Picking keyswitches for mechanical keyboards can be tricky business, there are dozens of brands, potentially hundreds of combinations of switch mechanisms and actuation forces. Today we're focusing on *the best* - Cherry MX switches.
Cherry has been manufacturing switches for keyboards for a long time, like a seriously long time, they're one of the biggest and longest running manufacturers of mechanical keys in the world, so they know a couple things about switch design. Their switches come in a handful of different configurations but they all use gold-plated contacts, rugged engineering plastic housings and stems, stainless steel springs and are rated in the region of 50 million keystrokes per key, so you're not going to break them anytime soon without doing something either dangerous or illegal.
Cherry MX switches come in 3 basic families - Linear, Tactile & Clicky. These families define the basic feel and sound of the switch - be it a loud click, a quiet bump or smooth with no sound at all, like a ghost or a sneaky fart in a meeting room.
Linear switches are the simplest kind of MX switch, they activate with no tactile bump and no audible sound. They're commonly used in gaming keyboards where keys are pressed hundreds of times a minute if you're any good.
Reds are both the newest and most popular switch in this family being introduced in 2008. They're all over gaming boards, rip open your shiny expensive 'pro gaming' keyboard and odds are you'll find red stems under your fingers. It's siblings are the MX Dark Grey, the MX Super Black and the oldest still-produced MX switch, the MX Black. We'll talk about what the other colors mean soon.
Clicky switches are a little different from linear switches, and like the name suggests, they audibly click. They're great for typing and pissing off co-workers since they give very noticable feedback both audibly and with a physical 'bump', making it easier to know when you've activated the switch. Many mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, especially writers and programmers, swear by clicky switches for their audible feedback, they're *weirdly satisfying* to press. Some people drink too much, others do drugs, mechanical keyboard lovers do clicky keys, its a lifestyle choice.
The most common switch in this catogory is the Cherry MX Blue, originally introduced in 2007, other keys from this group are the MX Green & the MX White. If you hear a mechanical keyboard across the office, you'll probably find blues or greens inside it.
Clicky switches are great, but they can be a little disruptive in an office with people other than yourself in it. The tactile switch is a great middle-ground between linear and clicky switches, they have the same tactile bump feedback that people love from the clicky switch, but make very little sound, like a linear switch.
The MX Brown is by far the most popular tactile switch despite it being introduced as a speciality switch more than 20 years ago, MX Clear and MX Light Grey switches round out this category.
You might be wondering, with only three families, why all the colors? Besides denoting the family, the stem color also denotes activation force, the force required to press down the switch. These forces range from 'sneeze on it and it'll activate' light (40cN - 50cN), 'pretty solid middle ground' medium (60cN - 80cN), 'I like to tell people I work out' stiff (80cN), and 'I'm some kind of sadist' extra-stiff (150cN). A picture is worth a thousand words, so take a look at this:
And there you have it! All you need to know to be dangerous with Cherry MX switches. There are a whole buttload of speciality Cherry MX keys, like the MX Lock key, RGB keys, and even more clones from manufacturers like Gateron, Kalih, ZealPC and others that're, for the most part, pretty servicable, but they're a story for another time.