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What are hybrid switches in gaming mice?

Logitech GImage: Dreamstime: Jair Fonseca

For a long time, the battle lines have been drawn around optical and mechanical switches in gaming mice buttons, with optical switches appearing the winner in the tussle.

But now a third category has entered the fray, which blurs the lines between the two switch types even more. So, what are hybrid switches? And how do they compare with the tried-and-true switches we’ve been using already?

Further reading: The best gaming mice

Optical, mechanical, and what?

Gamers that know their hardware will know that those tiny plates under the buttons where your fingers sit on a gaming mouse traditionally come in two flavors: the mechanical variety and optical variety.

Mechanical switches are old-school switches. They come in a myriad of different shapes, but the underlying principle of how they work is the same — your finger pushes down on a button which then makes contact with the switch, which then sends a signal of that click to your PC.

If you’ve ever used the SteelSeries Sensi Ten gaming mouse you’ll know the deep brain gamer appeal of mechanical switches. They provide a satisfying tactile feel that really gels with the gamer psyche.

They’re also very energy efficient. However, they’re also prone to double clicks, so they require a longer debounce time than optical switches, which slightly increases the time to actuation.

Also, the fact that the button is making physical contact with the switch in mechanical switches means it wears out over time.

A lot of these problems, including the actuation speed can be reduced by algorithms in mice with mechanical switches, but with the advent of optical switches most gaming mice manufacturers have simply started using these in their gaming mice.

Optical switches aren’t as tactile and clicky. They use light instead of force, so they also consume more power than mechanical switches. When you push down on the button, a beam of infra-red light is interrupted, which is how the switch knows to send a signal to your PC.

Logitech G

This mechanism results in a faster actuation speed — around 0.2ms compared to the 1ms or longer in mechanical switches. Optical switches aren’t prone to sending accidental signals, so they’re incredibly precise and reliable over their lifespan.

Speaking of which, their lifespan is longer than mechanical switches since there’s no contact being made with the buttons.

Some mice that use optical switches include, the Razer DeathAdder V3 Pro and Alienware Pro Wireless.

Hybrid switches utilize the best of both of these switch mechanisms, in that they include both mechanical and optical parts. But to what end? What kind of bewitchery is at work and how could it possibly benefit us gamers?

Why would you choose hybrid switches in a gaming mouse?

There’s no doubt that some of the best things in life are fusions of two or more things — peanut butter and jelly, chocolate and marshmallow (rocky road), mechanical and optical parts… you get the drift.

Basically, whoever invented hybrid switches solved a big conundrum in gaming mice. By including both parts, gamers get all of the clicky tactile feeling of mechanical switches but with the quicker actuation speed and reliability of optical switches. These switches are also more power efficient than optical switches.

Logitech G’s Lightforce Hybrid switches are a good example. In these switches a button comes in contact with traditional galvanic microswitch parts including a membrane and spring. These parts then disrupt a light signal which in turn tells your PC when you’ve clicked.

Further reading: Does lift-off distance matter in a gaming mouse?

Logitech G has very smartly made it possible to toggle between hybrid mode and optical mode in the Logitech G Hub software app. The optical mode lets you just use the switches’ optical technology. This mode still has a slight latency advantage over the switch in hybrid mode, so gamers looking for the fastest possible button speed still have that option.

But if you can do with just a tad higher latency than you get in the optical mode, the clicky feeling you get with the hybrid mode in mice like the Logitech G Pro X Superlight 2, can be lots of fun, and well worth giving a go. So, why not give it a try in your next gaming session?

Based in Australia, Dominic Bayley is a hardcore tech enthusiast. His PCWorld focus is on PC gaming hardware: laptops, mice, headsets and keyboards.

Recent stories by Dominic Bayley:

Asus ROG Keris II Ace review: Near perfection in an esports mouseDoes lift-off distance matter in a gaming mouse?Best gaming headsets 2024: Reviews and buying advice

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