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Cherry’s new mechanical switch hails from ’80s terminal keyboards

Cherry MX Black Clear-Top mechanical switch in a keyboard

Cherry, the original mechanical switch maker, is continuing to tap 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 love to turn in their modern-day clacker for an old-school terminal keyboard with extra-smooth typing.

’80s roots

Before Cherry’s Thursday announcement of plans to release the MX Black Clear-Top, the switch was known to hobbyists as the Nixie switch. Cherry made the switch in the 1980s for German office machine-maker Nixdorf Computer AG. The German switch maker was tasked with creating a version of its linear MX Black switch with “milky” upper housing, a 63.5 g actuation force rather than 60 g, and “the relatively rare solution at the time of having a diode integrated 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 targeted at terminals, servers, and minicomputers.

Nixdorf's CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys keyboard as shown in a review by YouTuber Chyrosran22.
Enlarge / Nixdorf’s CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys keyboard as shown in a review by YouTuber Chyrosran22.

Siemens’ acquisition of Nixdorf in 1990, however, essentially meant the end of production of the keyboards and the black-and-white switches that lived within them.

Rare to find

That has made the Nixie switch quite the rarity for keyboard DIYers, as you need to get your hands on one of those old terminal keyboards in order to find them. Sightings of keyboards with the switches have garnered wide interest since they became so hard to find (just look at this forum post on mechanical keyboard enthusiast site Geekhack with more than 5,200 reads).

As such, resellers tend to charge a pretty penny. Redditors pointed to Nixie switches going for $3 to $5 each, and in 2018, we even saw someone attempt to sell them for 7.6 euro each. For comparison, you can buy a Cherry MX Black switch for $0.69 each right now.

Cherry's new switch has 5 pins.

Cherry’s new switch has 5 pins.

What’s so special about this switch?

But what’s so great about typing with this switch? The switch formerly known as Nixie is like an MX Black switch but with a heavier actuation force requirement and a more striking appearance. The linear switches each have 4 mm of travel and 2 mm of pre-travel; however, the MX Black Clear-Top switches require more force to start depressing (40 g versus 30 g for MX Black switches).

Like with many mechanical switches, obsession is based on reportedly 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 the switch makes a “solid, muted, and deep bottoming out noise; whereas, the topping out noise is ever so slightly thinner and shifted toward a higher pitched sound.” Curious ears can check out Chyrosran22’s review of the Nixdorf CT06-CT07/2 M Softkeys on YouTube (among others) to hear more.

With a nearly mythical reputation like that, you might wonder why Cherry decided to rebrand the Nixie to a name with much less imagination.

Cherry said it renamed the Nixie switch to reflect “enhancements” it made. The switch looks like it used to, but Cherry will sell it with Krytox GLP 205 Grade 0 Grease inside for “lower-friction actuation with optimized acoustics without negatively affecting the typing feel” or durability claims. This a popular lubricant, especially for linear switches like the MX Black Clear-Top.

The MX Black Clear-Top has gold crosspoint contacts and a stainless-steel spring, like Cherry's other switches.

The MX Black Clear-Top has gold crosspoint contacts and a stainless-steel spring, like Cherry’s other switches.

This may be a wise investment, as ThereminGoat said the Nixies were “not free from scratch,” and not as impressively smooth compared to some of today’s switches, which, of course, include much more than Cherry brand options.

For those who prefer a different type of lubrication or to do it themselves, Cherry is also releasing a lube-free version of the MX Black Clear-Top.

Additionally, some (although not Cherry) might say the switch’s descriptive name falls more in line with how Cherry’s other switches are named (MX Black, MX Red, MX Brown, et cetera).

The new name also hints at the switch’s connection to the MX Black.

Overall, Cherry claims the switch improves on the ’80s design because it’s made with modern manufacturing techniques, enabling a 50 million actuation warranty. It goes without saying that switches harvested from a decades-old keyboard you found at a thrift store or on eBay do not have comparable durability claims.

There's no word of any prebuilt keyboards that will have the switches.

There’s no word of any prebuilt keyboards that will have the switches.

Cherry said MX Black Clear-Top mechanical switches will be available from “all official distributors worldwide” at the start of 2023.

The switch is the second release from Cherry that was recently 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) design shared by an enthusiast in a forum post in 2011.

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