While mechanical switches steal the spotlight for their clicky or tactile prowess, the case quietly defines the look, feel, and durability of your cherished mechanical keyboard. Whether it's a brand new or custom mechanical keyboard, the case is the main component that holds everything. Come to think of it, you really can't have a keyboard!
This comprehensive guide is a complete look at the all-important mechanical keyboard case. From the subtle nuances of materials to the profound impact on typing experiences, we will discover the essential elements that shape the perfect mechanical keyboard case.
By the end of this beginner's guide, you'll not only understand the anatomy of mechanical keyboard cases but also possess the knowledge to select the ideal case that seamlessly complements your typing style and aesthetic preferences.
Parts of a Mechanical Keyboard
Before we begin to delve into the nitty gritty of mechanical keyboard cases, we need to understand the parts of a mechanical keyboard. A mechanical keyboard is a keyboard using individual mechanical switches for each key. In contrast, a standard membrane keyboard uses rubber dome or membrane switches under the keys.
A mechanical keyboard consists of several key components, each playing a crucial role in its functionality and overall design. Here are the main parts of a typical mechanical keyboard:
Case: The case is the outer shell of the keyboard that houses all the internal components. Keyboard cases can be made from various materials, including plastic, aluminum, wood, and more. The design and material of the case can greatly affect the keyboard's aesthetics and durability.
Keycaps: Keycaps are the visible part of the keyboard that you press when typing. They are usually made of plastic and have the letters, numbers, and symbols---called legends---printed on them. PBT and ABS keycaps are the most common. Keycaps can vary in shape, size, and material. In general, they can be removed or replaced when customizing or building your own keyboard.
Mechanical Keyboard Switches: The switches are the heart of a mechanical keyboard. Each key on the keyboard has its own switch underneath it. When you press a key, the switch registers the keypress and sends an electrical signal to the computer. Different types of mechanical switches provide various levels of tactile feedback, actuation force, and sound. Popular switch brands include Cherry MX, Razer, and Gateron, among others.
Stabilizers: Stabilizers are used for larger keys like the spacebar, enter key, and shift keys to prevent wobbling and ensure consistent keypresses. They come in various designs, including plate-mounted and PCB-mounted stabilizers.
PCB (Printed Circuit Board): The PCB is the circuitry that connects the switches to the computer. Each switch is soldered onto the PCB, and the PCB translates keypresses into electrical signals that are sent to the computer. In hotswap keyboards, the PCBs are designed in such a way that you don't need to solder or desolder the switches.
Microcontroller: The microcontroller is the brain of the keyboard, responsible for processing keypresses and sending them to the computer. It may also handle other functions, such as controlling backlighting and macros.
LEDs and Backlighting: Some of the best mechanical keyboards come with LEDs for backlighting, allowing users to customize the keyboard's lighting effects and colors. These LEDs are often used for both aesthetic and practical purposes.
Plate: A metal plate is a rigid sheet that sits between the switches and the PCB. It provides structural support to the keyboard and helps prevent the switches from wobbling or flexing when keys are pressed. The keyboard plate also affects the sound and feel of the key presses.
Feet and flip-out stands: Many mechanical keyboards have adjustable feet or flip-out stands on the underside to change the typing angle and ergonomics. This allows users to customize the keyboard's tilt for comfort.
Depending on the keyboard's design and features, there may be additional components or accessories such as wrist rests, detachable cables, extra USB ports, media keys, and more, which can further enhance the overall typing and gaming experience.
Understanding Mechanical Keyboard Cases
You've got your switches, keycaps, and PCB ready. All these components are contained in one critical component---the keyboard case.
A mechanical keyboard case is the protective housing that encases and secures the internal components of a mechanical keyboard. It not only serves as a durable shell to safeguard the keyboard's delicate switches and circuitry but also plays a crucial role in shaping the keyboard's aesthetics and ergonomics. These cases come in various materials, including plastic, aluminum, and wood, each offering unique benefits and design options.
Choosing the right keyboard case is essential for both keyboard enthusiasts and users seeking a personalized and reliable typing experience
Keyboard Case Sizes
Understanding your keyboard's case size is crucial when selecting the right case for its layout. Different keyboards have unique sizes, typically ranging from full-sized to compact 40% designs. Your goal is to match your keyboard's size with the perfect case to ensure the optimal fit.
Full Size Keyboard: Full-size keyboard cases are the most traditional and feature-rich. They include the standard layout with a full set of keys, including a numeric keypad. These keyboards are wider and typically measure around 17-18 inches in width.
Tenkeyless (TKL): Tenkeyless keyboard cases omit the number pad, resulting in a more compact and portable design. TKL keyboards are a popular choice for those who don't require a dedicated numeric keypad and want more desk space.
75%: 75% keyboard cases further reduce the size by eliminating the function keys and some other keys. They retain the main typing area and essential keys, making them compact yet functional.
60%: 60% keyboard cases are even more compact, typically retaining only the main typing area and a few essential keys. No function rows, arrow keys, or numpads. They are designed to be portable.
40% and Custom Layouts: Some mechanical keyboard enthusiasts opt for 40% keyboard cases or custom layouts that have a minimal number of keys. The minimal number of keys often require layers and shortcuts for full functionality. These layouts cater to those who prioritize space savings and a unique typing experience.
Ergonomic: Ergonomic or split keyboard cases come in various sizes but are characterized by a design that helps reduce wrist strain and promote a more comfortable typing posture. Some ergonomic keyboards can split into two halves.
Compact/Mini: Compact or mini keyboard cases vary in size but generally prioritize space-saving and on-the-go use. They may lack certain keys.
A Comprehensive Guide to Material Types for Mechanical Keyboard Cases
Let's discuss the variety of materials used in keyboard cases. From plastic and aluminum to more unique options like acrylic and wood, each material offers its own aesthetic, feel, and durability.
When it comes to choosing a material for your keyboard case, plastic is often the most economical and frequently used option. It's lightweight, durable, and provides a solid base for your typing needs.
Features: Plastic cases are lightweight, affordable, and available in a wide range of colors and designs. They are typically injection-molded or 3D-printed.
Characteristics: Plastic cases may have a smooth or textured finish, and they are often compatible with various keyboard layouts and sizes.
Lightweight and portable.
Diverse design options.
May feel less premium compared to metal or wood cases.
Less rigid than metal options.
Anodized aluminum is a popular choice for mechanical keyboard cases. Known for their exceptional durability and premium appearance, aluminum keyboard cases provide rigid stability and heat dissipation for a high-quality typing experience.
Features: Aluminum cases are known for their durability and premium appearance. They are often CNC-machined for precision.
Characteristics: Aluminum cases have a solid and rigid construction, offering excellent protection for the keyboard components.
Exceptional build quality and durability.
Enhanced typing stability due to rigidity.
Excellent heat dissipation.
Heavier than plastic cases, which can affect portability.
Typically more expensive.
Why not consider stainless steel for your next mechanical keyboard case? Stainless steel keyboard cases are the epitome of durability, ideal for rugged environments and heavy-duty mechanical keyboards, though they come with substantial weight and minimal design variation.
Features: Stainless steel cases are exceptionally sturdy and durable, often used in heavy-duty and industrial-style mechanical keyboards.
Characteristics: Stainless steel cases are thick and heavy, providing a robust platform for mechanical switches and PCBs.
Extreme durability and stability.
Well-suited for rugged environments.
Very heavy, limiting portability.
Limited design options and aesthetics.
Amid the sea of conventional material options for your keyboard case, acrylic stands out with its unique characteristics. Acrylic keyboards offer a transparent, glass-like aesthetic that can truly showcase your keyboard's internals and lighting effects.
Features: Acrylic cases are transparent or semi-transparent, offering a unique look that showcases the keyboard's internals and any RGB lighting.
Characteristics: Acrylic cases can come in various colors and thicknesses, and they are typically laser-cut or CNC-machined.
Aesthetic appeal, especially for showcasing lighting effects.
Lightweight and portable.
Customizable with different color options.
Prone to scratches and smudges.
May not be as robust as metal or wood cases.
With all the high-tech materials in the realm of mechanical keyboard cases, it's almost unbelievable that wood has its place. Wooden keyboard cases introduce a distinct, natural warmth to mechanical keyboards. The material showcases unique grain patterns and delivers a touch of artisanal craftsmanship.
Among the choices, rosewood, zebra wood, and walnut are popular due to their striking patterns and durability.
Features: Wooden cases add a natural and aesthetically pleasing touch to mechanical keyboards. They are often handmade or crafted from premium wood materials.
Characteristics: Wooden cases can have various finishes, such as polished or matte, and they are prized for their unique grain patterns.
Distinctive and visually appealing.
Natural warmth and texture.
Can improve sound characteristics, giving a more organic typing experience.
Susceptible to moisture and temperature changes.
May require more care and maintenance.
Limited availability and customization options.
Keyboard cases constructed from composite materials combine the strengths of various materials, striking a balance between aesthetics and durability.
Features: Some keyboard cases are constructed from composite materials, which can combine the advantages of different materials. For example, a case may have an aluminum frame with a wooden or acrylic top plate.
Characteristics: Composite cases offer a balance between aesthetics, durability, and weight.
Pros: Combine the strengths of multiple materials.
Cons: Cost may be higher, and design options may be limited compared to single-material cases.
Ultimate Guide to Different Mounting Styles
While you're considering the various options for your mechanical keyboard case, it's important to also understand the different mounting styles that hold the PCB and plate securely to the case.
Keyboard mounting styles refer to how the key switches are physically attached to the keyboard's chassis or PCB (printed circuit board). Each mounting style offers a unique typing experience, sound profile, and ease of maintenance.
In plate-mounted keyboards, the key switches are mounted to a rigid metal or plastic plate, which is then attached to the keyboard's chassis. The plate holds the switches in place and adds structural stability.
Firm and stable typing experience due to the rigid plate.
Clear and distinct keypress registration.
Can produce a crisper, more pronounced typing sound.
Solid and consistent feel.
Ideal for precise typing and gaming.
Durability and resistance to PCB flex.
Limited switch customization or modification.
May transmit more vibration and noise to the desk.
In PCB-mounted keyboards, the key switches are directly soldered to the PCB without an additional mounting plate. The switches are held in place by the PCB and the keyboard's housing.
Slightly softer typing feel compared to plate-mounted.
Less pronounced keypress registration.
Typically quieter keypresses compared to plate-mounted.
Greater switch customization and modification options.
Potentially quieter typing experience.
Simplified design and lower cost.
May exhibit more PCB flex, impacting stability.
Switches may feel less secure due to the absence of a rigid plate.
Top-mounted keyboards feature switches attached directly to the top case, typically without a separate mounting plate or PCB. The switches are secured to the upper case shell.
Unique and customizable feel depending on the case material.
Variability in typing experience based on case design.
Customizable and unique typing feel.
Potential for improved ergonomics based on case design.
Typing experience varies significantly between keyboard models.
Potentially complex and more expensive construction.
Typing feel and sound can vary based on gasket material.
Integrated Plate/Case (Uni-body)
Some keyboards have an integrated plate and case design where the key switches are mounted directly into the keyboard's case, often as part of a single unit.
Simplified construction with fewer separate parts.
Typing experience depends on the specific design and material.
Streamlined design and build.
Potential for unique typing experiences based on design.
Limited customization options.
Typing feel can vary significantly between models.
Choosing the Right Mechanical Keyboard Case
You've understood different mounting styles, and now it's time to delve into how to choose the right case for your mechanical keyboard. Selecting the right keyboard case involves considering various factors to match your preferences, needs, and intended use.
Determine your keyboard size.
Identify the size of your keyboard, such as full-size, tenkeyless (TKL), 75%, 60%, or other custom layouts. Ensure the case you choose is compatible with your keyboard's size and layout.
Select your preferred keyboard material.
Decide on the material that suits your preferences and aesthetics. Consider options like plastic, aluminum, wood, acrylic, composite materials, or steel. Each material has its own look, feel, and durability.
Consider your preferred typing experience.
Think about the typing experience you desire. Plate-mounted cases offer a firm and stable feel, while PCB-mounted cases may provide a softer typing experience. Gasket-mounted cases offer a cushioned feel, and top-mounted cases can be highly customizable.
Choose the aesthetics and design of your keyboard case.
Choose a case that aligns with your preferred aesthetics. Look for colors, finishes, and design elements that complement your workspace or personal style.
How much is your budget and the cost of the keyboard case?
Determine your budget for the keyboard case. High-quality materials like aluminum and wood tend to be more expensive, while plastic cases are often more budget-friendly.
Consider the case's portability.
Consider whether you need a keyboard case that's portable. Plastic and lightweight cases are more portable, while metal cases can be heavier and less travel-friendly.
Make sure the keyboard case is compatible with your keyboard.
Ensure the case is compatible with your keyboard's layout, switches, and PCB. Some cases may only work with specific keyboard models or require modifications.
Explore customization options.
If you enjoy building a custom keyboard, look for cases that allow for keycap and switch modifications. Some cases may also have additional customization features, such as removable plates or top covers.
Consider the durability and build quality.
Assess the build quality and durability of the case. High-quality materials like aluminum and steel are known for their sturdiness, while wood and acrylic may require more careful handling.
Consider the case's sound profile.
Consider the sound profile you prefer. Different materials and case designs can influence the sound of keypresses. If you have specific sound preferences, do some research or listen to sound tests for the case you're interested in.
Check the ergonomics.
If ergonomics are important to you, look for cases with design features that promote comfort and typing efficiency, such as adjustable typing angles or split layouts.
Read reviews and recommendations about the keyboard case.
Read reviews and seek recommendations from the mechanical keyboard community. User experiences and feedback can provide valuable insights into the case's performance and quality.
Check warranty and customer support.
Check if the manufacturer offers a warranty and reliable customer support in case you encounter any issues or defects.
Look for additional features.
Consider any extra features you might want, such as built-in wrist rests, cable management options, or compatibility with keyboard accessories.
By carefully considering these factors, you can narrow down your options and select a keyboard case that enhances your overall mechanical keyboard experience and meets your specific needs.
In a nutshell, your choice of case for your mechanical keyboard is all about understanding your needs and preferences. From material types, mounting styles, to the right size, every detail matters.
Whether you're after the sleek look of aluminum or the unique touch of acrylic, there's a perfect case out there for you.
Armed with this knowledge from this comprehensive guide, you're all set to make an informed decision to create your own custom keyboard or transform an old one into a whole new keyboard.
Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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