GeekHack, the website, was created by [iMav] during a particularly harried shopping adventure as an answer to a simple question: "why isn't there somewhere I can talk about buying keyboards with other geeks?!". Over the years, it has become the premiere source of information and discussion about mechanical keyboards and ergonomic input devices. At [GeekHack], you'll find a spectrum of enthusiasts from experts with encyclopedic knowledges of keyboards made during the initial rise of the microcomputers in 80s to hardcore gamers looking for the perfect backlit keyboard to match their rig. However, the deluge of information that this initially presents can be imposing to the casual visitor. In this introduction, we seek to provide a basic education in both mechanical keyboards and the structure and etiquette of the [GeekHack Community].
At present, the majority of discussions on GeekHack center around mechanical keyboards. The term "mechancial" is used somewhat loosely here. In particular, when we say that a keyboard is "mechanical", what we mean is that each key's switch registers the press of a key to the computer before the end of its mechanical travel.
Then, using this definition, the vast majority of keyboards are not mechanical. In fact, most keyboards use some variation of the "rubber dome" design, where each key presses down on a sheet of rubber domes. The underside of each dome has a conductive coating on it that contacts a PCB or membrane below when depressed. When the PCB or membrane comes into contact with the conductive coating on the underside of the rubber dome, an electrical circuit is completed and the keyboard registers a the press of a key.
Hence, the combination of rubber dome and PCB or membrane forms the key switch. The rubber dome itself provides the key's rebound and tactility and the key must be fully depressed for the keystroke to register, meaning that at registration, the force pressing back on a user's finger is equal to the force provided by the finger (generally, this force is large).
(rubber dome animation) Animation courtesy of Lethal Squirrel
There are some variations on this theme, such as the so-called "scissor switch". These are generally used on low-profile keyboards, such as for laptops. Instead of a cylinder to guide the key cap, a plastic scissor-like stabilizer is used. Other than these, a scissor switch keyboard is no different that your typical rubber dome.
(scissor switch animation) Animation courtesy of Lethal Squirrel
Mechanical keyboards typically employ some type of individual mechanical switch for each key. Some even make use of a rubber dome as part of their mechanism. They provide the following benefits over a typical rubber dome keyboard:
- The switches typically have far superior durability, often rated for 5-10 times the number of keystrokes of most rubber dome keyboards.
- The keystroke is registered well before the key is bottomed-out. This permits touch-typing and generally reduces strain.
- Longer key travel promotes more natural finger movement.
- Many choices in key feel and weight, due to the number of switch types available.
For more about mechanical keyboards, start with the MechanicalKeyboards article.