Skip to main content

How We Test Mechanical Keyboards

Introduction

Testing mechanical keyboards is unlike testing so many of the other products we review. Typically, we perform extensive benchmark testing, churning out a small mountain (sometimes a large mountain) of objective data that we scrutinize and analyze in depth. With keyboards, though, there is unfortunately only so much in the way of objective testing that one can perform.

Even so, any objective tests you can run on a keyboard are really not about the keyboard - they're about the switches. There are scads of mechanical keyboards on the market (and more coming constantly), but there are only so many brands and types of switches. And unlike, for example, graphics cards, switch makers are not consistently producing updated switch technology. In the tech world, in fact, switch technology is comparatively static.

Further, from keyboard to keyboard, there is little a given manufacturer can do to affect a switch's performance. The switches come in batches from switch makers, and keyboard OEMs mount them onto PCBs and do not have the ability to alter them.

Therefore, there is little objective testing--at least in the way we're accustomed to reviewing products--to be done on mechanical keyboards. That's not to say we can't evaluate them; it just means that how we do it is a different beast.

We have, though, developed a procedure for testing mechanical keyboard switches, which you can read about in detail here.


MORE: Best Deals


MORE: Mechanical Keyboard Switch Testing Explained


MORE: All Keyboard Content

  • dudmont
    I hope you guys end up testing a Unicomp. I'm dying(not literally) to know how an Ol' model M compares to the new guys.
    Reply
  • Spac3nerd
    I hope you guys end up testing a Unicomp. I'm dying(not literally) to know how an Ol' model M compares to the new guys.
    I can tell you all about it:
    The keys feel more or less the same as on the Model M. It sounds a bit different, but I can't really describe that difference expect by saying the the Unicomp keys sound a bit less "hollow" than the Model M ones.
    What lets these keyboards down is the finish and quality of the case. The button caps often have left-over plastic on the bottom edge, but you can fix that yourself if it bothers you. The second problem is that the plastic case flexes easily and it can wear the surface out overtime(in that it becomes more shinny).

    All in all, the things that matter(usability and reliability) are on par with the original Model Ms. The secondary characteristics(quality of finish) are somewhat below the originals.
    Reply
  • falchard
    I use a simple method with mechanical keyboards. Does every key and switch work? Yes, 10/10.
    Reply
  • Take_Out
    Please check out MaxKeyboard company. I have not had ONE LED go dark or change color on me, or a switch have a problem in 1 1/2 yrs of usage with me and my grandson age 7 playing Minecraft and me Dying Light and such for a total fo about 5 hours average a day. I sometimes game for 12 hours straight with 5 min breaks, no probs.

    Also I have not had to even investigate the bios software or programming chips ever (knock on wood), all done by keystrokes to modify the level of brightness, number of lit keys, volume, next song, etc. Don't recall if it does the fancy spashes or ripples of color, I don't like that stuff myself. It may have come with CD to install program, I would think. The soldering was better than I could do. Impressive stats and reviews. They come with lots of accessories and extra keycaps, pullers, leather wristrest, etc. Support and service are great. Check out reviews. I recommend the O-ring cushions that go on the push pin of switch to help silence the clack when the keycap hits bottom, helps about 50% get the thick ones.

    Visit their website at MaxKeyboard.com to see all of the hundreds of custom keycaps and switches they have for accessories as well. They have complete sets of translucent keycaps, even clear now, some with front letters only or no letters. I just realized I am a fanboy now, gosh, oh well, I could be worse in some ways I guess. I do not work for them but would try to if I lived in Taiwan or LA where the design studio was at last view.

    I have the BlackBird TenKeyLess (TKL) and studied for many months, many hours a day about 1 1/2 yrs ago, before buying and even develped a mild fetish for led lit keyboards just months prior to the advent of the RGB programmed changing color leds, tho MaxKeyboards still do not use the RGB yet, might be worth waiting, check them out.. I lucked out in finding MaxKeyboards and have not looked back since. The leds actually do not diminish intensity when you just change the led to get a different color.

    I paid 150USD for the BlackBird TKL with Brown Cherry type switches (slight felt click, on activation, not noisy like Blue Cherry types), with blue color leds throughout (remember, prior to RGB). I bought their leds they sell for replacing and or customizing your keyboard if you are the least bit handy and have a solder sucker. You MUST use their leds if you want to change the led colors or replace for any reason unless you want a change in intensity as I understand.

    BUT, you can buy a customized board with your specified colors on your specified keyswitches for only about 30USD more as I recall, which is quite good considering the chances of burning a hole in dining room table if you are clumsy like me. They make it easy to map out your custom board, kinda fun to do, I probably could have done that if I had any extra money at all.

    I ended up replacing about 2/3rds or 1/2 of the leds with different colors for my preference, not needed due to failure ever, red for weapons proper, purple for weapons modifiers, green for movements, yellow for maps and info, orange for music controls, blue for unchanged or unused functions in games. No need to change resistors, just led two joints (watch polarity, heh). I use my own keyswitch assignments system for myself, family & friends I build for (not WASD).

    The boards are well made, heavy, rubber-coated fold down legs, side lights, braided cord (USB 2.0 on mine), with thick steel backplate to mount the keyswitches on, and quality plastic keycaps with double squirted plastic and see thru letters that are where they are supposed to be (fully lit) unless you want none or on front. The board covers snap together basically. Have had my board apart about 6 times to change colors of leds and you would not see a tool mark anywhere. Easy to clean crumbs, buggers from gkid, heh.
    Reply
  • alidan
    I use a simple method with mechanical keyboards. Does every key and switch work? Yes, 10/10.
    also, are they mounted on a metal plate or right to a pcb. i would also have tool that tells me hoe much force it takes to depress, test all the keys, and tell the variance, than have one key choices and make a motor press it for a day/week and tell us the results from that, does it retain its force to depress? did it break?
    i would than go on to mention the overall quality of the keyboard, possibly trying to break it over my knee.
    Reply
  • digitaldoc
    Would like to see this analysis done on some notebook keyboards. Some of them are pretty dismal.
    Reply
  • Manfred Higgs
    If anyone is interested there is a great project going on at Deskthority and Geekhack at the moment to create brand new Model F boards to full specifications.
    Reply
  • humorific
    What's really needed is a "rage slam" test as I pound my fist into the keys as I die yet again.
    Reply
  • BorgOvermind
    KB quality is proven over time. There is no quick test to determine long term reliability.

    Other features can be checked though. For example, i recently spilled beer on my Lycosa and found out with that occasion that it is practically sealed and no liquid can get inside (unless you submerge it completely maybe).
    That's one example of a feature worth mentioning.
    Reply
  • scolaner
    KB quality is proven over time. There is no quick test to determine long term reliability.

    Other features can be checked though. For example, i recently spilled beer on my Lycosa and found out with that occasion that it is practically sealed and no liquid can get inside (unless you submerge it completely maybe).
    That's one example of a feature worth mentioning.

    Interesting idea. We'll have to mull that over...I don't want to get in the business of destroying keyboards just for a liquid test, but there may be something to that sort of evaluation!
    Reply