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A first look at Cherry's MX green key switches


Eat your heart out, buckling springs
— 1:43 PM on March 7, 2013

Cooler Master is known far and wide for its cases, power supplies, and cooling products. Over the past several years, however, the company has branched out into gaming peripherals. Its CM Storm lineup is now quite extensive, with mice, headsets, mouse pads gaming surfaces, and keyboards.

One of those keyboards, the CM Storm Trigger, has piqued our interest. This unusual specimen is one of the very few keyboards on the market with Cherry's MX green key switches. We've sampled most of the other MX switch variants before—blacks, blues, browns, and reds—but the greens are something of a novelty. They're tougher, springier than their siblings, and they don't sacrifice the all-important click and tactile bump. Our understanding is that the greens are normally found under the space bars of Cherry MX blue keyboards. In both feel and specifications, though, the greens are closer to the buckling spring switches of IBM's iconic Model M keyboards. That makes them uniquely appealing to old-school geeks.

Clearly, we couldn't resist taking the MX greens out for a test drive. So, we scored a CM Storm Trigger from Cooler Master, set it up in our labs, cracked our knuckles, and compared it to the old Model M and a Rosewill keyboard based on the softer Cherry MX blue switches. After some lengthy and intensive typing sessions, we're ready to share our findings.

Before discussing the Cherry MX greens in much more detail, we should give the CM Storm Trigger a brief introduction. This keyboard is quite a full-featured offering, with a detachable palm rest, a set of five macro keys (plus media keys overlaid with the F keys), onboard firmware, and dedicated software that allows both key reassignment and macro programming. Other notable features include adjustable LED backlighting, a 1,000-Hz response rate, 6-key rollover, 64KB of onboard memory for macro storage, and a two-port USB hub with a 5V DC jack that can supply extra juice to power-hungry devices.

No question about it, the Trigger is a premium keyboard—and it feels like, it, too. This thing weighs a hefty 3.3 lbs (2.9 lbs if you remove the palm rest), and it has a thin, velvety rubber coating on some of its surfaces, including the entirety of the palm rest and the sides of the chassis.

Right now, the variant of the CM Trigger with Cherry MX green switches is available exclusively from Cooler Master's online store for $119.99. That's pricier than other versions of the Trigger, which are based on Cherry MX black, blue, brown, and red switches and can be purchased at Amazon for anywhere from $85 to $118, depending on the model.

Cooler Master tells us the existing Trigger model with green switches is in short supply and will be "phased out" soon. In its stead, Cooler Master plans to introduce a new Trigger model with black key caps and green backlighting. (The current offering has red LEDs built into each key switch.) The company also expects to offer Cherry MX green switches in additional keyboard models beside the Trigger. Those will include the QuickFire Stealth, which will have blank key caps; the QuickFire TK, which will cut out the arrow keys and paging block to save space; and the QuickFire XT, which will be a more conventional, full-sized offering. We saw some of those designs at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year.

Cherry MX
switch type
Feedback Clicky Actuation
force
Bottom-out
force
Red Linear No 45 g 60 g
Brown Tactile No 45 g 60 g
Blue Tactile Yes 50 g 65 g
Black Linear No 60 g 80 g
Green Tactile Yes 80 g 105 g

Here's what the Cherry MX green looks like and how it compares to its siblings. (For a more thorough examination of the Cherry MX black, blue, brown, and red switch types, including actuation graphs and noise recordings, check here.) The MX greens have a lot in common with the blues: both switch types have a "bump" in the response curve that indicates a successful actuation, and both switch types produce an audible click when actuated. That said, the greens' 80 g actuation force is much higher than the blues' 50 g. It's actually equivalent to the bottom-out force of the Cherry MX black switches, which are the springiest variety normally found on gaming keyboards. The greens' 105 g bottom-out force, meanwhile, is far above that of other offerings, even the old IBM Model M.

For reference, the actuation graph in IBM's buckling spring patent suggests the Model M requires around 70 g of force for actuation and 80 g to bottom out. We put that to the test with a gray-label Model M (part number 1391401), piling pennies on a key until the spring buckled and the switch was actuated. It took about 75 g worth of coins to reach that point.

In short, the Cherry MX greens put up a lot of resistance. Probably more than you're used to.

That can be good and bad. I haven't been all that impressed with Cherry MX blue-based keyboards in the past, because I find them too mushy. Hitting the actuation point is very easy, and it doesn't correspond exactly with the click, which contributes to a feeling of imprecision. The greens feel closer to the Model M's buckling springs—more solid, with a more distinct sense of having successfully depressed each switch. That said, the first few sentences I typed on the Trigger had a number of letters missing, because my fingers weren't pushing down hard enough. That might be less of an issue if you hunt and peck, but touch typists will face a bit of a learning curve.

Compounding the problem, the Trigger's double- and triple-width keys—namely left and right shift, backspace, and enter—feel even harder than the alphanumeric keys. When I asked Cooler Master about it, I was told the extra-wide keys simply use a "different stabilizer switch than a traditional key." The company agrees that the extra springiness is noticeable, but it claims that "hasn't been something we've seen as a common complaint from the mech keyboard enthusiast community." Well, as a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, I beg to differ. Missing some keystrokes because of inconsistent weighting can be irksome, especially in games. My pinky fingers certainly didn't appreciate the extra workout.


For your listening pleasure, here are audio recordings of the Trigger, Model M, and Rosewill RK-9000 (with MX blue switches) in action. Click the buttons to switch between them.

Subjectively, the Trigger's green switches sound like the most discreet of the bunch. The Rosewill's MX blues produce a shrill rattle that's difficult to get used to, and the Model M's buckling springs generate a loud clatter with a trailing metallic hum, sort of like hail stones hitting a tin roof. The Trigger, by comparison, seems to muffle the clicks somewhat. Audible feedback is delivered, but without too much zeal. Maybe that's because of the Cooler Master keyboard's sturdy build. The key caps feel more firmly seated than on the Rosewill, and the frame doesn't appear to resonate or to amplify keystroke noise at all.