Mechanical keyboards are expensive, so it’s understandable to hesitate to spend half a day’s pay on a keyboard not knowing whether it will break. So how long does a mechanical keyboard last?
Mechanical keyboard lifespans are rated in millions of keystrokes, which sounds impressive but is hard to comprehend. Practically speaking, a mechanical keyboard can last decades.
Keystroke cycles explained
When a keyboard manufacturer says their keyboard’s switches are rated for 50 million keypresses, it’s hard to figure out what that means. I will try to break it down for you.
Take this blog. I have posts on this blog dating back to the year 2000. Counting the stuff I actually finished and published, this blog contains 2,833,665 words at the time of this writing. I write a lot. At least I think that’s a lot. And I wrote most of those words on one mechanical keyboard.
So let’s do the math. An average English word is 4.84 letters long. Round it up to five and add a space. That’s 17 million keystrokes.
Sounds like a lot. How much life does this mechanical keyboard have left in it? Well, I don’t use all 102 keys equally. Let’s consider the alphabetic characters and the spacebar, since I use those the most. In theory, those 27 keys are good for 1,350,000,000 keystrokes between them. That’s 1.35 billion.
So if I continue to use that keyboard the way I have for the last 19 years, that keyboard will wear out after 79 years. This keyboard was built in 1987, so it has some miles on it. We’ll just assume it got used just as hard from 1987-1999 as it did from 2000 onward. So in the year 2066, I’d better think about a replacement. Good thing I have a couple of spares stashed in case I’m off by a couple of decades. I’d hate to be high and dry in 2046.
There’s a reason why you can still find so many working mechanical keyboards from the 1980s. They have lots of life left in them, even after all these years. They’re expensive, but given how long they last, they’re probably worth it.
What if a mechanical keyboard breaks?
While membrane keyboards are throwaway, mechanical keyboards aren’t. If you game a lot and wear out the WASD keys, the switches are replaceable if my quick fix doesn’t work. Mechanical keyboards have a printed circuit board on them with solder connections for the switches. Anyone handy with a soldering iron can de-solder the four solder connections, pull the switch, then solder a new switch in. It’s not too hard to be a DIY project, and it’ll be a few years before you need to do it anyway. Hey, my favorite board is on the wrong side of 30 and I haven’t had to replace anything in it yet.