Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard for Programming – Which One Is Better?

Choosing the right keyboard was always a main concern for both professional programmers and gamers. On the one hand, you had to go through all the different brands, while on the other, you need to decide which style to start with.

Logitech keyboard

Now speaking of typing style, there are two major categories, namely mechanical and membrane or regular keyboard.

They can have many of the same features, including backlighting, N-key rollover, and anti-ghosting, but where they differ is the typing experience. Their keys are registered in a unique way, making it quite difficult to pick one over another.

That’s why today, I will go through all the nitty and gritty of mechanical vs. membrane keyboard for programming.

Best budget keyboards for programming

Membrane vs mechnical keyboard for programming and typing job

Membrane Keyboard

                  PROS                     CONS
Water and Spill-resistant (mostly)
Relatively quiet
Lightweight and portable
Lower price tag Soft to the touch
Readily available  
Shorter lifespan
Less precise keys
Not customizable
Quite hard to clean
Lacks N-key rollover

Mechanical Keyboard

                  PROS                     CONS
Provides a Tactile feedback.
Insane level of accuracy
A certain degree of customization
Built to last longer
Likely to be repaired
N-key rollover feature  
They can get noisy
Quite expensive for coders
Too many variations
Heavier keyboards

Membrane & Mechanical keyboard Overview – How They Work?

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Both of these keyboard groups are widely popular, although their working principles are rather different.

Membrane keyboards

Now membrane keyboards are the regular old keyboards that you find in your local stores.

Also known as rubber dome keyboards, they are the cheapest out of the bunch and can provide you with a basic typing experience. Structure-wise, they are quite easy to produce and won’t require many materials.

They basically consist of a PCB board with disconnected circuits for each individual key. On top of that, they have a rubber membrane with domes sticking out of it, sandwiched between the outer surface.

As you type, their keys simply line up with these domes and get pressed down with little to no resistance.

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This sends a signal, which is to be registered as an input. The reason why writers favor them is, again, they are so cheap to make.

You only require a circuit board that can be printed and mass-produced along with a rubber mat that can be injection molded without any confusion. There isn’t much going on within them, and almost all of them work the same.

Mechnical Keyboards

A mechanical keyboard, on contrary, is a different ball game. Instead of just pressing down and making a contact board, you have these unique switches with varied metal contacts.

One of the contacts is under constant tension, and when you press down the key, it moves the stem out of the way to touch the base.

So, in short, until you press down the input, the metal contacts are separated or blocked. The reason why mechanical keyboard for programming is widely preferred is because, they are quite comfortable to type on and sounds satisfying.

There are also different types of mechanical keys on the market, giving the end-user a bit of variety.

What Are the Main Differences Between the Two Keyboards?

9 differences Mechanical vs Membrane keyboard: Which is perfect for you!

1)  Design

When comparing the two keyboards, it’s clear that their designs and ergonomics are somewhat different.

Membrane keyboards have a very clean and portable layout. They are the ones that come standard with your Macs and are sometimes to be found on laptops (chiclet-style).

On the other hand, mechanical keyboards have a more solid build and are slightly larger than normal keyboards. They can be thick and heavy, and a lot of them come wired.

Simply by looking at them, you can tell them apart from their membrane counterparts.

2)  Actuation

In membrane keyboards, you have to press the keys all the way down until your fingers pretty much hit a solid spot. So, if you’re doing a long typing session, as in the case of coding, it can get annoying or even pretty much fatiguing.

There is a little support initially, but ultimately, you’re pressing all the way down. On top of that, if it’s a cheaply made membrane keyboard, you might have to press even harder, which can lead to Carpal tunnel syndrome.

Now with mechanical keyboards, the internal switch is not dependent on the key being pressed on the PCB. Instead, that switch is activated whenever the key moves down enough to touch the contact.

So, in the end, you don’t have to go all the way to the bottom (low actuation) for it to be activated.

3)  Sound

In general, membrane keyboards are far quieter than your regular mechanical ones because they don’t rely on a switching mechanism.

Each of their individual keys is pushed against rubber domes, which enables them to eliminate incoming noise.

This is the sole reason why so many office workers and even front-end developers prefer membrane keyboards over mechanical options.

In contrast to that, the beauty of mechanical keyboards lies in their tactile feedback and audible click. Each individual mechanical switch produces its own set of sounds, which the user can tailor to its needs.

There is just a lot of variety, and if you have your own confined working space and aren’t much concerned about the noise, then getting mechanical keyboards is ideal.

4)  Budget

In terms of price-point, membrane keyboards are the go-to option. As one might expect, they are a little bit uneven or stable but a lot cheaper than mechanical alternatives.

Mass producing them is not much of an issue as the materials they rely on are readily available. As a programmer, you can get yourself a brand-new mechanical keyboard as low as $20.

On the contrary, a mechanical keyboard, although being expensive, offer solid feedback, good actuation, and a durable body.

They are also quite customizable and offer a number of unique features, making them the number one choice of professional programmers. They can cost you anywhere from $100 to $600.

With that said, if you dig hard enough, you can find some reasonably priced mechanical keyboards in 2022.

5)  Durability

Membrane keyboards are prone to damage and are not generally great durability-wise. If their membrane or “sheet” is affected, you need to replace the whole keyboard, which can get quite frustrating in the long run. On the other hand, mechanical keyboards are known for their longevity and are built to last much longer.

According to several studies, each individual keyboard can offer up to 30 million keystrokes, whereas membrane keyboards can only provide up to 3-5 million presses.

And even if the key is damaged or goes missing, it can be immediately replaced, no question asked!

Types of Mechanical and Membrane keyboards – Brief Takedown

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Mechanical keyboards are no doubt quite versatile. Each unit uses a set of unique switches to be registered as a keystroke. They come in a variety of sizes and forms, and Cherry is one of the companies that is recognized for creating them in huge volumes.

Following are some of the switches from their Cherry MX lineup, with each having its own set of actuation, feedback, and sound difference;

ü  Cherry MX Red  

Mechanical vs membrane keyboards showdown

These are the most common type of mechanical key switches that you may find in the market. They are light, linear, super smooth, with little to no audible sound.  

ü  Cherry MX Blue

High-end clicks: Comparing Box Navies, Box Jades, and -stotles :  r/MechanicalKeyboards

Another popular key switch, characterized by their audible click and tactile feedback. They are fun to type on but can get loud.

ü  Cherry MX Green

Razer Reinvents Mechanical Keyboards for an iPad World | WIRED

Being almost similar to Cherry MX Blue’s, they might require a little bit of extra force to press on.

ü  Cherry MX Brown

The Expert Guide to Mechanical Keyboards | The Nexus

These are known for their unique tactile bump without an audible click. For all-around tasks, these are favored among consumers.

ü  Cherry MX Black

ROSEWILL RK-9000V2 GAMING KEYBOARD REVIEW, AND SOME TIPS ON HOW TO SELECT A  MECHANICAL KEYBOARD WITH CHERRY MX KEY SWITCHES - Rosewill

Cherry MX Black switches come with a greater actuation as well as precision. They are a lot quieter and are preferred by streamers and office workers.

Now let’s talk about the remaining Membrane Keyboard types;

1)   Dome-Switch Membrane Keyboard

These are the default keyboard that comes with most gaming laptops these days. A Dome-Switch keyboard is generally characterized by its laser printed dome membrane covered with an array of special switches. They assist in providing feedback to the typist.

2)   Chiclet-Style Keyboard

These are some of the basic keyboards accompanied by a flat membrane. They lack any kind of tactile feedback, so they aren’t great for fast typing.

Mechanical vs. Membrane keyboard; Which is Best for Coding? – My Recommendation

Untitled design - Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard for Programming – Which One Is Better?

Now that you have a general idea of both the pros and cons of these keyboards, it’s time to decide which one is the best for your coding needs.

So, although there is a decent price gap between these two, I still suggest buying a mechanical keyboard.

If you code a lot or are someone who spends a lot of time in front of their computer screens, then going with a mechanical keyboard is probably the best choice.

It can not only improve your overall computing experience but also protect you against things like Carpel tunnel syndrome.

They are far more suited for an individually catered typing experience, which is worth the price jump. It’s just a matter of finding the right manufacturer and custom key switches.

With that said, it doesn’t mean that membrane keyboards are downright bad. I mean, they are relatively inexpensive, lightweight, and have a bland one-fit-size typing experience.

On top of that, they are known for their spill resistance, which for many coders is a blessing in itself.

How to Choose a Mechanical Keyboard for Programming?

How to Choose - Mechanical vs Membrane Keyboard for Programming – Which One Is Better?

If you do decide to go with a mechanical keyboard, how will you know which one is the best? Well, my personal recommendation should be to go out to your local retailer and try out different mechanical keyboards on display. This will help you out in choosing the right switch-type for your work.

The second option is to try out a mechanical-switch tester, which is basically many key-switches patched together on a single plate. This again is quite useful in determining the perfect mechanical keyboard for coding.

One thing to keep in mind is the environment where you will be using the mechanical keyboard. If you’re a full-time programmer who will be using the keyboard in front of his co-workers, try not to get the loud (Blue) switches. It will not only distract them but also make you uncomfortable.

FAQ’s

Q1, Does Mechanical Keyboard help you type faster?

Although a mechanical keyboard won’t make you a fast typer overnight, it sure will benefit you in terms of its accuracy, feedback, and overall feel.

Q2, What is the best mechanical keyboard for programming?

The Keychron K2 Wireless is easily the best keyboard, in my opinion. It comes in a full-layout aluminum body and has a couple of unique features, such as multi-Bluetooth pairing.

Want to learn more about programming keyboards? Check out my list.

Q3, How long do membrane keyboards last?

On average, a decent quality membrane keyboard can last from anywhere between 3 to 5million key presses.