In the mechanical keyboard world, Cherry MX switches were at one time so ubiquitous that they were nearly a proprietary eponym for "mechanical keyboard switches." Increasingly, though, we're seeing more switches from different manufacturers enjoying market adoption, including numerous Kailh switches, Razer's green and orange switches, and Greetech Brown switches (which are found on the Das Keyboard 4C Professional).
When we received the MEK keyboard from iBuypower, we yanked off a keycap and found yet another switch brand: TTC.
Another Knockoff, Or Successful Ingenuity?
Our first question, upon seeing what was to us a veritable unknown switch brand nestled into iBuypower's gaming keyboard, was why? Why TTC switches? Perhaps iBuypower knew something we didn't. Shortly, our query passed from iBuypower to the OEM of the MEK keyboard, Gamdias.
Although the company has been around just a few years, Gamdias is already fairly well-known for its gaming peripherals, which include mice, keyboards, headsets, mouse mats, and accessories such as a gaming glove. Gamdias uses Cherry switches on some of its boards, and the TTC switches on at least one other (with either red or blue switches), the Hermes Lite (which is the same thing as the MEK).
A company representative told me that Gamdias chose the TTC switches because in addition to helping keeping costs low for budget-strapped gamers wanting a mechanical keyboard, TTC's switches evince "durability" and "reliability."
He also noted that TTC switches enjoy strong "readiness of availability," which I take as a subtle dig at Cherry and its rumored delays in filling OEM orders.
|iBuypower MEK/Gamdias Hermes Lite Keyboard|
|Backlighting||Red LED (with 5 levels of brightness)|
|Onboard memory||256 KB|
|Polling rate||1,000 Hz|
|Windows disable key||Yes|
|Cable||1.8 m, USB 2.0|
|Dimensions||17.3 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches|
|Price||iBuypower MEK: $54|
Gamdias Hermes Lite: $79.99
So, about that enormous price gap between the MEK and the Hermes Lite. This is the result of iBuypower's business approach: It wants to sell custom gaming systems primarily, and peripherals like this keyboard are designed to sort of sweeten the pot, so the company is offering them at a low (apparently significantly low) margin.
And yes, you can buy the keyboard from iBuypower separately, without purchasing a pre-built system.
TTC Red Switches
Like most other switches on the market, these TTC switches claim a 50 million-click lifecycle (which is more than you'll ever need to worry about). Obviously, it offers a red switch, but TTC's product portfolio also comprises blue, brown, black and yellow (really, yellow?) switches.
|TTC Red Switch|
|Operating Force||45 (±10) gf|
|Total Travel||4.0 (±0.4) mm|
|Bounce||ON bounce: 5 ms max.|
OFF bounce: 10 ms max.
|Mechanical / Electronics Life||50 M cycles / 50 M cycles|
|Operating Temperature Range||-25 degrees C to +85 degrees C|
|Operating Relative Humidity||≤85% RH|
|Environment Temperature||5~35 degrees C|
|Insulation Resistance||100MΩ min.|
|Initial Contact Resistance||200mΩ max.|
Spec-wise, there's little to note here that separates these switches from any other of this type on the market. The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.
Back To iBuypower
It's one thing for an OEM to put its faith into an unproven switch, but it's another for a seller like iBuypower to buy in. It's a bold move that guarantees criticism from knee-jerk commenters. "Cheap! Cheap! Cheap!" would no doubt be the refrain.
On one hand, those commenters would have a point, although iBuypower would surely prefer the term "inexpensive" to "cheap." A company representative did not specify what exactly the cost difference is between TTC switches and the more familiar Cherry switches, but he did say that the delta was "significant." (Gamdias said even less about the cost differential.)
That is in part how iBuypower can offer a relatively full-featured gaming keyboard for $54.
TTC (full name: Trantek Electronics Co.) has been around since 1998 (you've likely clicked TTC switches on a gaming mouse before), but it's now giving mechanical keyboard switches a go. This MEK/Hermes Lite keyboard is among the first (or possibly the first) keyboard shipping with these TTC switches.
That's not to say iBuypower saw the low price tag of TTC's switches and gave a green-eyed thumbs up; a representative told me that iBuypower vetted the switches in-house with its own employees and engineers.
"Some members of our staff consist of former professional gamers, and high level competitive gamers, [who] we felt were qualified in testing/designing the keyboard," he said. "Ultimately we chose [switches that] we felt would serve our market best."
It's further worth noting that although iBuypower is obviously entering the mechanical gaming keyboard market, it's not doing so to necessarily compete with the entrenched players. iBuypower told me that the team felt as though providing a gaming keyboard as a bundle with its high-end custom gaming PCs was simply a natural evolution of its product portfolio. It's an easy plus-one kind of sell.
That internal evolution, though, is perhaps reflective of the evolution of the mechanical-switch keyboard market, which is seeing more companies looking at switch options beyond the tried-and-true offerings from Cherry.
Seth Colaner is the News Director at Tom's Hardware. He curates and edits the news channel and also writes on a variety of topics. He would have become a professional ultimate Frisbee player, but he was born 15 years too early.