Mechanical keyboards are highly popular among gamers, avid coders, and other computer users who tend to spend hours and hours on their computers. The best part of mechanical keyboards is the ability to change the switches as per the nature of individual usage and preference. Mechanical keyboards are available in two types of PCB (Printed Circuit Board) options:
- Soldered Switches: To change switches in these types of PCBs, you have to desolder the existing switch and solder the new one which you want to use.
- Hot-Swappable Switches: Think of it as a plug-and-play switch option, where you simply pull out the switch using a puller and insert another switch with a slight press.
The PCB used in the keyboard with hot-swappable feature contains sockets with 3 holes or 5 holes where the pins of the switch are inserted for connectivity. The foremost benefit of a hot-swappable keyboard is it saves time and money. Users can simply try out various types of switches to find out which complements best to their usage.
Besides just versatility, you’ll also gain a lot more longevity out of your keyboard since you can hot-swap your switches if they are ever broken or malfunctioned.
What Does It Mean To Own a Hot-Swappable Keyboard?
A hot-swappable keyboard is one where you be able to change switches on your mechanical keyboard. Why would you want that? You’ll be able to switch between linear, tactile, and clicky keys by just ordering new switches instead of getting a new keyboard altogether. If you own multiple switches, it’s like owning multiple keyboards. It’s entirely different to write / code /play games on different switches. So, it’s worth a try!
Another reason is keycaps. While this is visual, it still is quite important. If you work on your computer on a daily basis, of course, it’s important that you like your keyboard. It makes your work and life a bit more enjoyable. You can get pink, white, black, and whatever color keycaps for your keyboard. The possibilities are limitless. You can design your keyboard the way you want it, whether padded keycaps, a different font or a unique legend too.
Hot Swappable Switches – 3 Pins vs. 5 Pins
The sockets in the PCBs enabled with the hot-swappable feature come either in 3-pin or 5-pin design, and accordingly, the switches are available in 3-pins as well as 5-pins.
The structure of the switches is almost the same with a thick central plastic pin, also known as the dome, and 2 metallic pins. The central dome helps the switch firmly fit into the socket and keeps the switch stable. In a 5-pin switch, there are two additional plastic pins on two opposite ends to provide additional stability to the switch.
A 3-pin switch can be placed directly in the socket made for a 5-pin switch, but a 5-pin switch cannot be placed in a 3-pin socket directly. Though there is a quick way to convert a 5-pin switch to a 3-pin switch by simply removing the 2 additional plastic pins. The plastic pins can be clipped using a sharp cutter so that there is no stump left.
How to Swap the Keyboard Switches?
To make full use of a mechanical keyboard, one should know how to pull out the keyboard switches and swap them with another one. To do it successfully, we need the following tools:
- Keycap puller
- Switch puller
Follow these steps:
- Take a picture of the keyboard before removing the keycaps. So that you can refer to it while assembling it.
- Remove the keycap using the keycap puller: Place the puller appropriately towards the edges of the keycap and pull the keycap out gently.
- After removing the keycap, you will be able to see the switch. Hook the switch puller underneath the switch and press the 2 ends of the puller together to release the switch tabs. Once you are sure, the tabs are properly pressed, pull the switch out gently.
- Align the pins of the switch to the socket holes. If they are not properly aligned, you can end up bending the pins. Press the switch gently and make sure that it has properly been placed in its socket.
- Plugin the keyboard into your computer and test them out!
Pros and Cons
Pros of Hot Swappable Switches:
- Achieve a customized typing experience
- Faulty switches can be easily replaced
- Easy to maintain – you can open them, clean them up and place them again
- Some keyboards offer the capability to remap
Cons of Hot Swappable Switches:
- Sockets and switches can wear and tear after repeated replacements
- The connection between switch and socket can be sometimes consistent
- Switches can be a little wobbly, might need to use stabilizers under the switches
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can we convert a soldered PCB keyboard to a hot-swappable keyboard?
Yes, you can convert a PCB keyboard to a hot-swappable keyboard. But, it isn’t worth it as there are multiple hot-swappable options available. There are multiple hot-swap sockets available that can be soldered into the PCB, and then you can start using them by plugging in the switches. These sockets need to be soldered very carefully on the PCBs.
Can we change the switches on a non-hot-swappable keyboard?
Yes, but it is very inconvenient to do so and needs a lot of expertise to de-solder the existing keys and precisely solder the new ones. Moreover, in most cases, you’ll end up breaking your PCB as your switches will require a lot of force to be removed.
Which is better: Soldered or Hot-Swappable keyboards?
The decision to choose one of these two purely depends on the individual priority and usage. If you want to have a different typing experience for different needs, you should definitely choose a hot-swappable keyboard. For example, if you want to enjoy a game on a tactile switch, while you prefer a silent switch for office work, then a hot-swappable keyboard will be highly suitable for you.
On the other hand, if you like to stick to the same typing experience every time, then you can opt for a soldered one. But, still, you should consider a hot-swappable as you can anytime replace a faulty switch easily.
In general, we’re big fans of hot-swappable keyboards as they tend to give you a lot more room to explore with various switches.
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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.