Debunking Switch Claims
The eight Light Strike switches on the B188 are the heart of its appeal, and they’re what the product page and box advertising focuses on most of all. In contrast to most contact-based keyboard switch designs out there, such as Cherry, Gateron, Greetech, Kailh, and so on, Bloody’s Light Strike keyboards use contactless switches. This means that the switch parts don’t have to come into contact with each other, unlike Cherry MX and similar switches where the slider pushes against a set of movable contacts. The upshot here is that the elimination of this rubbing motion can make for a switch that gives a much smoother keyfeel.
Optical switches are also much more durable than contact-based switches. Whereas Cherry MX and other contact-based switches claim a lifetime of 20-50 million keystrokes per key, the Light Strike switches are tested to 100 million keystrokes. Although we suspect the lifetime of optical switches could probably be significantly in excess of that, Bloody was not able to answer which part fails first, or what the prospects of the switches were after 100 million presses.
The most advertised feature of these switches, however, is the “world’s fastest key response” which “can never be surpassed.” According to Bloody’s product page, there are two factors behind this: a fast (0.2ms) key response, and a high actuation point of 1.5mm.
Bloody shows a pretty graph of a keypress on the Light Strike switches versus that of a “traditional metal” keyswitch, with the former showing a smooth transition lasting 0.2ms (although the graph axes are missing) while the latter is showing massive signal spiking over what Bloody claimed to be an 18-30ms interval. This is caused by so-called “contact bounce” which is basically a short period where the contacts rapidly open and close — a well-established and known phenomenon in metal contact switches.
If a switch “bounces” for 30ms, you’d need at least an equal amount of time for the keyboard to stop registering keypresses after the initial event (called “debouncing”), or the keyboard would start to output keypresses like crazy. Because the Light Strike switches register after just 0.2ms, there is “zero input lag,” which makes the switch 30ms faster than other switches - or so Bloody says. Moreover, the higher actuation point (1.5mm compared to 2.2mm on “traditional metal switches”) means the switches actuate some 30-odd percent earlier through the keypress.
There are several problems with these claims. The most glaring one is that the benchmark of 18-30ms contact bounce is absolutely unheard of in any metal contact switch on the market, now or in the past. Cherry MX and other designs specify a bounce time of <5ms, which has been the standard debouncing period used on keyboards for decades. If a switch that bounced for 30ms was present in any such keyboard, it would register five or six times for each individual keypress (a phenomenon known as “chattering”). Obviously this makes no sense at all.
Moreover, Bloody was not able to answer the question of which competitor’s switch was used for benchmarking, nor what procedure was used for this testing, how many switches were tested to obtain this graph, how consistent these results were, and whether the data shown was an average or a single keypress. Furthermore, upon closer inspection, it’s obvious that the “traditional metal” graph is not a keypress, is of an extremely unusual design, or has gone through data manipulation, as the switch goes from open to closed rather than the other way around.
The notion that shallower actuation depth delivers faster response time also suffers from a number of flaws. First of all, the benchmark 2.2mm of the traditional switches does not correspond to that of most current linear switches such as Cherry MX, Gateron, or Kailh (which are 2.0mm), which means the actual actuation difference is considerably less than what is advertised. Again, Bloody could not provide us with what switch this was benchmarked against.
Second, although Bloody implied this alleged speed increase is due to the optical action of the Light Strike switch, it’s not - it’s simply due to the placement of the actuator and has nothing to do with the mode of operation. For example, Cherry recently brought out its MX Speed Silver switches, which have an actuation distance of only 1.2mm, and with some tooling readjustments, it would be trivial for Cherry to make a switch that actuates far earlier than that.
The disappointment here is that this sort of marketing detracts from what is actually an interesting and beneficial switch design. According to Bloody, the keyboard’s effectively analog action does not warrant the implementation of a debouncing delay (a minor revolution in keyboard innovation by itself), which, coupled with the high polling rate of 1,000Hz, does mean that the keyboard would actually register quicker than contact-based keyboards.
The difference would be significantly smaller than Bloody has suggested, and it’s debatable whether you could even detect the difference in practice, but it’s a difference nonetheless - and a difference some gamers who want nothing but the fastest possible technology available might want to pay for. Although 1.5mm is not a particularly high actuation point, especially for a “fast response” switch, a higher actuation point does theoretically increase key response - again, if only minimally. The extreme durability of the switches is glossed over so much that it appears Bloody didn’t bother to test beyond 100 million keystrokes to see how far its switches could really go. Finally, regarding the potential smoothness of the keyfeel (which is actually rather nice, we might add), there is not a single word.
It should be noted that although the inclusion of only eight optical switches in a 101-key keyboard does reduce the price, you’ll be limited by your choice of control scheme if you want to reap the benefits of the optical switches. As the other switches are simple rubber domes, the vast majority of the keyboard isn’t even mechanical.
Not only is this not what most people would buy a mechanical keyboard for, many people might find having linear switches on a few keys, and tactile switches for the others, quite distracting. Further, the advantage of the abnormally long switch lifetime of the eight optical switches is also meaningless if the majority of the board will wear out in just a fraction of that time. Worse, the product description is sufficiently vague that many potential buyers won’t clue on to the fact that only eight of the switches are optical, and there is no mention at all of the rest of the board being based on rubber domes. (Bloody does sell keyboards in which all keys are LK Optic switches, however.)
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