DarkeSword

Mechanical Keyboard Recommendations

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I'm looking into getting a mechanical keyboard at home because the Razer gaming keyboard I have just isn't cutting it.

 

What are some good mechanical keyboards? Anyone have any recommendations? Good deals?

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I love my Corsair K90, but it's been replaced by the K95 (fully mechanical), which is even better. However, if you don't want the inordinate amount of macro keys, then the Corsair K70 or the K65 may be just the ticket for you. Cherry Red switches, which are very nice and tactile without the super-distinct "click." If you want a more distinct clicking feel, then look into something with different color switches--perhaps Blue or Brown. Steelseries, Das Keyboard, and even Razer themselves have good mechanical keyboards, although Razer uses their own custom switches, meaning they're a bit less standard.

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i used a k60 forever and loved it. i wanted something a bit smaller and went with the tenkeyless model, the k65. it's still great. if i were you, look for a unibody design with the switches sticking out of a closed case, like what the k60 did. easy to clean with some air and a paintbrush, the keys are significantly raised from the back so it's easy to pull them off for cleaning as well, and the wrist-rest makes a big difference as well for keeping your left hand (usually the most active one in gaming) at the proper height.

 

i'd suggest not going for a particularly expensive model until you're certain you really like mechanical keyboards. cherry reds are the best switches for gaming imo since they've got a relatively light touch and very consistent activation - once you get used to not fully depressing the key, your fingers can just dance on the keyboard at speeds you never dreamed possible before because you're not wasting so much time pressing all the way down, and you're not anchoring your hands to a specific key while you depress it.

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I'm very much enjoying my WASDKeyboard with brown switches.  You can even submit a decal to go over your keys so it has a special design, plus choose which keys you want letters on (to improve typing speed, most of my keys are blank, so even if I look it doesn't help).  If you can't find a keyboard to physically touch and try out, you can order a sample and choose which you want.  E.g. http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php/wasd-6-key-cherry-mx-switch-tester.html

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I'm no expert on gaming keyboards, but when I finally killed the last old stock keyboard I had that I considered remotely acceptable, I grabbed a CM Quick Fire Rapid which I'm quite happy with.  It came with Cherry MX Blues, which are very loud and clacky, which I personally find extremely satisfying.  I've seen it suggested that the Blues are more optimized for typing than gaming though, which seems plausible to me based on how they feel.  (I'm not exactly a competitive twitch gamer in any case.)

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Razer uses a cheap knockoff of cherry switches in their boards. If you're looking for something a little bit nicer but still reasonable, Cooler Master has a line of mechanical boards (CM storm) that's built solidly with standard cherry switches. They're commonly on sale at newegg or amazon.

 

An overview of cherry switch types if you aren't familiar:

  • Blue - these are the standard clicky/clacky switches that you're probably used to
  • Green - these are like the blues but stiffer; commonly used for the space bar and return in boards predominantly with blues
  • Brown - these have a tactile bump, but do not click (in practice, there is a small sound from the bump, and many people bottom out their keys which will still make significant noise). These were developed for Kinesis, who wanted to market a keyboard for office environments that were somewhat quieter.
  • Clear - essentially a stiffer brown switch
  • Reds - linear actuation and force characteristics through the length of the switch, no tactile or audible feedback
  • Black - stiffer reds

There are a few others, but those are the common types of Cherry switches. Browns or blues are best for typing, reds and blacks are best for gaming. Most of the marketing around "gaming" keyboards is contrary to this, but that's mostly due to their belief that the consumer can't identify a mechanical board without the click. The linear switches have a more consistent firing depth and actuation force than the others. The best part about cherry boards is that they're relatively cheap (tens of dollars, not hundreds).

 

Ignore the rest of this post if you don't want to spend a few hundred dollars on keyboards.

 

If you're looking for something for typing, I personally favor topre keys. I use a uTron; which has a unique split layout with keys that splay naturally for each hand. More reasonable would be a Topre Realforce (they license their switches to third parties at a higher rate..). If you're looking for something with a small form-factor, the HHKB2 Pro (Happy Hacker Keyboard 2) is pretty nice.

 

I'm also fond of bucking springs (the really old IBM keyboards). You can still buy the old keyboards on the secondary market. Those are available with and without the 10-key, and variants that are split or include a trackpoint exist but are somewhat rare/collectible. You can also buy new USB boards with buckling springs from Unicomp (http://www.pckeyboard.com/), who currently own the patent. They have the standard layouts available, as well as with a trackpoint knockoff, but they don't have tooling for the split layout. If you want the split layout from the IBM M-15, your only options until the patent runs out are to buy an old one or get a rubber dome gold touch keyboard.

 

You can also get a keyboard with alps switches, but I'm less familiar with these. Like cherry, they come in a variety of types specified by colors. They're an older design originally in competition with the buckling spring boards.

 

I mentioned split keyboards above, and if you're looking for a mechanical board for ergonomic reasons, the layout is certainly more important. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of options for split boards. GoldTouch has some boards at a reasonable price, but they're all rubber domes. You can buy an old M-15, but they're rather pricey. I personally use a uTron and like it quite a bit, but it has non-standard key dimensions and layout -- if you use it, you'll spend some time getting used to it and want to avoid other boards. The biggest problem with the uTron is that you'll need to use a courrier service to import it from Japan. If you can get used to the keys being mounted in wells, a Kinesis or Maltron will do quite well, and they're only ~$300.

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