Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Hot-swappable keyboards allow you to experiment with different switches.
  • They’re also much easier and cheaper to fix compared to keyboards with soldered switches.
  • Even if the PCB breaks, you can still keep the keycaps and switches; you only need to replace the housing and PCB.

Hot-swappable mechanical keyboards that let you change out the switches without soldering are not just for keyboard enthusiasts. They have some notable benefits, to the point that I wouldn’t buy a new keyboard that isn’t hot-swappable. Here are just a few of the benefits.

Hot-Swappable Keyboards Are Fun and Let You Experiment

Choosing a mechanical keyboard switch is already hard enough on its own, but the fact that you have to shell out somewhere around $60 to $200 makes it an even more daunting task. If you buy a keyboard with switches that don’t feel right to you, you’re pretty much stuck with it or have to sell it at a discount. With a hot-swappable keyboard, you can replace the switches as often as you like without changing your keycaps, PCB, housing, and accessories.

If your keyboard comes with red switches, but you find that they’re too easy to double-tap by accident, you can effortlessly replace them with black switches. Sure, you’ll have to pay for the switches just like you’d pay for a keyboard, but they tend to be cheaper, and you can always resell the old set at a small loss.

My favorite thing about hot-swappable switches is that they let you swap out individual keys. If you play ‘League of Legends,’ you can use red switches for your primary spells and the harder-to-press black switches for spells with a long cooldown. FPS gamers can use lighter switches for movement and heavier ones for equipment. Typists can use clicky switches for letters and tactile switches for various function keys. The possibilities go as far as your creativity does.

After buying a hot-swappable keyboard, you might even turn into a full-on keyboard enthusiast and want to do advanced modifications. For instance, lubing the switches makes them feel much smoother and gives you a deep, satisfying “thock” sound. Since lubing takes a lot of time, switch manufacturers sell pre-lubed switches, too, so you can easily buy a set and see if you like it. If you prefer less noise instead, you can add O-rings and a thick foam pad underneath the PCB.

If you get bored with the same style quickly, interchangeable keycaps are a life-saver. While keycaps are mostly interchangeable on mechanical keyboards across the board, you might have trouble sourcing the exact keycaps you want with certain keyboard models and brands. They sometimes have odd keycap sizes and angles; the Alt, Ctrl, and Space buttons might be wider or shorter on some keyboards from Razer, Corsair, and Logitech. This limits your keycap choice significantly, as you’ll have to look for a compatible set. I have “pudding” keycaps on my Corsair K70, and they were tough to find.

A Corsair K70 keyboard in the dark with pudding keycaps and RGB lights.
Ismar Hrnjicevic / How-To Geek

In contrast, hot-swappable keyboards are inclined to stick to the “standard” keyboard layout and keycap sizes. The manufacturers know that people who buy these types of keyboards like to experiment, and it’s mutually beneficial to stick to standard layouts. After all, if you spent $100 on a fancy set of keycaps, you would want to use them on all of your keyboards, and not just the one it was designed for.

They’re Much Easier to Fix

Traditional mechanical keyboards have soldered switches. If you want to remove a single switch, you have to open up the whole keyboard and use a soldering iron to desolder the switch. When you want to install a new one, you put it in where the old one was and solder it on. I’ve done this a few times on my Corsair K70, and it was quite cumbersome. Not to mention that I permanently damaged my PCB while desoldering and had to repair the traces.

Now, compare that to yanking out a switch and pushing in the new one on hot-swappable keyboards. It takes seconds, costs next to nothing, and is relatively safe to do. You can still damage the PCB while doing this, but you can minimize the risk with a high-quality switch puller. So, when a key starts double typing and rubbing alcohol doesn’t help, you won’t have to go through a laborious process to replace a $1 switch.

Closeup of Gateron Blue switch on NZXT Function keyboard
Marcus Mears III / How-To Geek

Even if the PCB Breaks, You Get to Keep the Rest

If a hot-swappable keyboard’s PCB gets irreparably broken, or you just don’t have the technical know-how required to fix traces on a PCB, just throw it out and buy a new one. They typically cost $30 to $80 to replace, much less than a high-end mechanical keyboard.

You could even use the opportunity to change the entire keyboard model. You get to keep the keycaps and switches, which make up a significant portion of the keyboard’s price. You’d only need a new barebones kit that contains the housing and PCB. It’s an excellent opportunity to try a different keyboard brand and software without breaking the bank, and you get to keep your fancy switches and keycaps.

Are There Any Advantages to Soldered Switches?

The one key benefit of keyboards with soldered switches is that they’re more reliable. Soldered switches are very stable, and the pins on the bottom won’t lose contact with the PCB, which means you won’t face unregistered key taps. Granted, modern hot-swappable keyboards are fairly reliable, even if we include budget models. Also, if there’s a metal plate between the switch and the PCB, like on my Corsair K70, the keyboard will feel more stable.

A myth you might’ve heard is that soldered keyboards have reduced latency, but that’s totally false. When you press a key, it either registers or it doesn’t, and the type of electric contact doesn’t play any role.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional mechanical keyboards. But if you favor easy repairability, you should get a hot-swappable keyboard. Thanks to their flexibility, you can stay on the bleeding edge of keyboard technology and try out different switches as they come out.

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By John P.

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