An Intro to Mechanical Keyboards

What is a “mechanical” keyboard and what is different about it that sets it apart from the $10 keyboard that you’ve been using? How are different mechanical keyboards different? Should you buy one? Great questions, with somewhat tricky answers.

What makes a keyboard “mechanical”?

Most keyboards you encounter nowadays are rubber-dome or membrane keyboards. The membrane is underneath each key, so when you press the key down, the membrane depresses and makes contact with another membrane on the base of the keyboard. When these membranes contact, the keyboard gets a signal that a key has been pressed and sends that information to the computer.

Now, the difference between that and a mechanical keyboard, is that instead of a membrane being depressed, a key on a mechanical keyboard depresses a physical switch, and when that switch is pressed, a signal gets sent to the computer.

The main difference between these types of keyboards, as you can tell, is the physical switch being depressed vs. the membranes contacting each other that tells the computer when a key has been pressed.

For the most part, nearly all rubber-dome keyboards feel the same, and give little tactile feedback, that is, you don’t know how exactly how hard you have to press a key for it to register on your computer. For mechanical keyboards, there are different mechanical key switches that all feel different, and give different levels of tactile feedback. When you feel the tactile feedback on a mechanical keyboard, you know you’ve registered a keypress on the computer.

Cherry MX mechanical switches:

Nearly all mechanical keyboards use switches made by Cherry, and they are typically denoted by the color of the switch. The most common switches are Blue, Green, Brown, Clear, Black, and Red. Switches have different levels of force, measured in grams (g), needed to depress the key, as well as different levels of tactile feedback that they give. Some switches give strong tactile and audible feedback for keypresses, while others give almost none unless the key is pressed all the way in.

Cherry MX Blue (Tactile Click)Cherry MX Blue Switches

If you’re an oldschool computer user, MX Blue switches may remind you of the clicky keyboards from the 1980’s. The blue switch has both strong tactile feedback and a loud “click” when you activate the key, making it a quite popular choice for typists, however, the loud clickiness makes it somewhat of a nuisance in workplaces with shared spaces. It has an actuation force of 50g, making it somewhat of a stiff switch.

Cherry MX Green (Tactile Click)Cherry MX Green Switches

Green switches are very similar to Blue switches, but have a much higher actuation force, sitting at 70g. This makes them much stiffer than blue switches. Greens still have the loud click and tactile feedback similar to blues.


Cherry MX Brown (Tactile Bump)Cherry MX Brown Switches

The MX Brown switches have a softer tactile feedback than MX Blue switches, and no loud click. With the tactile feedback and no loud click, they are often considered a middleground between the Blue switches and the Black switches, and provide a option for both typing and gaming. Brown switches have an actuation force of 45g, making them one of the lighter switches.

Cherry MX Clear (Tactile Bump)Cherry MX Clear Switches

MX Clear switches are similar to Brown switches, with a stronger actuation force (65g) and a slightly stronger tactile click. Again, these are a good middle ground switches for both gaming and typing, and are a good choice if you like a stiffer key.



Cherry MX Black (Linear)Cherry MX Black Switches

A big difference between tactile switches mentioned above and linear switches such as the Black and Red switches is that with linear switches, there is no tactile feedback until the key is pressed all the way down (called “bottoming out”). For all other switches so far, you have tactile feedback telling you when your keypress is registered on the computer. With Black and Red switches however, the keypress can register without any tactile feedback.
Black switches have a high actuation force of 60g, making stray keypresses less likely. Black switches are commonly used by gamers who need accurate keypresses.

Cherry MX Red (Linear)Cherry MX Red Switches

MX Red switches are very similar to Black switches, but with a lower actuation force, sitting at 45g. These switches are smooth all the way with no tactile bump or click, other than when it bottoms out. These switches are commonly used by gamers who need fast, rapid keypresses.


Should you switch to a mechanical keyboard?

Mechanical keyboards are quality products that last longer than normal membrane or rubber-dome keyboards, and the build quality is reflected in the price. Many keyboards will run you upwards of $100, but for most people, that price is well justified. So, should you get one? The answer to that question really depends on your personal preference and personal experience. Reading about all these different switches really means nothing until you try typing on a mechanical keyboard. There is a huge difference between looking at moving pictures about what the switches do and actually feeling what it’s like to type or game on one. The bottom line is, go somewhere you can try out different keyboards with different switches, and see which one you like. Everybody’s preferences are different when it comes to typing, and certain keyboards may fit yours better than others.

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Step-by-step walkthrough of downloading Office 365 Education

Microsoft Office is a useful suite of productivity applications that includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, and OneNote. Microsoft provides a no-cost subscription to college students, faculty, and staff to install these programs on up to 5 devices. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to get your free access to Microsoft Office 365:

  1. Navigate to the UMass IT website.
  2. Click on Software.
    UMass IT Website
  3. Scroll down, and in the Microsoft table, click on Microsoft Office 365 Education
    UMass IT Website - Microsoft Table
  4. A. If you are a student, click on the Microsoft Office 365 web site under the student section.
    UMass IT Website - Student 365 Link
    1.  If you are a faculty or staff member, click on the Microsoft Office 365 web site under the faculty and staff section.
      UMass IT Website - Faculty 365 Link
  5. Once on the landing page for Office 365, fill in your UMass email address and click Get started.
    Office 365 Education Landing Page
  6. A. If you are a student, click on I’m a Student
    B. Click on I’m a Teacher if you are either a faculty or staff member. The I’m a Teacher option will work if you are either a faculty or staff member.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Student or Teacher
  7. Check your UMass email for the confirmation email and click the Yes, that’s me link.
    Microsoft Office 365 Email Confirmation
  8. Create your account using your personal information.Microsoft Office 365 Education - Create Account
  9. Click Skip on the invitation page.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Invite Page
  10. Download your software by clicking the Install now button! If you don’t want anything in your web browser changed, make sure to uncheck the two boxes above the Install now button.
    Microsoft Office 365 Education - Download Software
    A. If you’re on Windows, this will download the installer for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, Access, Publisher, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business.
    B. If you’re on OS X, it will download the installer for Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and OneNote.
    With the Office 365 subscription, you will also have access to the Office Online suite of productivity software, all of which is listed below the install button.
  11. Once the installer is downloaded, run the installer.
  12. When the software is installed, you will be able to open any Office Suite program and use it as normal.
    Note: it may prompt you to sign in. If it does, be sure to use the same email address and password that you used when you signed up for Office 365 at the beginning of this walkthrough.
  13. You’re done! Enjoy Office 365 for the duration of your time at UMass Amherst!
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Stream services for TV and Movies

From cable-cutters to college students, nearly everybody is interested in video streaming services. You may be tempted to use torrenting software to get your TV shows and movies, but this software is notorious for landing people with copyright violation notices and occasionally some hefty fines. There are many legal alternatives to torrenting software, and I will discuss them here.

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Add-Drop Walkthrough

So as the new semester rolls around, as does add-drop period. If you don’t know what this is, it is the time during the first couple of weeks in which you are free to add or drop a class without having to go through the Registrar’s office: it can all be done through Spire!

Operating System

Building Your Rig 101: Motherboards

Welcome back! This week I will be covering motherboards, and what you should be looking for when you are deciding on which one to buy for your build.


Building Your Rig 101: CPUs

Welcome back! For those of you who are first time readers, this is a series dedicated to covering the different aspects related to building your own computer. This week I will be going over CPUs, and discussing what you should have in mind when choosing which to get.


Building Your Rig 101: Video Cards

If you are planning on building your own computer, whether it is for a high end workstation, or a custom gaming rig you will definitely be looking at different video cards. This post will cover the overwhelming variety of different video cards, and hopefully answer some questions that you might have.