Ease of Repair: Hot-Swappable vs Soldered Mechanical Keyboard

April 5, 2024

Oh, no! Several switches on your mechanical keyboard have given up. The stabilizer of the space bar has come loose. It's time to replace your key switches and repair your stabilizers.

But repairing an electronic computer peripheral is, well, complicated, isn't it? Would you have opted for something more modular and easy to repair? Would it be better if you invested a bit more and bought that expensive hot-swappable keyboard you saw in the tech store years ago?

There's a lot more to learn about the differences between hot-swappable and soldered keyboards when it comes to ease of repair.

Difference Between Hot-Swappable and Soldered Mechanical Keyboards

Hot-swappable mechanical keyboards are revolutionary, especially for gamers and keyboard modders. They're engineered with sockets that allow users to easily and quickly change key switches. The keys are not soldered to the printed circuit board (PCB), so users can simply take out switches and replace them with new ones without soldering the switches. 

This design is quite different from standard soldered mechanical keyboards. In standard keyboards, the switches are soldered to the PCB, creating a more stable and durable connection. However, replacing these key switches requires desoldering the existing ones and soldering the new ones. These could be challenging for users who are not used to keyboard modding or building electronic kits. 

Which Is Easier To Repair: Hot Swappable or Soldered Mechanical Keyboards

In general, hot-swappable mechanical keyboards are easier to repair than soldered mechanical keyboards due to a couple of reasons:

  1. Easy Switch Replacement: Replacing switches can be done without soldering or desoldering. If a switch becomes faulty or if the user wants to change the type of switch they're using, they can simply pull out the old switch and insert a new one. It's fast and easy and doesn't require soldering and desoldering.
  2. Reduced Risk of Damage: When repairing or modifying a soldered keyboard, there's always a risk of damaging the PCB or other components. This is especially true if the modder is inexperienced or lacks the proper tools. In contrast, hot-swappable keyboards minimize this risk since there's no need to solder or desolder anything, reducing the likelihood of accidental damage during the repair process.
  3. Accessibility of Parts: Replacement switches are readily available and can be purchased from various vendors specializing in mechanical keyboard parts. 
  4. User-Friendly Design: Hot-swappable keyboards are designed with user convenience in mind, allowing for easy maintenance and customization. The sockets or connectors on the PCB enable quick switch replacement without requiring any technical expertise.

Usual Components That Need To Be Repaired

replacing mechanical keyboard switches

Just like any electronic device, mechanical keyboards will fail or won't function optimally over time. Components wear out, break down, and get faulty. Some of the most common components that need to be repaired or replaced include:

  1. Switches: Mechanical keyboard switches can develop issues such as key chatter (repeated keystrokes) or complete failure over time. In such cases, the switches may need to be replaced with new ones.
  2. Keycaps: Keycaps are prone to wear. The surface can become shiny or develop cracks with extended use. Keycaps may become loose or fall off due to broken keycap stems. Replacing worn or damaged keycaps can improve the aesthetics and usability of the keyboard.
  3. Stabilizers: Stabilizers support larger keys such as the spacebar, enter key, and shift key. Over time, stabilizers can become loose, rattle, or break, leading to inconsistent key feel or functionality. 
  4. PCB: PCB damage can result in various issues such as non-responsive keys, ghosting (erratic keypress detection), or short circuits. Repairing or replacing a damaged PCB may be necessary to restore full keyboard functionality.
  5. Controller: The controller interprets key presses and sends signals to the computer. A faulty controller can cause issues such as key input delays or incorrect key mappings.
  6. Cables and Connectors: The USB cable or connectors (e.g., USB ports or soldered connections) can wear out or become damaged over time, leading to intermittent connectivity or complete failure. 
  7. Case and Frame: The keyboard's case or frame can crack or break due to accidental drops or impacts. While this may not affect functionality directly, repairing or replacing the case or frame can improve the keyboard's aesthetics and structural integrity.
  8. LEDs and RGB Lighting: If the keyboard features LED backlighting or RGB lighting, individual LEDs or lighting modules may fail over time, resulting in dim or non-functional lighting.  

Mechanical Keyboard Maintenance Tips

Here are some tips for maintaining both hot-swappable and soldered mechanical keyboards:

General Maintenance Tips

  1. Regular Cleaning: Keep your keyboard clean by removing dust, debris, and fingerprints regularly. Use compressed air or a soft brush to clean between the keys and underneath the keycaps. Remove the keycaps for better access.
  2. Keycap Maintenance: Clean the keycaps periodically with a mild soap solution and a soft cloth to remove dirt and oils. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners that may damage the keycaps.
  3. Avoid Crumbs and Spills: Keep food and drinks away from your workspace. If a spill occurs, immediately disconnect the keyboard, remove the keycaps, and clean any liquid residue to prevent damage to the switches and PCB.
  4. Proper Storage: When not in use, store your keyboard in a clean and dry environment away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. Avoid placing heavy objects on top of the keyboard. Use a keyboard cover to protect it from dust and debris.
  5. Firmware Updates: Check for firmware updates for your keyboard periodically and install them as needed. Firmware updates may include bug fixes, performance improvements, and new features.

Specific Maintenance Tips for Hot-Swappable Keyboards

  1. Switch Replacement: Take advantage of the hot-swappable feature to replace faulty switches easily. 
  2. Socket Cleaning: Regularly inspect the switch sockets for dust or debris that may interfere with switch insertion. Use compressed air or a soft brush to clean the sockets if necessary.
  3. Keycap Removal: Use a keycap puller to prevent damage to the switches or keycap stems. Avoid using excessive force when pulling off keycaps.

Specific Maintenance Tips for Soldered Keyboards

  1. Inspect Solder Joints: Periodically inspect the solder joints on the PCB for signs of damage or corrosion. Resolder any loose or damaged joints to ensure a reliable connection.
  2. Desoldering and Soldering: If you need to replace switches or perform repairs that require desoldering, use a quality soldering iron and desoldering pump or wick. Take your time and follow proper soldering techniques to avoid damaging the PCB.
  3. Avoid Excessive Heat: When soldering or desoldering, avoid applying excessive heat to the PCB or components as this can damage the circuitry. Use a soldering iron with adjustable temperature settings and solder with a low melting point if possible.

Conclusion

With this article, it's easy to see that hot-swappable keyboards are faster and easier to repair than soldered keyboards due to the former's modularity. However, don't put your old mechanical keyboard back in its box. It's also incredibly sturdy and can last years with the right care. Both peripherals are indeed worthy investments and could be on your workspace or game space for many years to come.

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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