Some people think that the born-later optical switches have supreme functions over the mechanical switches, while others argue that they find mechanical ones more outstanding.

If you are like us, get stuck in between the battle of optical vs mechanical switches – the battle between the new vs the old, how about finding out the answer together?

What are mechanical switches?

To compare mechanical vs optical switches, let’s find out about each one first. We will start with the already-so-popular mechanical switch.

Mechanical Switches On Drop
Mechanical Switches On Drop

Before the mechanical switches made their appearance, users had to stick with membrane keyboards, which are uncustomizable, slow, and fast to be damaged. Now, we have mechanical switches, which are way faster and much more durable. Moreover, you can choose your favorite mechanical switches in terms of sound and weight feeling to swap and mix to create your personal keyboards, giving you a lot of fun.

If you want to learn more about mechanical switches, check out this article ‘The Secret of Mechanical Keyboard Switches’ for full detail.

Different types of mechanical switches 

There are three different types of mechanical switches, based on the feeling of contacting the keys and the sound emitted from typing.

Gateron Clicky, Tactile, and Linear Switches

FeedbackSound

Clicky Switches

a clear bumpy responsevery loud
Tactile Switchesa clear bumpy response ( less bumpy than clicky)

clear and loud (lower than clicky)

Linear Switchesno bumpy response; smooth and consistent

low to silent

Main advantages of mechanical switches

  • They are durable and long-lasting, from 50 million keystrokes to 100 million keystrokes.
  • They have short key travel distances, usually at 2 mm. That makes it have a high response rate.
  • They have a lot of different variants to choose from. Heavy – linear- silent switches, yes. Light – tactile- loud switches, of course. Or even light-linear-silent switches, yes yes.
  • There are many mechanical switch brands on the market, so the price selection is wide.
  • They are very suitable for playing games.

Main disadvantages of mechanical switches

  • The mechanical switches have reached their peaks of improvement, so there won’t be new developments.
  • There are many choices so it can be confusing.
  • Easy to get dust underneath them.

What are Optical switches?

Now is the turn of our second competitor in the battle of optical vs mechanical.

Gateron Clicky, Tactile, and Linear Switches
Gateron Clicky, Tactile, and Linear Switches

Optical switches have been introduced later than mechanical switches. By its nature, an optical switch is a type of mechanical switch as they share the same designed structure. What differentiates one from the other is the method they use to activate the keypress. While mechanical switches use circuits to send signals to the computer, the optical switches, as their name has suggested, use the light principle.

Since the optical switches are new and interesting, we have a full article named ‘What Is Optical Switch and are they worth trying?’ for a better understanding. You can check it out if you are interested.

Different types of optical switches

Because the optical switch is a branch of a mechanical switch, it can also be grouped into linear, clicky, and tactile optical switches

Optical Switches On Keyboard
Optical Switches On Keyboard

However, the optical switch can also be differentiated by the light methods, which are light-block and refraction. The light-block method, which representatives are Razer and Light Strike, means that the light from an emitter will go directly to touch the optical sensor. On the other hand, in the refraction method, the light beam will take a detour to the prism lens before reaching the sensor. And, the famous name for this method is the Flaretech switch.

Main advantages of optical switches

  • The optical switches have an insanely fast response rate due to the 1.5 mm actuation point and light-speed application.
  • They are extremely durable and can last to 100 million keystrokes.
  • They are moisture-resistant and dust-resistant.
  • They have no issue with metallic noises.

Main disadvantages of optical switches

  • The optical switches do not have many versions to pick from.
  • They are new to the market so there are not many brands out there, which results in considerably high prices.
  • The feeling when using the optical switch keys can be strange and need time to get used to.

How do mechanical switches and optical switches work?

To understand the differences between ‘mechanical vs optical’, we will look into how they activate the signal.

Similarly, they both have top housing, bottom housing, stem, and spring. The technique behind how they work is the physical contact of each part. By pressing the key, you affect the status of the spring, which is connected to the triggered component.

The differences are that the mechanical switches have two metal leaves waiting for contact whereas the optical switches have a LED light that always emits a light beam and an optical sensor component.

How do mechanical switches work?

AORUS K9 Optical Switches
AORUS K9 Optical Switches

When you press the key with enough force, the partition between two metal leaves moves away, allowing the leaves to connect with each other. That results in a circuit running through the metal leaves and sending signals to the processor.

How do optical switches work? 

How a mechanical switch works
How a mechanical switch works

Inside the optical switch, the LED light is always blocked. By pressing the key down, you move the obstruction away, letting the light beam go to the sensor component. When it meets that component, the processor receives the signal immediately.

As we have mentioned, in some switches, the light can travel directly to the sensor that is placed opposite the LED light. In other switches like Flaretech, it has to meet the prism lens before arriving at the optical sensor.

Mechanical vs Optical switches

After we put each opponent on the table for a full assessment, now it is time to let them compete with each other. Shall ‘the optical vs mechanical’ battle begin.

Mechanical Switches

Optical Switches

Fast

Faster

Wide range: low – high

High

Very durable

More durable
Wide range: silent – very loud

Loud

A lot of versions to choose

Not many versions to choose

A lot of options

Not many options

A lot of modding options

Less modding options

Let’s explore the ‘optical vs mechanical switches’ table in detail.

Overall feel

There will be no winner or loser in this first round of ‘mechanical vs optical switches’. We will just present our genuine thoughts for each switch.

In general, the optical switches are much smoother and lighter, even if you compare the linear type. This is due to the fact that the optical switch has less friction than the mechanical one by having fewer physical contacts. However, the feeling is somewhat unfamiliar and too light. We feel like our fingers easily get into each other ways when typing on the optical keyboard.

To sum up, even though the optical switches are smoother, we still enjoy the feeling when typing on the mechanical keys more.

Cherry MX Red Linear Switches On Drop
Cherry MX Red Linear Switches On Drop

Speed

Mechanical Switches

Optical Switches
Cherry MX Silver Speed1.2 mm – 0.24 msOmniPoint Adjustable Switches

0.4 mm – 0.2 ms

The table shows us the fastest switches for each type. Among the mechanical switches, the Cherry MX Silver Speed switch is the fattest with an actuation point of 1.2 mm and a response time of 0.24 ms. On the other hand, the fattest of all optical switches is the OmniPoint Adjustable switch, with a 0.2 ms reaction time.

You should know that in general, most mechanical switches cannot reach the same response speed as the Cherry Silver. However, that is not the same case for optical switches. Most optical switches have a 1.5 mm actuation point and can delay around 0.2 ms. Of course, we can expect that much since the time that the light travels from the LED light to the sensor is only 0.03 ms

You can read the top 10 fattest switches on the market by reading this article here.

Optical vs mechanical: Optical switches are deserved to win.

Keychron K3 Lava Optical Low Switches On Carousell
Keychron K3 Lava Optical Low Switches On Carousell

Price

Besides the high and mighty Cherry MX, we could find a lot of dupes out there with cheaper prices. This makes the price option for mechanical switches varied. Therefore, you can purchase a very low price switch whose quality is surprisingly decent.

In contrast, the optical switches have a rather new technology so there are not many competitions out there. That is why the price is on a high-end scale for most keyboards. This could make it less desirable for those who are on a tight budget.

Optical vs mechanical: Mechanical wins proudly (or not if we consider the feeling of Cherry MX)

Durability

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.

Inside Gateron Switch
Inside Gateron Switch

Noise level

Optical switches can be very loud and noisy. In addition, they do not have many options to choose from in terms of different sound types.

In contrast, the mechanical switches can go from silence to a very loud ‘clicky’ sound. It is most likely that despite what your preferences are, you can pick something you will truly enjoy.

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

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

YouTube video
Optical vs mechanical: It is definitely a mechanical switch’s win since it offers us more. 

Variety

While mechanical switches can confuse buyers with a great variety of choices, optical switches do not offer us that many options. 

There are way too many brands that have followed after Cherry MX out there. Each brand also tries to come up with its own creation, adding more and more variants to the collection of mechanical switches. Hence, you have a lot of options to consider when you look for a mechanical keyboard.

To begin with, there are not many companies pursuing optical switches. Second,  even inside a company, their variants are quite limited. Just look at Razer. Despite being very popular in the gaming industry, they only provide us with linear and clicky types.

Keychron Lava Optical Switch Set (Source: Keychron.com)
Keychron Lava Optical Switch Set (Source: Keychron.com)

Availability

Given the time that mechanical keyboards have been on the market, you can figure out it is going to be easy to find them. Moreover, most of the keyboards on the market use mechanical switches, while optical keyboards do not consist of half of them.

Optical vs mechanical: The mechanical switch wins again.

Mod options (Modding capability)

The modding capability is once more time based on how long those switches have been around. Therefore, you could find a lot of tutorials on how to mod the mechanical switches on the internet, whereas there are a few reliable sources to follow regarding the optical ones. To conclude, if you are into customizing keyboards to satisfy your imagination, you may get disappointed with the optical keyboards.

Optical vs mechanical: The mechanical switch knocks out the optical opponent in the ‘modding’ round.

Inside Cherry MX Switches (Source: Drop.com)
Inside Cherry MX Switches (Source: Drop.com)

Typing experience

As we have mentioned, optical switches are extremely smooth. If we only compare the linear type of optical vs mechanical, optical switches definitely perform better. However, the typing feeling is strange and kind of hollow. In addition, maybe because it’s way too smooth, you might feel quite difficult to control your typing speed and accuracy.

Mechanical vs optical: If typing experience is your top priority, go for the mechanical switches, especially the clicky or tactile type.

Gaming experience

Since optical switches outweigh mechanical ones in terms of speed, you can guess that they will be more suitable for competing in games. Just imagine with 0,001 ms different, you are able to knock out your formidable opponent.

Furthermore, brands like Razer who focus on gaming competition choose optical technology to be their pioneer product in this field, so you can be sure how good those are for the gaming experience.

Mechanical vs optical: Give the winning belt for optical switches, please.

Flaretech Optical Switches On Keyboard
Flaretech Optical Switches On Keyboard

Conclusion

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.

FAQs

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.