It's undeniable that mechanical switches are the most popular in the field of keyboards. And, it's not like their popularity has happened overnight. These key switches have been on the scene for over 40 years and have been developing continuously.
If you're interested in knowing the history of mechanical keyboard switches, then you won't find more details about them anywhere else.
If we go deep, mechanical keyboard switches have been around since the time of typewriters. Mechanical switches were seen as a successor to typewriters and were developed to provide the same tactile feel. The first mechanical switches that were used in a modern keyboard were the Buckling Spring (BS) switches back in the 1980s.
If you're still wondering, then yes, typewriters were the base and inspiration for mechanical keyboards. In this article, we'll be looking at many more interesting details that a keyboard geek would love to know.
When Did Mechanical Keyboards First Come Out?
Mechanical keyboards First Come Out in the 1960s. Models like Burroughs D8585, Univac Uniscope 100, Univac F-1355-00, and others came onto the market. The next decade also saw many mechanical keyboards being manufactured.
However, these boards weren't like the ones we see and use today. It wasn't until 1980 that IBM decided to step up and revolutionize mechanical keyboard technology.
They released Model F and then Model M, which were greatly welcomed in the world of computers back then.
Typewriters were prone to jamming. You couldn't type fast on them. The typing was time-consuming, and the room for error wasn't much. The mechanical keyboards that came out in the 1980s were based on the QWERTY layout and had the function keys row.
Model M is still considered the father of the latest mechanical keyboards. As expected, keyboard fanatics still appreciate the vintage IBM design and the use of BS switches.
Early Mechanical Keyboard Switches
If we look at history, there were three primary mechanical keyboard switches in the beginning. These included the Buckling Spring (BS), Cherry MX, and ALPS switches.
The other brands that you see, like Kailh, Gateron, Gazzew, Topre, and more, came into existence after 2014 when Cherry's patent expired.
Now, let me briefly talk about the three earliest switches.
1. Buckling Spring Switches
These switches were the first to be used in modern-layout mechanical keyboards. These were, of course, the IBM models F and M. Richard Hunter Harris invented these switches, and IBM patented them in 1977.
They were commonly used in old computer keyboards and performed well too. The switches had a spring along with a mechanism called a "buckle" to create tactile and audible feedback upon pressing the key.
2. ALPS switches
ALPS switches were the first to be used on a computer at UCLA. Developed in 1983, they had clicky, linear, and tactile - all three variants. These switches used metal contacts and a sliding mechanism to work.
Some ALPS switches were noisy, while others were silent. Moreover, they provided tactile feedback to help with typing accuracy.
ALPS put a stop to making switches in 2012, so unfortunately, you won't be able to find them easily. They're now classics and might go for a good price in an auction.
3. Cherry MX
The most famous mechanical switches started their production in 1983 after getting their patent. The first switch was the evergreen Cherry MX Black. They were linear switches with a high actuation force of 60 g and an actuation distance of 2 mm.
Cherry MX switches were the most durable switches in the 80s, with a guaranteed 20–50 million keystrokes. Not only that, Cherry kept improving their products and released more switches in every category.
You have the Cherry MX Blue that is clicky, the MX Red that is linear, the MX Brown that is tactile, and more. They also made speed switches for high-pace gaming and are currently the standard for mechanical keyboards.
Types Of Mechanical Keyboard Switches
Clicky, linear, and tactile are the three types of switches associated with mechanical keyboards. All of these switches have different colors, work mechanism and offer a distinct feel.
Let's go into a bit more detail regarding them.
1. Clicky Switches
Clicky switches are the loudest of the three. They have high tactile feedback, which makes them the most accurate mechanical switch. I'd recommend them if you're a typist and love the sound of a keystroke.
However, they are not to be used in public since their noise can annoy others. They are also not for gamers due to being slow and heavy.
2. Linear Switches
Linear switches are the fastest and have minimal sound. Secondly, they have no haptic feedback, so it'd be like you were swiftly surfing on the keyboard.
As you would have guessed, they are the best pick for gamers. Their light actuation, fast speed, and silence make them ideal for gaming.
As a result of being quick, linear switches are not the most accurate. If you're not a typist who is highly precise in his typing, I won't suggest going for them.
3. Tactile Switches
Tactile switches are neither completely linear nor clicky. They are a little slower than linear switches and have comparatively lower tactile feedback than clicky switches.
This makes them an excellent option for both typists and casual gamers.
If you like a dim sound on your keystrokes and still want quick actuation, then there isn't a better option than tactile switches.
What is the history of Cherry switches?
The Cherry brand was founded in 1953 by Walter L. Cherry. It was known as "Cherry Electrical Products Corporation." The company was established in the US but shifted to Germany later, in 1967. Back then, they were focusing on making switches for cars, air conditioners, arcade games, and others.
The Beginning of Cherry MX Switches
It was the year 1973 when the first patent for keyboard switches was approved. Cherry was also manufacturing keyboards at that time. The first Cherry switch made was the M6. It wasn't until 1983 that Cherry changed the mechanical switch game.
They introduced mechanical X-point switches, known as MX switches. The linear MX Black was the first one to be made. This switch is still very popular and continues to be used.
The 2000s saw a break in the popularity of mechanical keyboards as membranes took over. They were cheap, slim, and compact compared to the old mechanical keyboards.
However, after gaming had a boom post-2010, the demand for mechanical keyboards increased again. And that's where Cherry became the talk of the town one more time.
They made Red, Blue, Black, Brown, Grey, and Green mechanical switches, each serving different purposes.
Cherry Switches Post 2014
Cherry's patent expired in 2014, and other competitors came to take them over.
A few names include Gateron, Kailh, and Razer. Cherry, on the other hand, made way for their MX RGB switches, and the illumination in mechanical keyboards began.
Four years later, they treated the slim keyboard lovers with the introduction of MX Low Profile switches. The VIOLA switch was launched in 2018 with rubber domes.
Fast forward three years, and we had the MX Ultra Low Profile switch in our hands. Cherry remains one of the biggest mechanical switch manufacturers, along with being a foremost choice for many users.
Who invented Cherry MX switches?
Cherry MX switches were made by the Cherry Corporation in 1983. It was a team of engineers that worked on this project, and the MX Black was released. Walter L. Cherry, the founder of the Cherry brand, laid the foundation for the upcoming keyboard switches.
Walter made microswitches for arcade games, ACs, and many cars, including Ford. But, of course, there weren't many keyboards back in 1953, so Walter wasn't making switches for them. Even at that time, the switches were as pleasing to press as they are today.
A couple of decades later, Cherry made the M6 switch, and in 1983, we finally had the Cherry MX switches. The latter continues to be manufactured today and is used by numerous mechanical keyboards.
What is the most popular mechanical switch?
Looking at history, the Cherry MX switches have always been the most popular mechanical keyboard switches. From the earliest MX Black to the recent Ultra Low Profile speed switches, Cherry knows the ingredients to be a step ahead of its competitors.
The reason Cherry switches are widely recognized is because of their durability, performance, and dozens of variants. You'll find dedicated Cherry switches for typists, gamers, and programmers.
Cherry MX Red: The most popular switch amongst gamers. They are linear with a low operating force of 45 g, which makes them useful for gaming.
Cherry MX Blue: The MX Blue will make you as accurate a typist as you can get. They are clicky switches, hence the loudest. They aren't swift because of the 60 g actuation force and 2.2 mm pre-travel.
Cherry MX Brown: This tactile switch is good for gaming, typing, and programming. They have low haptic feedback and moderately fast actuation.
Cherry MX Black: If you want a linear switch that isn't as fast as the Reds, then MX Blacks will be a great fit. They have everything the same as the MX Red except that they require 60 g of force to actuate.
Cherry MX Speed Silver: As the name suggests, these are speed switches. Their operating force is the same as the Reds, but the pre-travel is much shorter at just 1.2 mm. Highly recommended for MOBAs and MMOs.
What is the oldest mechanical keyboard switch?
Buckling Spring (BS) switches were the oldest mechanical keyboard switches. They were used in IBM's Model F and Model M keyboards and were pretty good back then.
You'd press a key, and the spring would be compressed until it reached a point where it would buckle and collapse. This made a hammer strike an electrical contact, and the keystroke would be registered.
When the spring returns to its original spot, it'll create a clicky sound and give tactile feedback. This made shifting from typewriters to mechanical keyboards really easy by giving the same typing feel.
Did Gateron copy Cherry?
Gateron made Cherry clones in the beginning. However, they started developing their own switches with their preferred material soon after. Gateron switches might still have some similarities with Cherry, but the manufacturing process is distinct.
They use different plastic and metal alloys for their housings and contacts. Their feel and sound are also dissimilar to Cherry's. They are smoother and lighter, which many people prefer.
In conclusion, even though Gateron switches are frequently considered to be Cherry clones, they are not exact replicas and possess their own distinctive features.
Is Kailh a Cherry clone?
Kailh was a clone of Cherry initially, but now they don't copy them. Like Gateron, Kailh also started to make their own key switches that were more affordable than Cherry MX switches.
Besides, Kailh switches are compatible with Cherry MX, which means that you can interchange the two to customize your keyboard. Currently, Kailh has expanded its offerings, and they have many different switch designs. Some of them are incompatible with Cherry as well.
So, saying that Kailh is a Cherry clone would be wrong now as they have their original products and are a hot property in the mechanical switch arena.
That was all about the history of mechanical keyboard switches. From their early stages in the 1980s to modern days, these switches are now the gold standard for typing, gaming, and programming. Brands like Cherry MX, Gateron, Kailh, Akko, and others continue to make excellent keys, and there are no signs of them stopping soon.
Buckling Spring and ALPS switches were two of the first mechanical keyboard switches, but they are rarely available now. Contrarily, Cherry MX owns most of the market within its domain.
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