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3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

Key Points

  • 3-pin and 5-pin keyboard switches refer to the number of electrical and stability pins on the bottom of the switch.
  • 3-pin switches have one additional plastic stability pin, while 5-pin switches have three plastic stability pins.
  • 3-pin switches are plate-mounted, while 5-pin switches are PCB-mounted.
  • 3-pin switches can be inserted into 5-pin sockets but may experience additional instability.
  • There is no significant price difference between 3-pin and 5-pin switches.

If you’ve decided to take the plunge and dip your toes into hot-swappable keyboards, you’ve probably seen people asking about 3-pin vs. 5-pin keyboard switches. These switch builds refer to the number of electrical and stability pins on the bottom of the switch, allowing it to snap onto the plate or mount on the keyboard’s PCB.

3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: Side-by-Side Comparison

3-Pin Switch5-Pin Switch
Pin Count35
MountPlatePCB
StabilityLess StableMore Stable
ManufacturersCherry, Redragon, Gateron, etc.Gateron, EPOMAKER, Glorious, etc.
Native Board Compatibility3-pin, 5-pin5-pin
3-Pin Thocky Tactile Switches
Glorious Panda Thocky Tactile Switches for Mechanical Keyboard
$34.99
  • 36x plate-mounted 3-pin switches
  • Pre-lubed switches using Glorious switch lube
  • Responsive tactile switch
  • 67-gram stainless steel spring with nickel plating
  • Created from original INVYR Panda housing molds using premium Nylon PA66
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
01/26/2024 07:30 pm GMT

3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: What’s the Difference?

3-pin and 5-pin keyboard switches are largely the same. The real difference between switches is not in the number of pins — though that is not to say there are no differences at all — but in the manufacturer. Keyboard switch makers have differing ideas and design theories that influence how the switches are built. However, there are some notable differences in 3-pin vs. 5-pin keyboard switches.

Number of Pins

You can see the two extra metal stability pins on the purple switch above.

While it may seem like a “duh” moment, there is a difference in the number of pins between some keyboard switches. Every switch has two electrical pins that connect it to the PCB and allow it to function. If the metal electrical pins are bent, damaged, or clipped off, the switch won’t be able to interface with the PCB and send signals to the computer anymore.

However, 3-pin switches have one additional plastic stability pin, while 5-pin switches have three plastic stability pins. You can see that the Cherry switch I have here features three pins: the two metal pins and the round stability pin in the middle. On the other side, I have an EPOMAKER switch with the standard two metal pins, the round stability pin in the center, and two thinner plastic legs adjacent to the other three pins.

Mount Type

3-pin keyboard switches mount on the backplate using plastic clips.

3-pin and 5-pin switches mount on the keyboard differently. Most keyboards have a backplate that provides stability and protects the PCB from the stress of keystrokes, dirt, and other interfering materials existing in the world alongside the keyboard.

3-pin switches usually mount to the plate. So, the switch gains stability from snapping onto the edge of the plate. 5-pin switches are PCB mounted, meaning they don’t attach to the plate even if it’s there. 

While most keyboards have a plate, even if it’s unnecessary for the switch, there are plateless builds. So, if you’re using a barebones kit, check to see if it has a plate. Plate-mounted switches won’t have anything to snap onto during installation if you don’t have a plate.

Socket Compatibility

3-pin switches are compatible with both 3-pin and 5-pin sockets. Simply put, you don’t actually need the additional two pins to install the switches. As long as the electrical pins are intact, the switch will still interface with the PCB, as the electrical components are all that are necessary to facilitate that interaction. 

5-pin switches can only be inserted into a 5-pin socket naturally. A 3-pin socket has nowhere for the additional two pins to go. So, the switch won’t fit. However, you can actually clip the extra pins off with nail clippers or something similar. Doing so will allow you to socket the switch into a 3-pin connector. However, it will permanently remove the additional legs. You won’t be able to reattach them.

Stability

Unstable switches might wobble or fall off the PCB when pressed.

You may experience instability when socketing a 3-pin switch into a 5-pin mount. Switch wobble is a threat no matter what kind of switches you use, especially with hot-swappable switches. Traditional mechanical keyboards have switches soldered to the PCB, making them very stable and hard to move.

As you can see from the picture above, the switch on this keyboard isn’t stable, and when pressed down, it tilts to the side. In the specific situation with the keyboard above, the switches would even come off the PCB altogether when I was typing. Super frustrating!

However, hot-swappable sockets are specifically hot-swappable because the switches aren’t soldered to the PCB. Not soldering the switches to the board allows users to remove the switches without additional tools.

Due to the lack of soldering, hot-swappable switches are naturally less stable. The only thing holding it down is the plastic mount, which is far less steady than a soldered connection.

Switch wobble is more common with 3-pin switches. Sometimes, the plate-mount on these isn’t as secure as the additional legs on a 5-pin switch. However, the risk is generally regarded as negligible; the stability between 3-pin and 5-pin configurations is pretty much the same.

5-Pin Linear Switches
Glorious Lynx Linear Switches for Mechanical Keyboard
$34.99
  • 36x linear PCB-mounted 5-pin switches
  • Bottom out force of 60g
  • Polycarbonate top housing, Nylon PA12 bottom shell, and POM stem
  • Passthrough for RGB compatibility
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01/26/2024 07:25 pm GMT

3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • 3-pin switches are plate-mounted, while 5-pin switches are PCB-mounted.
  • Both pin configurations use two electrical pins.
  • You can clip the additional legs off 5-pin switches to insert them into 3-pin sockets.
  • 3-pin switches can be inserted into 5-pin sockets but may experience additional instability.
  • There is no significant price difference between the two pin configurations.

3-Pin vs. 5-Pin Keyboard Switches: Which Is Better?

Consider a few things when choosing between 3-pin and 5-pin switches. Factors like what switches you want, your kit compatibility, and how hard you hit the keys are essential to consider. Let’s examine these details.

Board Compatibility

This factor is one of the deciding ones. If you don’t have a 5-pin compatible board, don’t buy 5-pin switches. While you can just clip the extra legs off, you would do far less work if you just bought compatible switches.

Additionally, people who want 3-pin switches can’t use a plateless kit. So, if your ideal kit is plateless, you must buy 5-pin switches since a 3-pin switch needs a plate to mount on. 5-pin switches also benefit from the plate even though they don’t mount to it. However, the additional stability from the plate is redundant with 5-pin switches.

Switch Availability

You should also consider what switches you want to buy and switches you may purchase in the future. For instance, Cherry MX switches are 3-pin switches. So, they can be used on both 3-pin and 5-pin compatible boards. However, most Glorious switches are 5-pin. So, they can’t be used with a 3-pin board unless you physically modify them.

Also, consider what you’ll do when your favorite switches inevitably get cycled out for a newer model. No switch has an indefinite lifespan. Eventually, the switches you use will be reengineered, and a new model will be introduced. 

If you have both 3 and 5-pin switches on your wishlist, you should choose a 5-pin board since both types of switches can be socketed in. If you only want to use 3-pin switches such as Redragon or Cherry MX, then you might be able to save some money looking at a 3-pin board.

Stability

3-pin switches are marginally less stable than 5-pin ones. If you need additional stability, such as hitting the keys really hard, you may want to consider choosing 5-pin switches, as they’re less likely to experience wobble.

However, it’s also important to remember that the stability, while marginally different, is very similar. This factor shouldn’t be a deciding one unless you have a specific circumstance that makes you need ideal stability.

If you need an extremely stable board, it’s better not even to buy a hot-swappable keyboard and buy a soldered one instead. Hot-swappable sockets are naturally less stable than soldered ones.

  1. Glorious Panda Thocky Tactile Switches for Mechanical Keyboard
    $34.99
    • 36x plate-mounted 3-pin switches
    • Pre-lubed switches using Glorious switch lube
    • Responsive tactile switch
    • 67-gram stainless steel spring with nickel plating
    • Created from original INVYR Panda housing molds using premium Nylon PA66
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/26/2024 07:30 pm GMT
  2. Glorious Lynx Linear Switches for Mechanical Keyboard
    $34.99
    • 36x linear PCB-mounted 5-pin switches
    • Bottom out force of 60g
    • Polycarbonate top housing, Nylon PA12 bottom shell, and POM stem
    • Passthrough for RGB compatibility
    • Pre-lubed with Glorious lube
    Buy Now

    We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

    01/26/2024 07:25 pm GMT

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a 3-pin keyboard switch?

A 3-pin keyboard switch is an unsoldered mechanical keyboard switch for hot-swappable boards that has two electrical pins and one plastic knob.

What is a 5-pin keyboard switch?

5-pin keyboard switches are unsoldered mechanical keyboard switches for hot-swappable boards with two electrical pins, one plastic knob, and two plastic stability legs.

Which is better: 3-pin or 5-pin keyboard switches?

3-pin keyboard switches are compatible with both 3 and 5-pin sockets. 5-pin switches are more stable and less likely to experience switch wobble. They both have pros and cons.

Can I use a 3-pin switch in a 5-pin keyboard?

Yes.

Can I use a 5-pin switch in a 3-pin keyboard?

If you cut off the additional stability legs, you can use a 5-pin switch in a 3-pin socket.

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