Mechanical Keyboards Vs. Membrane Keyboards: Making the Switch


Mechanical keyboards cost about five to even twenty times more expensive than a regular membrane keyboard that comes with your computer when you purchase a PC. Yes, mechanical keyboards are very

Mechanical Vs. Membrane Keyboard article on Switch and Click

Mechanical keyboards cost about five to even twenty times more expensive than a regular membrane keyboard that comes with your computer when you purchase a PC. Yes, mechanical keyboards are very expensive, but when we made the switch to them, we never turned back. Many others feel the same way. So, why are mechanical keyboards so expensive?

Mechanical keyboards are so expensive because they have higher quality parts. The parts involve more work to make, but the labor associated with putting together a mechanical keyboard is also higher than a regular keyboard. Rather than having a single layer of rubber for the switches, mechanical keyboards have individual switches under each key (For some keyboards, this could be up to 104 individual switches) that have a metal spring, high-quality plastic housing, a stem, and sometimes a tactile leaf. The cost is high, but the result is worth it for improved longevity and experience.

There are many more features of mechanical keyboards that can drastically increase the price that we’ll discuss in more detail soon. Some of these include the custom keyboard market, some features you’ve never even heard of, and appearance such as lighting and build quality.

Why are Mechanical Keyboards So Expensive? The Difference Between Mechanical and Membrane

In the table below, we outline the differences between a mechanical keyboard and a membrane keyboard. The left column names the feature that we are looking at.

 Mechanical KeyboardMembrane Keyboard
SwitchesIndividual switches for each keyElectro-mechanical membrane underneath all the keys that is cheap to make
Accuracy of key registrationA keypress triggers a pulse sent to the circuit board which tells the computer which key was pressedA keypress sends an electronic signal to the membrane, which sends the signal to the PC
Key Roll-OverA precise one-to-one output that allows for more than one key to be pressed and registered at the same timeRegisters only one keypress at a time and may or may not ignore other simultaneous keypresses
Switch feelCustomizable switches depending on your preference: linear, tactile, or clickyKeys are typically flat and feels mushy when pressed
Switch forceKey force can be changed to fit your needs by change out the switches or the switch springsKey force is not customizable due to the membrane
Switch noiseNoise level varies between different keyboards from being whisper quiet to loud clicks heard from across the room depending on switch typeRelatively quiet when typing
Case MaterialCould be plastic, aluminum, wood, or acrylic. Case weight will vary depending on materialsPlastic exterior is low-quality but is more portable because it’s lightweight
LifespanUp to 100 million keystrokes, depending on switch brandWears out when it starts to feel mushy and no longer provides feedback of keypress
Ease of CleaningKeycaps are removable using keycap puller, making cleaning the keycaps and underneath easyKeycaps are not, difficulty to access the membrane
Other FeaturesRGB lighting, hot-swappability, different keycap options, high-quality stabilizers, ability to be modded, 100% customizableLow cost, may come in a package with mouse and computer

Looking at mechanical keyboards, we see that there is more customizability and longevity. The lifespan of each mechanical switch is much longer, and the case could be aluminum instead of plastic. Although this might be less portable, it will last you a much longer time.

Keyboard on desktop

What is the Average Price of a Mechanical Keyboard?

The price of a mechanical keyboard can range from $35 to $3500. That is a 100x difference between one and the other. There are so many factors in between that you can consider.

A cheap $35 mechanical keyboard can be found on sale at stores like Best Buy or Microcenter straight on the shelf. On the other hand, a $3500 must be custom-made by someone who has experience with building keyboards, hand wiring the circuit board, lubing each switch individually, modding the stabilizers, custom-finished case, and special switches. There are so many things that can affect the price of a mechanical keyboard, so let’s get into some of these things.

Other Things to Take into Consideration That Can Increase Price

Build Quality

Some keyboards have very cheap plastic cases called ABS plastic. Over time, this plastic can accumulate grime and oils from your fingers. Mechanical keyboard cases can come in different materials. Many are plastic, these are the cheapest ones.

There are more costly ones such as custom-wood, acrylic cases, aluminum cases, and more. If you ever decide to venture into the custom mechanical keyboard enthusiast community, there are many rabbit-holes regarding case materials to fall into. Typically, aluminum cases will be the most expensive.

Aluminum cases last longer, are sturdier, and don’t allow as much sound to echo inside of the case. It offers noise-dampening properties that plastic cases don’t offer. As for wood and acrylic, I’ve only seen people custom-cut or make these themselves. They can be expensive as well, but usually they’re only offered through group buys.  

The same goes for the keycaps. There are higher-quality, more expensive keycaps made of PBT plastic, which are more durable, don’t accumulate as much grime, and don’t have a shine to them.

For more information on cases, we have an in-depth guide to mechanical keyboard cases.

Switches

Switches can range from being 50 cents for each one up to $25 for each switch. Different factors can affect the price, such as supply and demand. Some switches are available everywhere such as Cherry MX switches, which are commonly used on the most popular mechanical keyboard brands such as Corsair.

There are MX-equivalents that are made in China that will cost approximately the same or cheaper. Cherry MX switches are usually $1 each. In a full-sized keyboard, this means $104 for the switches alone.

Then there are switches that are limited edition or rarities that go for much higher prices. Some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts even go as far as combining parts from different switches to get the exact feel that they want.

For more information mechanical keyboard switches, we’ve talked about Cherry MX switches, Razer switches, and have a list of MOST switches available.

RGB Lighting

RGB lighting or lighting in general is important for many people. The LED lights are not too expensive, but the labor involved is. You must make sure that each light is placed within the printed circuit board (PCB) and that each switch housing will let the lights shine through.

Some keyboard switches will have the LED lights on them. Other keyboards use clear housing and have the LEDs on the PCBs.

Usually, RGB lighting will cost $10-$20 more.

Features You Might Not Even Know About

Hot-Swappability

Other features such as hot-swappability increases the price of the mechanical keyboard as well. With these keyboards, you can change out the switches easily using a switch puller instead of having to desolder the switch and solder a new one on. This means that if one switch breaks, you don’t have to trash the whole keyboard. Just replace a singular switch.

We’ve looked at many hot-swappable keyboards if you want to learn more.

Wireless

Another feature is being wireless. Membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards both can be wireless but adding in a receiver does increase the price.

We’ve also looked at many wireless keyboards if you want to learn more.

Custom Keycaps

Many of you may not be familiar with the enthusiast market, but there are custom keycaps called artisan keycaps available for sale.

They are made by artists and have different themes such as Star Wars, breakfast foods, Pokemon, pretty much anything you can think of.

You can also get expensive keycap sets that go for over $100 for a full set of keycaps. The market is amazing once you look further.

Artisan Keycap on keyboard
Artisan Keycap

Custom USB-C Cables

Along with custom keycaps, we also have custom USB-C cables. These can be bought from custom makers with exact specifications such as what connector, what length, if you want an aviator cable or not, the colors, and more.

For where to get custom cables and how to order, we wrote an in-depth guide for this as well.

Summary

We’ve looked at the many differences between mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards. We’ve also looked many factors that can make a mechanical keyboard expensive: customizability, hot-swappability, wireless features, switches, cases, materials, and more.

Here are some of the things that you may be interested in checking out if you’re interested in reading more about mechanical keyboards and reviews that we’ve done:

As always, happy typing! We hoped this helped you figure out if you want a mechanical keyboard or not.

We would love some advice on how to improve our writing and content. Please leave a comment down below  if you have additional questions that we can do research on and answer, anything that we can improve, and any comments you have.

Jake Harrington

Jake has been an avid mechanical keyboard user for the past six years. He has a background in Mechanical Engineering and wants to apply his expertise to break down how mechanical keyboards work and show the world all of the cool aspects of the mechanical keyboard hobby.

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