Most old PC technology is gone and forgotten when the next innovation hits -- except, perhaps, for retro nostalgia's sake -- but that's not the case when it comes to the mechanical keyboard. The satisfying "clunk" you got from typing on the early computer keyboards hasn't been fully replicated in the ensuing decades, especially when it comes to the space-constrained keyboards on laptops.
Mechanical keyboards have retained a niche appeal with some users as a desktop accessory, and laptop makers have tried to incorporate mechanical keyboards on high-end systems over the past few years. The first ones, not surprisingly, looked like desktop keyboards jammed into a notebook chassis (see here and here), cutting into the portability of such systems. More recently, Razer and CyberPowerPC have introduced gaming laptops with mechanical keyboards with flatter keys that resemble a typical laptop keyboard.
With today's announcement of a mechanical keyboard option for its m15 R4 and m17 R4 gaming laptops, Alienware (Dell's gaming PC brand) joins the hunt for a laptop keyboard that seamlessly blends into the system's aesthetic while still providing the tactile clicking feedback those first PC keyboards provided. It's the result of a three-year development process that Alienware and partner Cherry MX carried out.
Cherry MX is known as one of the leading providers of mechanical keyboards and the underlying switches that make them possible. While there have been laptops that have used Cherry MX switches in the past for their keyboards, this collaboration goes far beyond such novelties, with Alienware claiming that the pair created over 160 prototypes to whittle down the profile of the keys to what will now be offered as an option on the m15 and m17.
The solution they came up with differs from Razer's "optical" keyboard on its Blade laptops, providing slightly extra travel (1.8mm vs 1.7mm) while claiming the keys have been tested for 15 million keystrokes for each key. The design differences are better shown in pictures (below) than through a written description:
We'll have to see how the design difference plays out in the actual experience of end users, but in the meantime, Alienware has provided an audio sample of the new keyboard in use on its Twitter account. Alienware says the mechanical keyboard was designed not to impact the dimensions of the m15/m17, but it does impact the price tag. The mechanical keyboard option will set you back $150 on top of systems that start at $1,800 and $1,900, respectively.