As far as I'm concerned, the era of membrane keyboards ended the very first time my fingers groped a mechanical deck. Nevertheless, Cherry, arguably the biggest name in mechanical switches, wants to put another nail in the coffin of rubber dome planks by launching a new Viola mechanical switch for the value segment.
Cherry is a major player in the key switch market, with its MX variants (Blue, Red, Brown, Black, Speed, and so forth) found on many of the best gaming keyboards, like the Corsair K95 RGB Platinum and HyperX Alloy Elite RGB. Technically, keyboards built around the Viola switch would not compete with those and other MX models, but it's too early to tell how it will all play out.
The Viola is a brand new switch, built different from any of the MX switches. It employs a coil spring and V-shape bronze contact system, and comes housed in a plastic polymer reinforced with eight pillars to prevent wobbling. Cherry is also using an industry standard cross-stem design, so the switch is compatible with a wide range of keycaps, and a POM socket (no soldering needed, and is hot swappable). In addition, keyboard makers have to option of using RGB LEDs with these.
In short, it's a rather simple design with a new contact system. It's also unique in that it uses a "CrossLinear" system, where the actuation force is 45cN for the first 2mm of key travel (Cherry calls this "pretravel"), then ramps up to 75cN as it bottoms out at 4mm. You can compare those details to other switches in our mechanical key switch guide (opens in new tab).
"The resulting characteristic curve enables Cherry Viola to offer ergonomic overtravel and fast reset. Also, Cherry specially designed the shifting characteristics to meet the requirements of the target consumers," Cherry explains. ("Ergonomic overtravel" is the jargony way of saying that the key press registers before completely bottoming out, and feels nice under your finger).
What I'm curious about is what kind of cost savings Viola will actually enable for Cherry, and for PC gamers buying mechanical keyboards. Budget models often use similar switches to Cherry's from lesser-known brands, like Kailh. Name brand mechanical keyboards that use Cherry MX switches can be expensive, but there are also cheaper options out there. For example, This Redragon K551 with Cherry MX Blue switches is $38.99 on Amazon (opens in new tab). Even G.Skill's Ripjaws KM570 with Cherry MX Red switches can be found for $59.99 (also on Amazon) (opens in new tab).
If expanding the field to include non-Cherry mechanical switches, prices drop even lower. That means these Viola switches have their work cut out for them—they'll need to both feel good when typing, and find their way to affordable planks.
Keyboards sporting Viola switches are expected to be out sometime this year.