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The Ultimate Guide to Keyboard Switches for FPS Gaming

As a seasoned digital technology expert and avid FPS gamer, I know that having the right tools can give you a critical edge in fast-paced, competitive shooters. And when it comes to PC gaming peripherals, nothing has a bigger impact on your moment-to-moment performance than your keyboard.

While the overall build and feature set of a gaming keyboard matters, I‘d argue that the mechanical key switches underneath the caps are the true MVP. The type of switches you use can seriously influence your aim, movement, and even your endurance over long gaming sessions.

But with so many different switch types and a dizzying array of brand-specific variations, it can be overwhelming to figure out which ones are actually best for FPS games. Is it all just marketing hype, or are there real, measurable differences?

In this Ultimate Guide, I‘ll demystify keyboard switches from a technical perspective and give you everything you need to know to choose the optimal mechanical switches for fragging foes in Valorant, Apex Legends, CS:GO, and beyond.

Understanding Mechanical Keyboard Switches

Before we dive into the specific traits that make a switch good for FPS, let‘s establish a baseline understanding of how mechanical key switches work and the main categories you‘ll encounter.

Linear vs. Tactile vs. Clicky

Broadly speaking, mechanical keyboard switches come in three varieties:

  1. Linear: A smooth keystroke from top to bottom with consistent resistance. No tactile feedback or audible click. Examples: Cherry MX Red, Black, Speed Silver; Kailh Reds; Gateron Reds.

  2. Tactile: A distinct bump around the actuation point provides physical feedback when the keypress registers. Relatively quiet. Examples: Cherry MX Brown, Clear, Gray; Holy Pandas; Gazzew Boba U4.

  3. Clicky: Similar to tactile but with a sharp "click" sound on actuation from a click jacket. Loudest and most physically resistant. Examples: Cherry MX Blue, Green; Kailh Box White, Jade.

How Mechanical Switches Work

Inside a mechanical switch is a spring-loaded sliding mechanism called a "stem." When you press down on a key cap, the stem pushes down on a pair of metal contact leaves. Once enough force is applied, the leaves touch, completing the circuit, registering the key press to your PC. When you release the key, the spring pushes the stem back up, resetting the switch.

The physical design of the stem and spring determines the switch type. Linear switches have a plain stem and compress smoothly. Tactile switches have a bump on the stem that causes a slight increase in resistance partway through the keystroke. And clicky switches have an extra piece called a click jacket that makes a loud snap as it passes the bump.

Mechanical keyboard switch diagram
Simplified diagram of a mechanical key switch. Source: The Keyboard Company

Key Switch Characteristics for FPS Gaming

With that primer out of the way, let‘s analyze the specific attributes of a mechanical switch that impact FPS gaming performance. Understanding these technical characteristics is key to cutting through the marketing and choosing the best switch for you.

Actuation Force

Actuation force refers to how much physical force (usually measured in grams or centinewtons) is required to press the switch down to the point of actuating and registering a keypress. For example, Cherry MX Reds actuate at 45cN, while Blacks take 60cN.

In general, a lower actuation force allows for faster, easier keystrokes, which is a big plus in FPS games where every millisecond counts. It reduces finger fatigue, too. However, go too low and you risk accidental key presses.

Most FPS players prefer a switch with an actuation force between 35-55cN. For reference, membrane rubber dome keyboards often take 65-75cN to actuate.

Travel Distance

Travel distance is how far the switch needs to be physically depressed before it actuates. There are two key measurements here:

  • Pre-travel: The distance from the top of the unpressed switch to the actuation point. A shorter pre-travel means faster keypresses.
  • Total travel: The distance from the top of the unpressed switch to the bottom when fully depressed. Shorter total travel allows higher rate of rapid presses.

Typical pre-travel distances range from 1.2-2.2mm, with "speed" switches on the lower end. Standard mechanical switches have 3.5-4mm total travel. Low-profile "short travel" switches go as low as 2.5mm total travel.

Look for switches with pre-travel under 1.5mm and total travel under 3.5mm for the quickest reaction times in FPS.

Reset Point

The reset point is the distance on the way back up that the switch disengages and is ready to actuate again when pressed. Generally, the closer the reset point is to the actuation point, the better, as it allows for faster repeated keypresses of the same key.

An average mechanical switch has a reset point about 0.7mm above the actuation point. Some switches marketed for FPS gaming boast reduced or "zero" reset points as low as 0.1mm.


One often overlooked factor in choosing FPS switches is their rated durability. Most mechanical switches are tested to last 30-100 million keystrokes before failing. For hardcore FPS players, that may only be a couple years!

Cheaper, off-brand switches may have lower tolerances and wear out faster. I strongly recommend sticking with proven switches from major manufacturers like Cherry, Kailh, Gateron, TTC, Outemu, etc. that will hold up to the wear and tear.

Also consider that different switch types wear differently. Linear switches maintain their feel the longest. Tactile and clicky switches can lose their distinct bump and click over time as parts wear down and soften. The springs can also weaken and alter the feel.

Optical Mechanical Switches

Finally, I need to mention an emerging switch technology: optical mechanical switches. These use infrared light sensors to detect actuation instead of metal contacts. Optical switches boast extremely fast actuation, low latency, and high durability.

Examples include the Gateron Optical, Razer Optical, and Kailh BOX optical switch lines. However, optical boards tend to be quite expensive, and I don‘t necessarily think they provide a major advantage over traditional switches for most FPS players yet. Still, it‘s a space to watch!

Recommended Switches for FPS

Whew, that was a lot of technical jargon. But I promise it all adds up to noticeable differences in real-world gaming. To sum it up, here are my top recommendations for FPS gaming keyboard switches:

Cherry MX Speed Silver

  • Actuation force: 45 grams
  • Pre-travel: 1.2mm
  • Total travel: 3.4mm
  • Lifespan: 50 million keystrokes

The Cherry MX Speed Silver is pretty much the gold standard for FPS. Super responsive linear action, low travel, and a proven design. Hard to argue with decades of esports wins!

Gateron Clear (35g)

  • Actuation force: 35 grams
  • Pre-travel: 2mm
  • Total travel: 4mm
  • Lifespan: 50 million keystrokes

About as light as you can get in a full-size mechanical switch. Crazy fast for quick strafes and dodges. Popular "budget" option for FPS.

Kailh Silver

  • Actuation force: 40 grams
  • Pre-travel: 1.1mm
  • Total travel: 3.5mm
  • Lifespan: 70 million keystrokes

A hair lighter and faster than the Cherry Silvers. Kailh makes some top-notch FPS switches and the Silver is hard to beat.

Razer Linear Optical (Gen 2)

  • Actuation force: 40 grams
  • Pre-travel: 1mm
  • Total travel: 3mm
  • Lifespan: 100 million keystrokes

Razer‘s red linear optical switches are stupid fast, at least on paper, and rated for an insane 100 mil keypresses. But you pay a premium for that bleeding edge tech.

Switch Type Actuation Force Pre-Travel Total Travel Lifespan
Cherry MX Speed Linear 45g 1.2mm 3.4mm 50M
Gateron Clear Linear 35g 2.0mm 4.0mm 50M
Kailh Silver Linear 40g 1.1mm 3.5mm 70M
Razer Linear Optical Linear 40g 1.0mm 3.0mm 100M

Comparison of key specs for recommended FPS switches.

Of course, these are just my top picks based on aggregated community testing and feedback. There are tons of other great switches out there that can work for FPS, and new ones hit the market all the time. When in doubt, refer back to those key characteristics in your own switch hunting.

The "Feel" Factor

I‘d be remiss if I didn‘t also touch on the huge importance of personal preference in choosing your FPS switches. Everything I‘ve covered so far has been about measurable, objective traits. But the subjective feel and sound of a switch matters just as much, if not more.

There are subtle differences in the feel and sound of each switch maker‘s stems, springs, and housings. For example, many find Gateron linear switches smoother than Cherry. Kailh BOX switches often have a lower pitch thock than other brands. Even different plastics and lubricants used can influence the feel.

Some swear by the sharp tactility of Zealios or Holy Pandas for FPS. Others prefer the soft bottom-out of Topre electro-capacitive switches. Even some clicky switch lovers use them for shooters.

The same goes for switch weight. While 45g is a safe middle ground, some players swear by feather-light 30g springs. Others find ultralight switches too easy to accidentally press and prefer a stiffer 60-70g spring for more deliberate keystrokes.

And we can‘t forget size and sound, either. Low-profile switches have become popular for their laptop-like slim keystroke. And while most gaming boards use fairly quiet switches to minimize noise while voice chatting, some just love the authoritative thunk of a lubed linear on a brass plate or the crisp snap of BOX clickies.

So while it‘s great to understand the technical aspects, never let anyone tell you there‘s a single "best" FPS switch. It‘s all about finding the ones that feel right and let you perform your best. And that‘s going to be different for everyone.


I know I just threw a whole Master Class on mechanical keyboard switches at you. But I hope this guide has given you the knowledge and context to make a more informed decision when choosing switches for your FPS gaming keyboard.

Whether you‘re a Cherry MX die-hard, a Gateron convert, or a devoted clicky user, the key is to focus on the switch characteristics that complement your play style and physiology. Prioritize speed, sure, but don‘t ignore comfort and durability.

Most of all, embrace experimentation! Thanks to hot-swap switch keyboards, affordable switch testers, and a booming market of boutique switch makers, it‘s never been easier to try out new switches and discover what works best for you.

So get out there and click some heads… and switches! Your "endgame" FPS board is waiting to be built.

This article was written by Tony Kim, a former professional Overwatch player and longtime hardware reviewer. He‘s tested over 300 mechanical keyboards and switches.