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What You Need to Know about the Hot Swap PCB

Author: Apogeeweb
Date: 18 Jan 2022
 1660
hot-swap PCB

Catalog

Introduction

Ⅰ What is a Hot Swap PCB?

Ⅱ Custom Keyboard - Hotswap vs. Solderable PCB

    2.1 Advantages of Hotswap PCB

    2.2 Disadvantages of Hotswap PCB

    2.3 Advantages of Solderable PCB

    2.4 Disadvantages of Solderable PCB

Ⅲ What Is a Hotswap Mechanical Keyboard?

Ⅳ Why are so few hotswap keyboards available?

Ⅴ How to Make Hot-Swappable Mechanical keyboard PCB?

Ⅵ Relevant Information about "Hot Swap PCB"

Introduction

When building a custom mechanical keyboard, one of the most contentious decisions is whether to use a hotswap PCB or a solderable PCB. Is one superior to the other? This article will go over the specifics of the hot swap PCB.

Ⅰ What is a Hot Swap PCB?

The need to solder on switches is one of the most intimidating obstacles for people looking to build a mechanical keyboard. Hot swap PCBs, on the other hand, come to the rescue! A printed circuit board, or PCB, is the brain of your keyboard.

There are two ways to connect your mechanical switches to the PCB to register inputs.

1.SOLDER PCB

Soldering necessitates the use of a soldering tool and solder, a low-melting metal alloy. This method entails inserting the pins of a switch through holes in your PCB and then melting the solder to connect the two. This secures the switch and creates a connection between the PCB and the switch's metal pins. When you press the switch, the signal can now transfer, register as an input, and eventually, trigger an action on your computer.

Before attempting to complete this process properly, some research is required. You risk burning the solder, destroying the socket on your PCB, or messing up the switch's pins. Soldering may appear intimidating, but observing video tutorials and practicing with other objects will teach you how to do it correctly and safely.

2. HOT SWAP PCB

The second, and far more straightforward method, is to install your switches using a hot swap PCB. You push your switch's pins into pre-installed sockets rather than using a soldering tool and solder. Hot swapping is similar to installing PC components  or Legos; you simply plug and play. It is quick, requires no training, and allows you to easily swap out switches.

Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboards (GMMK) all use hot swap PCBs.  making them the ideal choice for those looking for a simple, intuitive, and customizable keyboard experience.

When installing switches into a hot-swap PCB, a softer surface to push against is recommended. Lining up your switch with the socket requires precision, so a softer surface reduces the possibility of bent pins. Furthermore, when removing switches, you should be gentle on the board. Ripping out a switch could result in catastrophic harm to the hot-swap socket.

Note: A solder PCB  can be converted to a hot-swap PCB, but this still necessitates the use of a soldering tool. Furthermore, it is not a simple procedure that we recommend for beginners.

 

Ⅱ Custom Keyboard  - Hotswap vs. Solderable PCB 

When building a custom mechanical keyboard, one of the most contentious decisions is whether to use a hot swap PCB or a solderable PCB. Is one superior to the other?

To that end, we will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the two PCB options. The short answer is that there is no "better" PCB – it all comes down to personal preference, which is what defines the custom keyboard hobby.

2.1 Advantages of Hotswap PCB 

The most significant advantage of using a hotswap PCB  is the ease of switch installation, making it ideal for beginners. Simply ensure that the two pins of a switch are straight, install it to the PCB, and you're ready to go! You are not required to solder each individual switch to the PCB.

Another reason why a hotswap PCB  is ideal for newcomers to the pastime is that it allows them to experiment with different switches in real-time. When you're new to the hobby, it's essential to figure out what kind of switch you like and don't like, and a hotswap PCB  makes this stage of...discovery easier.

Aside from that, a hotswap PCB  simplifies keyboard tuning and maintenance. Assume you've been using your keyboard for a couple of years and you need to re-lube your switches – yes, you do need to re-lube your switches after some time.

With a hotswap PCB.  you can simply remove the switches from your keyboard without having to desolder them.

Tuning your stabilizers with a hotswap PCB is also not as difficult, assuming you use screw-in stabilizers. The issue is that you usually have to completely disassemble your keyboard to get to the screw-in stabilizers. Every component attached to the PCB, including the switches and plate, must be removed.

While you may have fine-tuned your stabilizers during assembly, they may begin to tick later on. To be sure, you can inject lube directly into the stabilizer housing to try to solve the problem, but this doesn't always work – in my experience, it usually doesn't.

2.2 Disadvantages of Hotswap PCB 

You're stuck with only one layout if you use a hotswap PCB right away. Of course, some keyboards, such as the Ikki68 Aurora, provide slightly more layout options, but they still fall short of the sheer flexibility of a solderable PCB in this regard.

 

Furthermore, you cannot use a hotswap PCB for half-plate builds. Because the switches are not as "attached" to the PCB as soldered switches are, using a half plate with a hotswap  PCB is not recommended.

A half plate, as the name implies, does not cover the alphas on a keyboard. If you use a hotswap PCB with such a plate, the switches in the alphas portion are basically "suspended" without any support from the plate – this can damage a hotswap PCB

2.3 Advantages of Solderable PCB

As previously stated, a solderable PCB allows you to design your own layout with almost no restrictions. Do you prefer a longer 7u spacebar over a 6.25u spacebar? That's fine. Would you rather have a split backspace than a full backspace? Done.

A half plate with a solderable PCB, on the other hand, will provide a softer typing experience. You are typing directly on the PCB because the alphas portion of a half plate is exposed. You'll get a softer, less harsh typing experience if the PCB has flex cuts – a hotswap PCB doesn't have this kind of flexibility.

Aside from that, a solderable PCB is less expensive than a hotswap PCB. The price difference isn't particularly significant – about $10 more in most cases – but it's worth noting. However, that is not the entire picture; I'll discuss this further in the following section.

2.4 Disadvantages of Solderable PCB

Even though a solderable PCB is less expensive than a hotswap PCB. It requires more tools to assemble, such as a soldering iron and desoldering tools. Depending on whether you already have such items, these do increase the "cost of ownership" of a solderable PCB.

Assembling a keyboard with a solderable PCB requires more work because each individual switch must be soldered to the PCB. You may even damage the PCB during the assembly process if you are inexperienced with a soldering iron.

The inability to easily swap out switches is, in my opinion, the most significant disadvantage of a solderable PCB. This makes a variety of keyboard maintenance tasks more difficult, such as stabilizer tuning, switch relubrication, and troubleshooting any keyboard problems.

That's it. You may prefer a hotswap or solderable PCB depending on your preferences. Personally, I always use a hotswap PCB for ease of installation, even if it means I can only do a single layout or a half plate build.

In addition, I review keyboard switches  on a regular basis; having a hotswap PCB makes this process much easier.

Ⅲ What Is a Hotswap Mechanical Keyboard  ?

Hotswap = changing switches without soldering

Hotswap (also known as hot-swap or hot swap) is a popular feature that Kono Store and Input Club were early adopters of. It refers to keyboards that allow for switch replacement without the use of solder. Kaihua (Kailh), a leading switch manufacturer in China, developed the market-leading hotswap  socket design shown below.

hotawap-mechanical-keyboard

How can that get confusing?

Many websites state that hotswap keyboards have "hotswap switches," which is rarely the case and can lead to minor confusion. Cherry MX-style hotswap keyboard switches can be used in keyboards with the same hotswap socket pinout/plate design, but they were not designed for hotswap use. These switches can even be soldered into a conventional keyboard. The true innovation is found on the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) or, in the case of actual hotswap switches such as our contactless SILO / Keystone line, in the underlying technology.

Ⅳ Why are so few hotswap keyboards available?

The most significant reason is a reduction in profit — both long and short term. Hotswap sockets are slightly more expensive per keyboard. Most mass-market keyboards are generated in batches of several thousand or more, so manufacturers don't like the extra cost eating into their profit. They also make repairs very simple; when switches wear out, people are much less likely to purchase a new keyboard rather than repairing it themselves.

Implementing hotswap sockets also necessitates some engineering expertise. They take up extra space on the PCB, requiring precise component placement and routing. This limits international layout support at the PCB level, which is especially important if a keyboard includes LEDs. Separate PCB designs are usually required if you want a European enter key or a split space bar in a hotswap keyboard. By reducing LED functionality, keyboards such as the Minivan, which is no longer accessible, achieve partial all-in-one success.

Ⅴ How to Make Hot-Swappable Mechanical keyboard PCB  ?

Hot-Swappable Sockets for DIY Mechanical Keyboard 

With a hot-swappable mechanical keyboard, you can replace switches and LEDs on the fly without soldering or even turning off the keyboard. In this short video tutorial, I demonstrate how to make any printed circuit board for a mechanical keyboard hot-swappable by including footprints for Cherry MX plate switches. Other manufacturers' switches, such as Gateron and Kaihl, are compatible with the Cherry MX switches, making this a universal solution.

Required Hardware

  • Suitable printed circuit board (for example for ANAVI Macro Pad 8 maker kit)
  • Switches made of metal
  • 3mm LEDs are optional, depending on the type of PCB and switches.
  • Keycaps
  • TE Connectivity / AMP 8134-HC-8P2 Holtite sockets for mechanical switches and TE Connectivity / AMP 8134-HC-5P2 Holtite sockets for 3mm LEDs
  • Tweezers, cutters and soldering irons are required tools.

Holtite sockets for hot-swap 

 

Step 1

Insert the holtite sockets  into the PCB with tweezers . Because the sockets are small, take care not to lose any of them. Switch on the soldering iron. Warm each socket and push it gently. So we're using a soldering iron, but not for soldering. We're just using its heat to mount the sockets.

It appears to be simpler than it is. It took some time for me to do it for all of the switches and LEDs. Each key has two holes for the switch and two holes for the LED, so you'll need four sockets of the appropriate size for each key.

Step 2

The following step is optional and only applies to the ANAVI Macro Pad 8 . The maker kit includes a WS2812B addressable LED strip that should be soldered to the back of the keyboard's side. Please take note of the arrow indicating the direction of the LED strip and ensure you place it correctly as shown in the video.

Step 3

Cut the legs of the 3mm LEDs  to ensure a good fit in the hot-swappable holtite sockets we've already installed.

Step 4

Put the switches, LEDs, and keycaps together. After you've completed step 1, this is a simple process since you already get a hot-swappable printed circuit board  for the mechanical keyboard.

ANAVI Macro Pad 8 customized with blue Cherry MX switches and green 3mm LEDs for backlighting

The Gateron red switches, red LEDs, and white translucent keycaps that come standard with the ANAVI Macro Pad 8 are standard. In this case, however, I'm experimenting with blue Cherry MX switches, green LEDs, and dark translucent keycaps in the hot-swappable version. I bought a variety of mechanical switches, including Gateron Red, Cherry MX Blue , and Cherry MX Brown. Please keep in mind that the 3mm LED slots on the Cherry MX brown switches in the video are not present.

The same method of using holtite sockets can be used on any other mechanical keyboard PCB  with a footprint for Cherry MX switches.

Ⅵ Relevant Information about "Hot Swap PCB"

1. Are hot-swappable PCBS good?

If you're new to mechanical keyboards and not looking to learn how to solder, we recommend a PCB with hot-swap sockets as they are the most beginner friendly.

2. Are solder switches hard?

Soldering isn't difficult, especially with good tools, but it's still a skill which must be learned and it just doesn't make sense to risk a prized keyboard while you're learning. There are many posts here from folks who have damaged a keyboard with their first soldering attempt and looking for advice on how to fix it.

3. What does a soldered PCB mean?

PCB soldering is another term for the process of soldering electrical circuit boards. ... As the soldering iron melts this metal, it is then used a bit like glue to stick to pieces together. As the solder metal cools, it will re-harden into one large shape that connects the two parts.

4. Can you put 3 pin switches in a 5 pin PCB?

There are holes for 5-pin (PCB mount) switches, but 3-pin switches work just fine here since the plate is fastened to the PCB - alignment and stability won't be an issue. This PCB uses good quality Kailh hotswap sockets.

5. Does PCB affect sound keyboard?

Re: How does the PCB affect the sound of the keyboard? PCB will have minimal effect, despite being connected, it's a soft material and the plate tends to take the actual impact regardless of mount. The plate will change the sound of the ping, but more importantly it can and usually does amplify it.

6. What temperature should I solder PCB?

600°- 650°F (316°- 343°C) is a good place to start for lead-based solder and 650°- 700°F (343°- 371°C) for lead-free solder. You want the tip hot enough to melt the solder efficiency, but excess heat can damage components as the heat travels along the leads, and it will reduce the lifespan of the soldering tip.

7. What are types of PCB?

Common Types of Printed Circuit Boards

  • Single Layer PCB. Single layer printed circuit boards are among some of the simplest to design and manufacture. ...
  • Double Layer PCB. ...
  • Multi-Layer PCB. ...
  • High Density Interconnect (HDI) PCB. ...
  • High Frequency PCB.

8. Is Ducky hot-swappable?

All standard Ducky One 3 mechanical keyboards are hot-swappable and feature Kailh's hot-swap sockets. Colored in a vibrant yellow, Kailh sockets are chosen for their impressive reliability.

9. Do hot swap keyboards need soldering?

All you need to do is just ensure that the two pins of a switch are straight, install it to the PCB, and…you're good to go! You don't have to go through the trouble of soldering each individual switch to the PCB. ... Other than that, a hotswap PCB makes keyboard tuning and maintenance much, much easier as well.

 

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