Mechanical keyboards have been around for as long as we’ve had keyboards. If you were born before 1990 then your first interaction with a computer was most likely by way of a keyboard with “mechanical” keys. However due to concerns over cost, size and complexity, mechanical keyboards quickly fell out of favor just as the PC started becoming ubiquitous in our homes. For decades, not a single new PC from a major manufacturer was shipped with a mechanical keyboard included. It wasn’t long before mechanical keyboards like the classic IBM Model M became synonymous with all that is old and eccentric about early computing. Only a handful of smaller niche manufacturers continued to sell mechanical keyboards.
Recently however, there has been a rather sudden and surprising resurgence in interest for mechanical keyboards. Just in the last two years, several major peripheral manufacturers have added mechanical keyboards to the high end of their product line-ups. Manufacturers are coming out of the woodwork to tout mechanical keyboard technology as the latest must-have for your tech collection. All of them quick to suggest that mechanical keyboards are on a different level compared to that inferior lump of plastic you’re currently tapping away on.
Suddenly the ol’ Model M is no longer an unwanted relic of the past that you couldn’t even give away to your cousin who’d just dumped a can of Coke on his shiny USB macro-enabled back-lit keyboard. Now it’s a treasured and sought after precision instrument, the veritable Stradivarius of typing peripherals. Refurbished original Model M’s, now over 20 years old, are commanding prices well over $80 and selling like hotcakes.
Now that they’re back in style, what are mechanical keyboards? What makes them different from “normal” keyboards? Are they worth the price? Do I need one?