I only do product reviews when I find something that offers real value. The Monoprice Mechanical Keyboard is one such item. Let’s start the discussion with why you would want a mechanical keyboard in the first place.
The keyboard that came with your PC, or was built into your laptop, is a membrane design. This is by far the most popular keyboard design. You can buy membrane keyboards for as little as $10 as discount stores. It’s a simple design. There is a layer which includes a conductive circuit on the bottom, a small air gap and a membrane over the top. The membrane is flexible and squishy to some extent. When you press down on a key, the membrane comes in contact with the board and completes the circuit, registering a keystroke. There is very little travel in the keystroke and virtually zero tactile feedback. The keys are rated at one to ten million keystrokes service life. If you do a lot of typing, that’s not a lot. But then they are cheap to replace.
High end keyboards work on a completely different principle. They have a separate mechanical device under each individual keycap. Since each key is a multi component switch, they cost a lot more. But there are several advantages.
Durability: Each key switch is typically rated at 50 million or more keystrokes. They last much longer. And there are several places you can buy replacement key switches. So if a single switch goes bad, you can replace it for a few bucks and continue on. No reason you couldn’t keep a few spares on hand if you’re a person that works with deadlines on a regular basis.
Tactile Feedback: I personally find that tactile feedback is much more pleasant to use. My Monoprice keyboard uses the Cherry MX Blue switches, which offer a slight “bump” in the stroke, and an audible key-click at the bottom of the key press.
Customization: I haven’t done this yet, but for DIY geeks there are all kinds of ways to customize mechanical keyboards. There are different key caps available for example. “Double shot” solid key caps in different colors. That means the label is not printed on, it’s molded into the key itself, you will never wear the label off. Some higher end keyboards have back lighting. Each key has its own tiny LED light. Excellent for typing at night and for gamers. The LEDs come in different colors so you could have different colors for different parts of the keyboard. There are also translucent key cap sets. There’s also no reason you couldn’t replace some of the keys with a different type of switch. You could use MX Blue for the letter keys, MX Red for the function keys or on the numerical keypad. Were in Geek Nirvana now, there are lots of different options.
I find that the combination of force, stroke travel, and feedback when the keystroke registers, combine to reduce typo errors. Being able to type as fast as you think, with fewer errors, is worth the extra cost all by itself. There are several types of switches available, so you can choose one that suits your style. The MX Cherry Blue switches have the most audible sound and require a tiny bit more force than the other switches. The other popular option is the Cherry MX Red, which doesn’t have the bump in the middle of the stroke and requires slightly less force to actuate. The Reds are more popular with gamers, the Blues seem to work better for writers. There are also, brown, black, green and white switches. Check the links at the bottom of the page for more info on the different switch options.
For the geeks here are the key specifications for Cherry MX Blue Switches
- Gold plated switch contacts
- Switches rated for more than 50 million keystrokes.
- 2mm switch actuation distance, 4mm full throw distance
- Actuation force of 50-60 grams.
The Monoprice Mechanical Keyboard (product number 9433) is your basic bare bones component. More for typists or writers than for the gamer. There is no built-in USB hub, audio connections or scroll wheel, and no backlighting. But then it’s only $60 compared to the higher end Gaming keyboards that range from $80 to over $200. Yet is uses exactly the same key switches. I’ve been using mine for 6 months now and it has been trouble free. Shows no sign of wear, and requires no software to setup or configure. Windows 7 Pro recognized it and loaded a driver automagically.
For a product that makes life easier and is more satisfying to use it’s a bargain. If you’re one of those people who spend hours every day in front of a computer, it’s certainly worth considering.