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Gamers and typists shout the praises of mechanical switches, claiming they are necessary to create the best keyboard. But for those who have yet to nerd out on mechanical keyboard switches, you may wonder about the differences between tactile vs linear vs clicky switches. If that sounds like you, keep reading.
For those who are confident that linear switches aren’t for them, you can read our more in-depth article on tactile vs clicky switches.
Each mechanical switch type is similar, and none is wildly different than the other. These switches incorporate all the same essential components — springs, housing, and stems — to translate the force from your finger into an electronic command. Additionally, linear, tactile, and clicky switches are all mechanical, meaning every key has an individual mechanism and sensor beneath it, unlike membrane keyboards that use a single circuit membrane for all keys.
If you think the clicking sound from your mechanical keyboard is too much, you can try lubing the switches to decrease the loud noise.
It’s helpful to distinguish these three types of switches by thinking about them in terms of speed. Linear switches have the smoothest keystroke and often have shorter actuation points (the distance the key needs to be pressed before registering a command). Additionally, linear switches don’t produce tactile feedback or clicky sound when pressed down. These components together make a key switch that is easy to press and is suitable for inputting raid commands.
Tactile switches are commonly regarded as the middle ground in the mechanical switch typing experience. The significant difference between a tactile and linear switch is that it has a tactile bump built into the mechanism. This part creates bumpy feedback every time the key is pressed, and the springs are slightly thicker than those on linear switches.
Clicky switches are manufactured with unique jackets to produce a sharp click every time a switch is activated. But, like tactile switches, they have a bump that creates resistance.
Even though there are no absolutes regarding key switches, intense gamers prefer linear options. For one, many gamers focus on the in-game audio, and any tactile feedback or clicky noise can block concentration. Additionally, the noise can be intrusive if you’re using a mic while playing or streaming.
Many linear switches have a shorter travel distance to actuation, giving gamers an edge with reaction time. For any gamer looking for the most silent option, we have an article that explains which Cherry switches are the quietest.
But things are often different for the casual gamer. For example, a tactile switch is usually preferred because the smoothness of a linear type of switch can be a weird transition.
For those who work in an open office layout, clicky switches are often considered a nuisance.
Again, mechanical switch preference is subjective. However, the common wisdom remains that clicky switches are the best for typing. The white noise from the clicking sound helps dampen any distraction around the train of thought, and the heavier springs decrease sensitivity and reduce the number of typos.
Linear and tactile switches, on the other hand, might annoy typers because the increased sensitivity leads to more accidents.
STAT: Cherry MX, the most popular switch company, claims their switches last for at least 50 million strokes. (source)