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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.