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Not All Linears Are The Same!

Figure 1: Not even all of these (mostly) KTT-made linears are the same!
After all of my years of collecting, reviewing, and obsessing over switches, I can say with certainty that linear switches are the most misunderstood of all of the switch types. No, I’m not talking about mechanically either, as all of the claims of them “just going straight up and down” are somewhat kind of true. (Not too much though, don’t get that excited.) The part that is often misunderstood, though, is usually in what is being implied when people say that these switches just go straight up and down – “All linears might as well be the same.” If the title of this article didn’t make that obvious enough to you, I find that sort of idea to be completely and utterly wrong. The people who make these implications wouldn’t say that a Cherry MX Black is the same as a Novelkeys Cream switch? They also certainly wouldn’t ever claim that every Gateron-made linear is the same as every fancy TTC one out there either. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the differences among linear switches pretty sizably outnumber their similarities. Just how different are all of those various linear switches out there, you say? Well, here’s all of the small (and not so small) reasons that not all linears are created equally!  -1. The Surface Level Obviously, there are a lot of differences to be had between linear switches that can be picked out by just looking at a collection of them. Any random, sizable pile of linear switches is bound to have ones that come from different manufactures, have different shapes of their stems, different colors and/or artistic designs, and even different LED diffusers if they have them at all. All of these features not only help make linear switches visually stand out from one another, but also add some unique flairs in their execution that make certain switches more amenable to boards that have RGB LEDs, for example. In addition to these visual differences, not all of these switches nor their parts in this hypothetical pile are likely made with the same plastics either. While mono-material switches like Cherry MX Blacks and Novelkeys Creams do exist, the reality is that most switches have two or more different plastics used across the various parts in their construction. Combine the fact that the components of different linear switches look different with the fact that they likely are made out of different stuff as well, and its not hard to imagine that this intersection does affect how the switches actually feel in a board. Nylon housings from Cherry certainly don’t quite feel the same as those from Durock/JWK. As well, the POM stems of most Kailh linears certainly don’t collide with their bottom housings the same as POM stems in Tecsee switches either. Speaking of that impact at the end of the downstroke, not all linear switches are the same in their… -2. Bottoming Out

Figure 2: Comparative force curve of Sarokeys BCP and Cherry MX2A RGB Black switches.
Have you ever stopped to consider that while all linear switches “just go straight up and down”, that some switches go down just a bit further than others? Take the force curves for the Sarokeys BCPs and Cherry MX2A RGB Black switches above as a point of reference. While many people would off-handedly suggest that these switches would be incredibly similar to each other since they both try and leverage similar housing material properties, you can pretty clearly see that the BCPs’ downstrokes are only 80% as deep as the RGB Blacks’ downstroke. Due to the differences in the actual stem length between these two switches, and more specifically the stems of the BCPs being a bit longer than the MX2A RGB Blacks, the BCPs reach the bottom of their stroke a whole 0.6 mm sooner than the Cherry switches. Even though this difference of only a half millimeter or so may not seem like much on paper, this makes for a wildly different feeling – with the BCPs having a sharper, more abrupt, and more pointed feeling bottom out than the Cherry MX2A RGB Blacks. By increasing or decreasing the lengths of stems in linear switches, companies have managed to create linears that bottom out as soon as only 2.00 mm of travel distance as well as ones which bottom out long past the normal stem travel distance of 4.00 mm. And all of this is not even touching on differences that can be caused by the springs of linear switches either – this is all just a function of stem lengths and bottom housing shapes. Speaking of those springs though, even these have an effect on linear switches and can directly impact their… -3. Steepness

Figure 3: Comparative force curve of Novelkeys Dream Cream and Splash Brothers switches.
  While you are probably now more willing to accept that not all linear switches go straight up and down to the same extent as one another, have you ever considered that not all linear switches make this journey in quite the same fashion? Linear switches have earned their name not only based on the straight up and down motion of their stroke, but also because of the fact that the weight you feel when pressing them linearly increases as you press the stem in. However, the rate at which the force is increased as you press as switch in is pretty substantially different from one linear switch to the next. Take a look at the Kailh-made Novelkeys Dream Cream and Durock/JWK-made Splash Brother force curves above for a perfect example of this. In the same distance it takes the Splash Brother to move from about 40 to 42g of force, the Dream Cream switches move from 40 grams to almost 60 grams – a nearly 10x increase in force over the same 3.00 millimeter of travel distances. So while its true that all linear switches feature the same “linearity” in their increasing force, the springs used in different linear switches can wildly change how they feel as you press them in further. Believe it or not, this idea of ‘steepness’ in linear switches has hardly been discussed among the community at all, though I am making some strides of my own to quantify this a bit. (Needless to say, there’s certainly a lot more to be explored on this concept and maybe you might be the first to figure something out about it…)
While I could probably go on for pages and pages more about all of the particular minutiae that help separate a single linear switch from the next one, this will have to stand as a pretty reasonable starting point for you to jump into your own explorations about linear switches. Regardless of what I tell you on paper, the best way to see all of these things for yourself (and to figure out if I’m actually crazy or not) is to test out a bunch of linear switches and see for yourself if you can see these differences. Can you tell linear switches apart based on their bottoming out feeling? What about their steepness and how their force changes under your fingers? Well, if you need any help looking into some switches of your own to test this out for yourself, consider some of my other articles here on Drop such as ‘Switch Marketing Terms: What to Know and What to Ignore’ or ‘Switch Myths That Aren’t Actually True!’.

Jun 7, 2024
Psst; tactile club here ... all linears are the same. jk
May 30, 2024
Super in depth 👍🏼
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