The Best Switches For Gaming [Dec 2020]


Everyone is looking for that next competitive advantage in-game but many overlook an important factor, what switch they are using in their keyboard.

Today we’ll be breaking down the best switches for gaming so you can have the most competitive setup out there.

We have tried and tested all of the switches on this list ourselves, so we’ll give you our straightforward opinion on each option.

1. Cherry MX Speed Silver

Type: Linear 
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet 
Actuation Force: 45g 
Bottom-Out Force: 80g 
Actuation Distance: 1.2mm 
Travel Distance: 3.4mm

To kick off the list, we’re starting strong with the Cherry MX Speed Silver. This switch is tailor-made for gaming with a shorter travel distance. It actuates with linear movement.

The linear actuation makes the switch super smooth and consistent on each keystroke and their is no tactile bump to distract you.

The spring force is also minimal so you can have that quick actuation you need to beat the competition.

The actuation distance is a short 1.2 mm which is 40% lower than the normal distance.

The only downside to the Cherry MX Speed Silver is it’s a bit harder to find and you’ll typically have to pay a little extra to get this switch on your keyboard.

There are many who believe that the Speed switches don’t actually improve your reaction time and it’s purely marketing. I’m inclined to believe them, but in theory if you want to shave milliseconds off your reaction it could be worth it.

Just keep in mind the shorter actuation distance can make typing on your keyboard a bit more uncomfortable.

2. Razer Red Optical

Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 40g
Bottom-Out Force: 65g
Actuation Distance: 1.0mm
Travel Distance: 3.5mm

The Razer Optical Red switch is screaming fast. It comes in Razer’s trademark design where each switch has their own stabilizer bars to make each keystroke feel stable.

The switch was re-released with a Gen 2 design with the launch of the Razer Huntsman Mini.

The Razer Optical Red Gen 2 lubricates the switches to make them actuate smoother and also includes some mild sound dampening to lower the total decibel output, which makes them better for gaming at night.

If you are looking for a switch purely based on how fast it actuates, this one is your best bet. The only downside is it’s only available on the Razer Huntsman keyboard lineup.

Optical switches are faster than mechanical switches for gaming because once the stem is pressed past the actuation point, the signal is sent via light instead of the plates touching. This allows for a faster reaction time.

There are other upsides too, such as a longer lifespan. Optical switches will usually last for 100 million+ keystrokes, easily.

The main downside to optical switches is they tend to feel hollow and a bit fake. For that reason, I only recommend this switch for the hardcore gamers.

The low actuation distance and poor feel make it easy to make mistakes when typing and is ultimately quite uncomfortable.

You can find this switch on the Razer Huntsman keyboards, if you are interested.

3. Kailh Speed Silver

Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 40g
Bottom-Out Force: 70g
Actuation Distance: 1.1mm
Travel Distance: 3.5mm

If you’re looking for another speed switch option, the Kailh Speed Silver is an excellent choice. This switch is basically a clone of the Cherry MX Speed Silver design, except it comes at more of budget-friendly price point.

In addition, the actuation distance is also slightly shorter (0.1 mm), which in theory makes this switch ever-so-slightly faster.

So why did it rank under the Cherry MX Speed Silver? Kailh switches aren’t backed by the same durability and performance as Cherry MX switches.

Cherry switches go through intense testing and durability screening which is why they last the coveted 100 million keystrokes. Kailh switches typically last in the 50-60 million keystroke range.

For that reason, Kailh switches are ranked lower. But you can’t deny how much more affordable Kailh Speed switches are, so if you’re on a budget, they are a great option.

If you want a speed switch that’s not linear, Kailh also has other options such as the Speed Copper and Gold.

4. Gateron Red/Yellow/Black

Gateron Red
Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 45g
Bottom-Out Force: 65g
Actuation Distance: 2mm
Travel Distance: 4mm
Gateron Yellow
Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 50g
Bottom-Out Force: 80g
Actuation Distance: 2mm
Travel Distance: 4mm
Gateron Black
Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 60g
Bottom-Out Force: 85g
Actuation Distance: 2mm
Travel Distance: 4mm

While it’s ranked number four, Gateron switches are my personal go-to for gaming.

The Gateron Red, Yellow, and Black switches are all linear options which make them super smooth and consistent switches for gaming. The actuation distance is normal, so there isn’t anything special in that department.

Gateron switches are an excellent all-around linear switch. They are extra smooth, affordable, and work well for gaming and typing.

They are not made specifically for gaming, but if you want a switch that you can type on AND game with, this is probably your best bet.

You can choose between the different heaviness of the switches based on how lightly you touch. For gaming, the Red option is probably your best bet as a lighter switch is usually better, but it doesn’t matter too much.

The aspect that sets Gateron switches apart from the rest is how smooth they actuate. The stem is slightly smaller which means there is less friction when the switch moves up and down. This makes the switch really satisfying and comfortable to use.

If you have an extra-light touch, the Gateron Clear switches are another great option.

5. Cherry MX Red/Black

Cherry MX Red
Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 45g
Bottom-Out Force: 65g
Actuation Distance: 2mm
Travel Distance: 4mm
Cherry MX Black
Type: Linear
Feel/Sound: Smooth and Quiet
Actuation Force: 60g
Bottom-Out Force: 85g
Actuation Distance: 2mm
Travel Distance: 4mm

If you need a switch that is super durable and works well for gaming/typing, the Cherry MX Red or Black switches work great too.

They are linear switches with different spring weights based on how heavy you type (similar to the Gateron switches).

As mentioned before, Cherry MX switches last a whopping 100 million keystrokes, so if you need a switch that lasts a long time, this is your best bet.

The actuation distance is normal, sitting at 2mm, so they aren’t extra fast. But they are good middle-ground between comfort and performance when gaming.

They are slightly scratchier than Gateron switches, which is why they rank below them.

The Cherry MX Black switches are extra heavy, so if you have lead fingers, these will work wonders for you.

Does the Switch Matter for Gaming?

When gaming, there are a ton of different factors at play that determine whether you beat your opponent or not. The question is, how much does the switch matter for gaming?

The switch you use can have a small impact in-game. By using a faster switch, such as the Razer Optical Red, you can shave milliseconds off of your reaction time which can make you slightly faster than the competition.

Of course, this may only be a 0.01% increase in speed, but if you play at the highest level, it may be noticeable.

So yes, the switch matters. But if you play casually, or even semi-casually, I wouldn’t worry about the switch too much. You probably wouldn’t even notice a difference.

Why Linear Switches Are The Best for Gaming

Between all of the switches recommended on this switch, did you notice a trend? Yes, all of the switches were linear, and there’s a reason for this.

When looking at the three main switch types: clicky, linear, and tactile, the switch type determines how the keyboard will feel and sound.

Linear switches are by far the best for gaming. The reason is, linear switches are smooth and consistent. Each keystroke is clean with no bump or click noise.

If you need to press a ton of keys in rapid succession, you don’t want to worry about the tactile bump distracting you or throwing off the switch acutation.

Not to mention, if you chat with friends in-game, the clicky noise of a switch can be very distracting. A linear switch is usually pretty quiet and won’t disturb others.

Getting a linear switch will result in the highest reaction speed difference when it comes to gaming.

As you can see, there are a multitude of reasons why linear switches are better for gaming, so make sure to avoid tactile or clicky switches next time you pick up a mechanical keyboard for the purpose of gaming.

Are Shorter Actuation Distances Better For Gaming?

One of the biggest selling points for gaming switches is how low the actuation distance is. Does the actuation distance actually matter or is it all marketing?

In theory, when you have switch with a lower actuation point, the switch needs to travel less for the switch to actuate. This means that if you should be able to react slightly faster in-game with a lower actuation.

To test this out for ourselves, we used a reaction speed tester and tried a bunch of different switch types to see if they would improve the reaction time.

The results were a little disappointing.

We found no difference in the reaction times between a speed switch and a normal switch. This leads me to believe the difference in reaction is super low, almost negligible.

A lot of what speed switches offer is mainly marketing, but if you can eek out a millisecond or two of speed, I suppose it could be worth it. I just wasn’t able to prove they actually make you faster in-game.

With a lower actuation distance and travel distance, you do sacrifice some comfort when typing, so it’s up to you to decide if that tradeoff is worth it or not.

For me, I’ll go with a plain ol’ linear switch over a speed switch any day of the week.

Breaking Down the Different Switch Terms

If you’re new to mechanical keyboards and switches, all of the terms being thrown around can be a little confusing. This section should help you understand all of the different lingo and terms used.

  • Actuation Type – This indicates the behavior of the key and whether it is linear, tactile, or clicky. Whether the keystroke is smooth, bumpy, or loud will determine its classification.
  • Actuation Force – this refers to the force required to make the key press down and register the keystroke to the computer. I.e.: how hard you must press the key. This measurement of (g) refers to grams.
  • Actuation Distance – this indicates at which point the switch is pressed down hard enough to translate information from keyboard to computer. Most switches will have an actuation point of around 2mm unless the switch is low-profile or speed, in which case the activation point is shorter. This pressure point is measured in millimeters (mm).
  • Travel Distance – the travel distance of a switch is the distance from the top of the key (un-pressed) to the bottom of the key (when pressed all the way down.) The point at which the switch is fully bottomed out is the end of the travel distance. It is also measured in millimeters (mm).
  • Lifespan – this refers to the number of keystrokes that can be made before the switch deviates from its factory conditions. Most switches will actually last longer than the lifespan, and many prefer the feel of a well-used switch to a brand new one. A well-used switch will often have a less scratchy feel and will have a better sound

Conclusion

There are a ton of different switch options out there. Choosing the best option for gaming mainly comes down to what you’re looking for in the switch.

The fastest switch options will usually be the best for gaming, but they come with some drawbacks, such as a higher price, less comfortable to use, and limited option available.

If you want a switch that’s really fast for gaming, the Razer Red Optical switch or Cherry Speed Silver are your best bets. But if you need a well rounded switch, for typing/gaming, the Cherry MX or Gateron linear switches are great options.

Happy typing!

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 and other tech work to show the world all of the cool aspects of the hobby.

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