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Membrane to Mechanical - A Log

Last response: in Computer Peripherals
February 10, 2013 7:30:15 AM

Day: -1

A few days ago I bought my first mechanical keyboard, a Ducky DK9008 Shine II with red LED back lighting and CherryMX Brown switches.

It hasn't arrived yet, but needless to say I'm pretty excited for it :D .

So I thought I would document the process of getting used to a mechanical keyboard after only ever having used membrane keyboards before*. Looking online, I found plenty of information on the different switches, how fast keys respond, things like N-Key Rollover and the like.
But I never found something that really explained what made a mechanical keyboard better other than sort of generic terms like it being more comfortable, faster, more durable, greater tactile feel etc. Also I never found a personal sort of log of someone before and after a mechanical keyboard, something along the lines of Linus' iSwitched series, so I dont really know what to expect.
So I'm making this so that others in a similar situation can see a personal log of what its like to transition from a membrane to mechanical keyboard, and what can they expect to happen if/when they do.

As befits any kind of journey, you have to establish where you start.
I have for around 6 months been using a Thermaltake Challenger Pro which I am typing on right now, its a rubber-dome membrane keyboard with a bunch of LED lighting settings and dedicated macro keys. There is even a little fan you can attach to the keyboard in case the fans in your computer just isn't loud enough for you.

You can tell my aesthetic tastes have changed considerably in the last 6 months :lol: .

As I kind of have nothing to compare too, I cant really comment on the typing/gaming experience using this.
What I do like about the keyboard is its dedicated macro-keys which I have become somewhat fond of, particularly the right hand column which I use for common things like opening Chrome and Ctrl-Alt-Delete when Skyrim inevitably crash's. The Ducky's lack of them is worrying me a bit. The dedicated media keys I have also found a lot of use for in this time, but I'm not so concerned about them as the Ducky has media keys, just now I will have to hold the function key to operate them.

As the tech community knows, we love our bench marking. Chances are if your reading this you poured over them deciding what to put in your computer. So I have decided to see what performance increase can be gained from going from membrane to mechanical.
However I must admit I have a flawed test bench, I am not a touch typist :(  , or at-least not a very good one. I can type without looking, but I often make mistakes when I do. So side-objective; become a touch typist :) .
I will be using this Word-Per-Minute test to bench my typing performance as I go through this log.

And the baseline has been set, I just took the test and got this result readout.

Somewhat surprised I'm above average to be honest. Ah well, guess its a good enough place to start from.

The Ducky should be arriving tomorrow sometime, so when I get it I will post my first impressions as well as a small unboxing of the board. From there I will be posting updates every now and then detailing what I'm experiencing with the new keyboard.
I think this will be quite fun :) .

~~~~~ Random notes and thoughts ~~~~~~

I have noticed that I spend exponentially more money each time I get a keyboard. Before the Thermaltake, I had a Razer Arctosa Black Edition, which I spent $40 on. After black lettering on black keys proved too difficult to handle for a non-touch typist, I replaced it with the Thermaltake which cost $75. Now that is being replaced with the Ducky, which is $150.
So roughly a 2x increase in price every time I get a new keyboard.
Thankfully though it seems there aren't any $300 keyboards to spend my money on, with the Ducky tieing 5th for the most expensive keyboard at my local store.
Except for this Razer Deathstalker Ultimate.
I hope I can break the trend :sweat: .

*I suppose that's not technically true as a friend of mine has a Razer Blackwidow which I did use for a brief time. So I sort of know what a mechanical keyboard will feel like before going into this, but not for everyday or long term usage. Also the first time I sat in front of a 120hz, so a double whammy of new experiences.
February 10, 2013 7:35:43 AM

Day: 0

The mail-man has arrived and so has my Ducky (and other assorted goods :D )!

The packaging was very nice, if a bit scuffed and dusty. Don't know if that's at Ducky's end or the retailers, so I'm not going to hold it against either.
Minimal in style, it a plain black box with a faded Ducky logo in the corner and the the model number front and center.

Had all the usual info on the back that you should already know if your spending $150 on the keyboard.

Opening the box, the keyboard is revealed (show you later). Covered in a plastic guard to stop dust getting on it I assume.

Underneath that is all the standard stuff you can expect with a keyboard. Mini-USB to USB cable (Gold plated connectors), WASD red replacement keycaps, keycap remover and a manual in pretty much every language. No driver CD, seems the Ducky has no background software to accompany it. Less background programs the better!

The Keyboard itself.
It is surprisingly heavy, when I first pulled it from the box I thought it was stuck or tied down somehow. Pressing the keys makes a very satisfying click upon bottoming out and release, though if you only just push past the actuation point its pretty much silent. Compared to the Thermaltake, there is much more resistance to movement in the keys, you can really feel that your pushing down on it rather than it just moving out of the way of your finger.

The back of the keyboard is standard fare, two stands that angle the board, some rubber feet that do a good job of not letting the keyboard move (You can still push it around fairly easily with the stands up). The small chip in the center gives you a few options in regards to disabling and moving various keys on the board.
The USB cable is detachable and is routed one of three ways from the connector, allowing you to offset where the cable come out of the keyboard.
Those stickers which unfortunately whited out in the picture, the round one is a manufacturers seal that it passed QA, while the rectangular one states the model number and other minutia about the board.

Just a size comparison with the Thermaltake, the keyboard itself is similar, though the Thermaltake wins on outright size with its Macro Key columns. The keys themselves are bigger on the Ducky, though they somehow feel closer together than the Thermaltake :??:  .

Time to use it!
Installation was fairly simple, plugged it in, waited a few seconds for Windows to recognize it and pull up the appropriate drivers and the Ducky worked just like that. No software required.
It lit up veeeeery nicely.

The LED settings on this board are amazing, I particularly like the Reactive setting, where a key only lights up as your pressing it.
The brightness has a nice range, from completely off to blindingly bright. Every key can light up, with the Caps and Scroll Lock only lighting up when activated.
Anyway, here's a comparison between the lowest and highest brightness setting on the board. Excuse my mad Paint skillsz, the two photos were a bit off camera angle wise. Would have used Photoshop to make a better image, but it plays up with my display setup and I couldn't be bothered to fix it.

Down to how it feels to use.
As mentioned before, it feels very different to the Thermaltake with more resistance in the keys. As expected, just being a new keyboard has thrown me off a bit, occasionally missing a key and hitting multiple. Though this isn't reflected in the test results, I actually improved a small bit. So even un-adjusted to the new keyboard, the mechanical keys have shown they can compensate. This was taken fairly soon after I first plugged in the board, before I started writing this

Taking the test again, after writing all that you see above.

So after about half an hour of using the keyboard I am already showing improvements.

That's the end of Day 0, I'l be back in a few with an update to how the board feels.
February 10, 2013 7:35:50 AM

Day: 6

Definitely notice a difference in how I type now. Much quicker jabs than how I used to type, the audio feedback of me bottoming out (Brown switches, no actuation click) is letting me type a fair bit faster.
Also got some gaming in, have to say I don't really notice a difference. Maybe it will become apparent if a membrane were put back in front of me, but for gaming I haven't really noticed a difference.

I'm improving.

Day: 16

Sorry I'm a bit late, been inundated with work, camping and I cut my middle finger around day 10, so I didn't think that doing these tests with my finger barely being able to bend would bring up a good result :lol: 

Starting to get the hang of the keyboard now, I can move my fingers around it unconsciously like I could with the Thermaltake. Still not a touch typist though, but I expect it will take longer than has been and some training to achieve that.

Continuing the trend of improvement, going mechanical has definitely improved my typing ability even though I am not (yet) a touch typist. a 14WPM improvement over the Membrane.

Also now that its been a decent amount of time, I think I will start to run tests pitting the Thermaltake and Ducky head to head. Will do one test, swap keyboards, redo the test and see if there is any difference. That way I can eliminate the variable that I just might be better at typing, or whether that's the sole cause of my increased WPM. Will also post impressions of what its like to go back to a membrane keyboard.

The lack of Macro keys isn't as big an issue as I thought it would be at the start. I found that the board already has some dedicated keys to things like bringing up Chrome, My Computer and the Calculator for some reason. Media keys are also on the board, but require the function key to use. One small gripe is that the Play/Pause is on F4, and I occasionally get the Fn and Alt keys messed up. You can imagine the result.
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February 10, 2013 7:47:44 AM

February 11, 2013 3:30:46 PM

if you would have searched in this section of the forum you would have found countless posts i've answered regarding the benefits of mechanical keyboards.

in general, mechanical keyboard switches will last longer and should give you a better feel, and improved typing speed and accuracy depending on what type of switch you picked.

gaming switches or those without tactile and auditory feedback are not ideal for typing. tactile feedback/letoff is a huge deal. auditory feedback not as much.

also realize that touch typists will see much larger gains then others.

i've used everything from free dell keyboards to $5 foreign keyboards to $120 membrane keyboards and $150 mechanical keyboards as well as my old ibm model m keyboards and by far i type better and perform better on the ibm m (buckling spring) keyswitches. in fact my typing speed and accuracy is at least twice as good as on a cheap dell keyboard and perhaps 50% better than a high end membrane keyboard.

both gaming and typing.

of course there are other factors such as keyboard size, key size, keyboard layout, key height, and keyboard slope as well. in addition to the differences in keyswitches.
February 12, 2013 4:11:23 AM

Not doubting the advice you have given previously, just I thought that there was a lack of an ongoing documentation on this.
Plenty of system, water-cooling and modding build logs (hell, I even have my own) that show how a computer changes and evolves over time, issues the builder has found with making it, etc, etc.
Couldn't find anything similar in regards to moving from membrane to mechanical keyboards, so I thought I'd make my own. This way I guess it would just show a person thinking of switching what will happen if they do.
February 12, 2013 8:15:51 PM

agreed. i've seen a few mechanical keyboard logs on the net but not many.

to get the most out of your keyboard i would suggest using some typing programs to improve your performance. being a touch typist is going to help you out in the long run. at least for a-z, shift, ctrl and caps.

February 20, 2013 3:41:53 AM

I got a mechanical keyboard about the same time. After much research and contemplation of my uses/wants, I went Cherry Clear. Here's what I found... I'm a pretty lousy typist. I think my typing 'skill' relied more on dropped strokes. I am improving it seems. I figured to post my impressions of it... hopefully, once I have an objective opinion - I'm still kinda excited about blowing a whole lot of money, lol.
I am loving it though
February 25, 2013 8:28:30 AM

Great idea here, Chalky. :p 
As fate would have it, I'm actually getting a mechanical keyboard myself this week - currently looking at the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2013. It (supposedly) addresses most of its predecessors issues like the Spacebar hitting the Alt key.

As for the Ducky not having the extra keys for your macros, I think I read somewhere you have a Razer gaming mouse? If it has a few extra keys, you can just use Synapse and re-program them there. :) 
February 25, 2013 3:36:10 PM

i'm not sure which version i had but i purchased a razer blackwidow about 1-2 months ago since i was in need of a mechanical keyboard. before this i was using an ibm model m so i'm a bit biased but this is what i thought. i ended up returning the keyboard due to the cons (no ps/2 support mainly)

cherry mx blue keyswitches, while not buckling spring are still good for typists.
$100+/- is less than what wasd, das and deck keyboards can cost.
they got rid of the rubberized coating

software is not included in the box you must download it
glossy surface does not stay clean
does not support usb-ps2 adapter (for full nkey rollover and force interrupt)
i've heard of backlighting issues
February 25, 2013 11:50:18 PM

excella1221 said:
Great idea here, Chalky. :p 
As fate would have it, I'm actually getting a mechanical keyboard myself this week - currently looking at the Razer Blackwidow Ultimate 2013. It (supposedly) addresses most of its predecessors issues like the Spacebar hitting the Alt key.

As for the Ducky not having the extra keys for your macros, I think I read somewhere you have a Razer gaming mouse? If it has a few extra keys, you can just use Synapse and re-program them there. :) 

id suggest something like a cooler master storm trigger if you are in the US. built very well and is on sale for 69.99 after a MIR. or the quickfire pro for 60 bucks. blue and red switches respectively

i wouldnt recommend the blackwidow. quality seems not so great. the blue switches also dont feel like blue switches
February 25, 2013 11:57:00 PM

btw my typing speed is around 65wpm with blue switches.

Visit the Typing Test and try!
February 26, 2013 6:27:42 AM

TheBigTroll said:
id suggest something like a cooler master storm trigger if you are in the US. built very well and is on sale for 69.99 after a MIR. or the quickfire pro for 60 bucks. blue and red switches respectively

i wouldnt recommend the blackwidow. quality seems not so great. the blue switches also dont feel like blue switches

I'm actually an MMO kind of person, and the extra macro keys come in really handy so that eliminates the QuickFire Pro, the Storm Trigger looks interesting though. I like how it has its own onboard memory to store the profiles compared to Razer's idiotic idea of storing them on the cloud which requires constant internet connection and repeated installation of Synapse 2.0 whenever you use another PC.

I'm not a fan of the Red LED though, but that's just a minor thing.

I'd like to stress I'm getting the 2013 version of the Blackwidow Ultimate, quality seems OK based on consumer feedbacks and some reviews, though admittedly still overpriced. :lol: 

@ssddx - Did it have blue or green backlighting? If it's green then it's the 2013 version.

I bit and took the test, this is on a $6 A4Tech membrane. :lol: 

I guess all those times spent on MMOs yielded something good. :lol: 
February 26, 2013 6:33:56 AM

I feel so outclassed now :lol: .

Hehe, speaking of red LED's, my Razer Deathadder might just be getting modded to suit the new keyboard. My rigs red, keyboards red and mouse is blue, somethings gotta give and the mouse is the weakest link :p .
More on that later, might throw up a small tutorial of modding it. There are others on the net, but more info never hurts :D .
February 27, 2013 4:15:59 PM

Visit the Typing Test and try!

on a laptop with the keyboard angled down away from me (cramped in a car driver seat in a parking lot!)

i'm much better on a real keyboard but hey... i dont type as much as i used to.