What Does Hot Swap Mean for a Mechanical Keyboard?

What is a Hotswap Mechanical Keyboard?

A hot swap mechanical keyboard is one that allows you to change out the switches inside the keyboard without having to open up the case. It gives you more switch options than most other keyboards. It’s a way to customize and upgrade your mechanical keyboard without having to buy a whole new one, or spend hours soldering wires together – you can change the switches without soldering! You can swap out keycaps, the actual switches with other compatible switches, and even entire boards for completely different models.

These keyboards are becoming increasingly popular due to their ability to allow you to customize the feel and sound of your keyboard. They offer a lot of flexibility and customization options. They sell individual parts and even entire keyboard kits.

What are the Two Basic Keyboard Types

The keyboard is the most important part of any computer, and it’s also one of the hardest to get right in terms of personal preference. There are so many types of keyboards – wired, wireless, ergonomic, mechanical keyboards, membrane keyboards. Then we can dive even further into the various types of keyboards – low profile keyboards, full-size keyboards (more traditionally a “regular keyboard”), compact keyboards, custom keyboards, gaming keyboards, the list goes on and on. 

Overall though, there are two basic types of keyboards – soldered and hotswap.

What is a Soldered Keyboard?

A soldered keyboard is one that has been assembled using solder. This type of assembly method is the most common, and it’s also the cheapest option for assembling a mechanical keyboard. 

Are All Hot-Swap Keyboards the Same?

No, there are many options to choose from. Some keyboards only support 3 or 5 pin switches types, some require only specific types of switches (optical, cherry mx, outemu etc.). The circuit board  that the switch will plug into will generally determine the requirements of the mechanical switches, for RGB lighting (per key lighting), compatibility with RGB customization software etc. Each hot swap board will offer different features and will even offer a desirable layout.

How To Know If Your Keyboard Is Hot Swappable

To find out if your keyboard is hot-swappable, follow these steps:

Remove one or more keycaps using a Keycap Puller. (You could also potentially pop the keycap using another tool, or even your fingers – just be careful not to damage anything.

Check to see if the switch underneath can be removed with a switch puller. Don’t use too much force. If the switch is soldered, it won’t budge. If your keyboard came with a switch puller, then it definitely is hot swappable.

If the switch refuses to leave its post, you probably have a switch soldered to the PCB at hand, meaning the keyboard is not hot-swappable.

Why should I get a hot swappable keyboard?

Hot swapping allows you to switch out the switches inside your keyboard without opening up the case. This means you can easily replace the switches if they start making noise or feeling weird, or even to change it up try something new. Most mechanical keyboards come with preinstalled switches but there are many aftermarket switches available. Some of them even have a lifetime warranty! The best thing about this is that you don’t need any tools to swap out the switches. You just pop off the plate and put in the new ones. It’s super easy and takes less than 5 minutes.

What to look for in a hot swappable keyboard

There are two main things to consider when buying a hot swap keyboard. First, you want to know whether or not the switches are compatible with your current keyboard. Second, you need to check the quality of the switches themselves. There are some cheap switches out there that may work fine, but they won’t last long. Quality switches tend to be more expensive, but they’ll last longer and provide better performance.

Are my switches compatible with a hot swap keyboard?

You should always double check before purchasing any new parts. However, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

First, you want to ensure that the switches are compatible with the layout of your keyboard. For instance, if you’re using a QWERTY keyboard, then you’ll want to avoid DSA switches. Similarly, if you use a WASD keyboard, then you’ll need to stay away from Cherry MX Blues.

Second, you want to make sure that the switches aren’t too stiff. Stiffer switches require more force to actuate and therefore might cause problems with your keys.

Third, you want to make certain that the switches are rated for continuous usage. Many cheaper switches are only rated for 10 million clicks. That’s not enough for serious gamers who play games all day.

Finally, you want to make absolutely sure that the switches are rated to withstand the heat of being plugged into a computer. Cheap switches are usually made of plastic and simply do not stand up to high temperatures.

5- Pin Switches vs 3 Pin Switches

Most mechanical keyboards today come with either a five pin or three pin switch. Five pin switches are generally considered superior to three pin switches. Three pin switches are easier to manufacture and less costly. But five pin switches are more durable and give you more control over the feel and sound of the keyboard.

Converting a 5-pin switch to 3-pin

If you’ve got a five pin switch, you can convert it to a three pin switch by removing the middle row of exterior plastic pins. I’d recommend using a flush cutter for the cleanest, closest cut so it will rest on the PCB as flush as possible.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hot Swappable Keyboard

Hot swappable keyboards offer several advantages over traditional non-hot swappable keyboards. They allow you to customize your keyboard to suit your needs. If you find yourself constantly changing your switches, then you can easily swap them out whenever you like. Another advantage is that you can get rid of those annoying sticky keys. 

The best part about hot swappable keyboards is that they’re easier to maintain. You don’t have to worry about soldering or drilling holes in the case. All you need to do is remove a few screws and replace the old switch with a new one. 

Hot swap keyboards can be more expensive that a regular soldered keyboard, but when compared to other mechanical keyboards, the price gap won’t be as large. We can’t compare price from a $100+ keyboard to the $13 keyboard someone buys online. 

The keyboard layout options can also be somewhat limited.

Pros and Cons of Soldered Keyboards

Soldered keyboards tend to be a little cheaper. They can be more stable as there are less things to go wrong, but if something does go wrong on a soldered keyboard switch, there isn’t much left to do except throw it out – unless you want to try to repair it. Replacing one switch is much simpler.