How to Change Switches on a Gaming Keyboard – A Quick Guide
If you're a gamer that enjoys constant modification and customization of your PC peripherals, swapping your switches is a way to do this. Swapping switches for gaming keyboards is an excellent option for any gamer interested in changing the look of their mechanical keyboard. Mechanical switches are made of electrical parts and pins, which are the core and essence of a mechanical keyboard, and they influence how your keyboard sounds and feels. So if you want to change the look and feel of your gaming keyboard, read on to find out how to change switches on a gaming keyboard.
To maintain optimal gaming performance, it’s essential to change switches on a gaming keyboard when they become worn or unresponsive. Fortunately the process is relatively simple if the keyboard is hot-swappable. Start by using a switch puller to remove the keycaps, then remove the old switches and install the new hot-swappable switches. Finally, replace the keycaps and your keyboard will be ready to go. For non-swappable keyboards, the process can be more complicated and require extensive soldering to remove and install each switch.
Compared to switches on regular keyboards, mechanical keyboard switches like these have a smoother action with a great sound and feel. Also, mechanical switches have considerably better-developed technology and come with variations. To understand the keys and the setup of a keyboard, check out our e-gaming keyboard layout tips and tricks.
A mechanical keyboard is different from a regular keyboard due to the individual vital switches, which help to register each keystroke easily. It is worth noting that the mechanisms that sit underneath the keys are what makes a mechanical gaming keyboard distinctive. We explain the differences between a gaming keyboard vs. a regular keyboard in greater detail in our guide.
Additionally, It's interesting to experiment with new switches, so we recommend gamers try a wide range of gaming keyboard switches like these. However, there are tons of different switches and names for each switch out there. Therefore to save you the stress and help you cut through all the confusion, this article is a guide on everything you need to know about changing hot-swappable keyboards. However, if you're confused about how to choose the best keyboard switches, our article on the 10 best keyboard switches for mechanical keyboards covers all you need to know.
When Is It Necessary to Change Keyboard Switches?
Learning how to replace mechanical switches is a great skill. You can give an overused keyboard new life just by replacing the switches. It can also restore keyboards that were previously regarded as faulty or unusable because of damage or faulty registering of key presses. In addition, learning how to desolder and solder switches brings up additional possibilities, such as further customization of your keyboard without buying a new one. Many modifications are now possible, including altering stabilizers, replacing switches, and replacing stabilizers. With those changes, your keyboard could be like new.
It's necessary to change keyboard switches if they are broken or worn out, the keyboard’s key switch feedback is not fully functional, and when a new switch design is needed.
Hot-swappable keyboards have a wide range of modification possibilities which means that you don’t have to spend money on a new gaming keyboard. It allows you to alter the action of your keyboard which is something you cannot do with conventional keyboards. The switches beneath each keycap may be changed on gaming keyboards by simply pulling out the old switches and putting in the new ones, thanks to a PCB plate like this that may be included. This means you can alter the overall look, feel, and sound without taking it apart. It is worth noting that gamers can change hot-swappable keyboard switches without much experience or skill.
These are common reasons why it may be necessary to change gaming keyboard switches:
Reason 1. When the Switches Are Worn Out
Mechanical keyboards seldom break down in general. However, the variety of models on the market now tends to undermine the durability and longevity of older versions. Therefore, despite the long life span of mechanical keyboard switches, they do tend to wear out. This can be due to liquid spills, incorrect cleaning, and very rigorous action during gameplay. This wear usually results in malfunctioning switches as well as fading letters and figures on the keycaps. Instead of buying a new keyboard if yours is worn out and malfunctioning, rather change the keyboard switches. This article from Kinetic Labs provides information on the lifespan of keyboard switches.
It is worth noting that changing keyboard switches to new ones like these may change the feel of the way your keys function. In addition, considering the great capacity of your mechanical keyboard, newly replaced switches provide a great experience with optimal performance for gamers. With proper maintenance, keyboards with switches like these will retain their clean form and fresh feel for years after your purchase.
Reason 2. If the Switches Are Broken
Having broken switches ruins the functionality of any keyboard and results in a possible loss for gamers. To prevent losing, remove the broken switches and fit new ones. It is worth noting that fitting new switches like these, doesn’t require any experience. It can be done in just a few minutes so why stick to broken switches when new ones can serve you better and improve your gaming performance?
You may also want to learn more about keyboard hand placement. If you do, be sure to read our related article to find out more.
Reason 3. To Change the Press Feedback
When referring to keyboards, the term "feedback" describes the physical response when you press a key. When the keys are pressed halfway, mechanical keyboards give audible feedback. As a result, you play the game more accurately since there is no doubt that you have pushed a key. However, a bad keyboard switch affects feedback and ruins gameplay. Bad keyboard switch feedback ruins the ability to type, adjust the actuation point, and optimize a key’s use for gaming. The keyboard also stops providing proper response times which can result in loss during a game. In addition, it messes with the N-key rollover feature, where gamers can press up to 6 keys simultaneously and receive desired results. However, replacing the bad switches with new ones like these will restore all feedback functionality as needed.
The enhanced feedback of mechanical gaming keyboard switches is an amazing benefit and these switches come in 3 major types with distinctive colors. The blue switches are known as clicky switches. These blue switches give an audible feedback sound. For every click, an audible sound follows without pressing the keys down. On the other hand, red switches like these are known as linear switches. They do not give audible feedback when a keystroke is registered. Although not wholly silent, these switches don't give the same clicky feedback as blue switches. They are more sensitive and linear, making them really easy to press and they respond faster than clicky switches. These brown switches give a moderate tactile sound. They are sensitive and register keystrokes instantly.
Reason 4. To Change the Switch Design
The flexibility to select the switch type you want to use is the main advantage of having a mechanical keyboard like this. Clicky, linear, and tactile switches are the three basic categories of switches. Basically, clicky switches are exactly what they sound like - they have a tactile bump and produce a loud clicking sound with each keystroke which makes them perfect for users who enjoy typing loudly and prefer to work alone.
Linear switches don’t produce much sound and are quiet. With each keystroke, there is no physical bump, barely any noise, and exceptional consistency. On the other hand, Tactile switches are equipped with a moderately loud and have a nice tactile bump that helps increase typing accuracy. If you're interested in keeping your gaming keyboard quiet, be sure to read our related article for more details.
It is also worth noting that changing your gaming keyboard switches can enable you to change the switch design of your gaming keyboard. This allows you to have more modification and customization options, and the switch design can be tweaked to accommodate all switch types depending on the user's desire.
Reason 5. If You Want Something New and Different
If you are someone who likes to experiment with different PC peripherals and customize your setup to your preferences, switching out the switches on your keyboard can be a great way to get a fresh and personalized typing experience without having to buy a whole new keyboard. These switches can be customized to give a personalized feel just as you want. By choosing switches with the right tactile feedback, actuation force, and noise level, you can tailor your keyboard to your exact needs and preferences. This article from the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society summarizes a literature review of key, keyboard, and operator characteristics to provide guidance for keyboard designers.
At this point, you might be interested in learning more about gaming keyboard hot-swappable switches or how to use gaming keyboard trainer software for better gaming. If so, be sure to read our related articles to find out more details.
How To Know if Keyboard Switches Are Swappable
Hot-swappable switches are switches that are placed individually into a keyboard. This implies they're not soldered into the keyboard and can be pulled out or replaced at any time. This is an excellent feature because most keyboards have their switches soldered into them. This means to replace a switch, users would have to replace the entire PCB or get a new keyboard. Hot-swappable keyboards have plate-mounted switches, which means the switch is mounted to the plate.
Keyboard switches are considered swappable if they can be easily removed from their sockets without damaging the keyboard or requiring excessive force. This can be done either by either using a switch puller or by carefully removing the switch by hand. In contrast, non-swappable switches are soldered onto the keyboard’s PCB and require extensive soldering to remove and replace.
A mechanical switch consists of five components: stem, spring, upper and lower housing parts, and contact blade. The portion of the switch that goes up and down is called the stem which is fastened to a spring that pushes it back between the upper and lower housing components, which makes it move. The top piece is attached to the bottom one via a plug and the contact blade is housed underneath. This is the metal component that completes the electrical circuit and records the keystroke. The pins that make contact with the keyboard's circuit board are also located on the bottom of the lower portion of the casing.
In addition, mechanical keyboards are equipped with a separate switch to control the closing, also called "axis." The classification of switches on mechanical keyboards can be divided into linear, tactile, and clicky, under which there are different categories and colors, such as green switches, white switches, black switches, red switches, optical switches, and so on. Each switch has independent micro-motion, resulting in a unique feel that is suitable for gaming.
A combination of this structure enables faster-registered strokes and gives gamers more precise and accurate feedback compared to rubber membrane keyboards like this. In addition, gamers can achieve a completely different experience just by changing the switches, and can be compared to having several keyboards inside of one casing. That also means that it's generally less expensive to replace switches than to purchase a new keyboard.
A benefit of mechanical keyboards is that if your keyboard is hot-swappable like this one, you may alter the feel of your switches to suit your preferences. This is also useful if a specific key has stopped working because you can replace it as discussed in our guide on how to replace keyboard switches.
Types of Hot-Swappable Keyboard Switches
The two variations of hot-swappable keyboard switches are 3-pin and 5-pin. Pin refers to the number of points of contact the switches have with the keyboard socket. Surprisingly, even though the two varieties are based on pin count, their distinction has nothing to do with any electrically based pin/connector relation. A significant difference between these two is that 5-pin switches are PCB-mounted, while 3-pin switches are plate-mounted switches.
The two main types of hot-swappable keyboard key switches are 3-pin switches and 5-pin switches. The primary difference between them is that 5-pin switches have 5 pins, which includes two extra plastic pins that help to stabilize the switch during use. This can be particularly beneficial for gamers and fast typists who need a more stable switch that can withstand heavy use.
Additionally, keyboards that can be quickly swapped out generally have a 5-pin or 3-pin configuration. Whether the switches are 3-pin or 5-pin, they will work with the keyboard if it has a 5-pin design. Hot-swappable keyboards are made for gamers' convenience so that it is an easy process to convert 5-pin switches to 3-pin. All that is needed is to clip the two extra pins on the bottom of the switch. It is worth noting that any cutter that would give a clean cut can be used for this - even nail clippers like this could do the job.
The differences between the two types of switches are as follows:
Type 1. 3-Pin Gaming Keyboard Switch
A 3-pin keyboard switch is a switch with two metal pins and one cylindrical plastic pin in the middle. This gaming keyboard switch comes in either 3-pin or 5-pin. This pin refers to the number of points of contact the switches have with the keyboard socket. The 3-pin switch is a type of switch that only includes two metal pins and one circular pin. Furthermore, these 3-pin switches can be soldered to a PCB after being placed in the metal plate. In addition to 3-pin switches, there are also 5-pin switches available, which include two extra plastic pins to assist the switch to be more securely fastened to the PCB.
Type 2. 5-Pin keyboard Switch
A 5-pin keyboard switch has three metallic pins and two cylindrical plastic pins for added stability when inserted into the keyboard. 5-Pin switches are PCB-mounted switches because there are five pieces total when you look under them. This 5-pin keyboard switch has two metal pins that enable the switch to work with maximum stability on the side, with a middle “pin” that looks like a large circular knob. In addition, the switches can easily be soldered and mounted onto the PCB directly. 5-Pin keyboard switches function well on a 3-pin switch keyboard. However, be sure to cut off only the plastic legs, as the metal ones are needed for the effective functioning of your keyboard.
How To Change Switches on a Gaming Keyboard With Hot-Swappable Keys
Mechanical keyboards are great for gamers, even for gamers that are new to the gaming world. But they can also be more complex than regular membrane keyboards. However, switch replacement is made easy for anyone, even for users without prior knowledge. With a hot-swappable keyboard swapping out switches is a super-fast and easy process. Hot-swappable switches allow swapping out quiet linear switches for loud, clicky switches or broken switches.
To change switches on a gaming keyboard remove the keycaps, use a switch puller to remove the old switches, and replace them with the new swappable switches.
If you already have a mechanical keyboard and want a new feel and experience, you can always alter the mechanical keyboard switches on the one you currently have to make it more unique. The smooth typing experience and illuminated and multicolored switches give a well-customized mechanical keyboard its unmistakable appeal. Although it may sound pretty exhausting, we will be provided with one of the simplest methods to accomplish this without any difficulty. To make it as you want, you only need a little over an hour and either very few or no tools.
Follow these steps to change the hot-swappable switches on your gaming keyboard:
Step 1. Gather The Necessary Tools
Step 2. Remove the Keycaps Using a Keycap Puller
The first step is to pull out the keycaps from the keyboard using a keycap puller. A keycap puller is a tool specifically designed to remove keycaps without damaging the keyboard or the keycaps themselves. To remove the keycaps, insert the ends of the puller beneath the keycap and gently pull upwards. Make sure to pull the keycaps straight up to avoid bending or breaking the stem of the switch under it. Once all the keycaps are removed, you can move on to the next step of using a switch puller to remove the old switches from the keyboard.
Step 3. Remove the Old Switches Using a Switch Puller
Once you have removed all the keycaps, the next step is to remove each switch with the switch puller, which is different from the keycap puller. Given that there are typically several keys to be done, this could take some time so we suggest that you do things simpler. When using the switch puller, check that the tiny "hooks" on the prongs' ends fit into the plastic tabs on the switch's top and bottom sides. Depress the plastic tabs and use the switch puller to remove the switch after that.
We advise using caution when doing this, much as with removing keycaps. The switches or the keyboard itself might be damaged if done too forcefully. Try to avoid pulling the switches out as you did with the keycaps and carefully pull the switches until they are released. If you're not cautious, it's possible to break the metal prongs within the hot-swap sockets, destroying the switch and making it impossible to fix the new switches of your keyboard.
Step 4. Install the New Hot-Swappable Switches in the Same Sockets
The third step is installing the new switches after removing all the old ones from the keyboard. Although it is a very simple technique, caution must be exercised to prevent breaking the metal switch pins. Simply align the switch pins with the socket on the keyboard, then gently press the pins into place. The switches should fit into the hot-swappable sockets without any difficulties if everything is properly aligned. Next, use your fingers to push the keycaps into position carefully and replace them on the switch.
Step 5. Replace the Keycaps And Test the Keyboard
Once you are done with these three steps, you can replace the keycaps. However, for every step, you should be extra careful not to break the switches resulting in them being useless. Also, while fixing the keycaps, be sure to fix them correctly and check the alignment. Once done, connect the keyboard to your PC and test to confirm that all keys are functioning properly. According to this demonstration by Microsoft, a keyboard tester can be useful in detecting key combinations that do not work correctly on your keyboard and this is also advisable after changing your keyboard switches.
How to Change Switches on a Gaming Keyboard that Doesn’t Have Hot - Swappable Keys
Just as the name says, non-hot-swappable keyboards are the exact opposite of hot-swappable mechanical keyboards. Also known as soldered keyboards, non-hot-swappable keyboards are keyboards that have each switch on the keyboard soldered onto the PCB manually. This implies that they can only be removed by heating up and removing the solder.
To change switches on a non-hot swappable gaming keyboard, use the appropriate tools to disassemble the mechanical keyboard, determine which switches need to be replaced, heat up a soldering iron to remove the old switches, carefully replace them with new ones, reassemble the keyboard, and test the keys to ensure they are functioning properly.
As explained in this article from Keychron, unlike hot-swappable keyboards, non-hot-swappable keyboards require the switches to be soldered and you will need to know how this is done as Joe Gaz explains in this YouTube video tutorial. Users with non-hot-swappable keyboards must also have the necessary tools for soldering the switches properly without damaging them.
On the other hand, non-hot-swappable keyboards can be a little difficult to change. This is because these switches have been soldered down and can only be removed by heating up. Additionally, changing switches on a non-hot-swappable keyboard requires proper precautions and enough ventilation to avoid inhaling toxic fumes from soldering. While hot-swappable keyboard switches can be removed and fixed easily, non-hot-swappable keyboards require tools like a soldering iron, wire, and solder sucker to fix. Learning to change switches can help to bring life to old keyboards as modifications can be done, thus giving them a new feel. These new switches open new ways of modifying your mechanical keyboard even further. For a demonstration of the process, check out this Youtube video tutorial.
Follow these steps to change switches on non-hot-swappable keyboards:
Step 1. Gather the Necessary Tools
The tools that you will be needing to change switches on your non-hot swappable keyboard are a soldering iron like this, soldering wire like this, a solder sucker, small flat-tipped pliers, a keycap puller, and a switch puller like this. You may also need a small screwdriver, and a pry bar to open the keyboard case if necessary.
Step 2. Disassemble the Keyboard
Disassembling your keyboard is the first step in removing and replacing switches. This is because your switches are soldered to your PCB. Your keyboard's PCB, plate, and switches should only have solder inserted at the end. Both the casing and the keycaps should be removed entirely.
Also, ensure you put all of your pieces in a secure location because desoldering and soldering may be messy. Look for every screw along the casing as they are occasionally hidden behind the rubber legs at the bottom. If your mechanical keyboard is made completely of plastic, you may need to pry the two halves apart.
Step 3. Determine Which Switches Need To Be Replaced
Sometimes it might not be necessary to replace all switches except one or two that aren’t working properly. Therefore, mark the switches that need to be removed on the back of your PCB, so you can avoid mistakes and desolder the correct switch. However, if you’re desoldering the entire keyboard, you won’t need to mark anything, but be careful to avoid a mismatch.
Step 4. Remove the Old Keyboard Switches With a Soldering Iron
The next step is to remove all keys gently using a puller like this. While removing, you can heat the soldering iron like this one. A temperature between 350 and 380 degrees Celsius is suggested for desoldering. The solder will cool and become less pliable at a lower temperature and a higher temperature will maintain the liquid state of the solder for longer.
Be sure to check out these soldering safety tips from the Department of Engineering Health and Safety at Cambridge University to avoid sustaining injuries or damaging your environment, while using a soldering iron.
Step 5. Replace the Old Switches With New Ones
For this step, press the new switches into the plate so that each pin is visible on the other side. It's possible that a pin has been twisted if you discover it isn't visible. Pull it back out, straighten the pin with pliers like these, and then try to put it back in. Once every switch has been pressed, examine each switch to check the switch pins. Also, confirm that they are inserted into the proper holes. You don't want to arrange them incorrectly, as it can ruin the whole process and damage your keyboard.
Step 6. Solder the Switches To the PCB
Make sure your soldering iron's temperature is 300-350 degrees Celsius and heat up the pad and pin for about two seconds with minimal pressure. Afterward, put your solder into the joint for about a second or two seconds until there's a small mountain of solder, and start soldering. After soldering, check that every pin is properly soldered and repeat this process for each switch.
Step 7. Reassemble the Keyboard and Test the New Keys
After soldering the switches back in place, put your keyboard casing back together. Then test every button to see if they're all working correctly with the help of a tool from our list of gaming keyboard testers. With all this done, you can enjoy your keyboard like it's brand new. A study was conducted to compare user preferences and throughput performance on 3 prominent keyboards with 3 different kinds of key action mechanisms. Preference and throughput data were obtained from both skilled (>65 WPM) and occasional (30–50 WPM) typists. Both groups of typists indicated equal preference for keyboards with snap-spring and elastomer key actions and much lower preference ratings for the keyboard with a low-resistance, linear spring key action mechanism. Fewer errors and faster typing throughput were obtained on keyboards with the elastomer key action than on the other two keyboards, equipped with snap- and linear-spring key action mechanisms. This facilitation was greater for the occasional typists than for the experts. The reverse interaction was obtained for electronic key click, which produced much larger increases in real throughput for experts than the occasional typists.