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The Difference Between Optical Switches And Mechanical Switches

The Difference Between Optical Switches And Mechanical Switches

 

It seems a lot of people are not familiar with the Optical switch because it’s a relatively new trending product. So, today we’ll be talking about some of the differences between optical and mechanical switches.

 

What are Optical Keyboard Switches and How do They Work? 

 

As the name implies, the optical switch uses light induction to trigger the switches. It works with the mechanical switch to block the light beam. When the switch is pressed, the stem of the switch moves downward, triggering the light sensor on the PCB and activating the key.

 

That’s why optical switches are faster than the traditional switch as no physical contact is needed to send an electrical signal; eliminating the need for a debounce delay.

 

Also, because there is no physical contact, these switches are usually more durable. The lifespan of the traditional switch is 50 million key presses while the optical switch can double that life span and can last 100 million. 

 

To be clear, optical switches still have mechanical components. Just like a standard mechanical switch, they have physical moving parts. When you press the key cap, a stem moves within a shaft, and a spring pushes the switch back to its reset position. Optical switches can have the same physical characteristics as regular switches, similar to a linear action (like Reds), tactile (Browns) and clicky (Blues).



Additionally, optical switches remove the need for soldering switches to a PCB. However, since optical switches are not widely used in mechanical keyboards, there are limited switches to choose from unlike mechanical switches.



At Keychron, we have designed and produced our own Keychron optical switches to use on the K8 keyboard. Also, we have created Keychron optical switches for the K2 in the future.

The K4 currently utilizes the LK switch, but we will use the Keychron optical switches for the K4 very soon. We are determined to make the optical switch in all our keyboard series.



What are mechanical switches?


Mechanical switches are similar to optical switches, but they have a much longer history. The key difference from the optical switch is their activation method. The switch core (trigger) and spring which is sleeved on the internal switch column, which controls the operation of the entire switch when triggered. These switches rely on contact between two conductive materials to send a signal through a circuit board to the computer when a key is pressed. 



Since mechanical switches have been popular for a long time, the market has so many different mechanical switches: blue switch, red switch, brown switch, black switch, silver switch and so on.  And there are three types of mechanical switches: linear, tactile, and clicky. They are defined by their keystroke behaviour. 


With Keychron mechanical keyboards, we chose Gateron switches. If you want to know more about the Gateron switch, please check out our previous article here.


The advantages of traditional mechanical switches are obviously it's customizability and availability. Users can choose different switches according to their preferences and needs. The main switch brand/manufacturers on the market right now are Cherry, Gateron and Kailh.

Traditional mechanical keyboard switches are soldered in, so altering the original switches can be difficult. But with the latest technology, hot swappable boards have hot sockets on the PCBs to make the changing switches in seconds possible.


So if I buy the hot swappable boards, can I change the current switches to optical switches?  - No, because their trigger methods and PCB are too different. 


That’s all we want to share with you guys today, happy typing!

K4, K6, K8 all have optical switch and mechanical switch options.

 

3 comments

lmk if you rec the gateron blacks for my tastes, or even the greens if there a way to substantially dampen the audible click sound haha. bump, . I see how the pressing feeling description of the gateron blacks in the article is vertical rather than bumpy. so if I went with blacks I wouldn’t have that tactile bumpy response anymore that I love from the browns? Guess I’m just looking for an upgraded/more hardcore version of the browns. so for my ideal pressing feeling I wish for : a more pronounced bump so I know exactly when I’ve actuated the switch, strong pressing force, hard rebound, medium sound. lmk if such a switch or way to achieve this exists. I will also probably double o ring it cuz it feels like a hyper responsive beast to have lessened travel on regular profile keycaps. k now I’m done. feel fee to only publish the first comment and just email me back answers to all my other questions if you want to give me your recs on what I should buy from your store. thanks, I’m really excited about mech keyboards now haha

Rajas Nagpurkar,

woops I just read your article linked on this page explaining gateron switches and now get (after looking at the pressure point diagrams and the gifs on the different switches being pressed) I get how the blues offer more tactile feedback (due to a much greater difference between its pressure point and operating point relative to browns). is there some way I can experience that kind of hardcore super responsive tactile and clicky feel with the audible click sound reduced to a decibel level <= the sound of switch actuating after being pressed down enough? is a foam padded board the answer? and if so do yall have a hotswappable one? cheers and thanks if you actually respond to any of this haha

Rajas Nagpurkar,

Fantastic and educational and concise article. I was wondering 1) if there are any differences or disadvantages in choosing an optical switch over a mechanical switch in key feel
2) are there any differences in key feel for a board with hot swappable mechanical gateron brown switches as opposed to a regular board with soldered in mechanical gateron browns? like are the hot swappable switches going to be more wobbly? I’m just trying to understand the pros /cons or differences of going with this technology, because there must be some serious differences for people to laud something like the Anne Pro 2 over an identically priced hot swappable k2 with the same switches available and arrow keys….As I’ve looked at your design for your 65% keyboards I kinda realized it was 100% feasible to not have to sacrifice arrow keys for that form factor. My next keyboard /first serious mech keyboard will likely be from ya’ll cuz I like ya’lls design, website, and articles/writing alot.
I’m super excited to try out different switches
Optional question.
3) so I discovered that gateron browns with double oring on Anne Pro 2 are my optimal key feel. would double oring on switches not really reduce the sound of the click? and anyway are blues anymore tactile/responsive than the browns. the audible click is redundant to me cuz I type kinda hard already. lmk if you have any recs for what the most extremely tactile switch is that doesn’t make that redundant (to me) click sound. cheers and thanks for the guidance/expertise. would be great to have these questions answered and talk to yall before deciding which board and switches are best for me to purchase. thanks for the educational content tho and my regards to whoever did the web design /ux if this site, it’s very professional /slick. kthxbye~

Rajas Nagpurkar,

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