Mechanical Vs. Membrane Keyboards [Everything You Need to Know]


Keyboards come in different sizes, shapes and with different names. You have multimedia keyboards, gaming keyboards, ergonomic keyboards, and the list goes on and on. Despite the different categories and names, most computer keyboards are either mechanical or membrane keywords. In this guide, you’ll learn the main differences between them so you can choose the type that’s right for you. We’ll also cover some of the most frequently asked keyboard question to make sure you get the full picture to make well-informed buying decisions. Let’s start with the most popular type: Membrane keyboards.

What is a membrane keyboard?

It’s true that the name “membrane keyboard” might sound unfamiliar to most people. However, it’s a classic example of items that many people use, but few people know their names.

This “membrane” keyboard is the one that you find in most homes and offices. It’s your good old computer keyboard that has been around since the 80s. Why do membrane keyboards have this weird name? It’s all about the typing mechanism! Membrane keyboards are called so because they have pressure pad membranes beneath the keys. These pads provide very little tactile feedback and are responsible for registering clicks on a membrane keyboard. Whenever an electrical contact is created by pressing a key, a click is registered. That’s how membrane keyboards work.
The membrane beneath a membrane keyboard's keys
The pressure-sensitive membrane beneath the keys

Membrane Keyboards: Key Features

Budget-friendly: When comparing mechanical and membrane keyboards in the same category, you’ll find that membrane keyboards are cheaper. So, if you’re looking for the most budget-friendly option, membrane keyboards are your best bet. They provide basic performance at an affordable price. Lightweight: Generally speaking, a typical mechanical keyboard is heavier than its membrane counterpart. This is mainly due to the mechanical switches that add to its overall weight. So, if you plan on carrying your keyboard around with you frequently, a membrane keyboard is a better choice. Quite typing: While it’s true that some mechanical keyboards use quiet switches, membrane keyboards provide an overall quieter typing experience. In many situations -like a shared workspace, loud typing noise is considered an annoying issue. It can drive you and your co-workers nuts! While it might be fun listening to the typing sounds of your own keyboards, 10+ people working together in the same place can become a nightmare. That’s why -in addition to the lower price- membrane keyboards are preferred in offices and workplaces in general. Fixed keys: Since the keycaps of membrane keyboards are usually fixed, things like cleaning them is more difficult. While it’s not a problem that you’ll notice right away, it will become an issue after years of use.

What is a mechanical keyboard?

As the name suggests, mechanical keyboards have a mechanical key mechanism. Instead of the underlying membrane that’s responsible for registering clicks on a regular keyboard, mechanical keyboards have dedicated switches.
a GIF showing a section of a mechanical keyboard switch while its working
Mechanical keyboard switch in action
Under each key, there is a dedicated mechanical switch that registers clicks while providing decent tactile feedback. Since there are actual mechanical switches under each button, the overall typing experience is different from what you find on a standard membrane keyboard.
a mechanical keyboard withsome buttons removed revealing the switches
Mechanical keyboard with blue switches
So, are mechanical keyboards that different from membrane keyboards? The answer is yes! Mechanical keyboards are considered a more premium option compared to their membrane counterparts. The reason for that is quite simple, which is the fact that mechanical keyboards offer more customization options. Before we get into more details, let’s have a look at the key features of both mechanical and membrane keyboards.

Mechanical Keyboards: Key features

More Customization Options: Unlike membrane keyboards, mechanical keyboards allow you to customize them to your exact liking by changing the switches. Since there is a wide variety of those switches, you can choose the ones that have the right tactile feedback and overall feel. Heavyweight: Due to the presence of a separate mechanical switch for every key, mechanical keyboards tend to be heavier. Whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage depends on your type of use. If you use your keyboard with a desktop computer and don’t need to move it that often, this heavy weight is actually a good thing. The keyboard will be more stable and provide you with a better user experience. If you carry it around all the time though -which is less likely, you might be bothered by this additional weight. More Expensive: The quality that mechanical keyboards brings come at a price. Despite being more expensive, mechanical keyboards tend to last longer. If anything happens to one of the switches -which usually requires many years of heavy use, you can easily replace it with another one. This makes mechanical keyboards an overall better value for money. Removable Keycaps: This is a major advantage that mechanical keyboards have over membrane keyboards. Since the keycaps are removable, you can customize your keyboard in all sorts of ways. Asides from using the exact switches you want, you can add different buttons with a different texture and feel.

What is a rubber dome keyboard?

Since we’re comparing mechanical and membrane keyboards, rubber dome keyboards had to be brought up. Rubber dome keyboards (also known as dome-switch keyboards) are a hybrid type of keyboards. They combine membrane keyboard keystroke registration with a more tactile feel that’s similar to that of fully-mechanical keyboards.
Rubber dome switches being pressed with a stick
Rubber dome switches
While rubber dome keywords help bridge the gap between mechanical and membrane keyboards, they’re still not as good as the mechanical models. Most of them have fixed keys so you won’t be able to remove the buttons or change the switches if you ever feel like it. In addition to that, the feedback you get when typing on a rubber dome keyboard is hardly the same.

Are mechanical keyboards better than membrane keyboards?

Well, the only reason to a choose a regular keyboard over a mechanical keyboard is to save a few bucks. If you’re looking for a new keyboard and budget is a major constraint, you should pick a membrane keyboard. Other than that, a good mechanical keyboard is better in every way. Not only do they last longer, but they also provide better performance and customization options. This makes mechanical keyboards better for everything else from gaming to typing. Nothing beats getting that awesome tactile feedback with every key press and knowing that you can make your keyboard exactly the way you want. If money isn’t an issue, a good mechanical keyboard is definitely the way to go.

Editorial Staff

We're a team of nerds passionate about technology and all things geeky.

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