Mechanical keyboards are all the rage these days, and while they've become popular with gamers looking to get an edge in competition, they are also sought out by professionals looking for more accuracy and feedback in typing. It's no wonder that purists still covet the IBM Model M, a spring-based keyboard originally introduced way back in 1984. That's because the heavy, responsive feel you get from a spring simply cannot be replicated in today's membrane-based keyboards, which use a rubber dome in place of a spring. They're quieter, cheaper, and lighter, which are all good things, but one thing membrane-based keyboards do not lend themselves to is actual typing performance.
So, is our only option to search around the web for IBM's Model M relics? Of course not! Thankfully, several manufacturers have endeavored to bring back the crisp, chunky feeling of the mechanical keyboard, but sporting a number of modern updates. Perhaps best known among these purveyors of typing sensibility is Cherry, a company based in Germany that markets a whole range of mechanical switches, as well as complete keyboards and mice. We'll be looking at several products featuring Cherry's offerings, as well as one that has a lower-cost substitute. The goal is to give you a broad sense of what's available, and what's worth buying!
You can catch The Tech Buyer's Guru in a humorous demo of several of the mechanical keyboards in this article, as aired on the March 15, 2017 broadcast of KGW-8's Portland Today Show:
Here are the four keyboards we tested in this roundup:
- Cherry MX Board Silent - unavailable as or our publication date (thank you to Cherry for providing this review sample)
- Corsair K70 Lux MX Red - $109 as of our publication date (thank you to Newegg and Corsair for providing this review sample)
- Roccat Suora FX Brown - $123 as of our publication date (thank you to Roccat for providing this review sample)
- Rosewill RK-9300 BR - $90 as of our publication date (thank you to Rosewill for providing this review sample)
All four of these keyboards are mechanical in nature, but each has a slightly different switch inside. Cherry MX switches, by far the most popular mechanical switches on the market, are used in the Rosewill, Corsair, and obviously the Cherry keyboard, but even these are each quite different. You can see all the current Cherry switches in the display pictured below. We captured this image while chatting with Cherry representatives at CES 2017, and they were clearly excited about their expanding lineup of offerings.
The Corsair board uses what's likely the most common switch, the linear, non-clicky MX Red. The Rosewill board uses the MX Brown switch, which adds tactile feedback. Interestingly, in what we believe is a cost-saving move, the Roccat uses a competitor's switch, specifically the TTC Brown switch. These are far less common in the market, but as we'll discuss later, they seem to work as well, at least in the short term. Long-term durability isn't yet known.
Finally, we get to the MX Red Silent switch, pictured here, which is in the Cherry-branded keyboard we've included in this roundup. The standard MX Red switch, released in 2008, is one of Cherry's newer switches, and is marketed primarily at gamers. Cherry realized, however, that it's lower noise output appealed to a number of users, and has now gone the extra step to convert the MX Red to a true office professional's switch by giving it the "silent" treatment. Here's what Cherry has to say about this switch:
patented (patent pending) noise reduction with integrated 2-component stem and worldwide unique Gold Crosspoint contact technology; minimises bottom-out and top out noise.
This switch is still hard to find in mainstream keyboards, and Cherry sent us a sample of their in-house silent model, simply dubbed the "MX Board Silent." We'll share our impressions later on, but there's no doubt that the MX Red Silent switch used in this keyboard feels fundamentally different than any switch that's come from Cherry previously. Note that the MX Board Silent isn't available for sale in the U.S. as this time, but given that it's basically a bog-standard white office keyboard modeled after products from the 1980s and 1990s, we view it mostly as a vehicle for testing these innovative new switches.
To get the most objective take on the contenders, we brought together two testers to try all of the products back-to-back, in the very same game: Battlefield 1.
Ari, TBG's founder, used the following system:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K Quad-Core
- Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z270X-UD3
- Memory: Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-3000
- Video Card #1: EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC 8GB
- Video Card #2: EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 FE 8GB
- Solid-State Drive: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB M.2
Alex, TBG's lead web developer, used the following system:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6600K Quad-Core
- Motherboard: Asus Z170-A
- Memory: Corsair 2x8GB Vengeance LPX DDR4-2666
- Video Card: Sapphire Radeon R9 Fury Nitro Tri-X OC+ 4GB
- Solid-State Drive: Crucial MX200 512GB
Using these high-end machines ensured that we could pick up on any flaws in the sample keyboards that led to missed keystrokes. Ari and Alex spent about two hours playing in the same online multiplayer matches, switching off peripherals after each round. On the next page, we'll provide you more details on each of the contenders. We also tested out each keyboard for an extended typing session.