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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | Keyboards | Keyboard Construction and Operation | Keyswitches ]

Keyswitch Design Attributes

Probably no other aspect of the design and manufacture of a keyboard affects its important attributes more than the technology used in making the keyswitches. For this reason, keyboards are often differentiated by the type of keyswitches they use.

Here are some of the key attributes of keyboards that are related to keyswitch technology. Keep these attributes in mind as you read about the different technologies:

  • Travel: Certain keyswitch technologies are more amenable to creating designs with longer keycap travel, while others limit travel significantly. (There are also differences between implementations within a technology type of course; not all keyboards with the same keyswitches have the same travel.)
  • Tactile Feedback: This refers to the feeling that the fingers get when they press down on a key. Certain keyswitch technologies provide very high feedback when you complete a keypress: you can actually feel a mechanical "click". For fast typing this is important, because it helps your brain subjectively register that "I got this key, I can move on to the next one". If the keyboard provides little or no feedback, most people cannot easily type with speed.
  • Audibility: This attribute refers to the sound made by a key as it completes a keypress. Some keyswitches are much louder than others. Audibility is normally correlated with tactile feedback, and is used for the same general purpose: to provide feedback that a key has been pressed.
  • Activation Force: This characteristic refers to how much pressure is required to cause the keycap to depress. Some keyswitches are "harder" and others "softer".
  • "Feel": This is really an intangible that incorporates the concepts above, along with other subjective attributes. In essence, this is the overall assessment of how the keyboard feels to the user. Someone who types a great deal can tell if they like a keyboard after typing a paragraph on it.
  • Durability: Certain keyswitch designs are better than others in terms of various durability characteristics. Durability can encompass both the longevity of the keyboard, in terms of the average number of keystrokes a keyswitch can take before it wears out, and also how likely the keyswitches are to develop problems due to dirt or corrosion.
  • Cost: Keyswitches that provide better feedback, or that last longer, or that have better "feel", tend to cost more than ones that score lower in these attributes. Since keyboards get relatively little attention compared to other components, the trend in PC bundles over the years has been to go to the cheapest designs possible that aren't sufficiently poor to lead to technical support calls. :^) As a result, to get a good keyboard you may have to purchase one separately from your PC system.

As with most issues related to comfort, keyswitch attributes are largely a personal matter. Some like a keyboard with keys that require a great deal of force to activate, with high tactile feedback and good audibility. Others prefer a softer feel to the keys and silent operation.

Next: Mechanical Contact Keyswitches


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