Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboards: Which One Should You Use?

Membrane vs Mechanical Keyboards

Computers are only as good as the peripherals that you use to interact with them. You can have the most powerful rig in the world, but if your peripherals are poorly-made, then you won’t have an enjoyable time using your computer. Choosing the right mouse is usually as simple as checking the DPI and feeling whether it’s comfortable, but keyboards are a little more complicated.

Our readers often ask us about the differences between membrane and mechanical keyboards, and the truth is that there are too many to fit into a short answer. Instead, we have put together this brief guide that will go over both types of keyboards and explain their differences in detail. Let’s start with the more common variety: membrane keyboards.

Membrane Keyboards

What is a Membrane Keyboard?

You’ll find membrane keys on laptops as well as most affordable keyboards. Their low price and convenience have led to their immense popularity.

The membrane keyboard features three different layers, each of which is one of the membranes that the keyboard type is named after.

membrane Keyboard layers

When you push on the upper layer, it goes through the middle membrane and makes a connection with the lower membrane. As the upper and lower membranes connect, they allow for the passage of a current, which results in the computer receiving the input.

There are many different kinds of membrane keyboards, and some of the most basic ones are the type that you’ll see on a microwave. These kinds of membrane keyboards don’t feature a keycap, and the user instead presses directly against the top membrane.

However, the disadvantage to this simple type of membrane keypad is that the top membrane is exposed to damage. This everyday wear and tear can end up ruining it.

This is why membrane keyboards on computers are of the dome type.

In a dome membrane keyboard, the upper membrane is in the shape of a dome, and it’s covered by a keycap.

This keycap prevents the dome from being damaged, and it makes the keys easier to press.

Let’s look at some of the main advantages of a dome-type membrane keyboard.

Typing

Advantages of Membrane Keyboards

Acceptable Typing Experience

While membrane keyboards can never hope to match a mechanical keyboard when it comes to the quality of the keystrokes. A dome-type keyboard will still be far better than a traditional membrane.

The keycaps on a dome keyboard go a long way towards replicating the experience of typing on mechanical switches. Therefore, membrane keyboards are great for casual users.

Quiet Typing

Since there is no audible click when you press down on the key of a membrane keyboard, you’ll be able to work well into the night without waking up everyone in the house.

Of course, if you type hard, a membrane keyboard will still be relatively loud. But, that’s due to the force of your fingers instead of the mechanism itself.

Portability

A membrane keyboard is usually far lighter than a comparable mechanical mode. This is because it doesn’t need physical switches, just rubber membranes.

If you need a more portable keyboard, then you should opt for a membrane model. However, if you would rather a mechanical option, see our best tenkeyless mechanical keyboard list as these are much more compact.

Portable Keyboard

Affordability

Since membrane keyboards are so much more common than mechanical models, they’re the more affordable choice.

However, the lower cost of these keyboards goes beyond the laws of supply and demand.

The internal components of a mechanical keyboard are more complex and harder to mass produce than membrane models.

Disadvantages of Membrane Keyboards

Keypress Quality

When typing on a membrane keyboard, you’ll often find that the keys have less crisp feedback than mechanical keyboards. There are times when you can’t be sure whether or not you pressed an adjacent key while typing. With a mechanical keyboard, this becomes evident.

Missed Inputs

Since the feedback is so poor on a membrane keyboard, there may also be times when you feel that you fully pressed a key, but the computer still won’t register it.

Due to their design, membrane keyboards can be a little less reliable than mechanical models, especially if you’re a fast typer.

Fast typing

Lifespan

Both membrane and mechanical keyboards are made to last a long time before any major failures. Unfortunately, membrane keyboards begin to lose effectiveness before they completely fail.

Therefore, you may find that keys will have more and more difficulty registering keystrokes as time goes by.

Cleaning

Membrane keyboards don’t have removable keycaps like their mechanical counterparts, which means that you typically can’t clean them out.

This can begin to affect the reliability of a membrane keyboard in the long run.

Mechanical Keyboards

HyperX alloy Elite

What is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Unlike a membrane keyboard, a mechanical model will use physical switches to send the signal to your computer, which it will then interpret as the key that you pressed. Each key on your keyboard has its own switch, each of which features its own spring, base, and stem.

There are many different types of switches, and mechanical keyboard enthusiasts spend a lot of time assembling their perfect combination of these switches. Some users prefer switches that give less tactile feedback, while others like louder keys that click when they’re pressed.

Advantages of Mechanical Keyboards

Customizable

Color coordinated keyboard

One of the main advantages of mechanical keyboards is that their users can customize them to their liking.

Different keycaps will feature varying designs, and you can opt for keyboards with symbols and hieroglyphs. Furthermore, you can even choose blank keycaps for a minimalistic look

Durability

Since the mechanical switches are less prone to degradation than a rubber membrane, the performance of the keyboard will remain consistent and won’t change over time.

If a switch breaks, it will be easy to replace.

Tactile Feedback

When you type fast, it’s easy to half-press a key and not have it register. But, since mechanical keyboards provide tactile feedback, you’ll always know whether or not you pressed a key.

Optimize Your Typing Style
Mechanical Keyboard switches

Based on the switches you choose for your mechanical keyboard, you’ll be able to adjust your typing style. For example, some switches will register when they’re pressed halfway, while others will require the full key travel distance.

Heavy and Solid

Since mechanical keyboards are reliably made, you’ll find that they’re more resistant to impacts and other damage.

A heavier keyboard will also feel more anchored to the desk, making it easier to type aggressively.

Key Rollover

Key rollover is the number of keys that you can press at once while having them still register. This feature is essential for gamers. While many membrane keyboards also now feature key rollover, you’ll rarely have to worry about it with a mechanical model.

They will usually have at least six-key rollover, if not unlimited.

Easier to Clean

As you would expect, the removable keycaps on a mechanical keyboard will make it easier to clean out.

We would recommend cleaning a mechanical keyboard of dust and debris regularly. See our guide to cleaning a mechanical keyboard to find out how.

Vacuum keyboard

Disadvantages of Mechanical Keyboards

Higher Price

Since mechanical keyboards are of higher quality and they’re less common. You’ll typically find yourself paying more for one than you would for a comparable membrane model.

Loud

While the volume of your keystrokes will depend on your typing style and the switches that you have installed. A mechanical keyboard will usually be louder.

If you aren’t a fan of audio feedback or if you often type at night, then you may want to opt for some quieter switches.

Less Portable

Since a mechanical keyboard will be heavier, it will be less suitable for users who travel often or who need a keyboard for their laptop or tablet.

Some Assembly Required

Remove Mechanical Keys

While there are pre-made mechanical keyboards that you can get your hands on, you’ll need some DIY skills to get the most out of these kinds of keyboards.

If you’re willing to make an effort, you’ll be able to install custom keycaps and switches on your keyboard, personalizing it to your heart’s content.

Which One Should You Use?

Picking between a membrane keyboard and a mechanical model will depend on your intended use and budget.

If you’re just looking for the cheapest keyboard on the market and you don’t care much for performance. Then you can’t go wrong with a proven membrane keyboard.

Membrane keyboards will also be an excellent choice for customers who travel a lot and need a separate keyboard for a laptop or a tablet.

There are plenty of thin and compact membrane keyboards that are durable enough to withstand the rigors of travel.

Finally, you may also want to get your hands on a membrane keyboard if you’re clumsy or if you plan on your keyboard being exposed to the elements.

Because of their design, membrane keyboards are usually far more resistant to water than mechanical switches.

We wouldn’t recommend drinking anything around a mechanical keyboard, which can easily be ruined by liquids.

On the other hand, mechanical keyboards are an excellent choice for buyers who care about performance and customization. If you’re a gamer, then the feedback from a mechanical keyboard will help improve your performance.

Computer lovers will usually opt for mechanical keyboards because they can be customized to match their computer builds. If you have a gaming computer and you want to match your keyboard to it, all you’ll have to do is find keycaps in a similar color scheme.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons