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Best Gaming Keyboard: Mechanical vs Membrane Showdown

Why are gamers all buying mechanical keyboards when your membrane keyboard at work seems to work fine? Well, it's something more than just getting an output. Gaming is about how fast and accurately the computer registers the keypress. Gamers need to stay updated with the latest trends to remain ahead in their game. Casual gamers may feel comfortable using a membrane keyboard, but mechanical keyboards are vital for competitive and professional gamers.

You could already be a pro and understand the fundamental difference between the two, or you may need an introduction to both technologies and their differences. This blog will discuss the differences and limitations of each type. It will also explain why each type has its specific application in gaming. You will know the best type for your gaming requirements by the end. Let's start with the basics.

Journey of a Keystroke in a Mechanical Keyboard

Mechanical keyboards register a keystroke when the switch underneath the keycap sends the signal to the computer. Keyboard manufacturers refer to these switches as mechanical switches. The PCB (printed circuit board) carries the signal to the computer through a cable. Let's break down what happens behind each keystroke.

  • Stem: The part attaches to the keycap and moves along throughout the motion of the keystroke. The stem design also decides the keypress's tactility (physical feedback).
  • Metal Spring: It's a spring that pushes force against the movement of the keystroke. It also determines the actuation force of the mechanical keyboard switch.
  • Metal Leaves: These metallic contacts signal the computer to register a keystroke. Under the user's force, the metal leaves come in contact to complete a circuit to pass electricity.
  • Switch Housing: The plastic casing houses all the components and provides stability to prevent wobbling or inaccurate movement. It guides the stem and has different features like water resistance, dust resistance, and other capabilities.

From Pressure to Signal in a Membrane Keyboard

A membrane keyboard can be either a chicklet or rubber dome design. The most common keyboards consist of a rubber dome design. Here is the breakdown from when the user presses the pressure until the keyboard sends the signal.

  • Keycaps: They integrate the slider responsible for pushing the rubber dome and the contacts.
  • Upper Case: The case keeps the keycaps straight and moving linearly.
  • Rubber Dome: The part consists of the carbon-based contact housed in a rubber dome. When the pressure is applied, the dome bends. The bending moves the carbon-based contact or contacts towards the membrane layers. It provides the resistive force to the movement of the keycap and is also responsible for the mushy feel of the membrane keyboard.
  • Membrane Layers: They consist of traces of conductors that come in contact to register a keypress.

Mechanical vs Membrane: Will the Right Keyboard Make You a Pro Gamer?

If you are trying to become a pro gamer, understanding how a mechanical keyboard can improve your game is vital. We will cover response time, tactility, actuation force, and actuation distance to understand why mechanical keyboards are superior to membrane keyboards.

Click or Mush? Which feels better?

Gamers prefer clicky to something that feels like pressing against something soft. Membrane keyboards are mushy, which can be stressful for the finger joints. Long-term usage generally leads to hand pain. Gaming mechanical keyboards have satisfying “click and clack” sounds and are softer on the finger joints, leading to better ergonomics for long-term use. We recommend purchasing a switch tester to understand the difference if you haven't used a mechanical keyboard.

Clicks, Bumps, and Glides: Three Pillars of Keystroke Sensation

When looking for a mechanical keyboard, you will come across terms like Red, Blue, Black, Brown, or White mechanical switches. These are the types of mechanical switches, and they represent different specifications. The biggest name in the industry is Cherry MX. Red switches are the best for gaming as they are linear with low activation force and travel limit. Here is a comparison of the three popular Cherry MX switches:

Specification Cherry MX Red Cherry MX Blue Cherry MX Brown
Characteristics Linear Clicky Tactile
Operating Force 45 cN 50 cN 55 cN
Pre-Travel 2.0 mm 2.2 mm 2.0 mm
Total Travel 4.0 mm 4.0 mm 4.0 mm
Click Sound No Yes No
Additional Features Smooth, fast actuation Tactile bump at actuation point Audible and tactile feedback

 

Membrane keyboards come in rubber dome and chicklet formation but do not have a wide variety like mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are prevalent in applications where accuracy, precision, and reliability are vital.

Customization in Gaming Mechanical Keyboards

Having your gaming mechanical keyboard set per your standards is easier to achieve. The hot-swappable mechanical keyboard provides users with options to replace their mechanical switches. It allows users to assign different types of mechanical switches in other locations based on requirements.

Membrane keyboards do not have that facility. They move similarly and mostly have similar actuation force, which may change with time as the keyboard wears. These keyboards do not have replaceable rubber domes.

Muscle Memory and Repairability

Pro gamers use the term muscle memory to indicate familiarization. The longer a person practices on a particular keyboard, they tend to develop a sense of its response time and layout. Switching to a new keyboard can be disorienting.

It brings up the vital discussion of repairability. Mechanical keyboards are repairable, and most hot-swappable gaming mechanical keyboards have a DIY approach to changing faulty switches. The base and PCB rarely fail in operation.

What Makes a Best Mechanical Gaming Keyboard?

In a nutshell, “hot-swappable red mechanical switch gaming keyboards” are the best type of keyboard for gaming. Here are the features which make it the best for gaming:

  • Actuation Distance: Red mechanical switch keyboards are fast with low actuation distance. In games like Fortnite and Call of Duty, quick actions are vital. A millisecond of delay can lead to a win-or-lose situation.
  • Tactility: Red mechanical switches do not have a physical tactile bump. It leads to smooth movement, which is best for gaming and faster operation.
  • NKRO: The n-key rollover feature allows multiple key presses simultaneously. A membrane keyboard can only register limited key inputs by design.
  • Keycaps: Frequent use of keywords can lead to a shiny keycap surface. A high-quality double-shot PBT keycap can last longer without resulting in text fading or a glossy surface.
  • Polling Rate: A mechanical keyboard can reach up to 1000Hz polling rate. A keyboard communicates more with the computer, thus leading to better response time.

Popular Games and Recommended Keyboards

To make selection more straightforward for our readers, we have compiled a list of keyboards and their types based on popular games. Here are some top AAA, competitive, simulation, RPG, racing, and other games.

Grand Theft Auto 6 - Membrane Keyboard

The game will hit the shelves in 2025, and it may take longer to release on the computer, but GTA 6 is an open-world RPG game. It does not require a rapid response time. A membrane keyboard would work fine if you are into games like GTA 6.

SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL

Fortnite - Red Mechanical Switch Keyboard

A competitive game like Fortnite is where your enemy can dominate you with hardware performance. Some players make a living through selling and buying Fortnite accounts on trusted marketplaces like Eldorado. Due to the earnest money involved and competitive conditions, mechanical keyboards are the way to go.

Ducky One 2 Mini v2

Minecraft - Membrane Keyboard

The game revolves around building and mining. There is no need for fast response time. If you are a steamer who wants to go live playing Minecraft, a membrane keyboard is the way to go. They are budget-friendly and silent.

Roccat Magma

Rainbow Six Siege (R6) - Red Mechanical Switch Keyboard

R6 is a competitive game that requires quick response and alertness. Quick movements and timed tactics are vital parts of the game. A mechanical keyboard with fast response and smooth movement is ideal for R6.

SteelSeries Apex Pro

Conclusion

Each type of keyboard has its specific application in gaming. Membrane keyboards are budget-friendly and inherently silent. Mechanical keyboards come with specialized mechanical switches that are silent.

To conclude our discussion, go for a mechanical keyboard if a game is competitive. However, if it's a casual, strategic, or RPG game that does not require split-second decision-making, then membrane keyboards are the best. We hope you find the best keyboard for your gaming needs!

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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