One of the most alluring features of a mechanical keyboard is the freedom to replace the switch with another one. You can just remove the currently connected switch and place a new one in order to change the way you feel while using it or replace a switch that wasn’t working quite well in the first place. While many mechanical keyboards are hot-swappable, there are many others that come with a soldered PCB. However, what difference does that make?
To put it simply: not all mechanical keyboards are hot-swappable as there are many which have their switches soldered to the PCB. To learn more, keep reading!
What is a soldered PCB mechanical keyboard?
In a mechanical keyboard, every switch is independently connected to the circuit through a connection point. In these types of keyboards, the switches are soldered onto the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) to make the connection. Due to soldering, you cannot just pull out the switch and connect another one. You have to first de-solder the current one to remove it and solder a new one in its place.
So, practically speaking, unless you really want to risk damaging your keyboard, de-soldering switches from PCB is not the smartest idea. The main benefit of a soldered keyboard over a hot-swappable keyboard is the stability of the switch. In essence, since the switch is soldered, it’ll retain its stability for a longer period. Also, the connection is more firm than the hot-swappable switches, as there are lesser chances of accidental disconnections.
What is a hot-swappable mechanical keyboard?
Unlike soldered mechanical keyboards, there are circular sockets placed above the PCB in which the switch can be easily inserted and pulled out. There are pins beneath the switch that makes the connection to the circuit through these sockets. It is highly convenient for users who want to use their keyboards differently for different objectives, e.g., for playing games, they can install a particular kind of switch, while for work, they can use a different type of switch.
There are some keyboards that support 3-pin switches, while some support 5-pin switches; however, it is easy to modify a 5-pin switch to a 3-pin switch, so in a way, we can say that they are universal.
Why should you get a hot-swappable keyboard?
It has many benefits, and some of them are mentioned below:
- Customizable user experience
- Ability to just replace the faulty key/switch instead of changing the whole keyboard
- No technical expertise (opening keyboard, de-solder, re-solder) is required to change switches
- You can always try out new switches or move back to your previous ones whenever you feel like it
- Easier to lube
How can I know if the keyboard is hot-swappable?
First of all, try to sneak under the keycaps. If certain parts of the circuit board are visible, you will be able to identify the sockets or the soldered connection. If you are not able to view the circuit board, gently try to pull out the switch.
Don’t attempt to pull out forcefully, a hot-swappable switch will easily come out on a gentle pull with a keycap puller. It’s a bit difficult to remove with hands. Another option is to look up the specific keyboard and check the description provided by the manufacturer. Most major brand keyboards like ones from Corsair, Logitech, and Razor are not hot-swappable.
Can you put mechanical keycaps on a membrane keyboard?
The keycaps for the membrane keyboard and mechanical keyboard are different at the base. The clips below the mechanical keyboard are in a ‘plus’ shape to fit perfectly over the switch. The keycaps for membrane keyboards are not universal, as they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. There are usually 3 types of clips (pillar, x-leg, and scissors). So, it is not possible to put mechanical keycaps on the membrane keyboard or vice versa.
Can You Convert a soldered Keyboard Into a Hot-swappable keyboard?
Yes, you can convert your soldered PCB keyboard into a hot-swappable one. It is a tedious, one-time process that requires a bit of grunt work. You’ll need to de-solder every switch and then reconnect it back to the PCB. But, after you are done, you will technically have a hot-swappable keyboard.
Hot-swappable keyboards are great if you are into modifying your keyboards to make the most out of them or just want to try out new switches. However, if you are a casual user who can’t be bothered, getting a PCB soldered mechanical keyboard is a-okay too! Usually, your switch preference won’t change for a really long time.
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I work from home. To do the best possible job I need the right accessories - the right desk, the right chair, the right keyboard, the right monitor, etc. When I work I want to feel comfortable. I review everything that's related to home desk setup - focusing on Monitors & Keyboards.