Clicky Keyboards

Do you like clicky, clackity, or silent?

What Goes Into a Keyboard?

There are many different types of keyboards out there.  Keyboards are pretty much a necessity in our computing world. There are standard keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, gaming keyboards, etc. Why are there so many different types? Well it ranges from differences in technology, cost, and well, different strokes for different folks.

Depending on what type of device you have you have encountered probably the two major types. There are other “exotic” types of keyboards out there. Maybe a co-worker has one, perhaps you’ve heard of the old IBM M keyboards, or just want a better typing experience.

Here are the two major types of keyboards most people have typed on:

Dome-switch Keyboard

This type of keyboard is common among most of the desktop keyboards out there. They’re relatively cheap, both in cost and quality.

Dome-switch keyboards are a hybrid of flat-panel membrane and mechanical keyboards. They bring two circuit board traces together under a rubber or silicone keypad using either metal “dome” switches or polyester formed domes. The metal dome switches are formed pieces of stainless steel that, when compressed, give the user a crisp, positive tactile feedback. These metal types of dome switches are very common, are usually reliable to over 5 million cycles, and can be plated in either nickel, silver or gold.
Wikipedia: Dome-Switch Keyboard

These are not bad keyboards.  If you buy a dell desktop this is the type of keyboard that will come with it.

Scissor-switch Keyboard

If you’re on a laptop or have a newer Apple keyboard you’ve experienced a scissor-switch keyboard. Very similar to design and approach to the dome-switch keyboards, these keyboards are designed to be rather cheap to produce. The largest difference is that they’re designed to be compact and can be very quiet.

A special case of the computer keyboard dome-switch is the scissor-switch. The keys are attached to the keyboard via two plastic pieces that interlock in a “scissor”-like fashion, and snap to the keyboard and the key. It still uses rubber domes, but a special plastic scissors’ mechanism links the keycap to a plunger that depresses the rubber dome with a much shorter travel than the typical rubber dome keyboard. Typically scissor-switch keyboards also employ 3-layer membranes as the electrical component of the switch. They also usually have a shorter total key travel distance (2 mm instead of 3.5 – 4 mm for standard dome-switch keyswitches). This type of keyswitch is often found on the built-in keyboards on laptops and keyboards marketed as ‘low-profile’. These keyboards are generally quiet and the keys require little force to press.
Wikipedia: Scissor-Switch Keyboard

The Other Keyboards

So you’ve probably seen of those previous two types of switches and keyboards,  but have you heard of buckle-spring switch and mechanical switch keyboards. From my standpoint these two types of keyboards make for the best typing experience.

Mechanical Switch Keyboards

These keyboards have a very distinctive click noise when depressed. You’ll know when someone is typing on one of these keyboards.

Mechanical-switch keyboards use real switches underneath every key. Depending on the construction of the switch, such keyboards have varying response and travel times.
Wikipedia – Mechanical-Switch Keyboard

The big plus with this type of keyboard is that there is exceptional feedback while typing. With the click and mechanical feel you’ll be able to know the moment the key actuated.

Buckling-spring Switch Keyboards

Many people have heard of “those old IBM keyboards.” They have a distinctive click/clack and even look. The typing feel is also distinctive.

The buckling spring mechanism (expired U.S. Patent 4,118,611) atop the switch is responsible for the tactile and aural response of the keyboard. This mechanism controls a small hammer that strikes a capacitive or membrane switch.
Wikipedia – Buckling-Spring Keyboard

What Type to Buy?

If you want a cheap replacement keyboard get a regular rubber dome type keyboard. You can get them for close to $5. The Apple scissor-switch keyboard is very cool looking, but expensive. My personal preference and suggestion to you is to get (or at least try) a mechanical keyboard. Either the mechanical switch or buckling-spring type are great for typists who sit at a computer all day.

Here’s a couple of keyboards that I suggest you look into:

daskeyboard

One of the premier key manufactures of mechanical-switch keyboards. I personally own two of these keyboards. One of the awesome features that this company offers is a keyboard which comes with blank keycaps. Blank keycaps are keys with no writing on them. This makes it perfect for touch typing. From my personal experience I can tell you that getting a daskeyboard Ultimate will help you become a better and faster touch typist.

These keyboards use Cherry MX key switches rated for millions presses. daskeyboards also support full n-key rollover. What does full n-key rollover mean? If you use the PS/2 input then you can press as many keys at once as you can manage. This is great for gamers and super fast typists.

One word of warning to those who get one of these keyboards. They will make your co-workers jealous! I’ve already had one appropriated by a co-worker who wanted to “test it out”.

Unicomp

For my next keyboard purchase I will most likely purchase from UniComp, Inc.

Why purchase an imitator when you can buy the original “Model M”. We have produced the buckling spring “Click” keyboard for IBM and thousands of discriminating users worldwide for 15 years…. Join the many that have made the switch to a much more accurate data entry alternative.

This company in Lexington, Kentucky still produces the same keyboard that was sold under “Model M” name over 15 years ago. UniComp is not just based in the US, but also manufactures its keyboards right here! That means they’re not just some fly-by-night company. Not many keyboard manufactures can boast ISO 9001:2008 certification. Just to throw one more awesome fact in there about UniComp, many of the same people who worked on building the “Model M” keyboard all those years ago now work for this same company.

These keyboards use the buckling-spring keyboard type of switch. You’ll know instantly when you’ve heard one of these keyboards. They have a very distinctive click and clack response. If you’re in an open environment type of office your cubemates may not like you, however it will be music to your ears!

About Mike

I'm a software engineer. Look into the about page for more information about me.
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One Response to Clicky Keyboards

  1. Awesome read. I learned quite a bit reading through this post. I’ve always been a fan of the scissor type keyboard ever since I bought my Fujitsu laptop. The keys feel nice and expensive. But I’m curious to give a mechanical switch keyboard a go. I vaguely remember using one at your house. I guess when mine falls apart, I’ll know where to look for a great purchase!