Discovering the world of mechanical keyboards gives an entirely new experience. Anyone who types or plays games a lot will become an instant fan of these peripherals. However, one thing that always holds them off from being massively popular is the exorbitant price tags. Have you ever thought about why these keyboards cost so much?
The following are the reasons why mechanical keyboards are so expensive:
- High-Quality Materials
- High-end Key Types
- More Durable and Efficient Switches
- More Parts and Complicated Mechanisms
- Labor-Intensive Assembly
- Target Customers
The high price of a mechanical keyboard is easier to justify when you consider the high-priced materials and the labor-intensive process of building it. Besides, they are durable enough to last for a decade at least, which compensate for the initial steep price. Let’s see for yourself if the reasons convince you to make a commitment.
Why Do Mechanical Keyboards Cost More?
The price of mechanical keyboards can be shocking to people recently switching from regular models. Let’s discuss the reasons for these models to be 10 to 20 times pricier than the standard ones.
One valid reason for the steep prices of mechanical keyboards is the high-quality materials used in making them. For these top-grade components, these units last for a long time, even for decades.
If you compare the exterior shell of mechanical and standard keyboards, you will see that the former is made of aluminum while the latter is plastic. Aluminum is a lightweight but extremely durable metal that can withstand plenty of abuse on a daily basis.
Check out the following chart to see how the components of these keyboard types differ from each other:
|Mechanical Keyboards||Standard Keyboards|
|Keyboard Case||Aluminum or other high-end materials||Plastic|
|Keycap Material||PBT plastic||ABS plastic|
|Switch Brands||Cherry, Gateron, Razer, and more||Outemu and other generic brands or non-brands|
|Switch Mounting Board||A printed circuit board (PCB)||A rubber membrane or rubber domes|
|Lighting||Yes (RGB or/and underlighting)||No lighting or simple white lighting|
Mechanical keyboards have PBT keycaps, which is a thermoplastic polymer and much higher in quality than normal plastic. Because of this material’s high resistance to wear and UV radiation discoloration, it is widely used in high-end keyboards.
If you look at the switch brands, Razer switches last for around 80 million keystrokes, which are 50 million for Cherry switches. You cannot expect that lifespan from generic brand switches used in cheap standard keyboards.
The quality and durability of mechanical keyboards are obviously better than their cheap counterparts. They also offer the best gaming and typing experience.
High-end Key Types
An important part of a mechanical keyboard is its keys. In fact, a fair share of the costs can be attributed to its special key types. Underneath the keys in a normal keyboard is a plastic membrane that helps the keys popping back after each press. Mechanical units use spring-loaded metal underneath each switch. Each keystroke creates a clicking sound because of the spring.
There could be three types of switches in a mechanical keyboard:
The simplest of all types that move up and down with no clacking and tactile feedback. The smooth keystroke allows for quicker and more consistent actuation. For these reasons, these keys are best for gaming keyboards.
These switches provide tactile feedback in the form of a bump upon pressing. The bouncing back of the keys happens at the actuation point, letting the users know that the keystroke has been registered. Keyboards with these switches are ideal for typing.
These are like tactile switches but the bump here is accompanied by a sharp clicking sound. They are good for typing but are suitable for environments where such a sound won’t be distracting.
These keys have several parts such as keycap, stem, slider, switch housing, spring, and more. They are designed and integrated into mechanical keyboards with five distinct technical points in mind:
Operation Force – how much force you need to apply to force the keys.
Activation Point – indicates the point where a keystroke is registered.
Total Travel Distance – means the distance between a keycap’s normal position to the switch’s upper housing.
Tactile Position – it’s the point where the tactile switches get the bump. There is no tactile position for linear switches.
Reset Point – it’s the distance from the release to the deactivation point of a key.
As you can see, the keys of mechanical keyboards are quite complex, in terms of both design and technologies. So, it makes sense that manufacturing them is costlier than making the switches of normal keyboards.
More Durable and Efficient Switches
Mechanical switches are more durable and efficient than standard switches. Most of them last for at least 50 million keystrokes, which means you can use the same keyboard for more than a decade before the switches start to break down.
In terms of efficiency, mechanical switches are quicker and more precise in registering keystrokes. You can press multiple keys at once and each of them will register the keystroke.
These features are not available in standard keyboards and the switches and technology used in them are not that much complex. They use plastic switches, a printed circuit board, and a rubber pad/membrane with conductive pads. Pressing the switches creates pressure on the membrane, which then contacts the circuit board to register the strokes.
None of these components are high-cost, so these units never cost as much as their mechanical counterparts.
More Parts and Complicated Mechanisms
The cheap standard keyboards have electrical contacts on a rubber membrane and a circuit board. For the switches to register a stroke, they have metal plates or small permanent magnets glued into the injection molded rubber mat. The technology is basic and it does not take much labor to put them together.
A mechanical keyboard, on the other hand, has a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) on which the keys are mounted. Some models have a metal plate in between the switches and the circuit board. Also, there are mechanical switches, spring mechanisms, and keycaps for each key. These units have almost twice the parts than those of the regular ones.
That’s at least twice the number of parts that need to be assembled. Plus, the technology is more complicated in this case that requires better expertise.
Compared to normal keyboards, the assembly of mechanical models is complex and requires more effort. There are two ways to assemble the switches in these units:
Most mechanical keyboards in the market have soldered switches. It means each switch is welded onto the PCB one by one.
Unlike a standard keyboard, mechanical ones assign a switch for each key. Every single key has an individual switch with contacts and a spring. So, if a keyboard has 104 switches, each one needs to be connected with their accessories and then soldered into the circuit board. Moreover, each button needs several solder connections.
Just think about the extensive time and labor go into merely the installation of the switches.
The cost of these keyboards really stings because you cannot replace the switches with another type or change them when some switches break.
A better alternative to soldering is hot-swapping switches. Some new models have these switches that don’t need soldering. It’s possible to replace and change them if necessary. However, the making and installation still require time and expertise, which alone makes the manufacturing cost at least twice compared to a standard keyboard.
The switches themselves are expensive too. For example, their retail price would be a dollar for each piece. The wholesale price would be lower, but manufacturers still have to spend 10$ to 11$ for the switches in a 104-key keyboard.
Add to that the installation and assembly expenses and you can see how much just the switches cost in a mechanical keyboard.
The target customer base also determines the market price of a product. It’s common sense that the prices of B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Customers) won’t be the same.
In fact, a fair share of the consumer market is not within the target buyer group of mechanical keyboards. These products are manufactured for big businesses and serious professionals. Selling to individual consumers does not count much due to small-scale sales.
Not many end users also look for such expensive products. For example, when a person looks for a new keyboard, they will consider the gimmicks, features, and price. However, when a business purchases keyboards for their hundreds of office workers, they will look for something that lasts for years and minimize work-related injuries. Mechanical keyboards are built for those business needs in mind.
So, target customers are another reason for the exorbitant prices of these keyboards.
The quality, durability, and efficiency of mechanical keyboards account for their expensive prices. They have some unique features and provide a superior user experience. If you type a few hours every day, you should invest in a mechanical keyboard. The cheap ones initially save some money but will wreck your wrists and hands down the road.