It's the question that every PC nerd has asked themselves as they've been poring over online store listings: should I buy a mechanical keyboard with clicky tactile switches, or one with silent and linear keys? I compared two otherwise identical keyboards over a couple of weeks of gaming and typing to find my own personal favourite — and try to figure out why that was.
What's The Difference?
Razer actually has three mechanical keyswitches — the tactile clicky Green, the linear and silent Yellow, and the mid-ground compromise of the tactile and silent Orange. The Yellow is only available in the newest BlackWidow Chroma V2, so I got hold of a pair of otherwise identical boards to examine the difference for myself.
Razer's existing Green and Orange switches are functionally quite similar, and have an identical construction and internal layout, but for the fact that one clicks while the other doesn't — they both have an identical travel distance and actuation point, although you'll have to let up the Green a little more before you can double-tap it (a standard characteristic of 'clicky' switches) where the Orange switches off barely a tenth of a millimetre after it switches on.
Because of that, and because the difference is far more stark between the two, I'm comparing Razer's Green switches with its Yellows; all my comparisons are on the BlackWidow Chroma V2. My short review of the keyboard itself: it's nice! It's well built, it has the function keys I want, the (removable, magnetic) wrist rest is plush and comfortable, it has lots of pretty LED colours. You should buy one. Now, onto the real reason you're here.
I play a lot of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds at the moment — far more of it than anything else. It's a FPS, and it's a bit twitchy but not nearly as constantly fast-paced as something else like Overwatch or Quake Champions, both of which I also dabble in. With that in mind, you do still need a good, fast, responsive keyboards for those moments where the shit hits the fan and you need to navigate around quickly and reliability.
For this kind of gaming, I'm of the opinion that once you're used to it, a linear switch keyboard is undeniably better. When you're constantly tapping W, S, A or D to move around — I and plenty of old-school CS 1.6-era players that I know do this with the strafe keys more than anything else, popping and peeking windows and doorways and always staying moving to stay alive as long as possible and avoid becoming a bullet sponge.
The slightly lighter actuation force, higher actuation point, and identical actuation/reset points of the Yellow means that it's just better for those moments when you want to double- or triple- or repeatedly tap a key. With a Green, you've essentially got to lift your finger off the key completely each time you want to — in my experience, at least, where I like to know that I've let that switch up after depressing it. With a yellow, as soon as you've pressed past a third of its total travel you've hit that switch — rise back up past a third and you're ready to go again.
I know a lot of people — professionals included — use Cherry MX Blue or other clicky keyswitches for gaming. I've used them in the past, and I'm sure I'll use them again in the future. But for consistency and outright faster repeated keypresses, I'm a new convert to the world of linear keys. They just feel nicer and more reliable over longer periods of play. Come at me, Razer Yellows. Come at me, Cherry MX Reds and Blacks. I'm ready for you and I'm ready to play some Video Games.
For typing, a tactile keyboard has an undoubtedly superior feel. Knowing exactly when you've tapped each key — and I'm a heavy typist, so I bottom out on keys most of the time in the first place — gives you the confidence to quickly type the next character in whichever word or sentence you're smashing out. It's the opposite situation to a linear keyboard for gaming; when you're pressing different keys in succession, having that tactile click that you can both feel and hear is more conducive to speed.
That's all there is to it, really. I type more than I do game, even when I'm at home, so this was a big consideration for me to make. I want a keyboard that's great for typing! But I'd say that as linear-switch keyboards feel for typing, the Razer Yellow switches feel pretty good, maybe 80 per cent as good as a clicky tactile switch. The actuation point is close to that of a clicky switch, the overall key travel — important when you consider typing is more likely to bottom out against the keyboard's base than during gaming — is very similar.
A Note On Clicky Key Sounds
It's worth keeping in mind that the clicky switches of the Green 'board are a sharp click. In terms of outright noise they aren't incredibly loud, but it's the quality of the sound that matters — a sharp click will carry through an empty quiet house at midnight more than the thump of a silent board's keys bottoming out. I usually type throughout the day when I'm working at home, but I almost exclusively game at night. And gaming at night, when everyone else is asleep, having a clicky keyboard is kinda a pain. Clicky keyboards just sound louder than their silent counterparts because high-frequency noises are more directional and easier to hear.
When I'm on Discord voice chat with friends, everyone can hear my clicky keyboard in the background. That's something they can't do when I have a silent 'board. It's fine playing with friends who are willing to indulge me and put up with my shit, but if I'm playing with friends of friends or more casual acquaintances, having a loud keyboard clattering away — especially when it's typing rather than the keypresses of a match that everyone is involved in — seems a bit rude. It requires extra mic etiquette and a Discord mute hotkey that gets a fair bit of use.
That's not to say even the clicky is loud loud. In the Gizmodo office that sits around 50dBa of background noise, Razer's clicky Green switches on the BlackWidow Chroma V2 top out at around 71dBa, where the silent Yellows are a little quieter outright at 69dBA. Both keyboards aren't loud at all, but the silent keyboard is both quieter a For reference, the level of a one-on-one conversation sits at around 75dBA, and my HyperX Alloy FPS is louder again at 76dBA, all measured from a metre's distance on a Dr Meter MS20.
Look, I like both of these keyboards. The layout is great, they're well built, and the extras (that wrist rest, those function keys, the Chroma LEDs) go some way to justifying the $339.95 asking price. The big choice to make, if you're making it, is between clicky/tactile switches and silent/linear switches. (Yes, there's also the Orange silent/tactile compromise. But I've never liked silent tactile switches, they feel mushy. Of course, your mileage may vary. Try them all yourself.)
My goal was to pick between the two for a 'board to use at home, and I think that, for my 70-30 split of typing and gaming, even typing as much as I do. the linear and silent Yellows are a superior choice. If you're typing more, the Greens give you a more enjoyable key feel — and you definitely sound more productive on a clicky mechanical keyboard. But if you're gaming for any significant amount of time, with any game where fast keypresses come in handy, the Yellows have their significantly superior place.
The Yellows also make for a kinder keyboard for those around you — whether you're at home or at work. Our corner of the office is well known (and maybe slightly resented) for our fleet of clicky-key mechanical keyboards, and silent switches would probably be a smarter choice for overall office harmony. There's absolutely a time and a place for tactile, clicky keyboards — and their tactile, silent-ish siblings — but a silent keyboard will work better for you in more places, and for me, a linear switch is better for gaming.