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In the world of computer keyboards, you may have noticed the recent surge of "custom mechanical keyboards" with different layouts and colours that is currently permeating the market (and your Instagram feed).
A lot of these custom mechanical keyboards are keyboards with designs and functions that you will normally not be able to buy off the shelf.
In fact, you would need to assemble these keyboards yourself.
But before you jump into them, what are the differences between these fancy custom keyboards and the ones you can buy readily made from the likes of Razer, Corsair and Logitech?
Are they even any better than your standard $10 membrane keyboard that you can head out to buy from your local tech store?
Well, we're here to help. Let's take a look at the differences between the custom mechanical keyboard, pre-made gaming or office mechanical keyboard, and your typical "cheap" membrane keyboard.
Custom Mechanical Keyboard
A custom keyboard is a keyboard that you can fully customise. From layout, shapes, types of switches and keycaps, a custom mechanical keyboard allows you to create a keyboard that is fully to your needs and wants.
If you would like to know more about them, you can refer to this in-depth beginners guide that we prepared for first-timers.
For the general public that use their keyboard for work and casual play, a custom keyboard is the best luxury option one can have.
You can create a masterpiece for yourself, customising every aspect of the keyboard, right down to how it sounds when it is being used.
However, for the serious gamer, the latency on custom keyboards may be a deterrent.
A lot of the PCBs (the circuit board) in various custom keyboards brands are not optimised for gaming, unlike their gaming counterparts from the like of Corsair and Razer.
While the casuals will not be able to tell the difference between them, some competitive gamers only use dedicated gaming keyboards due to this perceived lag.
Unless in-depth testing is done to all of the custom keyboards' PCBs, we may never know which has the lowest latency that make it suited for competitive gaming.
Mechanical Gaming and Office Keyboards
For gaming, companies like Razer, Corsair and Logitech have been pumping out different versions of their mechanical keyboards of the longest time.
Brands like Ducky, IKBC and Filco have also been making these ready-made mechanical keyboards for both office use and casual gaming.
But what are the differences between these ready-made keyboards as opposed to making one yourself?
Here are a few:
The time and effort
Making a custom keyboard from scratch takes time, and buying it off the shelf takes fewer than five minutes, unless you take forever to decide on one.
That said, you are mostly stuck with the parts that the ready-made keyboard comes with.
Most of them have their switches soldered on to the keyboard, which means that you can't change the switches if you don't like them, unless you de-solder them, which might be a bit too much effort if you're not willing to get a custom keyboard.
That said, there are a few keyboards in the market that allow for hotswapping your switches, like Xtrfy's K5 and Logitech's G Pro X keyboard.
While changing the switches is pretty much a no, you can, however, change the keycaps to whatever you want them to be.
Just make sure you buy a keycap set that matches the keyboard that you have, because some companies have non-standard sized keys on their keyboards.
For gaming keyboards, as we mentioned earlier, they are tuned to have the lowest latency possible for competitive gamers.
Some companies like Razer even have custom switches in these keyboards that are optimised for gaming, which you cannot purchase through normal means.
The feel of the keyboard
In custom mechanical keyboards, you are able to do things like adding foam into your keyboard (to reduce its hollowness) or putting lube your switches and stabilisers (to reduce rattle) for a better typing experience.
In pre-made keyboards, however, it is a coin toss.
Some companies do lubricate their stabilisers and switches, but rarely is it enough.
A Corsair or Razer keyboard will always have that stabiliser rattle and a sharp pinging sound whenever you press your switches.
More premium keyboards from Ducky and Filco may have more care put into their manufacturing, but sometimes unwanted rattles and pinging can still be present.
The common misconception with membrane keyboards is that these are ultimately inferior to a mechanical keyboard, as these keyboards can sometimes be found for as low as $10 (or maybe lower).
While lacking any sort of customisation, if you are looking for a keyboard to type on and nothing else, a membrane keyboard will do just fine.
It is no different in function from a mechanical keyboard.
That is why there are "gaming" options for membrane keyboards as well, which are supposedly lower latency versions with features for gamers.
The main difference lies in how the key presses are done.
Mechanical keyboards, well, use mechanical switches.
Membrane keyboards use a PCB with built-in points-of-contact. The points are activated when something touches it, registering a keypress.
This is why membrane keyboards usually have a sheet of silicone or rubber that is placed on top of the PCB, below the keycaps.
When you depress the keycap, it will force the silicone to touch the PCB for a keypress.
Membrane keyboards usually have a "mushy" feeling when you type, due to the silicone.
But if you are someone who is not particular with how your keypresses feel, this is hardly a negative. In fact, the silicone could even make your keyboard waterproof (though we wouldn't recommend pouring a glass of coffee on it just yet)!
Membrane keyboards are generally cheaper than mechanical keyboards due to the fact that there is no need for separate switches for each key, and you do not need a thick housing to hold the PCB.
Like I mentioned earlier, functionally, there are no differences between membrane keyboards and mechanical keyboards. It is all down to personal preference and what you want to get from your keyboard.
To put it simply:
Membrane keyboards are for people who do not buy into the hype of a mechanical keyboard, and just need a working one (or simply like the feel of a membrane keyboard).
They provide no extra benefits over a mechanical keyboard.
Pre-made mechanical keyboards are for those who do not want to spend the time and money to acquire a fully customised keyboard. If you are not particular about stabiliser rattle and such, you are still able to change the keycaps of pre-made keyboards to make it your own, somewhat.
If you truly want a customised keyboard experience, then the custom mechanical option might be your choice instead.
Depending on your budget and what you want, any kind of keyboard is still a reliable one, be it membrane or mechanical — as long as you purchase them from a reputable company.
Dominic loves tech and games. When he is not busy getting headshotted in VALORANT or watercooling anything he sees, he does some pro wrestling.