Don’t buy a mechanical keyboard before reading this!

 Mechanical keyboards are trending in the tech universe, boasting better user experience, productivity, and durability, along with better customization as compared to a standard keyboard. If you’re a gamer, a programmer, or just a regular person lured by the touch and feel of mechanical keyboards, then you’re at the right place to understand the lingo before purchasing one. So, let’s get started!


What are switches?

These are mechanisms under the keycaps on a mechanical keyboard that register every time a key is pressed. Factors which determine the specifications of a switch are listed below.


Actuation Point

Is when the input is registered and is measured from the top of the keycap. The registration range is between 0.1mm-4mm.


Travel distance 

It’s the distance between a key’s resting state and its position when in a depressed state. The typical range lies between 0 mm and 4 mm. Some gamers prefer a large travel distance as it makes keystrokes more distinct, while others prefer shorter travel distances which requires less effort to actuate the keys. 


Reset point

Where the switch is reset and is ready for activation again. 


Tactile/Clicky position

Is the point where the actuation is felt. Tactile switches have a slight bump you can feel before bottoming out, whereas clicky switches make an audible click sound.


The actuation force, also known as Operating Position

The amount of force that should be applied to pass the actuation point and is measured in centinewtons or grams (cN/g), 


Usually, these values are measured in

  • Light switches (less than 55cN)
  • Medium switches (55-75cN)
  • Hard switches (greater than 75 CN)


Other mechanical keyboard terms:


Fast Gaming switches

The actuation point of fast switches is generally around 1 mm, which is fairly high, so registration happens faster than the regular 2 mm actuation point. It started with the Cherry MX speed switches that had an actuation point of 1.2 mm, where keys could be lightly tapped and inputs could be speedily registered.


Stabilizers or stabs

Is a metal wire that holds the larger keys in place on each end. For instance, the space bar is stabilised no matter where you press on it and isn’t wobbly. 


Key rollover

Usually denoted as NKRO or N key rollover, it’s the maximum number of keys that can be registered at the same time. Previously, 8 or 16 key rollovers were available for high-end gaming keyboards. However, recently, the keyboard processors are powerful enough to register all the keys at the same time. 



Some switches can be removed from the PCB and swapped for other types of switches. This enables you to install your favourite switches into a hot-swappable keyboard and enjoy some variety, or replace a broken switch.



For linear and tactile switches, the grease could be applied to the components inside the switch or the stabs to improve their sound and feel. A full lubing station can be bought to take apart the switch.


Polling rate

It’s the frequency of how often your keyboard sends data to your computer and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Faster polling rate is synonymous with quicker response time for each key press. 500-1000Hz is ideal for gaming, where every millisecond makes a difference. In most cases, the differences in polling rates are not detectable.

Debounce delay 

This is necessary to eliminate unwanted signals from the two metal contacts in a switch, which are bouncing off of each other. Mechanical contacts produce signals that aren’t very clean, and need to be filtered out from the keyboard’s controller to avoid additional keystrokes.


Optical vs mechanical switches

Optical switches use laser for actuation. The registration is fast as no physical contact is initiated and cancels the need for debounce delay. It also has a longer lifespan. 


Mechanical switches, however, use a metal contact and have a slower response time and debounce delay. 


Bottoming out

Occurs when the switch is pressed to its maximum depth and may be considered to slow down the typing process. Superior quality switches generally actuate before they are fully depressed.


Switch stem  

It is the part onto which the keycap gets mounted with different stem parts requiring specific types of keycaps. The various types include Cherry MX switches which are light and silent, Kailh box switches which are water and dustproof and less wobbly, and Gateron switches, which are easier to use and lube.  


Orientation of LEDs

There are mainly 2 types of positions of LED on the switch. 


North Facing

LED holes lie on top of the switches and allow for better illumination. Despite such keyboards saving more deskspace, their keycap interference prevents proper bottoming out, thereby making it tiring to use.


South Facing

LEDs are positioned at the bottom of the switch and have better clearance for all types of keycap sets, but compromise on less shine through the text due to the LEDs acting as a backlight.

Characteristics of common positive switches



Indicates the lack of scratchiness and has a stable consistency all along the travel distance of the switch.



Describes high-quality clicky switches where the clicky point has definition.


Common negative switch sensations include:



Can be seen in the keycaps if the stem of the switch doesn’t have a small or tight clearance within its switch housing. 



Refers to the lack of smoothness upon pressing a switch and is audible.


Different types of keycaps

This knowledge comes in handy when buying a customised keycap set which comes with keys for a standard bottom row, i.e. the three keys to the left of the space bar, the spacebar itself, and all the bottom keys to the right, which are standardised to a particular u-size format.

Keycap size



Standard keycap size for the alphabet and number square keycaps

1.25 u

Uniform keycap size for the “control” and “alt” keycaps.

2 u

“backspace” and “enter” keycaps


Keycap material

 Doubleshot PBT

PBT is the plastic that doesn’t reveal finger oils and has a coarse texture for a nice grip. A double shot refers to the process of injecting plastic into two separate moulds during construction. Such keycaps are durable and don’t allow the legend to wear off, and they score high on the shine factor.


Dye sublimation PBT 

The legend is printed onto the keycaps and is the right fit for those who prefer durability along with fancy design options at the expense of the shine element.


ABS keycaps

The ABS material is cheaper, smoother and remains shiny even after long usage. However, unlike PBT keycaps, ABS legends tend to fade.


This ends your starter pack on mechanical keyboard terms. Hopefully, this website has eased the search for your next keyboard. Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Related Blog