An introduction to Cherry MX mechanical switches

Mechanical keyboards are defined by their switches. In the Filco Majestouch-2 and many others, it is Cherry MX switches that are used. In this article, we’ll look at the many different kinds of Cherry switches on the market and see how they compare to one another.

A potted history of Cherry

Cherry Corporation was founded in the United States in 1953 and started producing keyboards in 1967, making them the oldest keyboard manufacturer in the world that’s still in business. The company was moved to Germany in 1967 and bought by ZF Friedrichshafen AG in 2008, but keyboards and mechanical switches are still produced under the Cherry brand.

Their most popular line of switches, the Cherry MX series, was introduced around 1985. These switches are usually referenced by their physical colour, with each colour denoting the switch’s handling characteristics – whether it is clicky, whether it is tactile, and how much force is required to actuate the switch, in centi-Newtons (cN) or grams (g).

Now that we’ve explained a bit of the background information, we can have a look at the switches themselves – starting with the four most common varieties.

Linear switches

Linear switches have the simplest operation, moving straight up and down without any additional tactile feedback or loud clicking noise – we’ll come to these more complicated switches later on. There are two common types of linear switches – Black and Red.

Cherry MX Black switches were introduced in 1984, making them one of the older Cherry switches. They have a medium to high actuation force, at 60 cN, which means they are the stiffest of the four most common Cherry switches. These switches are used in point-of-sale stations, but typically aren’t considered ideal for typing due to their high weighting. They have found use in RTS video games, where the high weighting can prevent accidental key presses that might occur on less stiff switches. The stronger spring also means that they rebound faster, meaning they can be actuated quite quickly given enough force – although you may also find fatigue becomes more of a factor than with other switches.

Conversely, Cherry MX Red switches were only introduced in 2008 and are the most recent switch to be developed by the company. They have a low actuation force, at 45 cN – tied with Brown for the lowest of the four most common switches. Red switches have been marketed as a gaming switch, with the light weighting allowing for more rapid actuation, and have become increasingly common in gaming keyboards.

Tactile, non-clicky switches

Tactile switches provide, as the name suggests, additional tactile feedback as the key actuates. As you press the key down, there is a noticeable bump which lets you know that your key press has been registered.

The most popular type of tactile, non-clicky switch is the Cherry MX Brown. This switch was introduced in 1994 as a special ‘ergo soft’ switch, but quickly became one of the most popular switches. Today, the majority of Filco keyboards are sold with Brown switches, as the switch is a good middle-of-the-road option appropriate for both typing and gaming. They are also ideal for typing in office environments, where a clicky switch might annoy some.

Tactile, clicky switches

Clicky switches add a deliberately louder ‘click’ sound to the existing tactile bump, allowing for greater typing feedback. This makes it easier to know that you’ve hit the activation point. This is achieved by a more complicated mechanism, with a blue plunger and a white slider. When the actuation point is reached, the slider is propelled to the bottom of the switch and the click noise is produced.

The Cherry MX Blue is the most common clicky switch, and was first made available in Filco keyboards in 2007. Blue switches are favoured by typists due to their tactile bump and audible click, but can be less suitable for gaming as the weighting is relatively high – 50 cN – and it is a bit harder to double tap, as the release point is above the actuation point. Blue switches are noticeably louder than other mechanical switches, which are already louder than rubber domes, so these switches can be a bit disruptive in close working conditions.

Less common Cherry MX switches

While the four switches listed above are found on the vast majority of mechanical keyboards with Cherry switches, quite a few other variants exist as well. We’ll cover these briefly.

  • Clear switches are a stiffer version of Brown switches, with a tactile bump and weighting of 65 cN.
  • Grey switches are used for space bars on Clear keyboards, with a weighting of 80 cN.
  • Green switches are a stiffer version of Blue switches, with a tactile bump and audible click, weighted at 80 cN. It is primarily used for space bars.
  • White switches are very similar to green switches, with modern versions being weighted the same (80 cN) but being slightly quieter.
  • Super Black switches are extra stiff (150 cN) linear switches designed for space bars on keyboards with Black switches.
  • Dark Grey switches are moderately more stiff linear (80 cN) switches designed for use as space bars on keyboards with Cherry MX Black switches.
  • Cherry MX Lock switches are locking linear switches that stay down until pressed again, typically used for Caps Lock and TTY lock in keyboards before the 1980s.

Conclusion

So there we have it – information on the various MX switches produced by Cherry and now ZF Electronics. I hope this has been useful – if you have any questions, feel free to share them in the comments below! You can also ask on Twitter or Facebook. Finally, if you’d like to pick up a few switches to play around with, then you can do so on our switches page. Thanks for reading and have a good one!

Animated Cherry MX images from Lethal Squirrel on Geekhack.org.

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  • Dio

    Great. Very comprehensive and useful info. I liked the part that which switch is useful for typing. Just bought myself a mech keyboard, with brown switches. The blue maybe a little too noisy to type in office.

  • Lewis

    Thanks it helped me tones on the search for the best switches for my purpose now have I just have to decide between red or brown that’s going to be hard

    • MM

      Go with browns. Reds are ultra sensitive, very easy to hit the wrong key by accident.

    • Ty

      I prefer red’s for typing and gaming. As a touch typist I find that the tactile bump on Brown’s just gets in the way.

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  • Brooks

    I personally love the Blues for gaming. And I really love them for typing in the office too. The people around me don’t love it so much due to the noise, but I can type so much faster than with any other switches. It has the same feel as my very first computer keyboard in ’87. I loved that keyboard and I love my new one now.

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  • Melissa

    Very informative and I love the animations! The feel and sound of the keys are really important to me considering how much time I spend on a keyboard both at work and at home.

  • Jimbob

    Thank you for clarifying this so well. Bonus points for the animations :)

  • Gaye Laing

    Has anybody tried the full hand keyboard? If so, do you prefer it to the standard one?

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Sorry, what do you mean by full hand keyboard?

      • Gaye

        The casing is extended at the bottom so that you can rest your wrists on it. I’m just wondering how big it is and if it’s practical or just a selling feature.

      • Gaye

        I think I’m in the wrong place. I’m not sure how I ended up here. I was looking for a thread for Ergodox.

        • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

          Haha, don’t worry about it. Regretfully I haven’t tried the Ergodox so I can’t really help. Maybe try asking on mechanicalkeyboards.reddit.com?

          • Gaye

            I was researching the different switches I guess because you can pick which ones you want and I forgot what forum I was in. I’m pleading heatstroke and age LOL!!!

          • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

            OK, I’ll let you off the hook then :)

  • Michael Nilsson

    Thanks a lot! This was helpful! GREAT!

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  • JJ

    Great summary! And I agree with the others, the animations are very helpful too.

  • Weaver2

    The reds are just a slight bit too easy to press down to me, to where if I rest my hand on the keys i might accidentally press one down!

  • billy

    does anyone know what the difference with a green mx switch is?

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      A green switch is essentially a heavy blue switch, designed to be used for spacebars.

  • VirensPocket

    Really helpful article! Good job

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  • Ishter

    HAH! Now I can prove my friend wrong about how heavy blue switches are.

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  • issac

    you forgot the cherry mx RGB…

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Haha – those were announced a fair while after this article was written! In addition, Cherry MX RGB switches are still red, blue or brown – they don’t affect the function of the switch, only its look.

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  • Michael Ruf

    Great article! I have always been intrigued by mechanical switches and wish there was somewhere I could go to compare all four. I’m a heavy-handed “angry” typist so the black switches appeal to me the most although as a FPS gamer that probably wouldn’t be a wise choice =).

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  • Victor

    Best explanation ever, thanks! I guess I’ll be sticking with the MX Brown as I had originally thought.

  • Derpopolis

    Just get a Model M keyboard. Cherry MX switches are a joke compared to buckling spring.

  • Oinkers

    Vote on which you like the best! http://strawpoll.me/2121260

  • Dom Di Stroia

    I’m curious to try the Clear switches.

    I’m using the Brown ones. But, at times, they feel too light.

  • COSH666

    I have a SteelSeries 6G V2 with Cherry MX Black switches.

    The keys have no annoying click or bump but have a
    satisfyingly weighty feel without feeling too heavy.

    It doesn’t have macros of fancy lighting, just basic extremely
    sturdy construction.

    It’s really nice to game on without the distraction of the
    noise and bump but I do wonder if the blues would be better suited to typing.

  • nop666

    Thanks so much for this very informative article, William. Based on this advice, I decided on a Das Keyboard Pro with Cherry Brown switches, as a quieter replacement for my increasingly flaky IBM Model M. The new KB arrived today, & it’s pretty much exactly what I wanted. It’s worth noting that while it’s quieter than a Model M, it’s still quite loud in comparison to your typical cheap keyboard, but I’m okay with that.
    If you’re a long time Model M user, I highly recommend the Cherry Brown switches. They’re not identical to the Model M’s, but I think they’re as close as there is on the market.