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Key it any way you want: A look at the growing trend of mechanical, custom keyboards in S’pore

Like a 90s trend that makes a comeback every few years, mechanical keyboards are back now and bigger than ever.

Gone are the days where the silent flutter of butterfly keyboards are appreciated. Now, the tactile click or ‘thoc’ (more on this later) of mechanical keyboards are preferred.

These mechanical keyboards also come in trendy colours and are open to customisation, making them all the more attractive.

Before we get into the specifics of mechanical keyboards, it would perhaps be prudent to firstly explain what mechanical keyboards are.

In a room of keyboard enthusiasts, it might be blasphemous to proclaim that there are only two types of keyboards. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s narrow it down to two of the most common types, namely mechanical keyboards and membrane keyboards.

Mechanical keyboards vs membrane keyboards

SuperSolid DT-001 from Dreamcore / Image Credit: Dreamcore

In mechanical keyboards, each key is individually spring-loaded and produces a distinct ‘clicking’ sound when pressed. Or, as those in the mechanical keyboard circles would say, that trademark ‘thoc’ — an ASMR-pleasing click.

Membrane keyboards however, are slightly different. These keys send an electrical signal to a unified circuit board underneath, as opposed to each key individually firing off like a mechanical keyboard.

These membrane keyboards have a ‘mushier’ feel and tend to be much quieter. Even though they have been developed long after mechanical keyboards, they are used in most laptops and external keyboards.

The resurgence of mechanical keyboards

If you are a writer or spend a lot of time slamming down keys, you’ll probably have stumbled upon ways to make your experience a little more ergonomic.

As residents on the internet, all roads lead to Reddit. If you’ve been looking at better keyboards or mechanical keyboards, then you might have stumbled upon the subreddit r/mechanicalkeyboards.

With close to a million members (currently 953,000), the mechanical keyboard community is stronger and nerdier than ever. You’ll fall down a rabbit hole of custom keycaps, stabilisers, types of switches, and customised boards that will make you go, “Oh my god, I want that”.

Pastel coloured keyboard from drop.com
Image Credit: DROP.com

Of course, this revival of mechanical keyboards is partly because of the pandemic and the default work from home (WFH) situation.

“Working from home has allowed people to spend more time with their equipment. With the keyboard being one of the main interfaces to their PCs, it’s only natural that people are looking for ways to improve or switch things up,” said Eugene Lim, head of marketing at Dreamcore Custom PCs.

“TikTok and Twitch.tv have made it super easy for users to find inspiration for clean and gorgeous desk setups,” he added.

Twitch streamer Richard Gozali, or Fatboychard on Twitch, agrees with this sentiment. Such platforms have definitely made the barrier of entry to mechanical keyboards easy and accessible.

Screenshot of Fatboychard twitch stream
Image Credit: Fatboychard

The amount of time spent in front of the computer — be it for work, entertainment or relaxation — has only increased in the past few years. I find that most of us stumbled into the hobby while searching for the best keyboard for our desk setup. The number of things you can customise on a mechanical keyboard is endless.

Let’s (also) not discount the countless keyboard ASMR videos that have popped up online throughout the past few years.

– Richard Gozali of Fatboychard

Indeed, one of the most alluring qualities of mechanical keyboards is the tactile pushback and ‘thocky’ quality that mechanical keyboards have.

‘Thoc’ or ‘thocky’ is an onomatopoeic word that encapsulates the glorious, ear-tickling quality that a board will have when you tap down on a key. You want the keys to be clicky, not loud and clacky.

The colourful (and expensive) world of customisable keyboards

Collage of customised mechanical keyboard
Image Credit: grovemade.com

Besides the ‘thocs’ and aesthetic colours that mechanical keyboards come in, the other pull of mechanical keyboards is how highly customisable they are.

“The ability to choose from a wide variety of mechanical switches to fit your preference, coupled with the increased durability associated with individual mechanical switches all contribute to a preference for mechanical keyboards,” explained Eugene.

Under each keycap, there is a spring-loaded switch that you can change and customise depending on what kind of typing experience you are going for.

Cherry switches for mechanical keyboards
Three kinds of Cherry Switches/ Image Credit: howtogeek.com

Cherry switches are the gold standard of switches and a great place to start for beginners.

There are broadly three kinds of switches: Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Blue, and Cherry MX Red; and they differ in linear, tactile, or clicky switches.

As you continue to explore the realm of different switches, you’ll realise that they run the gamut. There is much to explore, from the gamer-preferred Gateron to more affordable Kaih to the rare Hirose Orange.

Custom mechanical keyboard from Fatboychard
Image Credit: Fatboychard Instagram

“Membrane keyboards all feel the same – it’s boring”, opined Eugene. Moreover, with a low barrier of entry, it’s a hobby that’s less intimidating than, let’s say, wakeboarding or trading crypto.

There is an increasing number of keyboard options for newcomers, particularly hot-swap keyboards, where you can swap out switches easily without having to solder.

With a community that is supportive and excited to share, you’ll find that it is a relatively easy hobby to pick up. Just keep in mind that a lot of aspects of this hobby is based on your preference.

– Richard Gozali of FatboyChard

Custom resin keycap from dykeycap
Image Credit: Reddit

Then, there are the keycaps. The vast and magical world of keycaps leaves you a little ga-ga when you scroll through the options.

From pastel-coloured keycaps to resin-filled keycaps with mini Godzillas to ones with fidget spinners, the possibilities are endless. Not to mention, it’s one of the easiest and most fun to customise.

As you get more in tune with customising your keyboard, you’ll realise that every single part of the keyboard can be made from scratch.

Sailor-moon themed mechanical keyboard from DROP.com
Image Credit: Drop.com

From the printed circuit board (PCBs, as they are called) that you solder to deciding whether you want a sleek aluminium exterior or a colourful pastel one or cool RGB underlighting that you can program, it’s a keyboard that is wholly yours to make.

Essentially, when it comes to building custom keyboards, it’s more about the sum of their parts. Given all these separate components, building your custom mechanical keyboards is expensive but, the result is definitely worthwhile.

Typing for the long run

Custom keycaps for mechanical keyboard
Image Credit: blog.ulysses.app

Despite our penchant for convenience, it seems like the mechanical keyboard scene in Singapore is thriving and here to stay.

The custom keyboard scene here in Singapore is growing really quickly. Local vendors have also played a big part in opening up the hobby, making it much more accessible for newcomers. (In fact), our local Mechanical Keyboard discord has just reached 5,000 members.

– Richard Gozali of FatboyChard

Meanwhile, Eugene of Dreamcore describes the mechanical keyboard scene as alive, vibrant and exciting.

“Almost everyone has a request that’s a little different from someone else’s. That means a different challenge daily, but where’s the fun in certainty, am I right?” he quipped.

The good news is as the hobby continues to grow, we might see the prices of these mechanical keyboards drop, which is excellent news for our wallets.

“This makes mechanical keyboards more accessible than ever. But if you have the cash you are willing to part with, not to worry — there will certainly be more premium keyboards to get your hands on.”

Featured Image Credit: DROP.com


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