Optical vs Mechanical Switches – Which is better?

  • Keycaps 101
  • Posted by: amy-golden
  • Apr 25, 2024

If you've been around for a long time in the keyboard world, you've probably heard of optical switches. But not everyone can tell them apart from regular mechanical switches.

Simply put, optical switches are faster, especially for gaming, compared to mechanical switches. However, that doesn't mean mechanical switches are bad; they're actually great for everyday use.

So, before you pick one, check out our easy-to-follow guide on the differences between optical vs mechanical switches. We'll help you find out which one fits your style and needs better.

Sneak peek at the difference between mechanical and optical switches.

Optical switches Mechanical switches
Overall feel Smoother and lighter More consistent 
Actuating Speed Faster actuating, low debounce delay Slower, low debounce delay

(depend on variations and brands)

Price More expensive More affordable
Durability 100 million keystroke lifespan 50 - 100 million keystrokes (depending on brand)
Noise Level
  • Louder
  • Unsatisfying sound (noisy and hollow)
  • Quieter
  • Offer different levels of noise
Variety Less variety More options
Availability Harder to find, fewer brands Easier to find, more brands
Mod Options Few mod options Easier to mod
Typing Experience Uncomfortable to use, easy to make typos Easier to use, a better more-rounded and precise typing experience
Gaming Experience Better for ultra-competitive and fast-paced games Slight competitive advantage in-game, suitable for strategic game

Types of switches

Winner = Optical switches

Both mechanical and optical switches are divided into 3 switch types: linear, tactile and clicky. This is also easy to understand because the optical switch is a branch of a mechanical switch. Each type of switch offers distinct feedback and sound characteristics.

Different types of optical vs mechanical switches
Different types of optical vs mechanical switches

So, what is the difference? Optical switches shine when it comes to clearly distinguishing between two light-based methods, light-block and refraction. This advantage gives buyers more choices that match their typing speed preferences.

In the light-block method (used in switches like Razer and Light Strike), the emitted light goes straight to touch the optical sensor. On the other hand, in the refraction method (known as the Flaretech switch), the light takes a detour through a prism lens before reaching the sensor.

Working mechanism

Winner = Optical switches

Mechanical switches use a physical switch mechanism. That is, when you press a key with enough force, it moves the partition between two metal leaves. This movement allows the leaves to connect, creating a circuit that sends signals to the processor.

How optical switches work using physical mechanism
How optical switches work using physical mechanism

Unlike mechanical switches, optical switches use light (typically infrared) for actuation. When you press a key, it interrupts the light beam, directing it to the sensor component. Once it reaches the sensor, the processor gets the signal immediately.

How optical switches work with light-based method
How optical switches work with light-based method

In terms of mechanics, both keyboard switches work in a similar way. While using light-based methods for activation, optical switches still have mechanical components: they feature physical moving parts. When you press a key, it moves a part inside and a spring helps the switch go back to its original position.

Besides, optical switches can also feel similar to mechanical switches, offering choices like linear, tactile, or clicky responses.

After all, optical switches do not rely on physical contacts touching each other to register a key press. Therefore, optical switches can skip the debounce delay, making them respond faster than their mechanical counterparts.

Overall feel

No clear winner! it's all about your personal preference.

Generally, optical switches provide a notably smoother and lighter typing or gaming experience, even when compared to the linear type. This is because they have less friction than their mechanical counterparts, owing to less physical contact.

Furthermore, the absence of tactile bumps and audible clicks contributes to a smooth operation. However, as optical switches are too light, some users may miss the distinct feel that certain mechanical switches offer. If you've been using mechanical switches for a while, you'll notice they have a unique and consistent feel that makes them stand out.

At the end of the day, the choice between the two depends on personal preference. If you prefer a quieter and smoother typing experience, optical switches are for you. But if you enjoy a more pronounced and distinctive feel, mechanical switches might be the better choice.

Cherry mx red linear switches on drop
Cherry mx red linear switches on drop


Winner = Optical switches

The speed of switches is determined by factors such as the force needed and the distance the key must travel to activate.

Since a sensor can read light much faster than two metal plates can touch, it's clear that optical switches come with faster response times and reduced debounce delay. On the other hand, while mechanical switches are versatile and customizable, they might be a bit slower due to their physical mechanism as we mentioned above.

But exactly how much faster? Take a closer look at the following comparison table:

Mechanical switches

(Actuation point - response time)

Optical switches

(Actuation point - response time)

Cherry MX Silver Speed 1.2 mm - 0.24 ms OmniPoint Adjustable Switches 0.4 mm - 0.2 ms
Cherry MX Red 2.0 mm - < 1 ms Razer Optical Red 1.2 mm - ​​0.2 ms

We pick the “two kings” of each and no wonder optical switches clearly come out on top. 

The Cherry MX Silver Speed switch stands out as the fastest among mechanical switches, with a 1.2 mm actuation point and a quick 0.24 ms response time. On the optical side, the OmniPoint Adjustable switch takes the lead, boasting a remarkable 0.2 ms reaction time. This efficiency is expected due to the short time it takes for light to travel from the LED to the sensor, only 0.03 ms.

However, it's important to note that, in fact, most mechanical switches struggle to match the speed of the Cherry MX Silver. Many mechanical switches like Cherry MX Red on the market now usually have an actuation point between 2.0 to 2.5 mm and a bounce time of around 5 ms.

Conversely, most optical switches such as Razer Optical Red boast a 1.2 mm actuation point and response time of around 0.2 ms, much faster than the mechanical ones. Yet, it's not clear whether this slight speed boost leads to improved performance in gaming or typing. Let's delve into other aspects to understand better!

Keychron k3 lava optical low switches on carousell
Keychron k3 lava optical low switches on carousell


After many and many clicks from you, the metal leaves of the mechanical switches will eventually wear off. The day those leaves cannot touch each other anymore is the day you have to say goodbye with the switch. Therefore, bringing out a design that can slow down the aging process is a very demanding task. Right now, besides Cherry MX, most mechanical switch brands can only have a life cycle that is up to 50 million activations.

The optical switches, however, do not suffer from the same issue. Its longevity has relied heavily upon the life of LED light. This leads to most of them lasting up to 100 million keystrokes. In addition, in the long run, it shows fewer quality issues compared to mechanical ones, especially those at low prices.

Optical vs mechanical: The winner is the optical switch.

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Inside gateron switch
Keychron lava optical switch set (source: keychron. Com)

Noise level

No clear winner! it's all about your personal preference.

Here's the key point: Optical switches may be quite louder than mechanical switches (as our experience).

The standard design of optical switches results in noisy and hollow sounds that are are well-suited for for gamers and typing in moderately noisy settings but not for quiet workplaces. Not to mention, there aren't many options for different sound types for optical switches.

In contrast, mechanical switches offer a variety of noise levels depending on their type. They can vary from being silent to producing a very loud 'clicky' sound. 

  • Clicky: Loud with audible click
  • Tactile: Quieter, tactile bump
  • Linear: Quietest, no tactile bump or click

Whatever your preferences, there's likely a mechanical switch that suits your taste.

Wait a second! Note that the noise from mechanical switches mainly comes from the physical contact and movement of components during keypresses. This means mechanical keyboards can be much louder than optical keyboards in some cases. Despite this, some people enjoy the audible clicking noise of a mechanical model.

In the end, if you're looking to control noise, mechanical switches provide more options to customize how loud you want your switches to be.

I suggest you check out the sound of Gateron Red optical switches in this video.

And then, compare it to the Gateron Red mechanical switch’s sound test in this video.

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Winner = Mechanical switches

Mechanical switches have been around for a long time, and because of that, there are many more options compared to optical switches.

You can find hundreds of different types of mechanical switches out there. The market is flooded with diverse mechanical switches, like blue, red, brown, black, silver, and others. These switches not only vary in how they feel (linear, tactile, clicky) but also come in special types like low-profile, silent, speed, and more.

Nothing is surprising here when numerous brands have followed in the footsteps of Cherry MX mechanical switches. Each introduces its own variations and hence expands the array of mechanical switches.

In contrast, optical switches have fewer options. Only a few companies actively make them, and even within those companies, the variations are quite limited. For instance, Razer, a popular name in gaming, offers only linear and clicky types.

To explain this, optical switches are just a new player and they require time to gain wider acceptance in the market. Additionally, optical switches currently tend to cater to specific target audiences or gaming-focused products, which in turn restricts the variety of options available.

Keychron lava optical switch set (source: keychron. Com)
Keychron lava optical switch set (source: keychron. Com)


Winner = Mechanical switches

When it comes to price, mechanical switches are more budget-friendly compared to optical switches.

As mentioned, mechanical switches offer a wide range of variations. In addition to high-quality options like Cherry MX, there are numerous Cherry clones available at surprisingly lower prices if you get in the right places.

However, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. While a super cheap switch may perform just as fast as an expensive one, the budget option may not always provide the same feel or sound quality.

On the other hand, optical switches, being a newer technology, have fewer competitors in the market, making most keyboards with optical switches higher priced. This might not be ideal for those on a tight budget, but users can be confident in getting a reliable and good-quality switch.

Mechanical switches Optical switches
Gateron G Red Pro $0.40/pcs Gateron ks-15 Optical Key Switches $0.79/pcs
Akko V3 Silver Pro $0.42/pcs Razer Clicky/Linear Optical Only sold with keyboards
Cherry MX Silver Speed $0.77/pcs OmniPoint Adjustable Switches Only sold with keyboards

Note: Please note that prices as shown are valid at the time of publication and are subject to change without prior notice.


Winner = Mechanical switches

A mechanical keyboard that suits your tastes is easy to find since there are many manufacturers and types of mechanical keys. Additionally, most keyboards on the market use mechanical switches, while optical keyboards are less common and require a different setup.

That’s true! optical keyboards are harder to find, and they need a specific design for installation, making them incompatible with standard hot-swappable mechanical keyboards. 

Although there are fewer optical keyboards compared to mechanical ones, the market has seen an increase in high-quality optical boards. Notable examples include the Corsair K100, Razer Huntsman, Keychron K8, and Roccat Vulcan TKL Pro.

If you're on a budget or even never care about money, there are always many affordable as well as luxury gaming mechanical keyboards to choose from. On the other hand, keyboards with optical keys usually come with a higher price tag, and they may be in a limited quantity.

Mod options (Modding capability)

Winner = Mechanical switches

Modding capability is about how much you can customize or change a keyboard switch to fit your preferences, whether it's adjusting how it works, feels, or looks.

In this round, mechanical switches offer more options for modifications compared to optical switches.

Most optical switches are designed to disrupt a light flow to a sensor, preventing the easy hot-swapping of different switch types. While some optical switches are interchangeable, they are usually marketed as such.

However, certain optical switch models still allow for modifications. One of the popular options is lubing switches. You can lube both mechanical and optical switches, but mechanical switches are generally easier to modify and may provide better results.

Besides, optical switches lack the extensive community support and guides available compared to mechanical switches, which have a large amount of community support. While you can still modify optical switches to improve their feel, finding tutorials may be more challenging.

If you're not sure how to lube switches, we've created a detailed guide just for you! Feel free to check it out now.

Inside cherry mx switches (source: drop. Com)
Inside cherry mx switches (source: drop. Com)

Optical vs Mechanical Switches: Which is better for typing?

If you care most about the daily typing experience, go for mechanical switches, especially the clicky or tactile ones.

As mentioned earlier, optical switches usually register keypresses faster than mechanical switches. If you type quickly and want a responsive keyboard, optical switches might be a good fit. However, they can feel a bit strange and hollow while typing. Also, their ultra-smooth nature might make it a bit tricky to control your typing speed and accuracy.

On the other hand, mechanical switches give tactile feedback, providing a satisfying sensation when you press a key.

Ultimately, choosing mechanical or optical keys all depends on personal preference. Some people enjoy the quick and quiet feel of optical switches, while others prefer the tactile feedback and customization options of mechanical switches.

Optical vs Mechanical Switches: Which is better for gaming?

Give the optical switches the crown!

Unquestionably, one of the big selling points of optical switches is their lightning-fast speed with gaming-focus design. This makes optical switches an excellent choice for competitive gaming where every millisecond counts. Imagine having a 0.001 ms advantage, giving you the edge to outperform your tough opponents.

And it gets even better. Brands like Razer, known for their focus on gaming competitions, have chosen optical technology as a flagship product. Hence, you can be sure how good optical switches are for the gaming experience.

However, speed alone doesn't decide the final result. The type of games you play also matters in choosing the right switches. Fast-paced shooters benefit from the quick response of optical switches, while strategy games may prefer the precision offered by mechanical switches thanks to their physical sensation.

In the end, while optical switches may be considered the winner, mechanical switches also have their place in gaming. The final decision lies in individual gaming tastes.

Flaretech optical switches on keyboard
Flaretech optical switches on keyboard


The battle ‘optical vs mechanical’ has finally ended. And, our winner is the mechanical switch since it scores 6 out of 9. Even though the optical switches are superior in terms of response rate and long-lasting, they are still too new on the market which leads to many drawbacks compared to the winner. After all, to choose a good keyswitch, you do not just only care about the speed and durability. There are also other significant factors worth considering. 

However, as optical switches are expected to be the future of mechanical switches in general, we have high hope for them. We don't know for sure, maybe a few years later, this battle between ‘Optical vs Mechanical switches’ will be reversed.


Are Optical switches faster?

Yes, they are. Most Optical switches can respond within 0.2 ms, whereas the highest mechanical switch’s response time is 0.24 ms.

Are Optical switches quieter?

No, they are not. They are quite loud.

Are optical switches better than mechanical ones?

It depends on what aspects you are looking for. In general, they are not.

What is the difference between optical and mechanical switches?

The key difference is the methods behind how they send signals to the computer processor. While mechanical switches use a circuit created by the contact of two metal leaves, optical ones utilize the optical sensor and light principle.

Do Optical Switches last longer?

Yes, they do. Almost every optical switch brand announces that their products can last up to 100 million keystrokes while besides Cherry MX, most mechanical switches have a life cycle of 50 million.

Optical vs. Mechanical Switches: Which is better for gaming?

You can find most of the optical switches on gaming keyboards. That is because the optical technology shows its exceptional ability in the gaming experience. Therefore, between optical vs mechanical - optical switches are definitely better.

Are optical switches compatible with mechanical switches?

No, optical switches and mechanical switches usually cannot work together because they have distinct underlying technologies that are incompatible.


I work as a freelance blogger in Seattle, Washington. I've been freelancing full-time for 5 years. I'm interested in anime, resin art, and mechanical keyboards.