Mechanical keyboards are defined by their switches. In the Filco Majestouch-2 and many others, it is Cherry MX switches that are used. In this article, we’ll look at the many different kinds of Cherry MX switches on the market and see how they compare to one another.That’s the guides Cherry MX Switches : Designed For Mechanical Gaming keyboards.
Cherry MX Switches were designed by Cherry, they were introduced on 7 November 1983 and were initially available only in a linear (smooth), light-resistance version. An entire family of Cherry MX variants was subsequently developed with combinations of these characteristics:
- Light to heavy force
- With or without tactile feedback (a “bump” the typist can feel on actuation)
- With or without auditory feedback (clicky/non-clicky)
These variants are generally referred to by stem colour. Cherry officially refers to most switch types by article number, but their newest switch types are indeed referred to by community-style monikers on their website.
Cherry MX switches have gold crosspoint contacts. The contact mechanism has one small static terminal, and a movable leaf that is folded against itself at the top. At least two designs of contact mechanism are known. As of 2013, the current system has a very narrow “neck” where it folds back on itself. One known previous design uses more metal and appears to be more complicated; this design has been found in the Hirose Cherry MX Orange and Hirose Cherry MX Clear, as well as Cherry MX Black.
All German Cherry MX switches, and some Japanese-made Hirose MX switches, are branded “CHERRY” on the top; the exact logo used has varied over time. Hirose MX switches were also branded “HCP” (Hirose Cherry Precision).
The shell’s design is based on the Cherry M9. The upper shell cannot be removed while the switch is mounted in a plate; it must first be de-soldered and removed, as the plate prevents the shell’s four retention clips from moving outward. For modification, PCB-mount keyboards are preferred, or enthusiast-created plates with four small cutouts that allow the switches to be opened in-place.
Clicky Cherry MX switches use a special two-piece slider with a movable contact that fires the “click collar” downwards on passing the actuation point. When the switch is released, the click collar is pulled back upwards by the slider itself and held in place by the movable contact.
The keycap mount is only 180° rotationally symmetrical. The horizontal (E and W) arms of the cross are around 1.25–1.30 mm thick, while the vertical (N and S) arms are 1.05–1.10 mm thick. Keycaps do not always fit sideways. The stem is around 3.7 mm tall and sits on a platform that descends inside the switch, allowing the full travel to be greater than the stem’s height.
Now that we’ve explained a bit of the background information, we can have a look at the switches themselves – starting with the four most common varieties.
Cherry MX Switches :Cherry MX Mechanical Key Switch Comparison
Linear switches have the simplest operation, moving straight up and down without any additional tactile feedback or loud clicking noise – we’ll come to these more complicated switches later on. There are two common types of linear switches – Black and Red.
Cherry MX Black switches were introduced in 1984, making them one of the older Cherry MX switches. They have a medium to high actuation force, at 60 cN, which means they are the stiffest of the four most common Cherry switches. These switches are used in point-of-sale stations, but typically aren’t considered ideal for typing due to their high weighting. They have found use in RTS video games, where the high weighting can prevent accidental key presses that might occur on less stiff switches. The stronger spring also means that they rebound faster, meaning they can be actuated quite quickly given enough force – although you may also find fatigue becomes more of a factor than with other switches.
Conversely, Cherry MX Red switches were only introduced in 2008 and are the most recent switch to be developed by the company. They have a low actuation force, at 45 cN – tied with Brown for the lowest of the four most common switches. Red switches have been marketed as a gaming switch, with the light weighting allowing for more rapid actuation, and have become increasingly common in gaming keyboards.
Tactile, non-clicky switches
Tactile switches provide, as the name suggests, additional tactile feedback as the key actuates. As you press the key down, there is a noticeable bump which lets you know that your key press has been registered.
The most popular type of tactile, non-clicky switch is the Cherry MX Brown. This switch was introduced in 1994 as a special ‘ergo soft’ switch, but quickly became one of the most popular switches. Today, the majority of Filco keyboards are sold with Brown switches, as the switch is a good middle-of-the-road option appropriate for both typing and gaming. They are also ideal for typing in office environments, where a clicky switch might annoy some.
Tactile, clicky switches
Clicky switches add a deliberately louder ‘click’ sound to the existing tactile bump, allowing for greater typing feedback. This makes it easier to know that you’ve hit the activation point. This is achieved by a more complicated mechanism, with a blue plunger and a white slider. When the actuation point is reached, the slider is propelled to the bottom of the switch and the click noise is produced.
The Cherry MX Blue is the most common clicky switch, and was first made available in Filco keyboards in 2007. Blue switches are favoured by typists due to their tactile bump and audible click, but can be less suitable for gaming as the weighting is relatively high – 50 cN – and it is a bit harder to double tap, as the release point is above the actuation point. Blue switches are noticeably louder than other mechanical switches, which are already louder than rubber domes, so these switches can be a bit disruptive in close working conditions.
Less common Cherry MX switches
While the four switches listed above are found on the vast majority of mechanical keyboards with Cherry MX switches, quite a few other variants exist as well. We’ll cover these briefly.
- Clear switches are a stiffer version of Brown switches, with a tactile bump and weighting of 65 cN.
- Grey switches are used for space bars on Clear keyboards, with a weighting of 80 cN.
- Green switches are a stiffer version of Blue switches, with a tactile bump and audible click, weighted at 80 cN. It is primarily used for space bars.
- White switches are very similar to green switches, with modern versions being weighted the same (80 cN) but being slightly quieter.
- Super Black switches are extra stiff (150 cN) linear switches designed for space bars on keyboards with Black switches.
- Dark Grey switches are moderately more stiff linear (80 cN) switches designed for use as space bars on keyboards with Cherry MX Black switches.
- Cherry MX Lock switches are locking linear switches that stay down until pressed again, typically used for Caps Lock and TTY lock in keyboards before the 1980s.
Which Cherry MX switches is the best?
There is no universally regarded “best” switch, but there is definitely a best switch for you personally. Deciding upon what switch type best fits your typing style and preference can seem daunting initially. The best way to figure out which switch is right for you is to try them out. If you don’t have access to a retail store, LAN party, or a friend that can let you try their mechanical keyboard then the next best thing is to pick up a purpose built switch tester: 6-Key Switch Tester. This switch tester will let you get a feel for what each switch type feels like, how they sound and also whether or not o-ring dampeners are right for you.
The MX Blue switch is usually reminds people of the old “clicky” keyboards from the early PC days. The combination of the strong tactile feedback and simultaneous click gives a very satisfying feel while typing. However, the clicking can be loud, which can limit its use in shared computing spaces.
The MX Green switches are almost identical to the Blue switches, but have a harder spring for a much higher actuation force.
The MX Brown switches can be considered a lighter version of the MX Blue switch without the audible click. The tactile bump not as nearly as distinct, but it does still provide enough feedback for your fingers to detect when the switch has been activated.
The MX Clear switches can be considered a stronger version of the MX Brown switch. The tactile bump is as more distinct than MX Browns and provides more feedback for your fingers to detect when the switch has been activated.
The MX Red switches are almost identical to the Black switches, but have a softer spring for a much lower actuation force. Although this switch has the same actuation force as the Browns, it feels lighter due to the linear action. Also commonly marketed as a “gamer” switch.
MX Black switches are linear switches, so they have no tactile feedback unless the switch is “bottomed out,” meaning the switch is pressed all the way down. The keystroke is smooth all the way down. The stronger spring is said to help the switch reset faster, which can be useful in some instances where “double tapping” is needed. The stiffer switches may also help with accidental key presses from straying fingers. Commonly marketed as a “gamer” switch.
Plate Mounted Vs. PCB Mounted switches
Cherry MX switches are mounted to the keyboard via two popular methods; plate mounted and Printed Circuit Board (PCB) mounted. The most common method for mounting Cherry MX switches to a keyboard is Plate Mounted. This method allows the housing of the switch to grasp a metal or plastic plate providing a very secure mount, then the switch is soldered into the PCB below the plate. PCB mounted switches have a different molded housing with two prongs that allow it to pass through the PCB before being soldered, these prongs aid in stability when the switch is mounted directly to the PCB.
The two switch mounting types are virtually identical with the exception of the two molded prongs in the PCB mounted housing. It is noted that you can easily modify a PCB mounted switch to fit on a plate mounted keyboard by removing these prongs cleanly with pliers, or a sharp razor. You cannot however put a plate mounted switch on a PCB mounted keyboard, as these prongs are missing and integral in providing a secure mount to the PCB.
Costar Style Vs. Cherry Stabilizers
The large keycaps on a mechanical keyboard need stabilization so that when you press on one side of the keycap or the other it remains balanced. This is achieved by a metal bar that connects one side of the keycap to the other.
There are two major designs when it comes to large keycap stabilization Costar style and Cherry.
The Costar style stabilizer setup features plate mounted stabilizer clips that attach to the plate, then hold a metal stabilizer spring (or bar). The large keycaps that are being stabilized must have stabilizer inserts pressed into the keycap to then accept the stabilizer bar before the keycap is then pressed onto the switch. Generally it is a good idea to apply some silicone grease to the stabilizer inserts before mounting the keycap on the switch. This will smooth out the stabilizer operation and eliminate any unwanted noises or squeaks from the moving parts. The benefits of the Costar stabilizer setup is that it generally received as having a better “feel” to it than the alternative. The drawbacks are that the keycaps can be a bit trickier to install on Costar stabilizers.
The Cherry stabilizer setup features a stabilizer bar mechanism similar to the Costar setup, however Cherry integrates the stabilizer inserts so that they do not come off the stabilizer setup when the keycap is removed. This benefits of this design is that it makes installing or removing keycaps very easy. The drawback of the Cherry stabilizer setup is that it colors your switch actuation as stiffer when depressing your keycap and provides a mushier feeling when bottoming out the keycap as per compared to the alternative.
So there we have it – information on the various Cherry MX switches produced by Cherry and now ZF Electronics. I hope this has been useful – if you have any questions, feel free to share them in the comments below! You can also ask on Twitter or Facebook. Finally, if you’d like to pick up a few switches to play around with, then you can do so on our switches page. Thanks for reading and have a good one!