Mechanical keyboards are popular with gamers because they provide tactile feedback and tend be faster than other types of keyboards. So it’s no surprise that most desktop keyboards designed for gamers feature mechanical key switches. But it’s less common to find laptops with mechanical keys because they tend to take up more physical space, making them hard to fit into notebooks at a time when PC makers are largely focused on making mobile computers thinner and lighter.

Enter the new Alienware m15 R4 and Alienware m17 R4 gaming laptops from Dell. They’re the first to be available with an option for  new “ultra low-profile” key switches designed with German key switch maker Cherry MX.

While traditional MX switches measure 18.5mm and low-profile switches are 11.9mm, these new ultra-low profile switches are just 3.5mm tall, allowing them to fit into more compact notebooks that measure less than 0.8 inches thick.

According to Dell and Cherry MX, the new switches features a design “inspired by the upward-opening gull-wing doors of the iconic DeLorean sports car,” which seems like an odd source of inspiration. But the switches replace the “traditional housing and plunger components” with a two-piece mechanical keycap mount featuring a spring and stainless steel components. Cherry MX says it should deliver 1.8mm of key travel, responsive, tactile feedback and precise actuation.

Customers will have to pay a hefty premium to get these switches though – Dell says they’re available as $150 add-on over the price of the Alienware m15 and m17 laptops with per-key RGB lighting.

Both laptops are available with up to an Intel COre i9-10980HK processor and up to NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 graphics. The 15.6 inch model has a starting weight of 4.65 pounds and measures 14.2″ x 10.9″ x 0.8″ while 17 inch models are 15.7″ x 11.6″ x 0.9″ and have a starting weight of 5.5 pounds.

Dell says opting for the new Cherry ultra-low-profile key switches has no affect on the laptops’ dimensions.

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10 replies on “Dell’s new Alienware gaming laptops are first with Cherry MX ultra-low profile mechanical keys”

  1. These laptops might be the first with “Cherry MX” switches, but they are most certainly not the the first mechanical keyboard gaming laptops. Gigabyte’s Aorus laptops also have mechanical switches, ones made by a Cherry competitor.

  2. Thanks for writing about this Brad, I love mechanical keyboard tech.

    Looking at the animation of how these switches function, I have 2 specific complaints about them. It looks like the switch closes the circuit based on direct force applied from the key-press. When you push down, that downward force will push two metal contacts directly using your force.

    Do a Google search for “Cherry MX brown animation”, and you’ll see that most mechanical key switches function by having one of the metal contacts act as a spring, and when you push the key, it simply moves out of the way from the sprung metal, and it’s own force is used to make contact.

    I think this will result in faster wear and tear than a standard mechanical switch. The metal on the contacts is going to experience far more wear. But having said that, I don’t think they could avoid this in such a small package.

    My other complaint (again, based on perception alone) is that most Mechanical key switches actuate at some point during the key travel, but NOT at the bottom-out.

    Most mechanical keyboard enthusiasts agree that finger fatigue from cheap rubber-dome keyboards comes from the fact that every key press requires you to “bottom-out” the key, where as a Mechanical keyboard allows you to avoid bottom-out when you’re accustomed to typing on them.

    I’m not personally sold on this idea of key switch. Seems like it has none of the benefits of mechanical keyboards. We’ll have to see some reviews.

    1. It looks damn interesting. I’d love to hear reviews, and there is still potential for changes in materials, which could make them even more expensive but fix some of those concerns.

  3. As an automotive engineer I don’t believe I have ever seen a Liliputing article that was in any way related to my field of employment. However, the German automotive supplier I work for, ZF Friedrichshafen, bought Cherry in 2008. So, even though it has nothing to do with the work I do, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to say that in some very small way a Liliputing article had something to do with my employment! Now if only I could get one of these laptops internally at cost, one can dream right?
    As always, keep up the great reporting Brad!

  4. All keyboards are mechanical, unless they’re touch sensitive instead of displacement sensitive.
    We really need to collectively assert that what the hype is all about is modular-switch keyboards (which these are not) but haha yeah like that’s ever going to happen.
    I’m sure they’re the perfectly fine, potentially outstanding even, they’re just exactly as mechanical as more conventional scissor switches.

    1. Is this going to be another pointless debate about words, instead of the actual things that the words refer to?

      “Non-mechanical” switches are those that use rubber (or a similar material) membranes for the tension of the key.

      Whereas “mechanical” switches are those that use no membrane, only metal springs.

      Strictly speaking the nomenclature is inaccurate, but the differene between the two categories is not ambiguous.

      1. I once bought a keyboard because it said “mechanical keyboard” on the box. It self-identifies as “mechanical keyboard” to my computer. I then discovered it was actually rubber dome.
        I kept using it because it was cheap and basically okay for video games but I still felt bad about getting duped like that.

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