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Optical vs Mechanical Switches. Which One You Should Choose?

When it comes to choosing the mechanical key switches on the mechanical keyboards, there are several options that prove to be quite handy in picking the right key switch that ideally meets your personal preferences. But, there is a group of new switches emerging, and a good number of keyboard manufacturers are equipping their products with Optical switches. So, from that perspective, we thought we would today check out Mechanical switches vs Optical switches comparison. 


What are Optical Switches?


Now that we know enough about the mechanical switches and different types of mechanical switches such as Linear, tactile and clicky, it may be a good idea to understand what Optical switches are before moving on to optical switches vs mechanical Switches comparison. 

Optical switches make use of the light for actuation. Therefore, the switch actually works with the mechanical switches for blocking the light beam. That would mean the Optical switches have no physical contact between the PCB and key switch. This also eliminates the debounce relay observed in the case of mechanical switches. Lack of physical contact will also make the switches more durable. 


Optical Switches vs Mechanical Switches – Which One is Better?


Optical switches do have mechanical components, but they tend to have no physical contact when actuating. That is what makes them more durable. Moreover, they would also provide you with faster performance and can be a great option for gaming requirements. You would find them actuating around 30 ms faster than the traditional mechanical switches. 

The table here should provide you a greater option in letting you understand the major differences between Optical and mechanical switches:

Optical Switches Mechanical Switches
Faster Actuation  Slower actuation 
100 million keystroke lifespan 50-100 million keystrokes 
May not be comfortable when using  Feels better to use
Louder sound  Quieter switches 
Fewer options  More options
There are not many options to mod  Simple and easy to mod 

Let us explore the Optical and mechanical switches based on a few key parameters. This will provide you with a better insight into how to get the best out of them. 

Feel 

When you go with the overall feel and comfortability of the key switches, the mechanical switches offer you a highly comfortable experience. You would get access to a consistent and comfortable feel when gaming or typing on the keyboards with mechanical switches. 

The Optical switches may be smoother than the mechanical switches, but the overall feel maybe a little awkward. The unique experience and feel that you get with the mechanical switches are quite absent on the optical switches. Of course, it may be debatable whether mechanical switches are better for gaming. 

Winner: Mechanical Switches 

Sound 

Once again, this is an area that the mechanical switches win hands down. The sound produced by the optical switches may not be fulfilling and comfortable. You would find most of the quietest keyboards employing mechanical switches. 

There are people who have a difference in opinion, but even then the keyboards with Optical switches may not be the right choice. On the other hand, the mechanical switches should definitely be a great option by almost every count when it comes to the keyboard noise

Winner: Mechanical  switches 

Speed 

The performance with respect to the speed can be dependent on the individual key switches that you pick, irrespective of whether you are opting for the mechanical or optical switches. The shorter actuation does not make any huge difference. 

The Cheery MX Reds and Speed Silver switches were found to be the faster options. Among speed silver and Reds, the speed silver switches were found to offer you an excellent functionality. Among the Optical switches, the Razer Optical switches on the Razer Huntsman Mini were found to be faster than the Gateron Optical switches. 

Winner: Depends on the switch. Razer Optical switches were found to be great. 

Durability

We have already discussed this factor, and the Optical switches have been observed to be a great option in terms of durability. The average lifespan of the Optical switches is 100 million keystrokes. Since they are light actuated, they are observed to be a great option. 

It may be noticed that the mechanical switches come with a 100 million key presses reliability, but not all mechanical switches reach that level. The other cloned mechanical switches can only reach up to 50 million key presses. 

Winner: Mechanical switches 

Variety of Options 

If you are checking out the options for a wide range of key switch options, mechanical switches provide you with a greater degree of experience. In addition, you have hundreds of different mechanical switch options available, and that would provide you with a huge degree of opportunity in picking the best. 

Optical switches are, on the other hand, available in a limited quantity and variety. Among the mechanical key switches, you further have plenty of options in the form of different options for the linear, clicky, and tactile varieties. 

Winner: Mechanical switches 

Ease of access

Finding the mechanical switches may be quite easy and simple when compared to the optical switches. The mechanical switches are available in a wide range of options, and stores will have a huge number of boxes available. You would not find as many number of optical switches. 

Optical switches are quite difficult to come by. One of the prime reasons is that they need a specific and different type of PCB to install them. In addition, they will not be compatible with the other hot-swappable keyboards.

Winner: Mechanical switches 

Modding capability

If you are looking for modding and customization opportunities on your switches, mechanical switches do provide you with a far greater performance option. Moreover, with high-quality community support and a wide range of DIY tips available online, the mechanical switches can be easily modded without hassles. 

Optical switches do not have a strong community – at least as of now. So you may be able to mod them but only to a small extent.  

Winner: Mechanical Switches


Which Key Switches are Better – Mechanical key Switches or Optical switches?


To find which is better among mechanical switches and optical switches, it would be advisable to check out the pros and cons of both mechanical and optical switches.

Pros and Cons of Mechanical Switches 

Pros
  • They come with better durability than the membrane switches 
  • Easier typing capability 
  • A high degree of availability. 
Cons

Pros and Cons of Optical Switches 

Pros
  • Not much audible sound 
  • Do not need physical contact. 
  • Highly durable 
Cons
  • Extremely quieter and may not be preferred by those looking for audible noise 
  • They may build up dust over time. 

The Conclusion

Making a choice between the mechanical and optical switches may not be that easy to come by. Mechanical switches have been there for so long and should be a great option in the long run. They may be the right one to go with if you are buying your first ever mechanical keyboard. On the other hand, the optical switches may not be that comfortable. 

However, if you are a die-hard gamer and looking for an enhanced experience with the perfect split-second advantage in your gaming performance, the optical switch should be the right one you would want to opt for. 

Ultimately, the choice should be based on your individual preferences. Go through the comparisons between the two switch options and pick the one that best meets your needs. 

About the author

Atish Ranjan

Atish Ranjan is a blogger who has been publishing on the web for more than a decade. He shares his knowledge and expertise in the form of Text and Video Content.

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