Do you use a Mechanical Keyboard?

Do any of you use a mechanical keyboard? The kind where there are real springs behind each key - as opposed to the type they typically make these days where the keys are on some kind of cutout that just isn’t that springy?

If so - any advice on them?

I have read that a lot of programmers and gamers use mechanical keyboards because they are much more responsive and many give you that clickety-clack sound that you either love or hate.

I’ve started reading up on them and am convinced a mechanical keyboard is the answer to the rage that has builds in me every time I used a “regular” contemporary keyboard. However, even though I live in a large metropolitan area none of the computer equipment stores keep them in stock, I need to order one online - which makes comparison really hard since it is feel and sound that I am looking for!

I’m a programmer, no interest in gaming, and I know I want a full keyboard with separate keys for the arrows and number pad area. Probably not too loud as I sometimes record screencasts of what I’m typing.

Since programmers gather here, I am hoping some of you use one and can offer some suggestions/advice.


Currently use the Microsoft ergonomic keyboard but have used a Kenesis in the past which has a lot of key travel and makes clicking sounds when you type definitely not mechanical but it gives a similar feel. It was pretty awesome just a bit small for me.

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I have got one (actual 3) and find when you are at the keyboard 12 hours a day it makes a difference. Make sure you get a backlit one.

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I’ve been using a DAS keyboard for years. It’s pretty much perfect. The only thing I’d give it up for would be a real IBM model M.

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Thanks to all for the feedback.

Are any of yours “ergonomic” mechanical keyboards? Do you find “ergonomic” is important for your comfort or is it more the key response?

It seems there is a trade off if I want both ergonomic and mechanical switch, I’m probably can’t find a full size keyboard with the 10 key. I guess they’re trying to compact it so people who use the mouse with their right hand (most people) don’t have to reach so far for the mouse. But I think I use the 10 key pad a lot.

But maybe not since I just typed 10 with my keys across the top…

At any rate - thoughts on ergonomic vs. flat keyboards are welcome. My main hatred is directed as the stickyness and effort required to press a key on my current keyboards. But I do have some wrist pain and finger numbness that makes me think I should get ergonomic too.

I’d rather not spend more than $200 - 250.

I highly recommend a mechanical keyboard. I use a Filco Majestouch. Note you can get different grades of “clickety clack” - see . I use Blue.

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I used ergonomic Microsoft keyboards for 10+ years, switched to an Ergodox a few months ago. It has mechanical keys (which are better, but not by much, than those on the MS keyboards), and is fully split so it’s as ergonomic as you want (I can’t use a straight keyboard for more than a day before getting wrist pain). If you get a mechanical keyboard, get browns and not blues if you work in an office because blues are loud. You can get a key switch tester (with 6 or 8 different keys) for like 20 dollars; I was glad I spend that money before deciding on what keys to get.

Ergodox doesn’t have a separate numpad; while I like having the extra space (or shorter distance to the mouse, depending on how you look at it), it does take a lot of time to get used to the ‘modal’ numpad (on the ergodox you add a keypad by holding a special modifier key; it’s all fully programmable though). All in all it’s a wash with having a separate numpad I’d say, even though before I got the ergodox I was sure I was going to miss it a lot (it was my main concern). My point being, you might find like I did that not having a numpad has advantages that offset the disadvantages.

I wrote a much longer review of my experiences with the ergodox for the guys who build the ergodox ez, I can post it here if you want but it’s a bit all over the place and requires some basic understanding of what the ergodox is and isn’t.


PS the ergodox does look much cooler (well, if you’re into that sort of thing - normal people would call it ‘excessively nerdy’, but hey) than regular keyboards and is generally fun to play with (to some extent - I mean, it’s still a keyboard, not a Lamborghini). It’s a bit like vim in that sense - it’s very easy to get lost in spending days tweaking and configuring and ricing it out. So keep that in mind if you’re susceptible to that.

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I agree @fatalerror @Roel_V Microsoft Natural keyboards are pretty awesome. Unfortunately, it was discontinued. Current Sculpt model has less key travel than older models but it’s still acceptable. The keyboard comes with a stand for reverse tilt and it makes a great difference in how you feel after a full day of typing. Battery life is excellent for both keyboard and mouse. Mouse batteries last 6 months (never turned it off). I never changed batteries in the keyboard so far (~20 months). The only caveat is a separate numpad. Mine just ended in the drawer box.

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Personally awaiting the Advantage 2 from Kinesis, set to be released sometime this summer.

For years I’ve been hearing tons of solid things from folks using the Advantage 1. Would simply buy it if a new-and-improved wasn’t on the way.

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I’d be interested to read your review if you have it handy. I’m all about being all over the place… I looked at the keyboard and it is more costly but definitely looks ergonomic!

For the number keys - do you press a key once, to “turn them on/off” or do you have to hold down a key while using them as a number pad?

Thanks for the advice on the brown switches, I work from home but I occasionally like to make how-to videos and don’t want loud typing - plus my husband does come glare at me then yank my office door shut every now and then. :wink:

das keyboard, 2 years.

Them are a good way to prevent the whole house from sleeping. And neighbours, too.

I use it because I have big, heavy hands, and I’m not always certain if I feel the feedback from a regular keyboard. With das keyboard it is heard and felt.

To the large extent tho it is showing off. The effect of “I’m better than you and so I’m using a real mechanical keyboard” has worn out pretty quick.

If you really want to release the rage accumulated for 8-10 hours of sitting looking at a stupid code, join a boxing gym. :wink:

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Below is the slightly edited version of an email I send to the developer a while ago. As to your question, the default keymap has only a modal button (i.e., you press the button to enable ‘coder mode’, press it again to leave it); but as you can read below I’m not a fan of that for accessing the numpad, so I added a temporary key myself (the firmware can be modified relatively easily to do basically whatever you want). I do use the modal coder layer when going into Visual Studio debug mode - I have keymappings that put every common command there under my left hand (step over, step into, run, set breakpoint etc) and this has been great. Of course something similar could be done using some setup on the host machine, but never quite as easily as it works with the Ergodox, so this time is the only time I really use it. Plus the config is independent of machine - I can take my keyboard to any machine and it’ll always work, without putzing around with the settings.

Anyway, the email (additions I made to it for this post are marked with ‘NOTE’):

  • form factor - I have another support under the wrist rests because with the tent legs, the wrist rests aren’t tall enough to keep the top of my hand in line with my lower arm. This makes that I have to keep everything very steady and in one position to be comfortable. I’m wondering if the other Ergodox case (with the extended wrist area) would be big enough to take over from the wrist rests; this would keep everything in the same position relative to the other parts even when I move the keyboard around. I’m not sure this would be an improvement, haven’t tested it obviously - it’s something that I’m not 100% happy about in my current setup. (NOTE: I’ve since I wrote this gotten rid of the ‘tented’ setup, which I thought I’d need, but after 1/2 hour of adjustment, I found that the tenting didn’t really add all that much. I’ve been typing without tenting for 3 weeks now, with no noticeable degradation of typing comfort)

  • I miss the bumps on j and f. After 3 months of use now, I’m getting to a point where I can find the home row by putting my thumb between the thumb pad and the first closest key on the normal part of the keyboard, and I can feel then from the position of my fingers relative to my thumb whether my fingers are on the home row. Still, I mistake it every now and then (less and less, but still - identifiable home row ends would have made the learning curve smoother) (NOTE: since I wrote this, f/j keys with a bump have become available, although they haven’t arrived at my house yet. So this is no longer an issue.)

  • I had to find out a number of things by experimenting from a lack of a manual. Like the fact that 7 still has & also despite it not being printed on it, how exactly other keys work and some small things like that. Once I started hacking the firmware that became clearer, but the first week a cheat sheet and short explanation in the box would’ve made it feel more ‘complete’. BTW I made an svg cheat sheet myself (easily editable with Inkscape), I can send it to you if you want, I’ll publish it with my review but I’ve been putting that off for 2 months already - in the mean time others might get some use out of it.

  • I didn’t find the instructions for hacking the firmware to be very clear. It took some digging to get the right teensy environment, what constant means what is spread over two files in the qmt source, you need to read several documents from several sources to put things together (this was 2 months ago, maybe it’s better now)

  • I’m not sold yet on the stacked layout; I mean I’m not sure if it’s actually better than staggered. My tentative conclusion is that it’s just different but not better and hence adds to the learning curve.

  • Then about the default layout. There are a number of things I think could be improved in the default layout, other things I changed are specific for me.

    • Swapped up/down and left/right around (up/down on the left, left/right on the right). Reason being that you often want to scroll up/down while holding the mouse in your right hand, and if up/down is on the left, you can do that with your left hand. To make this match with the volume up/down, the left arrow needs to become ‘lower volume’ and the right ‘increase volume’, to keep with the mental image of a volume slider that goes from quiet on the left to full volume on the right.
    • I’m not sure what hyper and meh are really good for, those were the first I threw out. Global shortcuts might be useful in some circumstances, but it requires configuring the machine a specific way - one of the main attractions of a programmable keyboard is that you can keep that stuff in the keyboard config. I’m curious how many Ergodox users actually use hyper and meh.
    • esc on the top left - I tried but couldn’t get past 15 years of muscle memory. (NOTE: this is in the context of being a heavy Vim user; the default layout doesn’t have esc at the top left)
    • alt not easily accessible enough. I ended up putting alt on the 3u key just above the left thumb cluster, and +/= on the 3u just above the right one.
    • z doubles as ctrl - I found that weird, and I hit the keys around it quite often when I was aiming for ctrl. Plus you can’t do ctrl-z. I made the bottom left key ctrl and shifted ~ and " over one. I would get rid of " there because I always use the one on the right side anyway, but since it’s a printed key that would be too confusing.
    • I added ‘calculator’ to my media layer. I use that key if not 10 times a day then at least 5. Call me weird, I know many people don’t ever use the media keys (probably because it’s not well supported on Linux, at least not back when I used Linux often - maybe it’s ok now). There are many ‘free’ spots on the media layer anyway.
    • on the coder layer, the 0 is in a weird spot. It would make more sense to me to have it in the place where the . is now. Although that clashes with also having volume up/down when coder is active, which I also changed, so I’m a bit on the fence on that one.
    • I added a ‘temporary coder’ key as the middle one on the left-most row (I think it used to be backspace?). I very rarely switch to another layer, only when debugging really (see below). I’m curious about others - what’s the use of staying in the coder layer? The modality just throws me off.
    • I changed the ‘coder’ layer to be much more specific to visual studio; I can do all debugging (run, step into/over/out etc) with my left hand, so that my right can stay on the mouse.
    • removed the [, {, * etc from the coder layer - they’re all available with a double keypress from the main layer anyway. Related to ‘why having a modal layer status’ above
    • I added 2 macros to the coder layer - one for entering my email address, one for my phone nr, as I find myself entering those many times in forms etc. I’ve found this very useful, but it wasn’t obvious how to add this to the firmware, and I imagine someone without C experience would find this too difficult to do successfully.
  • Finally, I got some custom keycaps to spice up the look (I feel a bit embarrassed for having become what is essentially a keyboard ricer). I’m thinking about going all blanks, I don’t find myself looking at keys any more. That said, the difficulty of getting printed ergodox keycaps is a bit of a bummer. Massdrop has some every now and then, but in very specific color schemes, and that’s about it.

Overall I’d rate my current setup 8.5 or 9 / 10, with my previous MS Natural being a 7.5 or 8. I need to be able to articulate better what keeps it from being a 9.5 before I start making adjustments though, I’m not quite sure yet what it is.

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@Roel_V, Thank you so much! That is bizarre about the z and ctrl keys - I press Ctrl+z all day long! Definitely use ALT a lot too. Thanks so much for the great, comprehensive review.

@rfctr - well, I definitely don’t have big, heavy hands! I just know that I have been through many keyboards over the years and never liked the way the keys feel. I’ll have to check out the “Microsoft Natural” though.

My current keyboard is laid out well and has some ergonomic curve to it, but the keys themselves make me batty. Certain keys, when I press them, feel stuck and I have to press super hard, then the key gives. Very annoying. Other keyboards the keys work great but there’s no travel distance, or the layout is not to my liking. I guess I am old enough to have memories of those weirdly gratifying springy, clickety-clackety keyboards from the good old days.

I can see the “mechanical keyboard” as a status symbol thing… but I don’t need a special keyboard to convince me, deep down, that I’m better than most people. It’s just a quiet knowing… :wink:

I tried many keyboards (at some time I had over $2000 worth of keyboards in my home) and the one I sticked with is the “Realforce 87U 55g”. Best typing comfort for me. But it’s a little pricey $200 (in Europe the only distributor sells it for 200 GBP).

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Amazon, I Thought the CM Storm QuickFire Rapid - Limited Edition Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with CHERRY MX Green Switches since it was a highly rated mechanical keyboard without a big price tag. I’ve been very happy with it.

Mind you, I can’t feel my hands (paralyzed) and type with my knuckles; the audible feedback is very helpful for me because it helps avoid pressing other keys (knuckle is not the best weapon, but the one I have).

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This looks promising:

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Very intriguing! I got on their mailing list. Definitely not cheap, but it might be worth it.