Mechanical Keyboards are definitely a phenomenal innovation in the Keyboard industry because of their fast and smooth typing experience with excellent durability.
Switches are considered the backbone of Mechanical Keyboards as they are the most significant component mounted inside the mechanical keyboard for achieving optimum typing results.
That’s why choosing the best switches for a mechanical keyboard is always been challenging for users as multiple varieties of switches put into confusion.
Especially Optical vs Mechanical switches, Topre switches, and Box switches have their characters and utility, and the differences can certainly be observed during typing.
In this article, We found Optical switches generally are better suited for gaming due to having a faster response time (30ms) with their Razor Purple switches, whereas mechanical switches are excellent for day-to-day typing, programming, and gaming.
Now let’s discuss the differences between Optical vs Mechanical switches and drill down every technical aspect to get the conclusion about which will going to be a better pick for your mechanical keyboard.
Let’s get dive into the details and see who will win the switching battle!
Optical switches are keyboard switches that still have some mechanical components and uses infrared LED and Photodiode to trigger the switches.
Optical switches are very similar to mechanical switches with having top and bottom housing structure, a stem and a spring mounted inside the housing which physical moves to actuate keystrokes.
The keystrokes for Optical switches occurred due to the induction of light signal (LED) for optical sensors as soon as the Stem moves down till hit the keyboard the light sensor triggered and registered the keystroke.
This is the most vital reason for Optical switches being fastest compared to mechanical switches as there is no physical contact take place while establishing connection.
When pressed the optical switches can generate the similar feedback such as Linear, Tactile and Clicky based on their switch profile.
Due to fastest actaution of Optical switches becasue of their light sensor, they are considered the best for high-end battle-royale games which required express fast response time.
In terms of Lifespan, the optical switches are way more durable with having 100 million keystrokes which is almost double compare to mechanical switches.
What are Mechanical Switches?
Mechanical switches are keyboard switches that have various mechanical components inside and are triggered through the metal leaf connection.
Mechanical switches working principle is completely based on their metal spring and leaf which controls the overall operation when it is triggered and send the output to the computer through the PCB at the same time.
Mechanical switches have a long history and are widely popular among keyboard enthusiasts to achieve the optimum typing speed during playing games as well as typing or editing documents.
Mechanical switches have three switch profiles which are Linear, Tactile, and Clicky.
Linear is very silent and fast, and Tactile switches have a tactile bump and moderate sound whereas Clicky switches provide clicky and crunchy clicks with very loud clicky noise.
To know these switches’ profiles in detail, kindly follow this article.
Mechanical Switches are known to survive for very long which is around 50-70 million keypresses easily, and also compatible for most of the keycap profiles.
Optical vs Mechanical Switches: Major Differences
Optical and Mechanical switches both are quite similar in terms of build structure and switch profile but there are some significant properties between Optical vs mechanical switches that differentiate them.
Before going into details, take a look at the major differences between optical and mechanical switches which are completely based on technical factors.
To read a detailed guide, jump to the detailed guide section of this article.
Switch Profiles Avaibility
Linear, Tactile and Clicky
Linear, Tactile and Clicky
Through Light Sensor
Through Metal Leaf
Fast with Speed Switches
Feel and Smoothness
Less smooth and Hollow feel
Super-Smooth Typing Experience.
Perfectly Balanced according to switch profile.
More varieties and wider avaibility
More Durable up to 100 Million keystrokes.
Good Durability up to 50-70 Million Keystrokes with conventional brands.
Best Suited for Fast-Paced Gaming
Overall excellent for all typing purposes.
Optical vs Mechanical Switches: Detailed Comparison
After looking at sneak peeks, We’re going to breakdown both switches on all significant technical aspects which impact the overall switches’ performance.
In this detailed comparison, we will discuss the difference between optical vs mechanical switches in the following benchmarks: feel, sound, actuation, and overall typing experience.
To reach on a conclusive answer, we will give both switches the Winner title for each benchmark.
Here is the detailed breakdown:
Feel is the most prominent factor for a switch as a user’s hand needs to move frequently as well as they feel comfortable while typing.
In terms of feel, Mechanical switches have a broad edge over optical switches due to their sturdier mount, strong structure, and provide more consistency during typing.
On the other hand, Optical switches also have consistency and are efficient but they are slightly bit strange and less smooth while typing.
I would say It’s all about personal taste as some users love to type on linear switches whereas some users love the loud and crispy sound with great tactility.
Although most users will gonna love mechanical switches because they will feel more comfortable and satisfied typing on mechanical switches.
Mechanical switches are certainly ahead with their smoother surfaces and strongly built compared to optical switches.
Winner = Mechanical Switches
2. Noise Level (Sound)
The sound profile may be a decisive factor for a user due to its broad impact scattered in different typing environments.
In the sound factor, Optical switches produce very loud noise while typing, their hollow sound may be inappropriate, especially for office purposes.
Every key actuation produces tons of noise, so you should be well aware of this before buying optical switches.
Even with the Optical Red linear switches, the sound is slightly reduced compared to the conventional model but it is not that silent which can be used in peaceful environments.
Talking about the mechanical switches, they have a variety of switches such as silent switches in their lineup, which produce very less noise due to their rubber dampening which significantly reduces noise.
Besides Silent switches, there are mechanical linear switches such as Gateron Yellow, and Cherry Red switches which are very smooth, fast, and very quiet while typing.
Due to the wide availability of mechanical switches, users can opt for switches according to their preference which is a very positive factor and make mechanical switches ahead.
Winner = Mechanical Switches
The Speed of switches can be as important as the user’s finger movement as speed can be measured in reaction time which needs to have express fast during fast-paced games.
In terms of Speed, the optical switches are slightly ahead due to their light sensor actuation which makes them fast compared to mechanical switches.
I’m telling you this not only based on theory, but I have tested several switches to know which switch performs faster.
The most popular switch Cherry Mx Silver Speed is called the fastest due to its shortest response time, well Silver speed performed exceptionally well and beat many other popular switches such as Cherry Red, Gateron Red, and Kailh speed switches.
On the other hand, Optical switches from Gateron are not that fast compared to mechanical Cherry Speed but Razor purple optical switches are tremendously fast having 0.2304 seconds response time.
This Razor Purple Optical switch single handle won this battle of Speed between optical vs mechanical switches.
Winner = Razor Purple Optical Switches
As far as durability is concerned, Optical switches easily beat mechanical switches which can easily survive up to 100 million keystrokes and beyond that if it is used properly.
However, mechanical switches are also considered good in terms of durability which can survive 50 million keystrokes for a clone mechanical switches brand.
But with the Cherry Mx switch which is considered king in the mechanical keyboard industry provides 100 million keystrokes and beyond that, this lifespan is quite similar to optical switches.
For conventional switch brands, the lifespan of mechanical switches is 50-70 million keystrokes which is considered good too.
The most significant reason for optical switches is more durable due to their light sensor actuation mechanism which doesn’t require any physical fraction for keystrokes. Output passes through an LED signal to the computer via PCB.
Considering all these aspects, Optical switches win this durability test over mechanical switches.
Winner = Optical Switches
Price can be a dealbreaker or dealmaker for every product, that’s why it becomes most important for a user before choosing switches.
Both Optical and mechanical switches are quite expensive, but due to having a lot of varieties for mechanical switches, the price may vary and you can grab some good brand clone mechanical switches for very cheap prices which are as good as expensive switches.
Whereas you need to pay a very higher price for Razor Purple switches which have the fastest response time.
With the mechanical switches, there are some reliable brands Gaterons, Kailh, and Outemu available on the market which are quite affordable and as good as Cherry in terms of performance.
Due to having fewer options, I would say mechanical switches are way good compared to optical switches considering their price point.
Winner = Mechanical Switches (User-Preference)
Winner = Mechanical Switches
6. Variety of Switches
As we know mechanical switches occupied a broad market cap in the keyboard industry, they are present for a very long time in the market and keyboard lovers blindly trust these switches.
Apart from mechanical switches are fully compatible with most mechanical and DIY keyboards along with all keycaps work smoothly with these switches.
This is the reason almost every mechanical keyboards come with mechanical switches, the price completely depends on the switch brand and overall build of a keyboard.
Mechanical switches have varieties of switch brands in their family and all are reliable and well-established on the market.
On the other hand, optical switches have limited availability for their switches as well as fewer companies who manufacture optical switches compared to mechanical switches. Razor is the company that makes optical switches popular.
Mechanical switches definitely win this availability battle by a huge margin.
Winner = Mechanical Switches
Optical vs Mechanical Switches: Which is Better Pick?
Considering and going through all the technical benchmarks, Mechanical switches perform absolutely well in all benchmarks.
However Optical switches are quite ahead in speed and durability index, so both switches have numerous positive factors and some negative ones as well.
How does a user decide which one is a better choice between Optical vs Mechanical switches?
Well, Considering overall factors, Mechanical switches can be an excellent choice over optical switches as they are smoother, provide a premium built, and variety of switches, especially the price which put mechanical switches ahead.
But if you are a fan of optical switches and looking for a gaming switch, then I would suggest you to go with Razor Purple switches as they provide the fastest response time which significantly helps you in fast-paced gaming.
You can also check out Cherry Speed Silver switches for gaming which are as good as Razor optical switches and have tremendous performance in every benchmark.
By looking at every single aspect, mechanical switches are any day better when it is compared with optical switches.
Do You Need to Lube Optical and Mechanical Switches?
At initial, there is no need to lube any switches at all as they are already in a feasible state and provide the best performance.
But when you started to hear a scratchy sound and experience a little bit of resistance then Yes you can lube optical switches to achieve more smoothness and reduce unnecessary scratchy noise.
Although, performing lubing on optical switches will not create any major differences due to the light sensor actuation mechanism which doesn’t indulge in any physical resistance.
However, mechanical switches should be lubed at a certain time period as lubing on mechanical switches impact broadly and make them feasible and more optimized.
For the optical switches, it completely depends on individual choice and preferences.
This was the in-depth comparison of optical vs mechanical switches.
As we have seen both switches have their own unique properties and principle of actuation, mechanical switches actuate through metal leaf springs whereas Optical switches actuate through the light sensors.
So choosing between optical vs mechanical switches are quite challenging especially when both switches have decent specs and performance.
Mechanical switches will be an excellent pick over optical switches as I have found mechanical switches are worth every penny and value for money.
Optical switches are good to go when you need a dedicated switch for gaming which should have an express fast response time, optical switches are perfectly fit for that purpose.
If I had to choose one, I would certainly go with mechanical switches as they are excellent and serve the purpose superbly whether it is typing, gaming, programming, or editing documents.
Let me know your thoughts through comments.
Thanks for reading.
Optical vs Mechanical Switches FAQs
Are optical switches better than mechanical?
Optical switches are considered better for gaming as they have the fastest response time with Razor Purple switches, whereas mechanical switches are excellent choices for multi purposes such as day-to-day typing, gaming, programming, and regular usage.
Are optical switches smoother?
Optical switches are smoother but with a hollow and strange typing feel, so when they are compared with mechanical switches, I felt mechanical switches are a lot better in the area of smoothness and have a satisfying and comfortable typing experience.
How long do optical switches last?
Optical switches can easily last up to 100 million keystrokes which are almost double compared to the average lifespan of mechanical switches.