Mechanical keyboards, Cherry MX madness

Then the make geek thing these days, mechanical keyboards.

tl;DR

There are an incredible number of guides from keyboard.co, but here are some models to consider, it is nice to have them backlit I find, but here is a list of top models to consider sorted by price:

  1. WASD Keyboard Tester. If you are really not sure get the $16 keyboard tester which is a single key of each type so you can see what you like.
  2. Corsair K70 Lux RGB. This is a “budget” keyboard relatively speaking at $130, but you can get it in the really common formats the Cherry Blue (clicky and loud but good for developers), Cherry MX Brown (the middle road, has tactile bump for feedback but is silent) or Cherry MX Red (completely linear good for gaming). It is much cheaper than the K95 particularly if you do not need all those macro keys for gaming. They also the new Cherry MX Rapidfire which is even less force than the Red.
  3. WASD CODE 87-key. Most developers don’t need 104 keys and would rather have a shorter one especially for programmers, so that is why the CODE was invented. Also, WASD has all the additional other types with Cherry MX Green (the blue with more actuation force, so you don’t have to click all the way down and the MX Cherry Clear Keyboard ($150) which is the Cherry Brown with more actuation force so you can be faster. When you are typing a lot, the MX Cherry Clear is a great tradeoff, not as clicky as the Blue but not linear as the Cherry Red. Get the Cherry Green if you want some click and are not in a shared office space. Or get dampeners if you want a little more quiet. These are $15 from Amazon (plus a $6 keyboard cap puller) but you have to install them yourself or $30 if WASD installs them for you.
  4. Das Keyboard. This is the keyboard that kind of started it all, it is 104 keys and $180 so it is quite expensive but generally considered the “category creator”. About $200.
  5. Topre Realforce 87U. ($244 at Amazon) This uses the Topre keys from Japan and is considered by some the absolute best. Brian Kernighan for instance uses the HHKB which is a 60 key model that uses the Topre. This is a whopping $250 on Amazon so the prince of keyboards, but it has their magic electro capacitive keys which are supposed to be amazing.

The main thing is the many different types of keys that are the heart of a keyboard, so here’s a decoder ring and a technical one plus a gamer POV. Or if you love curves, you can see actuation graphically at WASD.

The tl;dr is that if you are gaming, the Cherry Red is nice, if you are alone, then the Cherry Blue is great and the compromise is a Cherry Brown which has the bump but isn’t noisy. Calvin loves the Clear and that’s probably the other one to try for developers doing lots of typing particularly if you are in a shared office space:

  • Cherry MX Black. 1984. Stiff at 60cN activation force, so used for point of sale terminals and not really for typing.
  • Cherry MX Red. 2008. 2mm to actuation point. Low activation force of 45 cN so good for gaming as you want to spam keys fast.  I’m using one at work and it really smooth so no feedback, nice for gaming and certainly better than a $10 dome keyboard or an Apple wireless keyboard. We have a Razor Vengeance K70 with Cherry MX Brown and it is definitely quiet and smooth but doesn’t have the feedback for fast typing.
  • Cherry MX Brown. 1994. They have a 45 cN but adds a tactile bump so you know you have hit them but are silent. It a good middle of the road option with light touch but tactile. The nice thing about the tactile feedback is that you don’t have to press all the way down so it can be faster.
  • Cherry MX Blue. 2007. These are 50cN but have both a tactile bump and an audible click. They are definitely louder and not as good for an open office. We have these at home and they definitely are clicky and quite satisfying but loud. We have a Razor Black Widow which has a knockoff of the Cherry MX Blue with same 50cN actuation but high activation point and cheaper (just $80).

Then there are some less common keys but the Clear and Green are ones to look at:

  • Cherry MX Silent Red (aka Pink). These are quieter versions MX Red with 45cN actuation.
  • Cherry Clear. Stiffer version of the Cherry Brown with a tactile bump but still silent. If you typing a lot the harder actuation prevents mistyping (the thing I absolutely dislike about the MacBook Pro 2016 where I’m generating errors all the time). The nice thing about the clear is that you don’t bottom out as much.
  • Cherry Green. Stiffer versions of the blue at 80 cN so you have the same advantages as the clear, but again it is noisy!

Then there are some other considerations:

  • Keycap material. The main thing is that as the key wear out, you do not want uncoated ABS, ideally you want the PBT variety but these are more expensive.
  • O-ring sound dampeners. These are Made by WASD and reduce the bottoming so they are quieter.

Finally the size of the keyboard is an issue:

  • 104 key. These have the number keypad. This is mainly useless unless you have Ubuntu are are using the keys for Compiz Grid, but you can remap them.
  • 87 keys. Way smaller and the mouse is closer, this is a good portable size.

Then finally there are:

  • Backlighting. Some consider this a nerd feature, but I type enough at night that I love it. It’s the main reason to get the WASD Code over the WASD v2 by the way, the WASD v2 isn’t backlit.