Today, the most common type of mechanical key switch is Cherry Corp’s MX switch. In fact, almost all current mass market mechanical keyboards use Cherry MX switches. They come in numerous clicky, tactile, and linear variants, and are most commonly identified by their color.
Reasons to buy a Cherry MX board include:
- Availability: Due to their popularity, MX boards are the easiest mechanical keyboards to find online and in brick-and-mortar stores.
- Compatibility: Cherry MX keycaps are interchangeable, so if you plan to customize your keyboard, any MX keycaps you purchase will be compatible with other MX boards you might purchase in the future, assuming the keyboards have the same layout.
- Variety: Since there are so many different varieties of Cherry MX, there’s an MX switch for every taste.
Overview of Common MX Switches
Clicky: Produce a loud clicking noise and have a tactile bump.
Cherry MX Blue is the most common type of clicky Cherry switch, and probably the most common type of Cherry switch, period. Clicky Cherry switches are a good choice for typing because their auditory and tactile feedback promotes rhythm, speed, and accuracy. However, MX Blue is usually a poor choice for gaming; the release point of MX Blues is higher than their actuation point, which can lead to missed double-taps. Linear switches, such as the MX Reds and Blacks discussed below, are usually preferred for heavy gaming.
Cherry MX Greens are clicky like MX Blues, but heavier, meaning that they require greater force to depress. Demand for MX Green switches has historically been much lower than for MX Blues, so it’s rarer to find MX Green boards for sale. In general, I suggest MX Blues over Greens for a first mechanical keyboard; the heaviness of Greens can become very fatiguing after hours of typing. That said, if you are accustomed to heavy switches (maybe you’ve used an IBM Model M for years), MX Greens might be right for you.
There’s something else you have to keep in mind with MX Blue and Green switches: they’re very noisy and can be too loud for office environments or around roommates.
Tactile: Has a tactile bump when depressed, but no audible click.
Cherry MX Brown is the most common type of tactile Cherry switch. MX Brown is often considered a dual-purpose typing and gaming switch. Unlike MX Blues, their actuation and release points are the same, making them much easier to repeatedly tap. They are a bit lighter than Blue switches.
Even though tactile Cherry switches don’t have a loud click like MX Blues, keycaps hitting the switch tops can still make a racket. If you need a quiet but tactile mechanical keyboard, one popular option is MX Brown with a rubber o-ring silence mod. This simple mod involves placing rubber o-rings between your keyboard’s switches and keycaps. A keyboard with MX Browns and o-rings is office- and roommate-friendly while retaining an appreciable level of tactility.
Cherry MX Clear is to Browns what Greens are to Blues–almost. Clears are heavier and more tactile than Browns, but have a slightly different spring that ramps up tension at the bottom of the keystroke. They are an acquired taste and, like Greens, can be fatiguing to type on for long periods of time. A year or so ago, MX Clear boards were very difficult to find for sale, but they’re becoming more common thanks to keyboards like the WASD CODE and the KUL ES-87.
Linear: Has neither a click nor a bump. Key action is smooth.
Cherry MX Red is the most popular linear Cherry switch. Linear switches are especially popular among gamers who want to be able to spam keys as quickly as possible. Like MX Browns, the actuation point is the same as the release point, making it easy to ride the switch. This stands in contrast to MX Blues, which must be released to a point above the actuation point to be reset.
MX Black is the heavier version of MX Red. MX Black boards tend to be more widely available than other heavy boards like MX Green and Clear, and frequently appeal to gamers who find MX Red to be too light. If you happen to like typing on linear switches, MX Blacks can also be preferable to Reds because the additional force requirement makes it harder to accidentally press keys.
As I already mentioned, the lion’s share of mechanical keyboards in production today use Cherry MX switches, including brands like Logitech, CM Storm, Corsair, and so on. If you’re in the market for your first mechanical keyboard, you can’t go wrong with Cherry MX.
Below is a table that summarizes the different types of Cherry MX switches. Note that this discussion and reference table are not comprehensive; there are other types of MX switches, although they are much rarer. For example, MX Whites are a ‘soft click’ switch, and tactile MX Grays are super-heavy Clears. However, these switches are practically non-existent in the consumer keyboard market and, frankly, rightfully so. Due to their exotic properties (e.g., super-heavy springs or modified clicking mechanisms) they tend not to be enjoyable or appropriate for consumer keyboards.
Cherry MX Clones
Third-party MX-clone switches began to pop up in early 2014 thanks to the expiration of Cherry Corp’s switch patent. The first major manufacturer to start using MX clone switches was Razer, which now sells its keyboards with Kailh switches instead of genuine Cherry. It remains to be seen whether these clone switches will match Cherry’s durability or attract a following of their own.