After all of our articles on keyboards, you might have realized that the single most important factor for typing sensation in any mechanical keyboard is the ‘switch’. The switch is the piece beneath the keycap that actually moves when pressed. Within the course of this movement, an internal leaf connects the two pins soldered into a circuit board, completing a circuit and allowing an electrical impulse to register and be read by a controller/chip. A spring will then push the key back up into its initial position.
And while almost all switches – basically any non-optical, non-magnetic mechanical switch – will use that type of design, they can use a different shaped stem/leaf to modify the feel of the switch and give either a tactile sensation, an audible click, or no feedback at all (linear). While keycaps and stabilizers and case materials will impact the overall sound and feel of a keyboard, the switch really is the most important factor in deciding what typing on your keyboard will be like, and in defining the use-case of your keyboard.
For gaming, we are lucky to have a variety of switches that are all specialized in allowing for the fast, repetitive key actions normally associated with PC gaming. Some gamers like to use tactile or clicky switches, especially for mouse-heavy games, but the majority of specialized gaming switches fall within the ‘linear’ category.
As always, we recommend that you take the opportunity to find a local retailer that has a few switches to test (or buying an online switch tester) before purchasing a keyboard. But, once you’ve found your general preference, our recommendations below will guide you to the best mechanical keyboard switch in that area to ensure you have the best feeling, most accurate keyboard possible for all of your gaming needs.
Best Mechanical Keyboard Gaming Switches – My Recommendations
Best Ultra-lightweight Mechanical Keyboard Gaming Switch
Ultra-light in this context refers to below a 45g actuation weight. Importantly, when looking at switch weighting, there are two figures that matter: the actuation weight (how much force needs to be applied for the key to register as pressed) and the bottom-out weight (how much force is needed to fully press the key until the stem of the switch is completely depressed). In the ultra-light linear category, so switches that have an actuation weight of less than 45g and no tactile sensation when actuated, there is one mainstream switch that can be found in pre-built keyboards and is an all-around great switch: the Gateron Clear.
Gateron Clears have an actuation weight of 35g, meaning they are very easy to press and will not cause finger fatigue no matter how many APM you register or the length of your gaming session. Gateron Clears are also known for being quite smooth, having relatively little wobble, and use MX style stems to allow for a large variety of keycaps to be used easily. Many users like to add some lubrification to the stems for an even smoother usage, but thanks to the very light actuation force, gamers should have no problem moving Gateron Clears up-and-down in their stock form.
As a good example of a Gateron Clear keyboard for someone wanting a very minimalist gaming keyboard, we recommend the Qisan Mini 49. This keyboard will keep your desk clean, while maintaining the all-important WASD keys for gaming, and the fast key action of the best ultra-light mechanical gaming switch. And, because Gateron switches are very affordable, the keyboard comes in at a very affordable $54. For someone looking to keep things small and ultra-light, this is a good keyboard to consider.
Best Mid-weight Mechanical Keyboard Gaming Switch
Into the more mainstream mid-weight category, there are quite a few options from different manufacturers. Almost always, the mid-weight linear switch offering from any major producer will be the same color: red. Red switches are also seen as the default gaming switch, and are used in the vast majority of dedicated ‘gaming keyboards’ because they combine a relatively safe actuation weight (45g typically) that is neither too heavy nor too light, with the classic gaming linear (lack of) feedback. But even if all red switches will be largely comparable, the original trendsetting Cherry MX Red switch is our switch of choice for mid-weight gaming.
Cherry MX switches are the industry leading mechanical switch, using the classic stem cross shape that has been the standard for keycaps for recent history and remain the standard for quality in terms of smoothness and wobble. Gateron Reds are also quite good, but are simply not as established as Cherry MX Reds. Similarly, Outemu Reds are not a bad choice, but tend to be scratchier feeling and have more wobble than both the Gateron or Cherry counterparts. At 45g, the actuation weight is neither too heavy nor too light and is a nice medium for most gamers in avoiding fatigue while also not enabling accidental keypresses due to light-weighting. And another small bonus is that Cherry now makes Cherry MX Silent Reds (sometimes called MX Pinks) with small rubber additions to help dampen noise.
Cherry MX Red switches are available in a huge variety of keyboards. Based on your budget, your preferred keycap material (ABS or PBT), and the case style you like (hi-profile, lo-profile, RGB underglow, etc.) you should be able to find a keyboard with the mid-weight gaming switch. One good example of a standard MX Red gaming keyboard is the well-reviewed HyperX Alloy FPS Pro TKL. At $70 that keyboard is a good buy with plenty of nice features, but do not be afraid to explore a bit within the Cherry MX Red switch category to find the keyboard right for you.
Best Heavy-weight Mechanical Keyboard Gaming Switch
At the heavier end of the linear spectrum, there is another grouping of switches similar to the ‘red’ switches in the category above. They are nearly identical in nature (linear, MX style) except that they use black stems instead of red stems. The only major manufacturer that has a similar weighted but different stem color switch is Gateron, which has a Gateron Yellow offering that is largely the same. Due to availability, we have two recommendations for this section: the Cherry MX Black, and the slightly different Kailh BOX Black.
The reason we have two recommendations for this section is because the second choice, the Kailh BOX Black, is not easy to find in pre-built keyboards. It offers an interesting design improvement by protecting the stem through the BOX structure, avoiding dust and mitigating any liquid spills, but it is not as common as the still very solid Cherry MX Black. Between the two, the feel will be very similar with a 55-60g actuation weight (there is some spring tolerance differences, the Cherry Blacks tend to be slightly heavier) and a smooth linear action on depression. For an added bonus, like Cherry MX Reds, if you want a silent switch, the Cherry MX Blacks come in a silent version with small rubber additions to budget sound.
As we said, the Kailh BOX Black is harder to find in prebuilts so it might be a great choice for anyone looking to build their own keyboard, but the Cherry MX Black is one of the industry standards and can be found quite readily. One great option using this switch is the DREVO Excalibur. DREVO is a relatively budget-name in the keyboard space, but makes solid keyboards and uses original Cherry switches for reliability and precision, meaning this keyboard will fit for any gamer wanting a heavy weight linear switch.
Best Specialized Mechanical Keyboard Gaming Switch
After the basic three categories above, with the ‘black’ and ‘red’ style switches being by far the most popular for gaming, Cherry released a specialized gaming switch called the ‘Speed’ switch. Basically, the speed switch makes the stem shorter so that the actuation point is higher, even if it uses the same weight. The switch has therefore less ‘travel’, allowing for quicker actuation and faster depression (or at least that’s the theory behind the shortened travel). As you might imagine, for gaming, this could be a considerable improvement. Kailh followed shortly after with a similar Speed Silver design, and also added Speed Copper, Gold, and Bronze switches, although they are either tactile or clicky designs and so slightly less adapted to gaming, even with the shortened travel. All this to say that if you want a truly specialized gaming switch and like the idea of very quick key presses with short travel, Cherry MX Speed Silver switches are ideal for you.
Similar to the black switch type above, the reason we recommend the Cherry MX Speed Silver over the Kailh design is really because of ease of access. It is much easier to find the Cherry MX Speed Silver in prebuilt keyboards, but if you do find one with the Kailh version, both are perfectly reliable switches. They have similar actuation weights (right around 45g, the same as the ‘red’ switch type) and similarly shortened travel. Cherry fans will tell you that genuine MX switches have less wobble and are potentially smoother, but differences are likely too small to notice between the two switches unless comparing side-by-side.
For a great example of a prebuilt keyboard using these specialized Cherry MX Speed Silver switches, we recommend the slightly larger version of one of our recommendations above, the HyperX Alloy FPS RGB. This full-size keyboard has plenty of features, including the specialized switches, and is very reasonable at right around $106. If you want to try some made-for-gaming switches, this keyboard will be a great option to consider.
When it comes to finding a gaming mechanical keyboard switch, unless you know otherwise already based on your personal preferences, the best place to start is with the linear switches. Then, narrowing down to your preferred weighting can help you decide between the ultra-light Gateron Clear, the mid-weight Cherry MX Red (or other ‘red’ switch) and the heavy-weight Kailh BOX/Cherry MX Black. Once you know your weight, if you really want to go for specialized gaming, the Cherry MX Speed Silver switch is worth testing as well.
With all of that research done, our recommendations above should help you in choosing the perfect keyboard to fulfill all your gaming needs.