switch Types

Clicky Switches

The most well-known type of switch is called ‘Clicky’ because of the sound they make when pressed, which is a click. These switches are amongst the most popular options on the market and have a long history.

MPI_MSI Vigor GK50 Elite Clicky Switches
MSI Vigor GK50 Elite Clicky Switches

As a general rule of thumb, Clicky switches tend to have more resistance than Linear and Tactile switches because they don’t actuate until you hear a clicking sound. For this reason, Clicky switches are generally more prevalent among typists than gamers, as responsiveness is critical during an intense game.

Tactile Switches

Tactile switches are similar in responsiveness to Clicky switches but provide a quieter ‘bump’ instead of an audible click sound. For this reason, Tactile switches offer an excellent middle ground for those who want the physical feedback response but aren’t big fans of the noise that comes with Clicky switches.

MPI_Tinker 65 CherryMX Brown Switch
CherryMX Brown Tactile Switch

It is relatively easy to denote whether your switch is Tactile based on its colour. Tactile switches are generally represented by brown, but other brands use alternative colours. Regarding specs, Tactile switches offer less resistance than most Clicky switches and provide less travel.

Linear Switches

Linear switches are the smoothest of the three types, providing no physical feedback as the switch bottoms out. These switches are ideal for those who prefer minimal noise from their keyboard. Linear switches are incredibly popular and generally geared more towards gamers, as you can rapidly press the switch with little resistance.

MPI_LoFree Flow KailhxTTC POM Switch
Lofree Flow Linear Switch

Linear switches come in many colours and shapes but are typically denoted by red. The main goal of a linear switch is to maximise smoothness, which is why you’ll find so many different options on the market that are finely tuned to provide smooth actuation but require different levels of force.

Switch Specs Explained

Each mechanical keyboard switch has a set of specs which determine the responsiveness, feel, and force required for the keypress to actuate. We’ve briefly explained these specs and what they affect below:

  • Operating Force: This is the physical force required for the switch to actuate and for your desktop or laptop keyboard to respond. This is measured in centinewtons (cN) but is also denoted as ‘gf’ (which is gram force).
  • Travel: Travel refers to the switch’s stem moving down the shaft as you press a key. This is measured in millimetres.
  • Actuation Distance: The actuation distance is how far the stem of your mechanical switch has to go down before it activates. This is also known as ‘pre-travel’.
  • Total Travel: The total travel of your mechanical switch is the entire distance the stem will travel before it hits the bottom of the switch. This is referred to as ‘bottoming out’.

Available Switches

There is a massive range of switch types to choose from. Each offers a different take on the switch type, price point, and unique feel.

CherryMX Switches

CherryMX Switches are the foundational designs on which most modern switches are built. CherryMX revolutionised the market with more affordable parts and a simplistic switch design, making building a mechanical keyboard much more straightforward. They are among the most popular brands, offering reliable premium switches catering to many buyers.

Switch NameSwitch TypeOperating ForceActuation Distance Total Travel
MX BlueClicky60cN2.2mm4m
MX BrownTactile55cN2mm4mm
MX RedLinear45cN2mm4mm
MX Black Linear60cN2mm4mm
MX Speed SilverLinear45cN1.2mm3.6mm
MX Silent RedLinear45cN1.9mm3.7mm
MX Silent BlackLinear60cN1.9mm3.7mm
MX Low-Profile RedLinear45cN1.2mm3.2mm
MX Low-Profile SpeedLinear45cN1mm3.2mm
MX GreenTactile80cN2.2mm4mm
MX GreyTactile80cN2mm4mm

CherryMX Blue, Browns, and Reds are the main switches that are most popular among gamers and typists. Clicky and Tactile are generally geared towards everyday users and typists, while Reds are perfect for gaming.

Alternative colours like Black, Green, and Grey offer a different feeling while minimising errors due to a higher operating force. The low-profile designs are specifically designed for small form factor keyboards. MX Speed switches have a lesser actuation distance, enabling fast key presses, which again is ideal for competitive gaming.

Kailh Switches

Kailh switches are a popular Cherry alternative. These designs have surged in popularity, with Kailh becoming a go-to option for many buyers and enthusiasts. Many Kailh switches are closely aligned with the CherryMX options, with similar naming schemes and colours.

Switch NameSwitch TypeOperating ForceActuation DistanceTotal Travel
Kailh RedLinear49cN1.9mm4mm
Kailh BlueClicky58cN1.9mm4mm
Kailh BrownTactile58cN1.9mm4mm
Kailh Box RedLinear44cN1.8mm3.6mm
Kailh Box BrownTactile44cN1.8mm3.6mm
Kailh Box WhiteClicky44cN1.8mm3.6mm
Kailh Speed SilverLinear39cN1.1mm3.5mm
Kailh Speed BronzeClicky49cN1.1mm3.5mm
Kailh Speed GoldTactile49cN1.4mm3.5mm
Kailh Box JadeClicky49cN1.8mm3.6mm
Kailh CanaryTactile41cN2mm4mm

Kailh popularised the ‘Box’ variants, which are used in various OEM keyboards. You can easily distinguish a Box switch from a regular one by looking at the walled stem. This design approach provides extra stability, minimising any keycap wobble. Box switches are also protected from dust and moisture, reducing the possibility of dust clogging up the switch shaft and creating extra friction.

While Kailh switches work similarly to CherryMX, their designs are more refined regarding actuation force, feel, and materials used. Kailh mechanical switches are generally more affordable, so you’ll see them used in various budget-oriented keyboards. However, they offer a myriad of switches, all of which cater to a vast set of use cases.

Gateron Switches

Gateron is a major manufacturer in China that offers a range of Cherry alternatives. The main selling point of Gateron switches is smoothness. Out of the box, Gateron switches offer minimal friction, providing smooth travel regardless of the switch type.

Due to their smoothness, keyboards with Gateron switches are very popular among typists and enthusiasts. They are commonly found in high-end keyboards on the market.

Switch NameSwitch TypeOperating ForceActuation DistanceTotal Travel
G Pro RedLinear44cN2mm4mm
G Pro BlueClicky58cN2.3mm4mm
G Pro BrownTactile53cN2mm4mm
G Pro YellowLinear49cN2mm4mm
Zealio V2Tactile60cN4mm4mm
Oil KingLinear53cN2mm4mm
Ink V2Linear58cN2mm4mm
Milky Yellow KS-3X1 ProLinear49cN2mm4mm
Baby Kangaroo 2.0Tactile57cN2mm3.4mm

Like Kailh, there are many Gateron switches available on the market. Still, Gateron specialises in Linear options, with their Oil King, Zealio, and Alpaca sets at the top of many wishlists.

Corsair, ASUS & Other Switches

Alongside these key manufacturers, several other brands offer their own switches, including Corsair, ASUS, Logitech, Razer, and others. Most of these brands provide the three main switch types, adhering to the standardised Clicky, Tactile, and Linear options.

Switch NameSwitch TypeOperating ForceActuation DistanceTotal Travel
Romer-G GX BlueClicky49cN2mm4mm
Romer-G GX BrownTactile49cN1.9mm4mm
Romer-G GX RedLinear49cN1.9mm4mm
GL Low-Profile BrownTactile49cN1.5mm2.7mm
GL Low-Profile RedLinear49cN1.5mm2.7mm
GL Low-Profile WhiteClicky49cN1.5mm2.7mm
Razer GreenClicky49cN1.9mm4mm
Razer YellowLinear44cN1.2mm3.5mm
Razer Orange Tactile49cN2mm3.5mm
ASUS NX SnowLinear44cN1.8mm3.6mm
ASUS NX StormClicky63cN1.8mm3.6mm
ASUS NX RedLinear44cN1.8mm4mm
ASUS NX BlueClicky63cN2.3mm4mm
ASUS NX BrownTactile56cN2mm4mm
ASUS RX RedLinear53cN1.5mm4mm
ASUS RX BlueClicky63cN1.5mm4mm
Corsair OPXLinear44cN1mm3.2mm
Corsair MGXLinear44cN0.4mm – 3.6mm4mm
Corsair MLXLinear44cN1.9mm4mm

While some of these switches will offer slightly different profiles that change the actuation force, sound, and feel, they have some similarities. Corsair and ASUS, in particular, stand out from the competition due to the innovative nature of their newer switches.

Due to their magnetic design, Corsair’s MGX magnetic Linear switches have a customisable actuation force. Alternatively, ASUS’ optical RX switches are incredibly smooth and offer a walled stem that minimises wobble.

Jay Harris is an expert in everything PC hardware! With a degree in Cybersecurity, and a PC hardware background Jay has all of the technical knowledge required to make informed recommendations. Jay is an avid keyboard builder and gamer, with a major passion for tech. In fact, Jay's personal rig boasts a white RX 7900 XTX graphics card, inside of the Lian O11D Mini - a true enthusiast's dream!