In recent years we have seen a boom in optical switches in mechanical keyboards, and as most of you will have deduced, their operation differs from traditional ones. It really is about switches that we could call mixed since they are not totally optical as they maintain mechanical elements and therefore mobile. That is, each of the keys or keycaps has the movement of sinking the key when pressed and recovering its position with a spring.
So how do they differ? The difference between optical mechanical switches and traditional ones is in the way in which the input signal is captured when we press a key.
What is an optical mechanical switch and how does it work?
To better understand how it works, we are going to make a simile with real life, for this we are going to imagine the classic scene in the movies where a thief enters a room full of infrared, which sounds the alarm when one of the beams of Light is interrupted by the presence of another object, where in that case is when the alarm sounds.
Well, optical mechanical switches work in the same way, so when we press a key and therefore sink it, what we do is cut off the infrared light, which makes the sensor that is in it activated. due. This makes these types of switches faster because no physical contact is needed to send the signal and eliminates the rebound effect of the purely mechanical ones and therefore they have a much higher cadence when capturing the pulsations.
However, these types of switches, as they have mechanical parts, also have a certain useful life, but due to the fact that they do not require certain parts in their operation, they end up having a longer useful life, but they have a very large counterpart and that is that while a A pure mechanical switch can be changed alone on a keyboard, those with optical switches have them directly soldered to the PCB and that greatly limits the modding capabilities that these keyboards have.
The reason for this limitation is found in the fact that infrared light is emitted from the keyboard PCB, since it is the part that receives power to operate from the USB port and in order to save costs, a PCB is created with all the necessary circuitry. It is for this reason that manufacturers are betting on keyboards with this type of switches, due to the fact that they are cheaper to build and their greater useful life and cadence allow them to place them on the market at a higher price.
What types of optical switches are on the market?
If you ever have to disassemble several keyboards with optical switches of various brands, simply by removing the caps or keycaps from the keys, then you will realize that the switches between different brands do not match and that each of them has its own standards. This is because these manufacturers also make optical mice and therefore take advantage of the same basic parts to build one type of peripheral or another, which does not mean that they coincide in the way they work. Although in general we can classify them into three different types: linear, those with click sound and tactile, just the same categories as mechanical switches.
For this reason, optical switches, because they have a mechanical part, also share a series of elements in their nature with the purely mechanical ones, such as the actuation force, the actuation point and the route and therefore they are usually classified in the same way as conventional mechanical keyboards and this is due to the mechanical parts that they bring with them, actually if we compare an optical switch with a purely mechanical one of the same type we would see that the only thing they differ is in the way they have to capture the signal when our fingers sink the key with force, but in the mechanical part they would be completely the same or very similar.
The manufacturers so that we can differentiate the type of switch and if it is linear, with a click or touch sound, what they do is use different colors of light to differentiate them. And this is where we enter an important point, the operation of an optical system is not limited to infrared, but there are also optical switches that work by making use of conventional light systems when it comes to capturing our keystrokes on the keyboard.
Optical switches vs mechanical switches, which are better?
We come to the part that interests you the most, since you are hesitating between one type of switch or another. Do optical switches really have a huge advantage over mechanical ones? And it is a difficult question to answer due to the fact that if some are already very good by themselves, the others are even better and if you choose one or the other, you will not be wrong. In other words, we know that the mechanics are not bad and neither are the optics.
What mechanics gain is in durability, since if the life time limit is much higher in the case of keyboards with optical switches and if you want yours to last for long years of continuous use then have no doubts in that regard. . Although you must not forget that keyboard manufacturers know that if you buy one of this type, it will take longer to return, so this ends up affecting your pocket. You also have to bear in mind that not everyone experiences the phenomenon of feeling that they type in an unnatural way in one that is not purely mechanical.
But especially what many of you are interested in knowing is for gaming and here we have to take into account that it happens like with the turbo buttons of the control knobs of yesteryear, which allowed to have a pulse rate much higher than what normal. What is happening? The time between action and action is controlled by the game itself, and in certain experiences an optician’s advantage may be a few milliseconds.
This makes it clear that they can only be used by professional players who do need the minimum pulse time, while the rest of us mortals will not be able to distinguish that GAP between mechanical and optical.