Ultimate Keyboard Showdown: Mechanical vs. Membrane Keyboards

15 May 2019

The casual computer user might think that all keyboards are the same. They may even be forgiven for thinking that – after all, the casual computer user might only write a few emails and perform a few Google searches a day.

For the hardcore gamer, however, keyboard choice is far more crucial. Having the right keyboard is about tactile feel and feedback. It is about elevating your gaming (and general computing) experience to the next level. It is about having a keyboard that feels right in your hands, that enables you to perform at your best. 

There are two core types of keyboards – membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards. Deciding which type is right for you depends on several factors. After all, you may have spent countless hours and dollars researching the best computer parts to buy – it pays to think about how you’ll be interacting with your new build too! 

Key differences between membrane and mechanical keyboards

Membrane keyboards are the more common of the two. With membrane keyboards, a thin membrane presses on a circuit layer, that registers the key pressed. They are lighter, generally more portable, cheaper, and quieter than their mechanical counterparts.

Key downsides of membrane keyboards include their tendency towards a “mushy” key feel, a shorter lifespan, as well as an increased difficulty to clean. Lastly is the inability to allow “key rollover”. With a membrane keyboard, you can only actually register one keystroke in a single moment. This means you may get moments when the key you press does not actually register. Whether you are gaming or typing, this can be a significant disadvantage.

Mechanical keyboards are notable for their distinct key-feel. Mechanical keyboards provide much more direct feedback to the user. While a membrane key cap presses down on a thin membrane layer, to a conductive circuit underneath, a mechanical keyboard has spring-loaded switches instead. These register the key pressed – often with a distinct click, unique to mechanical keyboards. A unique element is their use of spring-loaded switches – these come in several different feels.

The main trinity of switch types are linear, where the keystroke is smooth; tactile, where a bump in the middle of travel provides feedback; or clicky, which provide a crisp aural feedback. A couple of lesser known switch types are the speedy, where the key actuates as quickly as possible and the silent, where the key switch makes minimal aural feedback. Switches can also be found in the low profile format which makes for a slimmer keyboard and shorter key travel.

Recently there have been some advances in the key technology. Razer has created optical switches with very low acuation times using a light beam below the switch stem. Steelseries' response is their OmniPoint switch which can be configured to actuate at different actuation points.

The other key difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards is customisation. Mechanical keyboards allow you to literally change the keycaps – therefore radically altering the look and feel of your keyboard. There is no shortage of keycaps on the internet, meaning the opportunity to customise allows you to set up your keyboard exactly how you want it. If you are interested in the custom keycaps, have a look the photos from our Mechanical Keyboard Mini-meet we hosted in our showroom.

Key downsides of a mechanical keyboard include price, weight, and sound. If noise bothers you, you may want to steer away from most mechanical switch types and go for a silent type. While the different options of switch design provide excellent feedback, it also makes the keyboard louder than its membrane counterpart, more expensive, and heavier.

What to consider when buying a keyboard

There are several key things to consider when purchasing a keyboard

These include type of use, portability, as well as plain personal preference. The kind of PC activity you’ll be doing should dictate what sort of keyboard you’ll be looking to buy. If you are a light user of your desktop or laptop, play more casual games, or are often moving around, a membrane keyboard may be more suitable.

Are you a power user instead? Or are you looking for something special and unique to finish your fresh build with?  

A mechanical keyboard may be right for you. You may be looking for a keyboard that provides enhanced tactile feedback, or that allows you to customise the look at feel of the board. A mechanical keyboard may be the thing that elevates your gaming to the next level – that means no more missed spells in Dota, or enhancing your build speed in Fortnite. 

It also pays to consider the size keyboard you need. If you use your PC for a mixture of gaming and data entry, a full-size keyboard, with its ten key numpad to the right is suitable. But if you use your keyboard just to game, a TKL (tenkeyless) design may be more suitable. Likewise, if space is at a premium, consider a smaller, more compact keyboard. Membrane keyboards typically are full-sized, whereas you can buy mechanical keyboards in both standard sizes. 

Your keyboard is your point of connection

A keyboard, at the end of the day, is your connection to the computer. But as you see, both forms of keyboards have their advantages and disadvantages. When you head to your local computer shop, it pays to carefully consider the differences between mechanical and membrane keyboards. You need to make sure that it properly serves your purpose, and allows you to compute to your best. 

Need a new keyboard? Talk to one of our team today.


Computer Lounge