Cherry, the original mechanical keyboard maker, continues to tap the mechanical keyboard community for new product ideas. Its new Cherry MX Black Clear-Top mechanical switch is a nod to enthusiasts who want to turn their clacker into a vintage peripheral keyboard with ultra-smooth typing.
Before Cherry announced plans on Thursday to release the MX Black Clear-Top, the switch was known to hobbyists as the Nixie Switch. Cherry converted in the 1980s to German office machine maker Nixdorf Computer AG. The German key maker was commissioned to create a version of the MX Black Linear Key with a “milky” top housing, an actuation force of 63.5g instead of 60g, and a “relatively rare at-the-time diode solution built into the switch for n-key rollover.” Cherry’s announcement explained.
The linear switch ended up being used primarily on Nixdorf’s CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys aimed at terminals, servers, and small computers.
However, Siemens’ acquisition of Nixdorf in 1990 essentially meant the end of production of the black-and-white consoles and switches it lived in.
It’s rare to find
This has made the Nixie key so rare for keyboard users that you need to get your hands on one of the old peripheral keyboards to find it. Views for keyboard enthusiasts have gotten a lot of attention since they’ve become very hard to find (just look at this forum post on keyboard enthusiast Geekhack with over 5,200 reads).
As such, sellers tend to charge a pretty penny. Redditors have pointed out that Nixie keys are between $3 and $5 each, and in 2018, we saw someone trying to sell them for €7.6 each. For comparison, you can buy a Cherry MX Black switch for $0.69 each now.
What distinguishes this key?
But what’s so cool about typing with that switch? Formerly known as Nixie, the switch is similar to the MX Black Switch but with heavier actuation force requirements and a more eye-catching appearance. Linear keys have 4mm of travel and 2mm of pre-travel; However, the MX Black Clear-Top keys require more force to start pressing (40g vs. 30g for the MX Black keys).
As with many mechanical switches, the craze relies on impressively smooth travel and what Cherry described as “decent acoustics.”
Switch reviewer ThereminGoat described the Nixie switch as “perfectly” smoother than “most” Cherry switches.
They also said that the switch makes a “strong, silent, and deep noise; while the outside noise is a little thinner and shifts toward a louder one.” Curious ears can check out our Chyrosran22 review of Nixdorf CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys on YouTube (among others) to hear more.
With such a semi-legendary reputation, you might be wondering why Cherry decided to rename Nixie to a name with much less imagination.
Cherry said it has renamed the Nixie Switch to reflect its “improvements”. The switch looks like it used to be, but Cherry will sell it with a Krytox GLP 205 Grade 0 Grease inside for “lower friction running with improved acoustics without negatively affecting the writing feel” or durability claims. This is a popular lubricant, especially for linear switches such as the MX Black Clear-Top.
This might be a wise investment, as ThereminGoat said the Nixies were “not without a scratch,” and not impressively smooth compared to some current switches, which of course include a lot more Cherry-branded options.
For those who prefer a different type of lubrication or do it themselves, Cherry is also releasing a lube-free version of the MX Black Clear-Top.
Additionally, some (though not Cherry) would say that the switch’s descriptive name is more in line with how other Cherry switches are named (MX Black, MX Red, MX Brown, etc.).
The new name also hints at the adapter’s connection to the MX Black.
Overall, Cherry claims that the switch improves on ’80s design because it’s made with modern manufacturing techniques, allowing for a 50 million operating guarantee. Needless to say, keys harvested from a decades-old keyboard found in a thrift store or on eBay don’t have similar durability claims.
Cherry said the MX Black Clear-Top mechanical switches will be available from “all official distributors worldwide” at the beginning of 2023.
Switch is Cherry’s second release recently inspired by community concerns. Last month, it announced the Cherry MX Ergo Clear, based on a so-called Frankenswitch (a mechanical switch that combines parts from different switches) a design that an enthusiast shared on a forum in 2011.
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