By now most of you would’ve heard. Razer is releasing it’s own brand of mechanical switches. They’re also ‘designed for gaming™’. One wonders what sort of process went into the research and development but presumably it’s the same process that proclaimed that Cherry MX Blues switches were ‘the best for gaming’ because of ‘science’ - an opinion that is at odds with just about every other switch guide. (Although admittedly, as we tell our customers, such things are highly subjective so they should just find the switch that feels the best for them.) We wanted to write this brief (and possibly controversial) document to take you through some of the claims and differences between the Cherry MX series and Razer’s new line of mechanical switches.
‘Designed for Gaming’
On it’s website, Razer claims that their new switch is:
‘…designed from the ground up specifically for gaming…’
Razer, c’mon man, your switch is not designed from the ground up. It’s clearly a Cherry MX clone. So you’ve made some tweaks, you’ve reduced the distance between actuation and reset points. This is one of the chief complaints against the Cherry MX Blue as far as gaming is concerned (separated actuation and reset points makes it harder to ‘double-tap’). So it’s a good thing that you’ve done that but there’s nothing revolutionary here.
Rated for 60 million key strokes
Oh good, does that mean all Blackwidows are going to have their warranties increased to match the increased durability of the switches? I’m going to hazard a guess and say, ‘no’. Let me be blunt about this. If the warranty for the new Razer keyboards remain for the same period, the actuation rating means absolutely nothing. They could put 20 billion strokes if they wanted but there would be no recourse for you or I to go to Razer and say, ‘hey look, your keyboard broke after only 55 million key strokes‘.
One of the things you have to realise about a company like Cherry Corp is that they manufacture switches for industrial applications and in large volumes for other factories to make keyboards. So when they publish that they switches are rated for 50 million key strokes – in a sense that information isn’t really aimed at you and me, that information is for the factories to know what sort of tolerances, stresses and reliability they can expect from their product. Due to the volume of switches they ship out, there is some way for them to quantify whether or not the switch is performing as rated. However, the Razer Mechanical Switches are being sold (and we assume exclusively) by Razer directly to the consumer. There is no way for anyone to quantify whatever key stroke rating Razer wants to put on their product.
Razer don’t make anything
(My photoshopped impression of what a Factory would look like. I can only assume that any Razer factory would also be ‘designed by gamers for gamers™’. Original photograph by Andreas Praefcke.)
I picked the words in this blog post carefully. I didn’t say that Razer makes mechanical switches. Actually Razer doesn’t make keyboards, mice, mousepads or headphones either. Those in the IT industry will tell you, there is a difference between a company which has a brand and a company which makes things. The reality is, most of the computer companies you and I know and love don’t make anything. They are marketing and R&D vehicles (in what proportion, I’ll leave for you to decide). Generally they work with a third party factory to design a product. They design the packaging and the marketing materials for that product but, at the end of the day, it’s the factory which makes it.
So how is this relevant to the Razer Mechanical Switch? Well, since we’ve established that Razer aren’t making them, it’s only natural to ask: ‘Who are?’
Despite what some people may have you believe, putting together Cherry MX switches, even clones, is not a straight forward process. Putting them together with merchantable tolerances and consistent feel is even harder. It’s not something that any production line can be quickly repurposed to do. Knowing the quantities that Razer would be sourcing these switches (probably at least close to a million, that’ll make about 9,000 keyboards, not a huge amount for Razer worldwide if you think about it,) unless they are splitting up production between several different vendors, there aren’t that many plants currently that can fulfil that sort of demand. Based on that, we have a pretty good idea who it might be but I’ll save that for now and leave that for the enthusiasts to mull over.
So why do it?
Obvious marketing value aside (and that should not be understated), the most obvious answer is the supply chain. It’s no big secret that Cherry MX switches are not being produced in enough quantities to meet the demand. Edgar Matias of Matias Keyboards fame has stated that the lead time for Cherry MX switch production is one year. While our vendors have been pretty coy about the exact lead times, the consensus we get is “pretty damn long”. That means that manufacturers have to ‘gamble’ and it creates enormous difficulties for them. What if they don’t have enough switches to meet the demand? So you end up with endless bidding wars for new production runs of switches as the various factories (and recently the brands themselves) try to outbid each other to secure their supply lines. By bypassing Cherry, Razer is trying to cut itself out of this mess.
So… What does this mean for us?
Without having an actual product on hand. It’s hard to say exactly. However, the answer is likely to be pretty simple: nothing. With no major innovation in switch design and no signs that these newly switched keyboards will be priced aggressively. The chances are that nothing will change… Well, maybe you’ll have a more reliable supply of Razer Blackwidows… but let’s be honest here. If you’ve made it this far (1,000 words) in an article about mechanical switches on a mechanical keyboard retailer, chances are, you aren’t buying Razer Blackwidows.
Rest assured, when we get a new Razer Blackwidow on hand, we’ll be sure to take it apart and show you the innards so you can draw your own conclusions. For now though: