Razer’s latest laptop, the Razer Blade 15 Advanced, surprisingly comes with optical switches on board. It’s rare that a manufacturer’s claim of “world’s first” is ever true, but in this case it is actually likely that this is the first laptop with optical switches. But the immediate question is who makes these particular switches?
Often, you can suss it out by eyeballing some images or renders, but after examining the press materials closely, I was stumped. Razer reps were mum. So I went digging, but I came up with only a strong suspicion instead of a firm conclusion.
There’s not much we actually know about these switches. They’re optical, with a scissor design, and offer 1.7mm total travel (1mm actuation) and 55g actuation force. The sensing method appears to be essentially the same as what A4tech/Bloody uses in its optical switches: There’s a beam of light shooting horizontally across the switch housing. When you interrupt the beam with a keypress, it registers the keypress.
I did, though, eliminate some manufacturers from contention, or at least reasonably crossed them off the list. Let’s start with the bigs.
Although there are numerous makers of low-profile switches, most of those are some form of Cherry compatible stem or Kaihua’s Choc switch two-prong stem. Very few have the scissor-switch design of the Razer Optical Laptop Switch.
There seems to be an increasing number of optical switch makers, but often the designs are tricky or bulky or both. To reduce it to such an incredibly low-profile footprint is quite a feat.
Cherry – No way. It took the company years to perfect its Cherry MX RGB Low-Profile Switch, and Cherry doesn’t do optical, so there’s no way it created a whole new design in a year or so. More to the point, if Cherry made these, Razer would be shouting that fact from the rooftops.
Kaihua – Nope. Given how rapidly Kaihua creates new switch designs, iterates on them, and customizes them, it’s not at all unreasonable to spot something brand new in the wild that the company has made. Plus, Kaihua has no problem when its OEM partners ditch any mention of the switchmaker in marketing, so Razer’s refusal to state its manufacturing partner would jibe with that precedent. But a Kaihua representative flat-out told me that it’s not their switch.
Adomax/Flaretech – Unlikely. Although Adomax was, at one point at least, developing a low-profile optical switch, it wasn’t using a scissor-switch design. If it continued down the lowpro path, Adomax would have had to make a whole new switch. But most importantly, the optical sensing method that Adomax uses for its Flaretech switches is completely different than the horizontal light beam you can see in the Razer renders.
Greetech – Unlikely. It’s true that Razer has a manufacturing relationship with Greetech that dates back to the original Razer Green switch days, Greetech has apparently stuck with pretty traditional desktop switches–no laptop switches, no optical IP.
Outemu – Unlikely. Although it has a surprising number of optical switches in its stable, there are none I can find that aren’t intended for standalone desktop keyboards. There are “slim” versions, but they aren’t a scissor design.
Gateron – Unlikely, but possible. Even though Gateron is no stranger to optical switches, it’s not one for laptop switches. I can’t find any trace of a Gateron optical scissor switch of any kind, let alone one that adopts optical sensing.
TTC – Unlikely, but possible. TTC certainly has a wide variety of switch designs, and optical IP to play with, but this particular scissor switch doesn’t match anything in the company’s stable.
Darfon is a darkhorse. The Chinese company’s name is not familiar to most people. I hadn’t heard of them until I happened past their booth at CES 2019 and saw their imagery of switch designs lining the backdrop of the booth. They had multiple optical switch designs, one of which is ultra slim and is called the TEAM Switch Lite, apparently. Funny enough, I believe Darfon has employed this ultra slim optical switch only in its low-profile optical gaming keyboard, even though this is clearly a switch intended for laptops. (Likely, the standalone keyboard exists more or less as a design concept for OEM partners.)
The TEAM Switch Lite and the switches in the Razer Blade 15 Advanced do not match precisely, so it’s certainly not the same switch. But there are enough similarities that it’s possible the Razer version is a heavy iteration on the TEAM Switch Lite. Both switches have a centered LED, take the same type of keycap, and have the optical structure horizontally oriented at the base of the switch housing.
That last bit, obviously, is the most important similarity. Further, working with major PC OEMs is not new to Darfon. The company makes the mag lev switches for the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.
Darfon has not replied to a request for comment.
I’m still guessing here, but the most likely candidate in my opinion is A4tech/Bloody. Given that the optical sensing technology that Razer is using on the Blade 15 Advanced matches what A4tech developed, that makes sense. Further, Razer has a current and growing partnership with the switch maker on the Huntsman line of keyboards, and it’s logical that the two companies would get together to create a new optical switch just for Razer laptops. It would guarantee at least temporary exclusivity for Razer while giving A4tech sufficient volume (probably). And the unnecessary secretiveness of the switch maker’s name jibes with the Huntsman messaging.
The one sticking point is that I can’t find any trace of an A4tech-made scissor switch. But it’s not unreasonable to think that it may have made one, especially with Razer’s help.
For now, then, all we can do is speculate. But my money’s on A4tech/Bloody as the switch maker.