Closeup of a person's hand on an RGB-lit keyboard.
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There are two different types of computer keyboard; membrane and mechanical. The choice comes down to preference—an affordable, rubber layered keyboard with less feedback, or a more expensive, spring-loaded mechanical keyboard with audible accuracy.

What Is a Membrane Keyboard?

Indicated by its name, a membrane keyboard comprises three layers; top membrane, key holes, and bottom membrane. When a key is pressed, it makes its way through the layers, reaching a conductive circuit where the keystroke is registered.

Interior of a membrane keyboard.
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Unlike a mechanical keyboard, membrane keyboards require hard key presses to send the information to the CPU and output the desired keystroke.

Why You Should Consider a Membrane Keyboard

Membrane keyboards can often be overlooked when compared to mechanical keyboards since they tend to focus less on stylish features like RGB lights and media controls. However, that’s not to say they can’t feature those items.

What membrane keyboards do well is serve users who are on a budget or those looking for a more ergonomic solution for their typing needs. Since there are fewer manufacturing costs involved in designing a membrane keyboard, their keys are cheaper, making the overall cost of a membrane keyboard more affordable.

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In addition to affordability, membrane keyboards can be more versatile since they commonly use plastic materials which make them lighter in weight, and more portable. Mechanical keyboards often boast higher quality materials and metal parts, making them more difficult to use across multiple environments.

Arguably, one of the biggest differences between membrane and mechanical keyboards is how noisy they are. Membrane keyboards don’t use spring-loaded switches and feature several rubber layers to dampen the audible feedback of a keypress. For this reason, it’s highly unlikely to see a mechanical keyboard in an office-based setting.

What Is a Mechanical Keyboard?

Built differently than membrane keyboards, a mechanical keyboard uses individual switches for every key. The switches require far less pressure to be applied to them to register a keystroke.

Instead of using membrane layers, mechanical keyboard switches use a mechanism under each key; when the key engages with the mechanism, details of this keypress are sent to the CPU, resulting in a keystroke on the screen.

Closeup of a person cleaning dust out of a mechanical keyboard.
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Since each key uses an individual switch, mechanical keyboards are considered far more accurate than membrane keyboards. Depending on the keyboard’s actuation, a key may not always need to be pressed fully for it to register a keystroke. This is especially useful for typists and gamers who require a more sensitive response.

Are Mechanical Keyboards Better Than Membrane?

Mechanical keyboards feature three basic switch types; linear, tactile, and clicky. Each switch offers different features, but these mostly come down to preference. For example, linear switches provide no feedback when hitting the actuation point, tactile switches offer tactile feedback, and clicky switches provide an audible click sound.

Gamers and eSports competitors tend to favor tactile and clicky switches on mechanical keyboards since the key doesn’t have to be pressed all the way down, meaning you can cram more actions per minute with these types of switches.

Aside from offering a range of switches, mechanical keyboards offer a larger pool of features compared to membrane keyboards. Features like n-key rollover, anti-ghosting, and macro keys are just some of the reasons mechanical keyboards are better than membrane keyboards, at least for a large group of users.

Granted, mechanical keyboards are more expensive, and the expense might not be worth it if you’re using your device for office-based tasks. However, if you value quick response times, a durable build, and multiple connectivity options, a mechanical keyboard is often the better choice.

Membrane vs Mechanical: Pros and Cons

Like any computer peripheral, there are pros and cons of choosing membrane and mechanical keyboards. The choice often falls down to affordability, but if this isn’t a factor, other features may sway your judgment, depending on what you use your keyboard for.

Membrane Keyboards

Pros

  • Quieter
  • More affordable
  • Softer typing
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Less sensitive keys
  • Lasts around 2.4 years with heavy use (5 million keystrokes)
  • Not very durable

Mechanical Keyboards

Pros

  • Satisfying and tactile switches
  • Lasts around 25+ years (between 20 and 50 million keystrokes)
  • Highly customizable
  • Often include macro keys
  • N-key rollover

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Noisy
  • Not always portable

Choose the Right Keyboard for You

If you’re in the market for a basic keyboard that’s affordable and can host some of the features mechanical keyboards offer, like RGB lighting and media controls, a membrane keyboard is likely sufficient.

However, if you have the budget to invest in a mechanical keyboard, it’s worth doing. These keyboards commonly feature more connectivity options and technology, making them a better investment for the long term.  This is especially true if you type for long periods of time, play competitive games, and want the ability to customize your experience.

RELATED: If You Haven't Tried a Mechanical Keyboard Yet, You're Missing Out

Profile Photo for Georgie Peru Georgie Peru
Georgie Peru is a writer for How-To Geek. She has a passion for helping people understand how to use technology and thrives on recommending the best products for the job at hand. She started her writing career by launching her own gaming blog and has since written for a variety of tech sites, including Digital Trends. She is also the Buyer's Guide Editor for MUO.
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