A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Parts of a Mechanical Keyboard
Mechanical keyboards have become increasingly popular among writers, gamers, programmers, and business professionals, and for good reason. Unlike traditional membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards consist of a series of individual mechanical switches for each key, making them more tactile, responsive, and durable. However, for those new to mechanical keyboards, all the different parts can be overwhelming. In this article, we'll provide a comprehensive guide to understanding the different parts of a mechanical keyboard and their functions, including common options and how they can impact the keyboarding experience.
Parts of a Keyboard Breakdown
Before diving into the details of each part, let's first provide a high-level overview of the different parts of a mechanical keyboard and their functions.
- Keycaps: Visible keys that activate underlying switches
- Switches: Transfer keystrokes to Printed Circuit Board (PCB)
- Case: Holds everything together and protects internal components. It can be made up of a top case that sits below the switches or only have a bottom case.
- Gaskets: Protect internal components from dust and liquids
- Plate: Aligns and stabilizes switches
- Printed Circuit Board (PCB): Converts keystrokes into electrical signals and sends them to a computer. Some have diodes for RGB backlighting
- Stabilizers: Keep large keys stable while typing (spacebar, shift, enter, delete)
- Power Cable: Plugs into the computer with a USB connection
Optional keyboard parts that might not be on all keyboards include:
- Keyboard Feet: Gives the keyboard an angle. Some Das Keyboard models use a removable footbar that is also a ruler.
- Volume Wheel or Knob: Controls the volume on a computer
- Media Keys: Keys like play/pause, previous track, next track
- LED Indicator Lights: Usually used to indicate when caps lock, num lock, or scroll lock is activated.
- Sound-Absorbing Foam: Absorbs sound and minimizes noise
- O-Rings: Dampens noise and tactile feedback on mechanical keyboards
- Sleep button: Puts the computer to sleep instantly (exclusively on Das Keyboard models)
- USB Passthrough/s: Allows for plugging in external devices to charge or transfer files
Parts of a Keyboard: In Detail
Now, let's dive deeper into each part of a mechanical keyboard, including what they do, common options, and how they can affect the keyboarding experience.
Keycaps are the visible part of the keyboard that sits on top of the mechanical switches and that you press with your fingers. When you push on a keycap, it pushes down the switch and activates the keystroke. Keycaps come in many different shapes, sizes, and materials. Most keycaps are made from either Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) or Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), but they can be made of virtually any material, such as resin, wood, metals like aluminum, stainless steel, or even gold!
PBT keycaps are a popular choice because they are strong and durable, resist fading, and tend to have a matte, grainy feel. They're generally more expensive than ABS keycaps, which are flexible, impact-resistant, and boast sharp colors and crisp legends. However, the large cost difference between PBT and ABS has led to ABS keycaps being the most common keycap material used in the market today.
PBT and ABS keycaps can be single-shot or double-shot. Single-shot keycaps are made from one layer of plastic, while double-shot keycaps are two layers of plastic molded together. One plastic comprises the main housing, and the other is injected
Mechanical keyboard switches are the underlying components that register keystrokes. They are available in a range of colors, each with a unique feel, sound, and actuation force. Understanding the different switches can help you select the best mechanical keyboard for your needs.
Linear switches have a smooth, consistent feel when pressed and no tactile feedback. They are generally preferred by gamers because of their quick response time and easy to double-tap for rapid keystrokes. They are also often used in office environments for their quiet operation.
Tactile switches provide tactile feedback when pressed, which is felt as a bump. This feedback provides the user with a clear indication that a keystroke has been registered. They are a popular choice for writers, programmers, and those who prefer a more traditional feel.
Clicky switches offer a tactile bump as well as an audible click sound. The sound is created by a metal component inside the switch that strikes the housing when the key is pressed. They are generally not used in office environments due to their loud noise, but they are a popular choice for typists who enjoy the sound and feel of typing.
Some popular mechanical switches include:
Cherry MX: The original mechanical switch, Cherry MX switches come in a range of colors and are known for their durability and consistency.
Gateron: A popular switch brand from China, Gateron switches are similar to Cherry MX switches but are smoother and quieter.
Kailh: Another popular Chinese brand, Kailh switches are known for their affordability and come in a variety of colors and styles.
Zealio: Zealio switches are high-end, boutique switches known for their smooth feel and customizability.
Mechanical Keyboard Case
The case is the external housing that holds everything together and protects the internal components. It can be made up of a top case that sits below the switches or only have a bottom case. The case material can vary and can significantly impact the keyboard's aesthetics and durability.
Plastic cases are the most common and are available in a range of colors and styles. They are affordable, lightweight, and easy to produce, making them a popular choice for manufacturers.
Metal cases are heavier and more expensive than plastic cases, but they are also more durable and can provide a premium look and feel. They are a popular choice for high-end mechanical keyboards.
Wooden cases offer a unique look and feel, and they can be made from a variety of woods, including walnut, cherry, and maple. They are often more expensive than plastic or metal cases, but they can provide a one-of-a-kind aesthetic.
Mechanical Keyboard Gasket
Gaskets are thin rubber or silicone strips that sit between the case and the PCB. They help protect the internal components from dust and liquids, reduce vibration, and provide a softer feel when typing.
Plate Mechanical Keyboard Plate The plate is a metal or plastic sheet that aligns and stabilizes the switches. The plate can significantly impact the feel and sound of the keyboard, with thicker plates providing a more solid feel and a deeper sound.
Printed Circuit Board (PCB)
Mechanical Keyboard PCB The PCB is the component that converts keystrokes into electrical signals and sends them to the computer. Some PCBs have diodes for RGB backlighting, which allows the keys to light up in various colors.
Stabilizers are metal wire mechanisms that help keep large keys stable while typing. Keys like the spacebar, shift, enter, and delete keys are stabilized to prevent wobbling and provide a consistent feel.
In conclusion, a keyboard is an essential tool for any computer user. Understanding the different parts of a keyboard is important in order to fully utilize its features and functions. The main parts of a keyboard include the alphanumeric keys, function keys, control keys, navigation keys, and the numeric keypad. Each of these parts serves a specific purpose and can be customized for specific needs. By knowing how to use these different parts effectively, users can increase their productivity and efficiency when working on their computer.