Elise Shaffer
Back Jul 04, 2023

Joining The Linear Side

Image of a mechanical keyboard

I’m standing at my desk writing this blog post and all I can think about is how great this keyboard feels. I’m falling in love with this keyboard: the buttery smooth travel of the keys, the satisfying thock as my fingers hit the end of travel. For the first time, I enjoy typing on a linear switch. This keyboard is using the Gateron Milky Yellow Pro switches and they feel so nice. I just want to keep using it.

Let’s back up.

Back in 2016, I joined Sphero. Everyone there had mechanical keyboards, while I was used to the Apple Magic Keyboard. On my first day, the Director of Engineering asked what kind of keyboard I’d like to use. I didn’t know anything about mechanical keyboard, so I told him I wasn’t sure. He invited me into his office to pick one out from our vendor. This was my first introduction to mechanical keyboards. Prior to this I didn’t know what “linear,” “tactile,” and “clicky” meant. I asked him for advice and he said, “a lot of us are using linears.” So, I picked the Cherry MX Red and we placed the order.

I worked at Sphero for 18 months and in that time, I came to hate that keyboard. It was so hard to type on. I missed letters and typed gibberish accidentally. The big problem for me was that I was never sure if I’d actually hit the key. I left that job with a strong aversion to linear switches.

When I purchased my next mechanical keyboard, I picked a strong tactile switch, the Cherry MX Clear. This keyboard was much better. It had a noticeable bump and that meant that I typed much more confidently. I very rarely had typos and I was more accurate in hitting the keys.

Prebuilt mechanical keyboards can only take you so far. I started to want things that I couldn’t get buying off the shelf. I wanted a quieter keyboard. I wanted to try something other than a Cherry switch. Most of all, I wanted a project. Something I could pour myself into. So, I decided to build my own keyboard. I chose to again go with tactile switches. This time, silent switches: the Zilent 67g switches. These switches also had a noticeable bump and I could feel when the switch actuated. But, I made several mistakes with that first build. I spent significant money on the switches, but spent no money on stabilizers, opting to use the ones that came with my kit. On top of that, I didn’t mod or lube the stabilizers. So while my keys were whisper quiet, the space bar, return, and shift keys were rattly and annoying. To make matters worse, I had opted to buy a solder kit instead of a hot swap kit. So fixing this would be a huge endeavor.

Enter my second(and current) build.

For this build, I opted for a hot swap board. And I bought the Durock V2 Stabilizers. I was looking for a lighter switch and opted for the Zilent 62gs. But, they weren’t in stock. So, I bought a temporary switch, the Halo Drop Clears with the intention to swap them out when the Zilents were back in stock(spoiler alert: I’m not doing that).

When I assembled the board, I was surprised at the feel. I couldn’t feel the bump at all. I was sure they’d sent me the wrong switch. So, I decided to take one of the switches apart. There was a bump. I just couldn’t feel it while typing. Over the next week, I was able to pick up the bump. But, it was so much softer than I was used to.

I decided to buy a different switch and figured I’d give linear another shot. After all, this was all a stopgap until I could get the real switch I wanted. I was looking for a budget friendly linear and I picked up the Gateron Milky Yellow Pro. They were pretty cheap at 23 cents per switch and they came pre-lubed so I didn’t need to make a big time investment to lube them myself.

Over a month later, I’ve really come to love this switch. It’s smoother than any switch I’ve ever used. It’s also really comfortable to type on. I find myself wanting to sit at my desk a lot more because the typing experience is borderline addictive. The sound of the keyboard is also really pleasing.

While typing on it, I’m’ ever presently aware of how good the keys feel, how satisfying the sound is and how smooth the travel is. And what’s more, these switches are really reasonably priced. I’ve even been researching other linear switches. After the last six weeks, it’s safe to say I’ve finally joined the dark, buttery smooth side that is linears.

I can’t say that I’ll never go back to tactile switches, but I think I finally gained an appreciation for the smoothness of linear switches. What switches are you using?