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A hot-swappable keyboard is a fantastic alternative to traditional mechanical keyboards. As well as being affordable, it isn’t as complicated as the mechanical type. You won’t have to solder switches or worry about damage due to spills or food particles. Read on to learn about these keyboards and see their real-world applications.

What Is a Hot-Swappable Keyboard?: Complete Explanation

In short, a hot-swappable keyboard is a mechanical keyboard with switches not soldered to the printed circuit board (PCB) or keyboard plate. They can be removed and replaced by simply pulling them out with a switch puller. Hot-swapping also allows you to remove and swap switches and plugs without even disconnecting the keyboard from the computer (that’s why it’s called hot-swapping and not just swapping.)

What Is a Hot-Swappable Keyboard?: An Exact Definition

Disassembled keyboard on a white background
Hot-swappable keyboards typically have removal plugs and switches like the one pictured above.

©Om.Nom.Nom/Shutterstock.com

Hot-swappable keyboards have a few notable features that must be present. First of all, it has to be mechanical. There’s no such thing as a hot-swappable membrane keyboard because there would be nothing to swap.

Secondly, the keyboard’s switches and plugs must be removable with sheer force. Switch pullers are just glorified tweezers with a little notch for getting under the edge of the switch to loosen it. The keyboard is not hot-swappable if you need a soldering iron to remove the switches and plugs.

Lastly, the keyboard must be able to swap key switches and plugs without disconnecting from the computer unit. This last feature is crucial as it defines the “hot” in “hot-swap.” If the keyboard can’t swap switches while “hot” (running an electrical current,) it’s not removable.

How Do Hot-Swappable Keyboards Work?

Hot-swappable keyboards use two different input methods, three-pin and five-pin inputs. For stability, a three-pin input will have two metal pins in the bottom and one plastic pin. A five-pin input has two metal pins and three plastic stability pins.

Hot-swappable PCBs come with connection holes for the pins on the bottom of hot-swappable switches. Unfortunately, five-pin switches are not natively compatible with three-pin inputs. Still, if you find a key switch with too many pins, you can always chop off the extra pins with a pair of scissors or a knife.

When using a hot-swappable PCB, the space where the switches would typically be soldered to the board is instead used for a socket. This socket allows the connection pins to connect to the board without being soldered.

Using a hot-swappable keyboard is a more straightforward method of modifying your keyboard. When modifying a PCB or plate-mounted keyboard, your only recourse is to modify the keyboard by disassembling the whole thing and removing the switches with a de-soldering pump.

Due to the unwieldy nature of modifying PCB and plate-mounted switches, it’s becoming more and more common for keyboard manufacturers, especially more prominent companies like Keychron and Ducky, to produce more swappable keyboards. Most companies make their own switches, as detachable keyboards drive switch sales by being easily modifiable.

From Where Did Hot-Swappable Keyboards Originate?

It’s not entirely clear where the hot-swappable keyboard actually originates. However, they started becoming popular in the broader keyboard community in 2017–2018, according to the best estimates we could find from users.

The technology we currently use can be traced back to Kaihua, a Chinese keyboard switch manufacturer. However, hot-swappable keyboards predate this production line by quite a bit. Initially, these keyboards were a modification you could make to a soldered PCB.

To modify your standard PCB with hot-swappable sockets, you’ll need to disassemble the entire keyboard, remove all the switches, and then solder the socket board onto the PCB. Most people modifying their keyboards using Mill-Max sockets. These sockets are generally regarded as being more sturdy than the Kaihua sockets. Still, you must take your keyboard apart and do just as much soldering as a full switch swap to install them. However, you’ll be rewarded with a more stable hot-swappable keyboard than the alternative.

Key Applications of Hot-Swappable Keyboard

gaming keyboard
Some gaming keyboards are hot-swappable, with some featuring lights and colorful keys.

©De la Cuesta/Shutterstock.com

Hot-swappable keyboards are incredibly self-explanatory. People purchase them as they’re easy to modify. The technology used in these keyboards is not a mystery. It can likely be applied to other sockets for plugs and switches outside the keyboard industry. However, the technology used in hot-swappable keyboards has innovated only in the keyboard industry.

Examples of Hot-Swappable Keyboards in the Real World

Hot-swappable keyboards are becoming increasingly popular, and they’re easy to find, even from cheaper brands. We’ll list a few of the most popular companies that make them and designate which keyboard models are hot-swappable.

Keychron

Keychron is one of the leading brands in the hot-swappable industry. They’ve even published an article on their blog stating that they believe hot-swappability is “necessary” and represents the next great thing in the keyboard industry.

All Keychron K-Series keyboards are hot-swappable except for the K2 (the K2 Hot-Swappable model is hot-swappable like the name implies.) Additionally, all modern Keychron keyboards feature hot-swappability. They weren’t kidding when they said they believed the feature was necessary!

Ducky

Ducky is a Taiwanese keyboard company that makes mechanical keyboards, keycaps, and mice. The new Ducky One 3 keyboard features hot-swappable sockets on all of the One 3 models. However, One 2 and earlier keyboards doesnt’

Redragon

Redragon is a budget computer parts and peripherals company that has recently started a foray into the hot-swappable keyboard industry. Many of their newer keyboard models, such as the and K619 Horus, feature hot-swappable switches. However, even amongst their newer keyboards, not all Redragon’s keyboards are removable. So, ensure that the model you’re purchasing features hot-swappable switches if you want to get in on that.

Final Thoughts

Hot-swapping might be a bit controversial to some, but it’s a feature that is here to stay on the axes of mechanical keyboards. So, if you’re the type who loves to modify their technology, trying out a hot-swappable keyboard is the best way to get started with changing keyboards. However, learning to solder and take apart keyboards is an equally gratifying experience for those with the time and resources to learn. So, regardless of how you modify your keyboard, we can all unite under the banner of custom keyboards!

Last update on 2023-05-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What is Hot-swapping in Keyboards? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are hot-swappable key switches?

Hot-swappable key switches can be removed from the board with a switch puller without a soldering iron and de-soldering pump. They can also be removed while the keyboard is in use.

Are all keyboards hot-swappable?

Not all keyboards are hot-swappable. Many mechanical keyboards come with the key switches soldered to the PCB.

Are all switches hot-swappable?

Not all switches are hot-swappable.

Is hot-swappable better than not?

Hot-swappable keyboards tend to be a little less sturdy than non-hot-swappable keyboards. This instability is primarily attributed to Kaihua’s sockets, which are less sturdy than the Mill-Max alternative. However, Mill-Max sockets must be soldered to a non-hot-swappable PCB to modify it to become hot-swappable.

What should I look for in switches for my hot-swappable keyboard?

The first thing you should always look for is compatibility. While five-pin switches can be modified to fit on a three-pin board, this adaptation requires the user to make irreparable adjustments to the switches to make them compatible.

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