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Thermaltake's Meka G1 and G-Unit keyboards

Cherry MX black switches, two ways
— 10:21 PM on February 28, 2012

How many keystrokes do you log in a given day? Thousands? Tens of thousands? If you spend all day at a computer or use one for both work and pleasure, the total might be even higher. PC users spend a lot of hands-on time with their keyboards, so it's worth investing in a good one—especially one that offers a solid, satisfying feel and leaves your fingers eager to dance across the keys.

The quest for a better keystroke has led to a resurgence of mechanical keyboards. Gamers prize the performance of mechanical key switches in the heat of battle. Writers and coders covet their feel for marathon typing sessions. Heck, I can even see the appeal for data-entry drones looking to bring a little joy to an otherwise mundane task.

Thermaltake has entered the mechanized realm with several models, two of which have been floating between test systems in the Benchmarking Sweatshop for the past few months. The Meka G1 and G-Unit are lined with Cherry MX switches and equipped with built-in USB and audio connectivity. For a little more cheddar, the G-Unit offers LED backlighting, programmable macros, and more. Let's see if either is worth your hard-earned cash.

Once you go black...
Cherry's MX models aren't the only mechanical switches in the keyboard arena, but they're by far the most popular among modern designs. There are four primary versions, each identified by a color, a few key (groan) characteristics, and followers religiously devoted to their feel. One point of differentiation is whether the switch's feedback is completely linear or includes a tactile "bump" just before the actuation point. Then there's how much physical force is required to actuate the switch and whether the key responds with an audible click.

Taken together, these three characteristics largely define the overall feel of a mechanical keyboard. Thermaltake has chosen Cherry MX black switches for both Meka models, opting for linear feedback with a 60-gram actuation force—no click included. Here's how those stats stack up against the other primary colors in the Cherry MX rainbow:

Switch type Actuation force Bottom-out force Feedback Clicky? Target market
MX blue 50 g 65 g Tactile Yes Typing
MX brown 45 g 60 g Tactile No Gaming/typing hybrid
MX black 60 g 80 g Linear No Gaming
MX red 45 g 60 g Linear No Gaming

Typists typically prefer the tactile bump provided by the blue and brown MX switches. Gamers supposedly like linear feedback. Truth is, it really comes down to personal preference, which is why you should try before you buy. The difference in feel between the switch types is quite apparent even if you punch them just a few times.

I've played with all the switch types listed above. Although my time with the blue ones has been limited, I'm writing this on a Das Keyboard Professional Silent with MX browns, my personal favorite, while a Corsair M60 with red switches sits attached to the test system next to me. Going back and forth rapidly between those three switch types really highlights the differences between them.

The linear stroke of the black switch feels quite unlike the tactile bump of the brown. Without an actuation cue, you have to bottom out each stroke or trust that your finger will push at least halfway through the four-millimeter travel. The Cherry MX black switches require noticeably more force to actuate and bottom out than the others, in particular the similarly linear reds. There's enough resistance that a little muscle needs to be put behind each keystroke, which suits my tendency to stab at keys with a mix of urgency and aggression.

While they lack the audible click of Cherry's MX blue flavor, the black switches are far from silent. The keys bottom out with a dull thunk that sounds more muffled than the clickety-clack commonly associated with mechanical switches. At speed, multiple keystrokes combine to produce a lower rumble than the chatter generated by the red and brown switches. Part of that comes down to the design of the keyboard, which we'll get into in a moment.

As a writer, it's hard to get over the lack of tactile feedback in the black MX switches. I can see the appeal of a linear stroke for gaming, though. The linear switches feel more consistent when hammering the same key in quick succession. The black switches are a better compromise for all-around use than the reds, at least for my typing style. When banging out complete sentences, the lightness of the MX red switches feels a little too delicate, as if I'm blowing through the travel too quickly with each stroke. (The red switches have the same 45-gram actuation force as the brown ones, but the latter require an addition 10 grams of force to get over the tactile bump before actuation.)

Despite some slight acoustic variance—the Meka G-Unit sounds slightly louder and higher-pitched than the G1—the key feel is pretty much identical between the two Thermaltake keyboards and across all their keys. That gives the Mekas the same overall character, but they're quite different otherwise, as we'll now explore.