Mechanical VS Membrane Keyboards:

Which is right for you?

Choosing the right keyboard can be a daunting task...

There are so many different brands and styles to choose from that sometimes it’s difficult to know where to start.

Luckily, we’ve been working in this industry for a long time, and we have these conversations with our customer’s nearly every day. That is why we decided to put together this guide to help you figure out what you should be looking for when you’re shopping for a new gaming keyboard.

In this guide we’ll mainly be focusing on the two major categories of gaming keyboard – Membrane and Mechanical.
While we don’t consider either of these styles of keyboard to be better or worse than the other – there are always pros and cons to consider when choosing one over the other and of course everybody is entitled to their own preference and opinion.

If you don't feel like reading, check out our video guide to the left!

Membrane (noun)

mem·​brane | \ ˈmem-ˌbrān \

Definition: A thin pliable sheet of material forming a barrier or lining.
 

 

Mechanical (adjective)

me·​chan·​i·​cal | \ mi-ˈka-ni-kəl  \

Definition: Caused by, resulting from, or relating to a process that involves a purely physical as opposed to a chemical or biological change or process.

 

What does it all mean?

When we talk about membrane VS mechanical, We’re referring to the mechanism that is used to register a key press.

When you press a key down on a membrane keyboard the keycap is squishing down a rubber dome that applies pressure to a set of electrical contacts. When these contacts meet it registers a keypress, this is why membrane keyboards have a kind of squishy feel to them - and also why they make a lot less noise!

When you press a key on a mechanical keyboard however, the keycap presses a shaft which has a little spring under it. As the key pushes down there’s a little gold plated cross-point contact that clicks into place and closes the connection and registering a key press. This is why Mechanical keyboards have a really cool tactile and clicky feel to them – and having all the precision plastic and metal parts is what gives them their longevity. There are many different kinds of mechanical key switches from different manufacturers, and they all have their own colour codes which indicate things like how loud they are and how much weight it takes to activate them – this is a whole other can of worms which we’ll only briefly touch on today, but we’ll be back with more detail on this in future guides.

Let's see it in action.

An animation of a membrane switch in action.

An animation of a mechanical switch in action.

Now that we know what we’re comparing,
Let’s take a look at the PRO’s and CON’s of both styles of keyboard!

PROs & CONs

Mechanical
PROs

N-KEY Rollover

Due to the design of mechanical keyboards you can hold down far more keys at once – most entry level mechanicals will have between 6 and 10 key rollover – but high end mechanicals will have full N-Key Rollover.

This means that you can literally hold down all the keys at once and they will all register!

Longevity

Due to the heavy duty switch design, most mechanical key switches are built to withstand 30-70 Million presses!

Accuracy

Because of the tactile feedback from the keyswitch, touch typists can reach an insanely high degree of speed and accuracy.

Mechanical
CONs

Cost

Due to their design features a Mechanical Keyboard is generally much more expensive than a membrane keyboard.

Noise

Although most people love the “clicky” sound of mechanical key switches, it can be really annoying for other people if you share a workspace or if you like to stay up late gaming!

Variety

This is a pro AND a con, but because of how many different variations there are of mechanical switches it can sometimes feel really intimidating trying to decide which keyboard is the right one for you!

Membrane
PROs

Price

Because the key mechanism is so basic a membrane keyboard is far cheaper to produce, which has led them to be the most popular form of keyboard in the world.

Quiet Keys

Due to the way membrane keyboards are designed, you can only press a few keys down at once before additional keypresses stop being registered.

Spill Resistant

There are many excellent spill proof mechanical keyboards available, because the rubber dome membrane covers most of the electrical connections already it’s far easier for manufacturers to develop water and dust resistant keyboards.

Membrane
CONs

Limited Lifespan

Most membrane keyboards have a lifespan of about 5 Million presses. That might seem like a lot – but it’s only a fraction of what a mechanical is capable of!

No repairs

Most membrane keyboards cannot be fully cleaned or repaired because you can't really remove the keycaps without damaging them. If these keyboards fault outside of their warranty period you will usually need to replace them as repair isn’t really an option.

Key Rollover

Most membrane keyboards will register about three keypresses at a time - see more about this in the Ghosting section below!

What is Key Rollover? (AKA Ghosting)

As we mentioned above, Most membrane keyboards will register about three keypresses at a time.

This might not seem like a big deal, but lets look at a practical example: If you’re playing an FPS game and you’re holding the W key to move forward – at the same time you might be holding shift to run. Now if you want to jump by pressing SPACE and throw a grenade by pressing G – unless you time your keypresses perfectly to release that SPACE bar – chances are that your grenade throw isn’t going to get registered at all!


This might not seem like a big deal for some users, but for hardcore gamers - it's the difference between life and death!

 

Choosing the right keyboard for YOU.

This is where the keyboard debate gets interesting – there’s no such thing as the best keyboard, there’s only the best keyboard for your situation!

What we mean is that although your friend might recommend you to get a super clicky hardcore mechanical keyboard – if you’ve got thin walls and your roommates or family are light sleepers then they’re going to absolutely HATE it when you keep them up all night clicking away while you’re gaming!

In this case, a Silent switch mechanical or even a high end membrane could actually be a better option for your situation!

We know it might seem ridiculous but we’ve seen it happen so many times over the years that it really pays to think about these things before you dive in!

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS

Here's a list of our current favourite keyboards for different budgets and requirements - we'll update this over time, so check back every now and then!

Best Tenkeyless

Ducky one 2 TKL Range

(Mechanical)

The Ducky TKL Range is probably our most highly sought after keyboard, with most of our stock being sold out through pre-orders before it even arrives!

If you're after a high quality keyboard in a small form factor, these are a great choice!

Best Features

Steelseries Apex Pro

(Mechanical)

The Steelseries Apex Pro is an absolute monster of a keyboard with more features and settings than you can shake a stick at!
As far as super high end goes - the Apex Pro is the king of the hill!

Great Value

Roccat Vulcan 120,121 & 122

(Mechanical)

These Roccat Mechanical Keyboards have really impressed us as an affordable and high quality keyboard for gaming!

Note: The Vulcan 120, 121 and 122 are the same keyboard with different color chassis and keyswitches - you can see our Video on the Vulcan Keyboards here.

Best Quality

Ducky Keyboards

(Mechanical)

Ducky keyboards have consistently proven to us that they have some of the best quality control and build standards of all the Keyboard manufacturers!

Best "Wild Card"

Razer Tartarus Game Pad

(Hybrid, Mecha-membrane)

Sometimes you don't need a full keyboard, you just need your trusty old WASD layout and a few extra bells and whistles!
The Razer Tartarus is definitely a polarizing piece of gear, but for some people it's exactly what the doctor ordered!

Spill Resistant / Quiet Keys

Steelseries Apex 3 Keyboard

(Membrane)

The Apex 3 is a favourite in the Playtech office! We made a video testing it's "spill resistant" keys and found it worked perfectly after having a full glass of water poured on it - it didn't even need to dry off!
It also has some of the best "quiet" keys around - so we use it here in the playtech podcast studio so you can't hear us typing when we're recording!
You can see our video on the Apex 3 & 5 here.

Best Entry Level

Logitech G213 Prodigy

(Membrane)

The Prodigy G213 Keyboard from logitech is a really solid choice for beginners or budget oriented gamers - a safe bet as your first gaming keyboard!

Best Wireless

Logitech G915 Range

(Mechanical)

If you love the feel of mechanical keyswitches, but a wired keyboard isn't an option - the G915 range of wireless keyboards from Logitech are an awesome choice!