When deciding which keyboard to purchase whether it be a membrane keyboard, scissor-switch keyboard or a mechanical keyboard, one thing will always come into mind, the price.
Membrane keyboards used to be the keyboard of choice. They are mass-produced and super affordable. However, nowadays mechanical keyboards are growing in popularity.
That being said, not everyone can afford a mechanical keyboard. Some people find it disappointing that these keyboards are so expensive and out of their price range.
So why are mechanical keyboards so expensive? Is it a clever marketing strategy? Or is it actually reasonably priced?
Mechanical keyboards can cost over 5 times as much as a regular keyboard, but honestly, this pricing makes sense. The amount of labor required to create one of these boards is more than a typical keyboard.
Unlike a membrane keyboard, each individual key has its own switch underneath. This is one of the main reasons why they are so expensive.
However, there are some cheaper ones on the market using lower quality switches which may not last as long.
To get a good idea of mechanical keyboards and their pricing model, let’s review some of these other type of keyboards and see how they stack up.
Compared to Membrane Keyboards
So what is a membrane keyboard? Also called a rubber dome keyboard. these keyboards are what you typically think about when you think about a keyboard.
These keyboards are so easy to mass produce that companies have effectively cut the price down significantly.
It’s no wonder why these things are so cheap, oftentimes they are made from cheap materials and automatic machines.
A membrane keyboard consists of the plastic case, the membrane sheet, and plastic keys on the top. Most places that use keyboards will be using one of these types.
The rubber dome keyboard may be made out of weak materials and not last as long as a mechanical keyboard, however, where it shines most is it’s very affordable price range.
Other than its low-cost, everything else about a membrane keyboard is okay at best.
When using a membrane keyboard the way it types almost feels inconsistent and a bit awkward at times. Its actuation point seems a bit different on each keystroke.
The actuation point is the point where the key registers and the computer receives the signal. You can see how it would become frustrating if it changes on each keystroke.
Not only that but rubber domes have pretty much no key rollover. This is when you press multiple keys at once and not all of them are registered.
N-Key rollover and Anti-ghosting are a couple of the best benefits of having a mechanical keyboard. Not all of them have these features but most do.
If you are a gamer, or a quick typist, you will find a membrane keyboard to be quite annoying.
For typing, you will find that you are just too quick for the keyboard and computer to keep up. Your best friend will become the backspace button.
For gaming, if there are many button combos that need to be pressed for your specific game, you may find yourself struggling to even complete the task. Certain combos just won’t work depending on how many keys you need to press at once.
As you can see rubber dome keyboards are cheap but lack a lot of basic functionality. For this reason, many people prefer mechanical keyboards, and this is why their mechanisms are superior.
When wondering why mechanical keyboards are so expensive just think about one of the alternatives, rubber dome keyboards.
The strengths of this keyboard lie in the cheap cost. Rubber dome keyboards are not very satisfying to use in my experience. The keys feel inconsistent when pressed and tend to feel mushy. The actuation point, or the point at which the key registers, is never at the exact same spot. This can lead to inaccurate typing and can be frustrating to use.
Compared to Scissor Switch Keyboards
They are a bit similar to a mechanical switch in that each one is independent of another. However, that is really the only similarity.
Unlike mechanical keyboards, Scissor switch keys are flat and narrow, as well as small and compact. Which makes sense being that they are used on laptops.
If you’ve ever used one of these style switches you will see that they are not very comfortable to use. There’s really no tactile feel or much of a click.
Scissor switches are also easy to bottom out since they have a low profile and flat design. This might not sound like a big deal, but over time this could cause injuries like carpal tunnel or repetitive strain. It might take a while but the possibility is there.
The other negative side to scissor switches is once you’ve used one you’ve pretty much used them all. What I mean is there is really no variety.
That is not the case with mechanical switches. in my previous article, I go over all the mechanical switches that I could find and on that list, there are over a hundred switches.
This is another reason why mechanical keyboards are so expensive. Just the sheer amount of customizability, especially when compared to its competition.
Okay Got it, So Why Exactly do Mechanical Keyboard Cost So Much?
Well as we’ve seen, when you compare it to the rubber dome or the scissor switch they are just so much better.
The labor and materials alone make it worth it. As well as the customizability and variety when choosing a keyboard.
Rubber dome and scissor-switch keys are pretty much one-size-fits-all. With mechanical switches that is not the case. There are hundreds of switches to choose from.
From cheaper lower-quality switches to high-end switches that last over 50 million keystrokes.
There are switches design for a light typer, having a lower actuation point which means you won’t have to press as hard on the key for it to register.
There are also switches for a heavy typer, having a higher actuation point meaning you need to press harder on the switch for it to register.
There are also three styles of switches. There are a linear switches, tactile switches, and clicky switches. Each one is best for a certain type of person or activity. However, some people use certain switches for certain things they are particularly designed for.
For example, I have a friend that likes to use Cherry MX blues for gaming. These switches are a clicky switch and usually not recommended for gaming, especially not for streaming.
The reason for this is because they are so loud. While streaming or talking to your friends during the game it could become quite annoying. A better switch for gaming might be a linear switch. But honestly it’s all just personal preference.
In my previous article, I go over key switches in a bit more detail as well as touch up on some maintenance information.
How much do mechanical keyboards costs?
To summarize what I’ve gone over so far, mechanical keyboards just have so much customizability it’s ridiculous. I’m sure by now you understand why these keyboards are so expensive. But how much exactly do they cost?
Well, that really depends on the keyboard. As I stated previously there are cheaper mechanical keyboards. These boards, of course, use a cheaper material and won’t usually last as long.
To get a better understanding, the more expensive keyboards can range upwards of $200 while the cheaper mechanical keyboards could be $30-$50. A good middle range keyboard will be around $100.
In a previous article, I go over the pricing of mechanical keyboards so you can have a better understanding of the different parts and prices. You can check that out or refer to the following table:
You will quickly notice the different materials used for the expensive keyboards compared to the inexpensive keyboards.
The cheaper keyboards will use off-brand key switches as well as a plastic casing to hold the electrical components.
Cheaper keyboards will often use ABS keycaps and have minimal if any lighting. These are of course not deal-breakers as lighting is optional and some people actually prefer the cheaper ABS keycaps.
Related article: ABS vs PBT Keycaps
On the other hand, a more expensive mechanical keyboard will have high-quality Cherry MX switches or other top brand switches. They will also hold the electrical components inside an aluminum casing.
Dependent on the keyboard you get will decide the price of the keyboard. Better materials, of course, means a better typing experience and more longevity.
That being said, no matter which way you go, a mechanical keyboard will definitely be an upgrade from a scissor-switch keyboard or a membrane keyboard.
By now you should have a pretty solid understanding of why mechanical keyboards are so expensive.
We stacked them up against their competitors, membrane keyboards and scissor-switch keyboards. The differences between them are obvious.
Membrane keyboards are very cheap and easy to mass produce. While scissor-switch keyboards offer very little customizability and also utilizes cheap materials.
On the other hand, a mechanical keyboard requires much more labor to create one of them. Each switch is independent of one another and in most cases must be manually soldered on.
They also have a wide range of customizability, from the materials used, to the keycaps, and even the key switches that have 100+ choices.
Mechanical keyboards also last much longer than their competitors and have features such as anti-ghosting, and N-key rollover. This is a feature that without it may be a deal-breaker for both typing enthusiasts and gamers alike.
If you haven’t yet, I definitely recommend trying out, and perhaps switching to a mechanical keyboard.
Check out some of my keyboard recommendations!