The Mechanical Keyboard Rabbit Hole
Typing is a cathartic activity. I feel joy transcribing my thoughts at near line rate and I find peace in the evenly paced clatter of the keys. Given this inclination, it makes sense to experiment with a variety of keyboard switch types and form factors. I currently have 8 in my collection, with 3 that I use with regularity. If you’re not familiar with the different types of mechanical keyboard switches available today, you might find this overview interesting. It has animated gifs of the most common switch mechanisms!
My first mechanical keyboard came as a result of a great tragedy…my cat Sophia knocked over glass of water on my Saitek Eclipse. This resulted in the pickup of a Filco Majestouch-2 TKL with Cherry MX Reds.
An awesome, well rounded board suited for gaming and typing alike. This is one of the boards I use most often, as the mx red switches have a relatively light actuation force and smooth action that I find delightful. For the keys these days, I have cobbled together a combination of black ABS keycaps with black legends (to give a near-blank appearance), along with some blank greens for the letters. Love this color profile!
With the desire to try another switch type, but the still-intact common sense to avoid buying another TKL layout, I set my sites on the Poker II. This 60% board gave me a chance to feel the tactile world of the Cherry MX Clear. I opted for white LEDs to provide a little underglow, but never really use them.
This kicked off a string of acquisitions in 2015 as I felt the thrill of swapping out keyboards any given night. There is a significant difference with each switch type, and it’s immediately obvious that some are better suited to specific tasks. That got me to wondering…how good is this Topre switch everyone keeps talking about. I decided the cheapest way to find out was the snag a CM Storm NovaTouch TKL with Topre switches. The great part about the NovaTouch is that is supports traditional MX stems in addition to the rounded Topre style, allowing me to stick to just one type of keycap.
As you can see, I’ve taken full advantage of the MX stems with a set of Pulse SA keycaps on top. I really enjoy this board, but I find something just slightly amiss with the spacebar when playing first person shooters. Great board for type, not my favorite for gaming, which means it doesn’t see a ton of desk time. After ruling out both tactile (brown) and topre switches for gaming, I wanted to experiment more with the different types of linear switches. With the lightweight bounce of the Cherry MX Red still holding my heart, I opted to give the Cherry MX Blacks a shot, a linear switch with a slightly higher actuation force than the reds. As you might expect, I wanted to try a new form factor as well, so I opted for the awesome Leopold FC660M.
Stellar board, this thing has my vote for best keyboard layout, with the standard 60% plus the arrow keys and delete/insert. After some time with the board, I changed it over to the color scheme you see above with front printed letters on both the green and black caps. So rad, this is one of my favorite looking boards, but I just never felt the Cherry MX Blacks were superior to the reds… I guess I really did my homework with the first board? Couldn’t be…. By this time I had been an active member of /r/keyboards and heard a great deal of feedback on people’s “favorite board.” The consensus I gleaned was that most people preferred either Cherry MX Browns, Cherry MX Reds, or Topre switches. It followed logically that I should pick up a board with browns! Enter my Pok3r.
Cherry MX Browns are fantastic, there is no doubt in my mind. Possibly my favorite, but at least tied for top two (at the time), this board became my go-to for all functions. This 3rd gen Poker board features an aluminum base which…is cool. I felt pretty good about my keyboard life, at this point. I had picked up 5 boards over 3 years (6 if you count the Cherry MX Blue board I swooped via craigslist and eventually gave to my good chum, Mike). Over a year went by until I saw the board of a lifetime, a 0.01 Z70 board featuring 65g Zelios switches. Not only could I try out these legendary, tight-tolerance Zelios switches, but I could do so on an amazingly unique board with a split space bar!
Such an inedible board, the 0.01 Z70 is my current favorite for many reasons. The Zelios switches are an ultra smooth version of the Gateron Brown, which are quite similar to the Cherry MX Brown (meaning tactile, non-clicky). The actuation force is just right for my taste, and the smooth tactile bumps really makes it feel outstanding. The split space bar is a sheer delight for first person shooters and the perfect, compact layout makes for an ideal LAN party board. After about another year, I decided Gateron switches are worth a shot, perhaps they’re a bit different than Cherry MX? I decided to make the gamble an inexpensive one, and picked up a MagicForce 82 Key with Gateron Reds on a whim.
This 82 key layout is actually quite amazing, as it incorporates dedicated F-keys while still retaining a very small footprint. Props to the layout design, and to the solidly performing Gateron Browns, but this board never had a chance with me due to the silver trim. I just can’t handle it, and have come become quite fond of a nice flat black, metal case. Cool pickup, regardless and, as with some of my other boards, it can put on a neat light show with per-key LED activation while you type. In parallel with the boards cycling in and out at home, I sought the perfect work keyboard. Unlike some out there, I refuse to bring a super loud board to work. Early on, I opted for a Matias Quiet-Click Pro featuring their proprietary “Quiet Click” switches, but over time three of these boards failed me for various reasons. Only with the recent introduction of the Cherry MX Silent Red have I been able to find true work keyboard nirvana. Behold, the Leopold FC750R with Cherry MX Silent Red switches and Double Shot PBT black caps with red legends.
This reduced noise version of the Cherry MX Reds is fantastic, it feels like a true mech board while being quieter than some rubber domes I’ve heard! I’ve only had this board for a few months, as of writing this post, and it’s fast becoming a favorite. As you’ve seen by now, I not only have a bunch of keyboards but a ton of various keycaps as well! It’s very satisfying to pry off every cap of a board and replace with a new, custom theme. To keep my keyboard obsession under control, I’ve come up with a few methods to stay organized. First up is my keyboard storage box, in which I keep misc keycap sets, like mods and spares, along with a switch tester, some cap pullers, and other random keyboard stuff.
Naturally I needed some way to store full keycap sets, mostly stock sets that I replaced down the road. For this, I have found no superior method than to use the cardboard boxes from MaxKeyboards. These boxes consume very little space, and ensure the caps are not only safe, but neatly organized for ultra quick change outs.
Finally, I needed a way to keep this boards close at hand, but not too on display. I wanted a storage solution that was clean, as compact as possible, and sturdy, so I eventually I opted to reuse some open air networking rack posts that I had lying around, accompanied by far-too-expensive rack shelves to create a ludicrous, yet fitting keyboard shelf. This fantastic little unit sits right by my side at my desk, nestled in between two filing-cabinet style Ikea drawers.
Currently you’ll find the Filco with reds and the Leopold with silent reds hard at work on my home and office desks, respectively. Who knows where this keyboard obsession will take me, but at this point it will take quite a special board to catch my attention!