In today’s PC marketplace, there are literally thousands of options when it comes to keyboards. They range from basic, run-of-the-mill keyboards included in most retail PC packages to full-color, programmable and customizable designs. Most generic keyboards are membrane-style keyboards. This simply means they are nearly silent keys that rely on solid contact from a rubber membrane to log a keystroke. Mechanical keyboards have been coming into prevalence now, however, and these open up a world of new opportunities. Colorful backlit keyboards dominate the gaming builds of today. Users want custom keycaps, different tension/click settings on the keys, and the ability to actually extend the life of a keyboard by allowing keys to be swapped out at any time. This brings us to hot-swappable keyboards.
Table of Contents:
- What Is a Hot Swappable Keyboard?
- Types of Hot Swappable Switches
- Do you need a hot-swap keyboard?
- Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hot Swappable Keyboard
- How to Hotswap Switches Into Your Keyboard?
- The Best Hot Swap Keyboards of Redragon
What Is a Hot Swappable Keyboard?
Hot-swappable keyboards will allow the user to remove a key at any time without causing any sort of issue with the keyboard, or its connection to the PC. Changing keys in the past was only reserved for the hardiest of PC folk. It involved soldering and some patience to repair or replace a key. Now, with a few simple tools and a minute or two of your time, you can swap out a sticking key for a new one, or swap out the entire keyset for a new feel in a short amount of time. Keys are now self-contained actuators that interact with the keyboard circuit board through pins to register the keystrokes. This pin setup permits the removal of keys effortlessly. With this newfound customization option, obviously, there are several types of keys. Let’s go over the different types of keys available.
Types of Hot Swappable Switches
There are several “types” of switches available to users from hundreds of retailers each with its own take on keys. Each of these types is denoted by color by the manufacturer. It can get confusing as there is no set-in-stone color scheme and meaning. So rather than get into all of the specifics on what Razer offers as compared to Redragon for example, we will just cover what the switch types are. Again, this will be very broad and you will have to contact your particular brand’s support to make sure your keyboard is compatible with any switches you are interested in.
Linear switches typically come in three colors, this is the color of the actuator on the key, which is red, black, and yellow. The color usually denotes a difference in bottom-out force or the amount of pressure you need to push the switch all the way down, or in the case of a switch sharing the same force, it is how fast it reaches the bottom called a force curve. Some switches start out easy to press and stay consistent (red for example) throughout the entire travel. Yellow will get more resistive at the bottom, and black will push back even more. With linear switches, this is a smooth, seamless travel. No clicks, no bumps, just one fluid motion of travel to press the key. With no clicks or bumps, this makes for a very quiet keyboard.
Tactile switches are keys that will give a small, quiet bump at each key press. The action produced by tactile switches is desirable for those who want a soft reminder that their keypress went through. It provides, as the name suggests, a tactile feeling of typing. Again, typically you will find these to be listed as brown or clear switches when purchasing.
These switches give the most feedback. As the name states, they give a loud repose to each keypress so you are sure your stroke was completed. This is most similar to typing on an old-style typewriter. These keys give the most enjoyable experience when typing. The sound is satisfying and can be fun to use. Obviously though, in a classroom or office setting, this could be a distraction.
Those are the three main styles of switches. Gamers will tend to gravitate towards the linear switches for the fast, predictable nature of purely linear travel. Bloggers and people who do a lot of typing will likely prefer tactile or even clicky keys. Really though it comes down to user preference on what experience the keyboard offers. Below is a basic rundown of switch colors and typical characteristics. These may vary slightly based on the manufacturer. The resistance mentioned is the amount of pressure your finger will feel when the key is pressed.
Red Linear switch with light resistance
Yellow Linear switch with medium resistance
Black Linear switch with heavy resistance
Brown Tactile switch with medium resistance
Clear Tactile switch with heavy resistance
Blue Clicky switch with medium resistance
Green Clicky switch with heavy resistance
Redragon Custom Switches
Redragon offers up a custom switch pack to even further give you options when it comes to switches. These differ from standard switch types in that you do have choices in feel and noise above what is normally offered. For a detailed look at what is offered visit Redragon A113 Bullet Mechanical Switch Guide. Here is a brief overview:
- Redragon Custom Switch - A113 Bullet series customizable mechanical keyboard switches kit is exclusively customized from the original MX mechanical switches, dedicated for keyboard mod enthusiasts, compatible with all hot-swappable keyboards including the Redragon 2021 keyboards (K530, K630, K617 ONLY) & upcoming 2022 new Redragon hot-swap series.
- Neon Linear (Equivalent Red) - Lighter actuation force but stronger bounce feedback, combined with the smooth linear original feature. Bullet-R Neon Linear mechanical switch offers softer but unique rebound feedback, quieter than MX Red.
- Epic Durable Quality - There are 24 switches in the box, with an extra keycap and switch puller, every single switch has 80 million click times the durability. Extremely wear-resistant internal components with IP40 dust-proof features provide a long-lasting and stable quality lifespan.
- No Missing Clicks - Advanced mainstream 3-pin configuration for maximum applicability and worry-free customization. Strong and solid all-metal pin contacts, plug-and-play for one-click ultra-precision left no lag or missed the key.
Do you need a hot swap keyboard?
Well, do you? You must ask yourself some basic questions first. What is it about your current keyboard you would change? Do you want to be able to extend the life of your keyboard? Do you find yourself wanting your keyboard to not be basic and black? Then yes! While they are fantastic additions to your rig, hot-swap keyboards are not essential, but they are going to vastly improve your enjoyment. Let’s be honest, in terms of basic functionality, all keyboards operate the same way. A hot swap keyboard will allow you to get the keyboard to behave the way YOU want it to, rather than the keyboard telling you this is what I can do.
Advantages and Disadvantages of a Hot Swappable Keyboard
So you have decided to research a hot swap keyboard. Great! Now for the fun part, the pros and cons.
Hot swap keyboards will provide many advantages.
You will no longer be restricted to a basic, boring, lifeless keyboard. You can inject color and eccentricities into the layout. Gold-colored keys, clear keys, rainbow keys, the sky’s the limit! There are tons of options out there to make your keyboard look amazing. Also, did you notice your space bar is registering about two out of every three clicks? Easy to replace keys means you don’t have to scrap the whole keyboard because one button doesn’t work the way it should. Change it. It will take about a minute to do and you are back on your way. These keyboards are very flexible in how they perform and look.
As with anything, there is a dark side as well.
Simpler products are usually more reliable and cheaper. Because of their complexity, some hot-swap keyboards can get into the pricey territory. You pay to play so to speak. Overall, hot swap keys are not as reliable in the long run as standard membrane keys. They are more complicated and thus more prone to failure. Also, your potentially pricey keyboard could be ruined by botching the key swap if something goes wrong. Bent pins, busted sockets, etc can cripple a keyboard. Also, each time you remove a key and put a new one in, the socket will wear out a little. Over time, this can cause intermittent connection issues or potential dead sockets, or dreaded wobble in the key.
In the end, it has to be your decision to weigh the advantages and disadvantages. However, in my opinion, the ability to repair the keys and play with different feels in functionality far outweighs any disadvantages.
How to Hotswap Switches Into Your Keyboard
Steps to change the switch with tools
Step 1: Remove the keycaps with a keycap puller.
Step 2: Remove the switches with the switch puller.
Step 3: Gently press new switches into PCB.
Step 4: Plug in the keyboard and test your new switches
The Best Hot Swap Keyboards of Redragon
In the past, Redragon keyboards had switches that were only compatible with the Otemu 3-pin style. The new hot-swappable keyboards from Redragon now offer compatibility with nearly all 3 and 5-pin switches for the new keyboards, giving you even more flexibility. And expect the same from Redragon in the coming product lines. For now, though, here are the current top keyboards from Redragon!
K628/K628PRO - this is a 75% size keyboard featuring 78 fully swappable red keys compatible with 3 and 5-pin switches featuring 20 modes of full RGB lighting. It also includes Redragon's innovative tri-mode connection technology, featuring a USB-C wired connection as well as BT 3.0/5.0 & 2.4Ghz wireless modes.
K631/K631PRO - This keyboard is a 65% size board with 68 fully swappable linear red keys which are compatible with 3 and 5-pin keys. It also includes Redragon's innovative tri-mode connection technology, featuring a USB-C wired connection as well as BT 3.0/5.0 & 2.4Ghz wireless modes. Its compact size will not clutter up the desktop.
K530PRO - This keyboard is a 60% size board with 61 fully swappable linear red keys which are compatible with 3 and 5-pin keys. It also includes Redragon's innovative tri-mode connection technology, featuring a USB-C wired connection as well as BT 3.0/5.0 & 2.4Ghz wireless modes. This keyboard has 13 preset lighting modes and is one of the most compact keyboards you will find.
K617 - This keyboard is a 60% size board with 61 fully swappable linear red keys which are compatible with 3 and 5-pin keys. It consists of white & gray mixed-colored keycaps. It also includes Redragon's innovative tri-mode connection technology, featuring a USB-C wired connection as well as BT 3.0/5.0 & 2.4Ghz wireless modes.