Which is better: a mechanical vs membrane keyboard? Gamers, typists, and productivity champions will all point out different strengths and weaknesses. Here, we get into the discussion and help you choose.

For a long time, standard mechanical keyboards were the only option. But as time passed and technology advanced, a new player entered the field. The membrane keyboard exploded in popularity and quickly came to dominate the industry. Does that mean the membrane keyboard is better? Not exactly.

In terms of gaming, there is usually a clear winner among the two. Let’s dive into the science behind the keyboard to see why.

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

A mechanical keyboard is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a keyboard that relies on a mechanical switch (an activator), to register keystrokes. When a key is pressed, the switch underneath the key springs into action to register a click!

The switch itself is composed of several different components. Each individual switch is comprised of the main casing, the spring, and the stem. When a key is pressed, a signal is sent from the switch to the keyboard’s processor. This electrical circuit communicates to your computer the appropriate output — and voila! You see the magic on the screen in front you.

How a Mechanical Switch Works

How a Mechanical Switch Works

This all happens very quickly, but it wasn’t always that way. The efficiency of mechanical keyboards has increased several fold since their inception. In fact, while old keyboards were purely mechanical (think typewriter), modern keyboards require some updated hardware to keep with the times. This is where switch design becomes very important.

Modern mechanical keyboards come in various types and capacities, and with numerous switch styles. Pressure ratings, click sounds, and much more are taken into account in switch manufacturing. This ensures top performance and customizability depending on what suits you best. Whether you want smooth, tactile, firm or very loud keystrokes — there’s a switch for that.

Cherry Mechanical Switch Parts

Cherry Mechanical Switch Parts

Fortunately, many keyboard manufacturers offer the same keyboard design with different switches. So you’re sure to find the keyboard that works best for you without compromising on looks.

I’ve outlined the major pros and cons of mechanical keyboards below:

PROS 

  • Durability. Mechanical keyboards are usually very heavy and resistant to wear. Plus, industry standard mechanical switches are typically guaranteed around 50 million keystrokes. That’s a lot of typing!
  • Tactility. Pressing down on a mechanical key can feel much more natural than pressing on a membrane keyboard pad. Since you have the direct feedback of an auditory click and the sensation of pressing a key, the typing process often feels much smoother.
  • Key Rollover. Key rollover refers to the number of keys you can press on a keyboard at the same time. This is incredibly important for a number of tasks. Most notably — gaming! 

CONS 

  • Price. A very important factor in choosing the right keyboard. While membrane keyboards can be picked up for very little money, a quality mechanical keyboard will likely set you back anywhere from $25 to $100 and beyond.
  • Noise. This can act as a pro and a con depending on your taste. Personally, I love the clickety clack of a mechanical keyboard, but that’s not true for everyone. Plus, if you live in close proximity to others, you may end up driving them insane!

What is a Membrane Keyboard?

A membrane keyboard is very different from a mechanical keyboard. Both function reasonably well, but there are some significant differences in performance. Let’s take a look at why.

Example of a Membrane Keyboard

Example of a Membrane Keyboard

On a mechanical keyboard, the key caps are removable and separate from the keyboard. However, a membrane keyboard features keys that basically act as little pressure pads. These little pads are a direct part of the keyboard, not a separable component.

Membrane keyboards feature 3 separate layers, or membranes. Each layer is responsible for different parts of the typing experience, but they all communicate through conductive traces, AKA electrical routing.

How a Membrane Keyboard Works

How a Membrane Keyboard Works

The top layer is the outer shell of your keyboard. This is what you see and interact with while you’re typing away. The center layer is basically a small gap in the center of the board. Remember those conducive traces I mentioned? Well, the electrical current cannot interact in this middle layer due to the space between the key and the bottom part of the keyboard.

But what happens when you press a key? Suddenly the bottom and top membranes are connected and the current flows. The keyboard registers a click and your input pops onto your screen!

PROS

  • Price. Membrane keyboards have become incredibly popular over the years due to their low cost manufacturing and simplicity.
  • Ease of Use. Membrane keyboards are super simple to use and set up. Often weighing well under a pound, membrane keyboards are lightweight and portable. Plus, you’ll find many membrane keyboards with wireless connectivity.
  • Quiet. Membrane keyboards are very quiet due to the fact that there’s no separation between the keys and board. This can be a huge boon, particularly in shared living environments.

CONS 

  • Slower. Since the keys of a membrane keyboard require full compression, the speed is slower and more tiring vs mechanical keyboards.
  • Lifespan. Membrane keyboards aren’t as durable or strong as mechanical keyboards, often leading to a shorter lifespan. When choosing between a mechanical vs membrane keyboard, always be sure to check the parts list and warranty.

Choosing a Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard

Deciding between a mechanical vs membrane keyboard largely depends on what you’ll be using it for. As a good rule of thumb, mechanical keyboards are geared more towards permanent and intensive setups. On the other hand, membrane keyboards excel in places that require a simpler and lightweight application.

Membrane Keyboards are great for:

  • Office work
  • Home entertainment centers
  • Traveling
  • Phones & tablets
  • School

Mechanical Keyboards work well for:

  • Writing
  • Programming
  • Home offices
  • Permanent setups
  • Gaming!

That’s right! Mechanical keyboards are the choice when considering mechanical vs membrane keyboards for gaming. They are hefty, durable and great for hours-long gaming sessions and hardcore use. Furthermore, the key rollover and tactility of mechanical keyboards are a must for any serious gamer.

Finding the Perfect Fit

And there you have it. A total breakdown of mechanical vs membrane keyboards. When choosing a keyboard, it truly comes down to finding the what works best for your situation. I encourage you to experiment and see what works!

If you need more help deciding, be sure to check out our list of the 17 best keyboards of 2018 to help you level your game!