How long do computer keyboards last?

When you go out and buy something like a new computer keyboard you want to know that you’ll get value for money.

So how can you be certain how long your keyboard will last?

The life expectancy of a computer keyboard depends on a number of factors, with brand name mechanical keyboards lasting 10 – 30 years whereas a cheaper membrane/rubber dome keyboard might only last 2 years in total.

When it comes down to it there are a number of factors to consider here. 

So let’s tackle them one by one.

Mechanical vs. Rubber dome keyboards

A mechanical keyboard is just that – a keyboard that uses physical switches and springs to deliver the input from your fingers to the screen.

You can hear a mechanical keyboard before you see it thanks to their loud “clicking” action.

Rubber dome (also known as membrane) keyboards use tiny rubber domes to provide a typing action similar to a spring.

But there are no springs used in their construction.

The domes sit over a type of printed circuit board and when you push down the tip of the dome makes contact.

And voila, what you type appears onscreen. 

Rubber dome keyboards have fewer moving parts than a mechanical keyboard so they should obviously last longer?

Nope.

Mechanical keyboard switches are rated at somewhere between 20 and 50 million keystrokes.

A basic membrane (rubber dome) keyboard is good for no more than say 5 million keystrokes.

Some people have mechanical keyboards that are 20 – 30 years old and are still going strong.

That’s why membrane keyboards cost $10 – $20 and mechanical keyboards can easily cost over $100.

Where do you use your keyboard?

Eating, drinking, or snacking near your computer keyboard will eventually shorten its life expectancy.

It’s only a matter of time before you either spill something on it or your sandwich crumbs clog up the action.

And then your keys will start to stick.

Spilling something on a newer membrane keyboard might not kill it.

But the effort required to dismantle your keyboard and clean the sugary soda from inside it will probably mean you just bin it and buy a new one.

Spilling liquid on an expensive mechanical keyboard doesn’t bear thinking about.

Just “No.”

The same goes for using a keyboard in a room where that gets cold or damp – there are electrical contacts inside your keyboard that don’t react well to water.

So the simple message here is – Your keyboard will last longer if you keep it clean.

Capiche?

You get what you pay for

I’ve been a computer user now for 40 years…which is a weird thing to write on a page.

And in that time I’ve used some really expensive computer keyboards and some really cheap ones.

The cheap ones were usually purchased because I was broke at the time.

Did this teach me anything?

Yup – buying a $10 keyboard will give you exactly $10 of value and probably less.

Some of the cheaper computer keyboards actually had stuck keys out of the box.

And even the best of them had to be replaced within two years.

So – unless you have no other choice – buy a brand name keyboard.

It’s a pain to have to pay $50+ for a new keyboard but think of it as an investment and not an expense.

Plus, paying that little bit extra means you won’t have to replace it next year.

And high-quality keyboards also didn’t suffer from another annoying problem I’ll explain in the next section.

How long before the lettering wears off?

 I write hundreds of thousands of words per year.

In one really productive year, I put down almost 1 million words of content for clients.

And that means I have to replace keyboards way more often than your average home computer user.

It’s not because the keyboard develops a mechanical problem but rather because the lettering on the keyboards has been erased.

I literally type the letters clean off them.

With a cheaper keyboard ($10 – $20 range) this can happen in a matter of months, but usually no longer than one year.

But then a $10 keyboard is designed with a pretty short life expectancy in mind.

I have some brand-name keyboards that are over 10 years old and the lettering on the keys is still almost perfect. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to have keyboard lettering that simply didn’t fade over time?

Source: Logitech

Are backlit keyboards an answer?

This is just a quick aside for this article, but backlit keyboards appear to be an incredibly simple solution to a complex problem.

Now I don’t mean the typical gaming keyboard where the entire keyboard is illuminated with LED lights.

Instead, I mean something more like the Logitech K740 keyboard – each key is laser-etched and backlit

You can even manually adjust the brightness!

And the lettering on the keys technically can’t ever fade because the keys are etched and not just printed on.

A backlit keyboard is something I’m seriously considering for the home office here.

I’m curious to see how this type of keyboard fares under real pressure from a heavy frequent typist like me.

Wired vs. wireless keyboards

I just wanted to cover this point quickly because it’s kind of an obvious one.

Do wired keyboards last longer than their wireless equivalents?

In my experience, the actual keyboards themselves last just as long as each other.

Which makes sense because a wireless mechanical keyboard is made to the exact same standard as a wired one.

But the one area of weakness I found was the wireless transmitter.

Every single of these has eventually gone to electronics heaven on me, after causing me no end of headaches with typematic delays, freezes, automatically typing stuff on the screen.

But I cover that top in more detail in my articles on wired vs. wireless keyboards.

Soure: Post-Landfill Action Network

Planned obsolescence is a thing

In plain English, this means products can be designed to break quicker.

Companies manufacturing computer accessories figured something out back in the late 1990s.

And it was that if they could only manufacture products with a limited lifespan then computer users will have to replace them when they break.

This isn’t wild speculation either – I managed a computer repair workshop at the time.

And the levels of forced obsolescence we saw with things like DVD drives were shocking.

Basically, a whole range of products with a 12-month would last 13 – 15 months before breaking down.

That’s another reason why buying a slightly more expensive keyboard is one way to make it last longer.

Even the greediest of manufacturers make sure their mid to high-end products last beyond their warranty.

Wrapping things up

So as you can see how long a keyboard lasts depends on a number of factors.

From how often you use it, to not getting crud trapped under the keys to what type of keyboard you buy.

But here’s an inside tip – if you can find an IBM Model-M or Cherry MXP mechanical keyboard, these are basically bulletproof.

They’re reported to last pretty much forever.

But failing that, buy a high-quality Logitech mechanical keyboard if you want something that will last several years.

Should I buy a laptop or a tablet?

laptops and tablets

Computer technology moves so quickly that the lines between devices can start to blur. A perfect example of this is the rapid advances made in tablet computing power.

This has convinced some small business owners that they can run their entire business from a tablet….but how true is that?

Laptops are far better suited to environments where high levels of productivity are required, whereas tablets are better suited to web browsing, casual gaming and basic productivity tasks. Affordable tablets simply lack the processing power to make them a viable replacement for a mid-range laptop.

Here’s a bit of trivia for you – although people believe that Apple and others were the first to create a tablet, it was actually Alan Sugar that released the first consumer tablet – the PenPad – way back in 1993.

So…getting back to things – should you buy a laptop or a tablet?

Don’t go jumping on trends

There’s a kind of trend now around ditching the laptop and using tablets instead.

It’s like herd mentality kicks in.

Some social influencer or marketer said they run their entire business from a tablet and everyone jumps on board with the idea.

These are typically Apple users who’ve just dropped $1,200 on an iPad Pro.

But nobody stops to ask, “Hey…does this actually make sense?”

Can you run your entire business from a tablet instead of a laptop?

“Yes”, but only barely and it’s going to cost you a fortune.

Let’s look at why that’s the case and the pros and cons of each.

 LaptopsTablets
ProcessorBudget laptops use powerful desktop CPUSTablets use the same processors as smartphones
Operating SystemWindows/MacOS have access to unlimited applicationsLimited to what's available in the app store
InputKeyboard and mouse for maximum productivityTouchscreen interface better suited to entertainment
Battery lifeUp to 25 hoursLimited to 10 hours
StorageMultiple terabyte capacitiesMaximum of 1TB
PortabilityHeavy and requires accessoriesExtremely portable
Screen sizeMax size of 20-inchesMax size of 12-iches
CostWork laptops cost $500 - $700Premium laptops cost $800 - $1,200

How much processing power do they have?

Tablets lack the processing power to truly compete with laptops – they just can’t go toe to toe with each other.

So let’s work with some real-life examples.

Let’s compare a Samsung Galaxy tablet costing around $300 with a laptop that costs the same amount.

The Samsung will feature something like a Snapdragon 855 processor vs. a basic Intel i3 CPU in the entry level laptop.

The Intel i3 is designed for use in actual computers whereas the Snapdragon range of processors was designed for smartphones.

Is your smartphone faster than your laptop?

No.

Even if we scale this up and look at a high-end iPad Pro and its A12Z “Bionic” chip vs. an i7 laptop there’s no real difference.

The gap closes here when measuring basic processing power, but the i7 still outperforms Apple’s processor.

And it does that at a fraction of the cost.

Operating systems & limitations

Now, this is a really important point to cover.

If you’re using a tablet you have two choices of operating system (OS):

  • Android
  • iOS

Yes, you can get Windows 10 on a Microsoft Surface…except the Surface Pro can cost up to $2,000.

Which is what you find with most 2-in-1s.

And if you’re considering a Surface vs. a really nice laptop then you probably have more money than sense.

So…unless your business productivity can afford to be limited to whatever apps you can find in the “app store” then a tablet makes way more sense.

Even a shitty $100 laptop with Windows 7 allows you to use programs you simply can’t get for tablets.

That means laptops beat tablets when it comes to operating systems and overall application flexibility.

How easy is it to type on?

All laptops have a built-in keyboard and they always have.

Microsoft, Apple and Android tablets do not, unless you want to count on-screen keyboards.

And tapping away at a virtual keyboard all day isn’t an ergonomically friendly alternative i.e. you’re going to wind up with an injury.

Tablets have built-in touch screen functionality and they always have.

Most laptops do not – even though Microsoft tried to push this technology with Windows 8.

Remember Windows 8?

Remember how bad it was?

So the reality is that nobody really wanted touch-screen laptops.

So we need to break it down to the basics here with a question:

Can you get more work done with a multi-touch tablet screen or with a laptop with a keyboard and mouse?

You can answer that for yourself.

Laptops were designed as productivity tools.

Tablets were designed for entertainment.

P.S And yes, I’ve tried using a tablet with a Bluetooth keyboard. Not an enjoyable experience because you’re doing double duty between typing and then touching the screen.

How long does the battery last?

Companies manufacturing laptops and tablets always advertise the best possible battery life of their devices.

So they’ll say “Up to 10 hours of continuous use on one charge”.

Yup, if you have Wi Fi and Bluetooth disabled, your screen dimmed and you’re not playing games, watching a movie, or doing some video editing.

Because if you are then your battery will last something more like 4 – 5 hours.

Always reduce the claimed battery duration by at least 30% to get an idea of how long it will last under normal usage.

There are other factors to consider though.

The first is that tablets are specifically designed to be portable and the second is that the CPUs used in tablets are optimized for power usage.

So a typical tablet should last longer on a single charge than equivalent laptops.

But that’s not what happens in real life…despite what the advertising and fanboys say.

If you take some of the more recent Dell Latitude laptops – like the 9410 – they have a claimed battery life of 23 hours.

In real-life tests though that drops to just under 17 hours.

But that’s still 7 hours longer than any equivalent high-end tablet, including any Apple device.

Yet you’re told that a $1,200 tablet with a 10-hour battery is somehow exceptional?

Sounds like effective advertising to me.

How much storage space do you need?

There’s no real competition here so I’m not going to waste your time.

Tablets come with between 64GB and 1TB of solid-state storage.

And the 1TB model is going to cost you at least $1,500.

Even the cheapest laptop will come with hard drives varying in size from 512GB up to a 2TB (Terabytes).

So you get more storage space but at a fraction of the cost.

This one is a no-brainer, folks.

Does screen size matter?

The biggest tablet screen so far comes in at just over 12-inches.

The biggest laptop screen used date measured in at 20.1 inches, but they’re hard to find.

17-inch laptops are extremely common, and you can get up to 18-inches of screen real estate with some Alienware models.

But you’re not here to buy a gaming laptop.

There’s an upper limit on tablet screens in terms of the end-user.

What I mean is that 10-inch tablets are physically uncomfortable to hold in your hands for an hour.

So it’s unlikely that companies are going to start pushing out tablets with 14 and 17-inch screens.

Also, there’s a problem inherent to larger screens – the bigger the screen the faster your battery drains.

But if you’re looking for a truly huge screen then laptops are your only real choice.

How portable is it?

One of the biggest chores in the world is lugging a laptop around with you for work.

You have to pack the laptop itself, then a charger, your mouse, and maybe a separate webcam.

Tablets, on the other hand, are designed to be extremely portable.

There’s no need to take a ton of accessories with you, including a charge because you’re never too far away from a USB charging port these days.

So technically the only tablet “accessory” you need is the right USB cable for your device.

Tablets win in terms of portability, but only for light or short work stints e.g. a business meeting during lunch.

How much can you afford to spend?

Everyone reading this wants the best laptop or tablet that money can buy.

But that’s not always an option.

So you need to be brutally honest here about what you can really afford, and how much bang you can get for your buck.

A high-end tablet + pen will set you back at least $1,200.

A high-end laptop can cost upwards of $2,000.

But if we get our focus here back away from gaming laptops and premium-priced tablets and back to what you actually need the device for.

It’s for work.

Most likely some web browsing, answering emails, typing documents, sending invoices, etc.

All of that can be done on a $500 – $700 laptop.

A tablet with equivalent capabilities will cost $1,200 – $2,000.

Don’t let your vanity get the better of your financial common sense.

Wrapping it up

I have to admit that I’m not entirely unbiased here in the laptops/tablets debate.

But that’s down to watching people make silly claims about what you can and can’t do on a tablet.

That somehow some free app they found is better than Word or Photoshop.

I know people who are absolutely determined to convince themselves that tablets are the better option and they don’t want to hear any different.

And believe me, I’ve tested the whole laptop vs. tablet thing.

The end result is that my 10-inch tablet + keyboard combo is used for checking emails and web stats before I got to bed.

Whereas my laptop is used every single day.