Optical vs Mechanical Switches

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Updated August 5, 2022

If you are new to the world of third-party keyboards, you may look to compare optical vs mechanical switches. Many of the best keyboards, after all, include one design or the other. So what are the primary differences between these two types, and which is the best for you? Keep reading to find out.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Optical keyboards reduce the points of contact between the keys and the bed, as these keyboards use light beams.
  • Mechanical keyboard switches feature a small piece of metal that connects with the keybed, which translates to keystrokes.
  • Optical switches tend to last a bit longer, with reduced noise during use and a decreased debounce delay, though they are more expensive.

Mechanical Switches vs Optical

Mechanical keyboards may look similar to optical keyboards, but the switches work in an entirely different fashion, which is the same when comparing linear vs tactile switches. Mechanical switches work by creating some contact between a small piece of metal at the bottom of the key and the rest of the keyboard, which is similar to when comparing mechanical vs membrane keyboards.

Insider Tip

No matter which type you choose, be sure to clean the keyboards regularly to ensure optimal performance.

Optical keyboards, on the other hand, use light, no matter if you are comparing blue vs brown switches. When you press the key down, the stem of the key blocks a beam of infrared light, which translates to a key press. The process is called light induction. This major design difference between these two is at the heart of any further comparisons.

Durability

Because optical keyboards don’t force actual physical contact, they tend to last longer than mechanical keyboards. Many optical keyboards boast a lifespan of around 100 million keystrokes, compared to 50 or 60 million keystrokes for mechanical models. This is, of course, largely dependent on the actual make and model of your keyboard. In other words, results vary. Another thing to keep in mind is that it takes ten or 15 years of heavy use to even reach 50 million keystrokes.

Noise

This is the big one. Mechanical keyboards are louder than optical keyboards by a fairly large margin, though some prefer the audible clicking noise of a mechanical model. This is again due to the fact that mechanical keyboards have more physical points of contact when compared to optical keyboards.

Speed

This depends on your make and model, but mechanical switches tend to feature a slightly slower delay when compared to optical switches, of around 5ms. This delay is hardly noticeable, but it is still there. If you are looking to truly optimize your speed, consider a keyboard with optical switches.

Cost

On average, mechanical keyboards are slightly cheaper than optical keyboards, with many budget-friendly models to choose from.

STAT: 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. (source)

Optical vs Mechanical Switches FAQs

What switch is best for gaming?

Mechanical keyboards have been a mainstay in the gaming world for years, so for now, they are the best choice for competitive gaming when compared to other types of switches.

What is the better switch?

There is no better switch here, as it falls down to personal preference. Mechanical keyboards offer better tactile feedback, while optical switches offer faster response times.

Optical versus mechanical: Are they truly that different?

Optical switches and mechanical switches, including linear switches, are different designs, though they each create a similar experience during use, both offering tactile feedback, clicky switches, and more.
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