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Your Next Laptop Keyswitch? Kailh, Perhaps

It’s high time we saw some mechanical switches on gaming laptops, and I don’t mean the full-size Cherry MX Brown switches crammed onto the MSI GT80S Titan SLI gaming laptop. (Points for the chutzpah though, MSI.) Laptops require a lower-profile key cap and a shallower key travel than a typical desktop mechanical switch keyboard, and although we have seen both in recent weeks, the twain had not met, as it were.

Shallow Switch Travel, Low-Profile Caps

However, Kaihua Electronics, the company that makes Kailh switches, has done it, quietly debuting the new switches at Computex. Kaihua did not offer an official name for them (the official part number is CPG135001DXX), but they’re designed specifically for use on laptops.

Available in Blue, Brown and Red, the mechanical laptop switches have a pretravel of 1.5 mm (+/-0.5 mm), which is 0.5-0.7 mm shallower than most desktop mechanical switches. Tesoro’s new Kaihua-made Agile switches--which I believe are in the CPG1280 series--have the same pretravel, but the Agile/CPG1280 series switches have a total travel of 3.5 mm, whereas these laptop switches have just 3.0 mm.

For comparison, almost all desktop mechanical switches have 4.0 mm travel (Cherry’s new Speed switches land at 3.4 mm), so 3.0 mm is a significant departure from the norm.

Although key caps are not part of the switch spec, Kaihua had the laptop switches on display equipped with low-profile key caps that further reduce the overall height of the keys. (The Tesoro Agile switches have the low-profile caps, so we presume that these are the same.) Judging from the eyeball test, these caps are about half the height of standard caps, and they have a much gentler slope.

One detail that’s important to note is the stem design. These laptop mechanical switches eschew the Cherry-compatible cross-stem in favor of a two-pin design, so aftermarket key caps will be hard to come by.

A Kaihua representative did not reveal to me if or when any laptop makers would implement the switch, but one imagines that system builders are all least taking a look.

We would also be unsurprised to see keyboard companies suddenly debut a series of slim mechanical desktop keyboards soon. Think Apple’s keyboards, but mechanical.

And yes, these new switches can have LEDs, so expect both single-color and full RGB lighting options when (if) we see these switches appear on the market in laptops and standalone keyboards.

Kailh Laptop SwitchKailh Low-Profile SwitchStandard Kailh Switch
TypeLinear, Tactile, Clicky
Actuation Point1.5 mm (+/-0.5 mm)2 mm (+/-0.6 mm)
Actuation Force60 g (+/-10g)45 g (+/-10g)-Linear (Red): 50 g (+/-15g)-Tactile (Brown): 50 g (+/-15g)-Clicky (Blue): 50 g (+/-15g)
Total Travel3.0 mm (+/-0.5 mm)3.5 mm (+/-0.5 mm)4.0 mm (+/-0.4 mm)

Lights, Action

But wait, there’s more. Kaihua also showed me a desktop mechanical switch designed so that the LED shines up in the middle of the shaft. Instead of an opaque Cherry-like cross stem, these are more akin to Topre or Romer-G shafts.

The idea is that such a design makes for more balanced, smooth lighting both underneath the keys and through the key cap characters. (Ironically, the characters on the tester Kaihua had on hand were off-center, which runs somewhat counter to the whole idea, at least on the key cap side of things.)

Like the laptop mechanical switches, there’s no word on whether or when these switches will end up on shipping products. We imagine they’ll be a tough sell in the U.S. market, where Cherry and its clones rule the day, and aftermarket Cherry-compatible key caps are all the rage.

In any case, these new switches (CPG158301D01) will be available in Blue, Brown and Red variants.

A final tidbit from Kaihua: The company has a new White switch that has characteristics similar to a Blue switch. I regrettably failed to ascertain which product series this is from, but in any case, I’m told that it will be sold on keyboards only in Korea.

Kailh White, and others

Seth Colaner is the News Director for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter @SethColaner. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • therealduckofdeath
    I'd love some mechanical keys on a laptop, but, good luck selling that these days when a laptop thicker than a pinky finger is considered ancient. :D
    Reply
  • scolaner
    I'd love some mechanical keys on a laptop, but, good luck selling that these days when a laptop thicker than a pinky finger is considered ancient. :D

    Hah, true. But there are still quite a few of those beastly gaming lappies out there that have plenty of real estate for these kinds of switches.

    Or, wouldn't it be cool to have a slightly thicker laptop for productivity that had such a keyboard?
    Reply
  • therealduckofdeath
    I would personally not mind seeing someone trying to make a mechanical key type cover for something like the Surface Pro 4 (maybe 5, as we're getting pretty close to that one, I guess?). The best of all worlds in a true all-in-one? :D
    Reply
  • Nintendork
    FUTACOLO CGOVL
    Reply
  • Nintendork
    Any proper gamer will use a gaming laptop as a slim desktop then attach a desktop keyboard, mice and big monitor.
    Reply
  • Quixit
    Any proper gamer will use a gaming laptop as a slim desktop then attach a desktop keyboard, mice and big monitor.

    That sounds intensely stupid, if you have that giant setup you'd be better off with a desktop. It would even be cheaper, even if you also pick up a cheap notebook to use on the go.
    Reply
  • jlake3
    The laptop switches look a bit like Cherry ML switches, which I don't believe ever gained any traction outside of commercial/industrial use. Not sure how the actuation force and travel compares between the two, but it will be interesting to see what happens with them.
    Reply
  • 10basetom
    I'm curious to see if they've managed to keep the weight down, as all mechanical keyboards I've used are super heavy.
    Reply
  • eriko
    Any proper gamer will use a gaming laptop as a slim desktop then attach a desktop keyboard, mice and big monitor.

    That sounds intensely stupid, if you have that giant setup you'd be better off with a desktop. It would even be cheaper, even if you also pick up a cheap notebook to use on the go.

    Indeed... I've been through a few countries the past couple of months, and I have broken two keys on my Alienware 18 - so I've been forced to carry a Razer keyboard around with me - its almost half the weight of the machine! Terrible situation...

    And I prefer gaming on the laptop keyboard, compared to the external mechanical keyboard, if for nothing else, the lack of noise the laptop keyboard has...
    Reply