Jessica La

Mechanical vs Membrane: Your Best Keyboard Guide in 2022

What you'll learn...

Whether you’re a gaming enthusiast, a passionate programmer or just someone who spends a lot of their time typing on the computer, equipping yourself with a reliable and comfortable keyboard that sits well on your fingers is a must.

And with all the different types of keyboards out in the market right now, it can be a daunting task for most people to decide which one is best suited for them, especially with the debate of mechanical keyboard vs. membrane. 

These two keyboards have been debated for decades, but the truth is that it’s not as simple of a decision as you might think. There are many factors to consider when choosing between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards, including price, durability, size, and more.

In this article, we’ll be going through what mechanical and membrane keyboards are, the benefits and drawbacks of each type, and the things to consider before you make your purchase. 

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

If you haven’t come across what mechanical keyboards are, then you’re not alone. It’s a niche interest, and a growing hobby – but you don’t need to be a keyboard enthusiast to take to a mechanical keyboard.

Mechanical keyboards are the old-school choice of keyboard that has been around for decades. They’re mechanical because they use mechanical switches which can be either constructed with metal or rubber domes submerged in a sealed chamber to provide tactile and auditory feedback when pressed. 

The mechanical switch gives you more control than the membrane because you can feel the keyboard’s actuation point, where it registers a keystroke. They also have less of a “mushy” feeling when typing because their keys don’t require as much force to activate.

The role of switches in Mechanical Keyboards


Infographic showing the key difference between membrane vs mechanical keyboard

Image source – wepc.com

 

Mechanical keyboards have spring-activated key switches and are the core of what makes these keyboards mechanical. This is the only significant difference between mechanical and membrane keyboards. The factors such as typing experience, feel, comfort, performance, etc., depend significantly on the type of switch used in the board.

The primary types of switches include; Linear, tactile and, clicky. 

  • Linear (red and black) switches are the quietest of all yet the most responsive that makes them popular among gamers. 
  • Tactile (brown switches) , as the name itself describes, has a tactile bump that one can feel when a key is pressed. 
  • Clicky (blue) switches are, as the name suggests, noisy and produce a clicky sound when actuated.

Switches generally come in red, blue and, black colors, each representing the primary types of switches. Each switch has different characteristics, including durability, actuation pressure, tactile feedback, and responsiveness. The industry standard and people preference is the old-fashioned German engineered Cherry MX or MX style switches.

Tech enthusiasts prefer mechanical over the membrane because of the flexibility, varsity, and unique experience every type and brand of switch offers.

Image source – webpc.com 

Pros of Mechanical Keyboards


Here are some of the benefits of mechanical keyboards. 

Durability

They are highly durable and are made to bear at least 30 to 70 million keypresses. On the contrary, membrane keyboards will stop functioning after 5 million presses. Moreover, they do not wear out fast, and the user experience remains the same for years.

N Key Rollover

The independent switch for each key allows a user to register an N number of keys simultaneously. The significant part is that the feedback is not compromised at all.

Customizable

Mechanical keyboards are highly customizable since the keycaps can be removed easily. You can exchange the keycaps with your favorite emoji, avatar, etc. Also, you can add stickers on the hardware to improve the aesthetics.

Amazing Feedback

Hardcore gamers and pro programmers benefit significantly from the tactile feedback and responsiveness of a mechanical keyboard. The feedback often adds to typing accuracy and user satisfaction.

Cons of Mechanical Keyboards


Although they are a fantastic invention, nothing can be wholly perfect. Here are some of the drawbacks.

Comparatively Noisy

Boards with clicky switches are louder as compared to the other two types. But, if you prefer quietness around while playing games at home and or coding at work, you can buy a silent mechanical board embedded with a tactile or linear switch.  

Not Portable

They are a lot heavier than membrane keyboards. Hence, portability is something to be considered. 

Expensive

Although they are cumbersome at pocket, the price is justified for the quality, longevity, and user experience they provide.

What are Membrane Keyboards?

Although membrane keyboards were introduced long after we had the first commercially available mechanical board, about 90% of Desktop and Laptop users have membrane as their input peripheral. 

The reason behind their massive adaptability boils down to their affordability.

Unlike mechanical keyboards, they do not have switches; instead, they have a flexible three-layered design embedded with a unified circuit. The first and the third layers consist of a membrane, and the middle layer has a conductive trace. The trace is responsible for carrying the signal and responding with feedback. They have pressure pads under each key that contact the conductive path every time the key is actuated.    

The flexibility offered by the layered design of membrane keyboards enhances the user’s typing experience significantly.

But, there is a downside to it. You cannot register multiple keys simultaneously like in a mechanical keyboard. That is why it is not the favourite peripheral of hardcore gamers. Also, they require more force to register a key.

Types of Membrane Designs


Mainly, there are two types of membrane keyboard designs. Let’s discuss both separately.

Flat Membrane Keyboards

Such keyboards have a basic flat design that is mainly seen on microwaves, printers, etc. They also have a pressure pad under each key, but it doesn’t provide tactile feedback. Due to zero feedback, they are not used as computer keyboards.

Tactile feedback is a pleasure for fingers, and every fast typist craves it.

Dome Switch Membrane Keyboards

As the name suggests, this keyboard type uses a dome with printed letters on the first layer. Modern keyboards have laser-carved letters on them, which prevents them from fading away soon.

The default keyboard in your laptop is a dome switch.  

Pros of Membrane Keyboards


When stuck between mechanical vs membrane keyboard, consider the benefits of the latter here: 

Relatively Quiet

Membrane keyboards keypresses are relatively less noisy when compared to mechanical ones. However, getting silent linear switches on a mechanical keyboard can also reduce the noise significantly, making it suitable for office environments. 

Portable

Most membrane keyboards are lightweight. Thus, they provide the portability feature that is missing in mechanical. Such external keyboards can be carried along while traveling and working remotely.

Affordable

As mentioned above, the primary reason for their popularity is affordability. However, the trade-off is in quality. 

Cons of Membrane Keyboards


Some downfalls of a membrane keyboard include:

Short-lived

As mentioned above, this class of peripherals has a significantly shorter life span. Also, it can register about 5 million keys in its whole tenure. These facts raise a concern about their durability and reliability.

No Key Rollover

You cannot register multiple key presses at a time like mechanical keyboards because their boards do not have independent switches under each key.

Less Precision

Due to a unified circuit underneath the layers and relatively more actuation pressure, this peripheral has less precision than mechanical keyboards.

Hard to clean and customize

The rubber dome keycaps are not removable, which hinders the cleaning process. Besides that, you cannot customize keycaps or exchange them.

Mechanical vs membrane keyboard: What to consider when choosing the right keyboard

To assist with your purchase, here are some factors to consider while deciding between mechanical vs membrane keyboards.

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Cost

If you’re within a certain budget, then that could be the defining factor of the keyboard you choose. 

It is no surprise that due to the quality and mechanics of the mechanical keyboard, the starting price is much higher than a standard membrane keyboard. 

Therefore, many people turn to membranes for lower prices. That is not to say that there aren’t mechanical keyboards to suit a lower budget, some are priced competitively with the market for membrane boards, however, paying premium prices for better quality mechanical keyboards certainly makes a difference. 

If you are a die-hard fan of mechanical, then we highly suggest saving up for a month or two to raise the budget bar for an excellent peripheral purchase.

Portability

In comparison with mechanical keyboards, the general market for a standard membrane keyboard is generally lighter and more portable. However, you can find varying sizes and layouts of mechanical keyboards such as 60% ones that are also relatively lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with. 

Typing Experience

If you want responsiveness, tactile feedback, and the best user experience, then the mechanical keyboard is the go-to peripheral. 

Hardcore gamers and pro programmers prefer mechanical over membrane due to the end-level typing experience it provides.

You will have a pretty similar experience on each actuation on a membrane board. In contrast, mechanical switches will provide you unique feedback on every keypress.

You must choose the keyboard based on your personal preference of user experience.

Aesthetics and Customization

Do you love to customize your gadgets and tech? Does the aesthetic of your desk set up bring joy to your day and affect your mood? If yes then, a mechanical keyboard is best for you.

Mechanical keyboards are heterogeneous in nature and the entirety of the build can be customized. From the case to the switches you use, the keycaps, circuit board (PCB), and stabilizers. Also, most mechanical keyboards have RGB lights embedded inside, which enhances the overall aesthetics of the tech.

One thing to note if you fall down this rabbit hole is that many custom parts such as premium cases and keycaps are generally offered as limited group buys only. Meaning that you could be waiting up to a year after ordering something to receive it. 

Purpose (Ergonomics, programming or, gaming)

Of course, the best keyboard for you is the one the best suits your needs

Suppose you are a programmer who does long sessions of coding. Ergonomics and typing fatigue is a high priority and there are great mechanical and membrane options out there to suit your needs.

If you are a gamer, go for mechanical keyboards as tactile feedback on every keypress naturally enhances your performance in-game.

And if you’re a typing enthusiast or a creative wanting to find an aesthetic keyboard and one that has nice feedback, then get a mechanical keyboard and customize to your heart’s content. 

Durability

If you are after something that is premium and will last, mechanical keyboards definitely triumph here, registering around 70 million keystrokes as opposed to an average of 5 million keystrokes for a typical membrane keyboard. 

Environment

This factor will have a significant impact on your decision. Why?

Since keystrokes on a mechanical board produce loud noise while they are mostly silent on the membrane keyboard. If you are sitting in an office environment where noise levels must be kept low, mechanical would not be the best option. 

However, you can opt for mechanical keyboards with silent switches that can offer minimal noise. 

FAQ’s           

Which is better: mechanical keyboard or membrane?

If we see reliability, durability, performance, and aesthetics, then a mechanical keyboard is better. However, the better keyboard is the one that fits your needs. 

Are mechanical keyboards faster than membranes?

Yes, they are faster because they require less effort or actuation force to register a key. Also, you can register keys with a halfway press. Hence, it increases the typing speed and enhances the experience.

Here, the personal preference, typing speed, and style of a user also matter.

What keyboard is better for gaming mechanical or membrane?

Mechanical keyboards are the best for gaming due to their tactile feedback, ergonomic style, less actuation force, and durability.

95% of gamers prefer mechanical keyboards due to the excellent user experience they provide while playing.

What is the difference between mechanical vs membrane keyboards?

Membrane keyboards have a flexible 3 layered design that has a unified circuit underneath. The top and bottom layers have a membrane. There is a conductive trace present in the middle layer, which carries signals.

Whereas mechanical keyboards have spring-activated independent key switches. Unlike membrane keyboards, they provide excellent tactile feedback and user experience. You can also register multiple keys simultaneously. Moreover, they are highly customizable.

The Bottom Line

While a majority of keyboard fanatics will tell you that mechanical keyboards are the way to go, ultimately, the best keyboard is the right keyboard for you!

Take into consideration things such as budget, environment, use, and your typing experience to decide when making your purchase. If you like specific typing experiences and aesthetics, go with mechanical. If you’re a productivity, gaming or programming enthusiast, you also can’t go wrong with mechanical keyboards. And for those who don’t care too much and want an easy, cheap, and accessible keyboard for immediate use, then consider membrane.  

Good Luck!
Jessica La

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Thanks for reading!

Jessica La

Hi, I’m Jessica 👋 — and I write content read by 500K+ monthly tech/marketing readers.

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