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Mechanical Keyboard Switch Testing Explained

Relating Switch Testing To Keyboards

Testing keyboards and testing switches are actually rather different tasks, although they relate to one another. As we’ve said, there’s only so much a keyboard maker can do to change the force curves or performance of a batch of switches they buy from a supplier. However, there are some aspects to consider:

Binning

Some keyboard makers bin the batches of switches they purchase. That means they run their own internal QA on them and dispose of the ones they deem of insufficient quality. Other keyboard makers do not. For the latter, this is a cost-saving measure; it takes time, money, and resources to bin switches, and those costs end up affecting the price tags of the final products. By not binning their switches, though, keyboard makers risk allowing substandard switches on their keyboards.

We know that binning is a common practice of some keyboard makers, especially when it comes to Kailh switches. If you ever notice that some keyboards will be marketed as having “[Company name] certified switches,” that’s a clue that the switches on those keyboards have been binned.

Therefore, it makes sense to test common switches - say, Kailh Blues - on an individual keyboard as opposed to only testing a set of random Kailh Blue switches and extrapolating and applying that data to individual keyboards. (Other factors may affect switch performance on keyboards, such as the type of top or back panel a keyboard has. Although we have not yet determined a reliable method for comparing backplate types, we know that there are differences, and so when we collate all data on a given switch culled from both multiple keyboards and loose switches, we can label and parse data based on backplate type if necessary).

Proprietary Switches

Some keyboard makers have adopted the practice of putting their own branded switches on their keyboards. Razer is perhaps the most prominent example with its Razer Green, Yellow, and Orange switches, but others such as Das Keyboard (Alpha-Zulu) and Epic Gear (EG MMS) do the same thing.

In some cases, those companies are quite secretive about the source of their branded switches. Others are more forthcoming, such Logitech, which has been clear that it co-developed its Romer-G switches with Omron.

In virtually all cases of branded switches, though, you can be assured that they’ve been made by a switch manufacturer, not the keyboard maker. In some instances, the keyboard maker has worked with the switch maker to build the switches with its own slightly different specifications. Therefore, although a proprietary switch may be manufactured by X switch maker, the specification on the proprietary switch may be different from the specifications on X switch maker’s standard switches.

Because of the proprietary nature of some of those switches, many individual keyboards are the only one or two devices in existence equipped with those particular switches. In that sense, evaluating a Razer keyboard with the company’s own switches and evaluating the Razer Green, Orange, and Yellow switches is essentially the same task.

Buying In Bulk (Or Not)

Finally, although you can purchase batches of loose switches, some are harder to acquire than others. Loose Cherry MX switches, for example, are widely available and easy to find, whereas loose Kailh switches are much harder to come by. You can buy bags of switches from some other brands as well, but others - such as the proprietary ones mentioned above - are available only on the keyboards that ship from those keyboard makers. Thus, in order to test a specific proprietary switch, you would have to first desolder them from the keyboard they shipped on.

For our purposes, we acquired numerous loose switches; some we purchased, whereas for others we had to request batches from the switch maker(s). For the rest of the switch types we've sought to test, we were limited to the switches that came mounted on a given company’s keyboard(s).

So then, for individual keyboard reviews, we look at the switches on that particular keyboard; in some cases, we may be able to compare that keyboard’s switches with other data we have on the same switch type. For example, if we review Keyboard X with Cherry MX Brown switches, we can look at the switch performance on Keyboard X and then could compare that to the data we’ve gathered from all Cherry MX Brown switches - including any loose Cherry MX Brown switches we tested.


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  • hunshiki
    I would be glad to read durability tests.
    As in for example a Brown switch is how hard to press at first, and how it degrades.

    Because I used Blue and Brown switches, and they both get mushy after a few years of use. Brown was like 1 year, Blue was ~2-3 before getting mushy. They both just lose that tactile bump feel to them.

    The Brown cap kb was a Corsair Strife RGB, the Blue was a Razer BlackWidow. Cherry cap, original, older model.

    Of course this test could only work with tactile ones as Reds don't change with time. For example Reds simply bottom out and that's the only feel you can get out of them.
    Reply
  • raulinbonn
    I'm looking forward to measurements and comparisons between mechanical Cherry Blue switches vs. the recent hybrid from Razer, the so called "mechamembrane" Ornata, which I find to be excellent and pretty much peerless for typing purposes
    Reply
  • scolaner
    19596566 said:
    I would be glad to read durability tests.
    As in for example a Brown switch is how hard to press at first, and how it degrades.

    Because I used Blue and Brown switches, and they both get mushy after a few years of use. Brown was like 1 year, Blue was ~2-3 before getting mushy. They both just lose that tactile bump feel to them.

    The Brown cap kb was a Corsair Strife RGB, the Blue was a Razer BlackWidow. Cherry cap, original, older model.

    Of course this test could only work with tactile ones as Reds don't change with time. For example Reds simply bottom out and that's the only feel you can get out of them.

    Well yes, so would we. :) As we stated, we just don't have the capability to test that at this time. If you have suggestions for tools we could use to do so (that aren't super-expensive pieces of factory equipment), please let us know!
    Reply
  • cats_Paw
    I am quite sure anyone who ever used a mechanical keyboard can confirm that the 50 million clicks is a myth.
    I have used 3 keyboards in 5 years (two of them are dead now) and I certainly did not click 50 million times on the same key.

    But ofc, who is gonna bother to confirm this?
    Id say 1-3 Million is a bit more realistic.
    Reply
  • munted
    Is a standard office membrane keyboard going to be tested for comparison? I've used Cherry Blue and Brown switches and found both of them quite tiring to type on although I didn't use them for very long, I've always wondered how much effort a mechanical keyboard is compared to a membrane.
    Reply
  • bettsar
    I'd love to see an article that compares 1 or 2 cheap rubber dome keyboards to some with mechanical switches. Texture, noise, force. It would be interesting, and potentially helpful in understanding whether I should spring for a nice mechanical keyboard or not.
    Reply
  • scolaner
    19605903 said:
    I'd love to see an article that compares 1 or 2 cheap rubber dome keyboards to some with mechanical switches. Texture, noise, force. It would be interesting, and potentially helpful in understanding whether I should spring for a nice mechanical keyboard or not.

    We do have data on that. We have a ton of content coming based on all our testing, but that's one I hope to tackle when I have the chance.
    Reply
  • bgunner
    Roughly how long will it be before we start seeing articles using this type of data?
    Reply
  • scolaner
    19611937 said:
    Roughly how long will it be before we start seeing articles using this type of data?

    POOF, your wish is granted :D : http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/patriot-viper-v760-mechanical-gaming-keyboard,4798.html
    Reply