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.

    • Ryan

      Can confirm the blues annoy everyone. Tried bringing my mx blues board into class one day and everyone wanted to kill me haha

  • 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.

      • XRI

        This article would have me believe that the actuation force on reds and browns is the same. Care to elaborate on what makes mis-actuations more common with reds for you?

    • 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.

    • Andreszx

      Hello Brook! thanks for your comment, could you please say me what your first computer keyboard was? I loved the 486 HP keyboards when I was in school in the 90’s!!

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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.

    • Anders

      Here’s the original creator of those animations …

      on a youtube video with samples of the sounds of the different keys.
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp46JeDDTCw

      dacasman3 months ago
      You’re probably not going to believe this but I am the one that created those switch animations. (lethalsquirrel from geekhack)
      the entire internet has stolen my animations that were simply avatar .gifs for my geekhack account. 

      Here’s a reddit thread about it:
      http://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/216661/found_the_creator_of_the_cherry_mx_switch_gif/

      • The Raven

        No one stole anything, you chose to share it. The animations are very basic and a 3d version would be nice to see. Maybe it’s time to remake them and add the new switches like the Romers and others to the list. 3DS Max would be a good way to produce the animations.

        The Xerox iGen digital presses I am a Technician for use a lot of cherry switches for things like the door interlocks and I can’t believe how cheap they are and how fast they wear out and how easily they break, I’d avoid having a KB with them if possible.

        The only advantage to Cherry is the extremely low price, they are dirt cheap which is why a lot of KB makers choose them, but there are some companies that choose better alternatives to cheaper ones, but will cost the consumer a little more to buy, but will outlast the cheaper ones by far.

        • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

          Cherry switches are actually pretty damn expensive, compared to Kailh clones, and they’re made in small numbers by a company that doesn’t have maximum production as their primary aim. Cherry switch keyboards from 20+ years ago are still working fine, so I think they’re fine in terms of reliability…

          It would be cool to see new animations, although I guess this guy LethalSquirrel probably isn’t up for it ;)

          • The Raven

            Nope, they are very cheap switches, sorry you didn’t know that. They are the cheapest switches we have access to at work, so we go through a lot of them as they break constantly.

  • 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.

    • rehndum guehst

      “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.”

  • 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.

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  • Geokid pro

    the lock switches tho

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  • Derpopolis

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

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  • Ander

    Great piece! I must take issue with one thing, though—the widespread misunderstanding that stiffer switches are harder to use:

    > [re MX Blacks] 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…

    The purpose of making a stiffer switch isn’t just to make it harder to press. It’s to make it easier to choose how FAR to press it.

    Like most KB switches, Cherrys actuate 50% through their travel. This means that any motion beyond that point is wasted time and energy.

    Lighter switches move so easily, it’s hard to control their travel, so you almost always bottom out. Stiffer switches like Blacks offer more resistance, making it easier not to bottom them out every time. If you use them correctly, with that in mind, they let you develop a quicker and LESS tiring typing technique by consistently pressing them only partway down.

    It’s hard for KB companies to describe all this, so they don’t try. Instead they let people think lighter = better, and sell lots of light KBs and and let people pound away on them. Only those who take a bit of time and trouble to educate themselves will benefit from stiffer switches’ superior design.

    • Vakuum

      > Lighter switches move so easily, it’s hard to control their travel, so you almost always bottom out.

      Hard is relative here. I have no problem typing on my MX Brown switches without bottoming out. I only accidentally bottom out every once in a while if I’m in a hurry.

      Though, I can imagine that it would be harder to develop a light and good writing technique coming from a keyboard with stiffer switches. Like going from Black or Clear to Brown switches.

    • The Raven

      I like a very light switch and then set the ‘bottom’ to be at the actuation point so I can use it very fast, a lot faster than a heavier switch trying to locate the AP manually. I always mod everything I buy so it makes sense to do the same to a KB. I prefer custom built to off the shelf in everything from cars to clothes to computers and perhephrials.

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  • Peter Tierno

    Great post. Thank you. Made my search for a mechanical keyboard a lot easier.

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Great, glad you find it helpful!

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  • JOKERNAUTZ!

    will, what is your favourite cherry mx switches? you prefer me to brown or blue? i’m a lil bit confuse to choose

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      My favourite is brown, but the clicky feel of Blue switches can also be very satisfying.

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  • Soft Touch

    Which keyboard requires the least amount of pressure? I type more than 500,000 words a year for work and desperately need a soft touch keyboard. Thank you.

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Try a keyboard with Topre or Cherry Red switches. If you email us (sales@keyboardco.com) with your requirements, we’ll try to suggest the perfect keyboard for you!

      • Emma

        I second Topre. I find them to be a lot less vulnerable to damage from dust and other foreign objects. The only bad thing is that they’re difficult to find in physical stores. I like to touch and play with keyboards before I purchase them.

    • The Raven

      I’d go with Romer G switches. Light and the fastest switch.

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  • James Cohen

    So left out of this discussion is the “buckling spring” keyboard switch from the old IBM style keyboards. This type of keyboard is still made IN THE USA and is considered to be the best tactile feedback style. It’s available for Mac and Win. And it’s actually cheaper than all these newer types: http://www.unicomp.com/

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Hey JSC! It’s true, but the article is only about Cherry MX switches, not all mechanical switches. I agree that buckling springs are a lot of fun. We even sell Unicomp / buckling spring keyboards ourself! http://www.keyboardco.com/keyboard_search.asp?sr=buckling&submit=Go

    • The Raven

      Greens are the closest to a buckling spring I’ve found. Coolermaster made a Trigger KB that used greens, I am not sure what models they currently feature that have them though.

  • Rick Reid

    this was great, I had no idea what all the Cherry MX hopla was about until doing a search and running across this story, thanks :-)

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  • Mads Thomsen

    Where can I get these?

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Hi Mads! You can get switches individually if you want to build a keyboard from scratch, or you can buy keyboards that already include these switches inside.

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  • The Raven

    Razer has recently released a line of gamer switches that are improved clones of the cherry mx switches but activate and reset faster, so that might be the choice if you are interested in better gear for gaming and e-sports.

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      I don’t think the changes that Razer have made are substantial enough to make any difference in their suitability for eSports; most pro players just use what their sponsors provide and do fine.

      • The Raven

        Nice thought, but it’s wrong. :) What testing have you done? Just an off the cuff knee jerk reaction? Thought so.

  • envy sucks

    i think this is shitty ghame 0&//10

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  • Steve Ocasio

    I have the Compaq PS/2 Slim Keyboard Model 5137, does anyone know what type of switch this keyboard uses?

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      I would assume it has rubber dome (e.g non mechanical) switches. If you’re feeling brave, then pull off one of the keycaps and take a picture of what you see underneath.

      • Steve Ocasio

        Yeah I realize it is a membrane type keyboard. Thank you
        for responding

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  • Alex Povolotski

    Wow! What a comprehensive review. It should be on Wikipedia!!!

    • http://williamjudd.com/ William Judd

      Thanks for the kind words — much appreciated.

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  • Elzworth

    This is great, really helped my decision. I decided to go with a Corsair K70 with brown switches. I think the balance will be nice for someone who is in IT along with both gaming and typing for papers, documents, etc.

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