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Tech enthusiasts continue debating the merits of what makes the best keyboard. And while keyboards are intricate devices comprised of many parts, no part is so hotly debated as the type of printed chipboard. The printed chipboard (PCB) determines how the switches are attached and removed. Below, we’ll be participating in this debate as we compare a hot-swap vs a solder keyboard.
Another topic within the keyboard debates is the type of casing. To learn more about this, read our article comparing polycarbonate vs aluminum keyboard casing.
The differences between hot-swap and solder PCBs are stark. A hot-swappable keyboard means that the switches are attached via hot-swap sockets, which make it easy to remove and replace the mechanical switches by hand or with a switch puller tool.
A soldered keyboard means that every individual switch is soldered onto the PCB, meaning they must be removed by heating up and removing the solder.
If you already know what attachment method you want, there are further questions to answer before finding the perfect keyboard. But don’t worry, we have you covered. You can continue your keyboard by learning about linear vs clicky mechanical switches.
The winner in the installation arena is clear. Hot-swap sockets make the installation process much more accessible than solder, as you can easily damage the switch if you make a mistake with the soldering iron due to a lack of skill with this tool. That said, if you do have some skill with a soldering iron, installing this type of switch isn’t as hard as it may sound.
If you have no experience with soldering, a hot-swap keyboard will be best.
Switch variety depends significantly on whether you’re using your keyboard for gaming or more typing-based functions. As a result, there is a vast range of keyboard switches. For those wanting to learn more, we have an article that explains Cherry MX Speed vs Red switch types.
Hot-swappable models are handy for those who want to experiment with different switch types because changing them out is easy and fast.
Again, the problem with soldered PCBs is that it takes setting up your kit, taking apart your entire board, and going through the whole rigamarole to install them. This makes it difficult to try various switches since the process is more time-consuming.
Constantly removing and replacing keys on a hot-swap board wears out the sockets and, if done too frequently, can permanently damage the entire keyboard.
Hot-swap keyboards require more space per key and are harder to make. Therefore, manufacturers tend to limit the number of hot-swap models they create. On the other hand, soldered keyboards come in a range of layouts.
Should you want to know more about specific keyboard layouts and their value, we have a great article explaining 60 vs 65 keyboards.
The hot-swap apparatus is known to wear out, leading to switches falling out over time. Conversely, a soldered PCB offers additional security and lasts longer than hot-swappable models.
STAT: The average full-sized keyboard comes with 104 keys and switches. (source)