Cherry, the original manufacturer of mechanical switches, continues to reach out to the mechanical keyboard community for new product ideas. Its new mechanical switch, the Cherry MX Black Clear-Top, is a nod to enthusiasts who would like to transform their modern clacker for an old-school terminal keyboard with extra-smooth keystroke.
The roots of the 80s
Prior to Cherry’s announcement on Thursday of plans to release the MX Black Clear-Top, the Switch was known to enthusiasts as the Nixie Switch. Cherry made the switch in the 1980s for German office machine manufacturer Nixdorf Computer AG. The German switch maker was tasked with creating a version of its MX Black linear switch with a “milky” top case, an actuation force of 63.5g instead of 60g, and “the relatively rare solution to the days of having a diode built into the switch”. for n-key rollover,” Cherry’s announcement explained.
The linear switch ended up being used primarily in Nixdorf’s CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys keyboards for terminals, servers, and minicomputers.
However, Siemens’ acquisition of Nixdorf in 1990 essentially meant the end of production of the black-and-white keyboards and switches that lived there.
Rare to find
This has made the Nixie Switch quite rare for keyboard tinkerers, as you have to get your hands on one of those old terminal keyboards to find them. Sightings of keyboards with the switches have been of great interest since they became so hard to find (just look at this forum post on mechanical keyboard enthusiast site Geekhack with over 5,200 reads).
As such, resellers tend to charge a pretty penny. Redditors reported that Nixie Switches cost between $3 and $5 each, and in 2018 we even saw someone attempt to sell them for $7.6 each. For comparison, you can buy a Cherry MX Black switch for $0.69 each right now.
What’s so special about this switch?
But what’s so great about typing with this switch? The switch formerly known as Nixie resembles an MX Black switch but with a heavier actuation force requirement and a more striking appearance. The linear switches each have 4mm of travel and 2mm of pre-travel; however, the MX Black Clear-Top switches require more force to begin depressing (40g versus 30g for the MX Black switches).
As with many mechanical switches, the Obsession is based on admirable smooth travel and what Cherry described as “decent acoustics”.
Switch reviewer ThereminGoat described the Nixie Switch as “absolutely” smoother than “most” Cherry switches.
They also said that the switch has a “solid, thumping and deep underfloor noise; while the underfloor noise is slightly thinner and shifted towards a higher pitched sound”. Curious ears can check out Chyrosran22’s review of the Nixdorf CT06-CT07/2 M softkeys on YouTube (among other places) for more.
With an almost mythical reputation like that, you might be wondering why Cherry decided to rebrand the Nixie to one with far less imagination.
Cherry said it renamed the Nixie Switch to reflect the “improvements” it made. The switch looks like it did before, but Cherry will sell it with Krytox GLP 205 Grade 0 grease inside for “low-friction actuation with optimized acoustics without negatively affecting keystroke feel” or sustainability claims. It is a popular lubricant, especially for linear switches like the MX Black Clear-Top.
This may be a wise investment, as ThereminGoat said the Nixies were “not zero-free” and not as smooth as some of the current switches, which of course include a lot more than Cherry-branded options.
For those who prefer another type of lubrication or to do it themselves, Cherry also offers a non-lube version of the MX Black Clear-Top.
Also, some (but not Cherry) might say that the switch’s descriptive name is more in line with how Cherry’s other switches are named (MX Black, MX Red, MX Brown, etc.).
The new name also alludes to the Switch’s connection to the MX Black.
Overall, Cherry says the switch improves on the 80s design because it’s made with modern manufacturing techniques, allowing for a 50 million actuation warranty. Needless to say, switches harvested from a decades-old keyboard you found at a thrift store or on eBay have no comparable durability claims.
Cherry said the MX Black Clear-Top mechanical switches will be available from “all official distributors worldwide” in early 2023.
The Switch is Cherry’s second release that has recently been inspired by community interests. Last month, it announced the Cherry MX Ergo Clear, based on a so-called Frankenswitch (a mechanical switch that combines parts from different switches) shared by an enthusiast in a forum post in 2011.
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