Can Any Switch Go On Any Keyboard? A Deep Dive into Hot Swappability

Hey friend! Have you heard about these cool new hot swap mechanical keyboards? If you‘re a keyboard enthusiast like me, being able to easily swap switches is a total game changer. But how exactly does hot swapping work? And what switches can you use? This guide has got you covered on everything you need to know about making any mechanical keyboard switch swappable.

A Brief History of Mechanical Switches

To understand hot swapping, we first need to know how mechanical keyboard switches work. The origins go back to the 1960s, when patented Cherry MX switches were developed as a durable and responsive alternative to rubber dome designs. They featured a stem plunger design with a spring inside to provide the signature tactile feel and audible click that typists loved.

These Cherry MX switches became widespread by the 1980s and spawned many clones from competitors. They dominated the market for decades until Cherry‘s patent expired in the 1990s, opening the door to new manufacturers like Gateron, Kailh and Outemu.

The core design remained largely unchanged, with variations in actuation force, travel distance, and tactile feedback. But most kept the now standard cross-shaped stem and housing perfected by Cherry.

The Rise of Hot Swappability

As mechanical keyboards surged back into mainstream popularity in the 2010s, the demand grew from enthusiasts to customize and modify their typing experience. This led to the first hot swappable keyboard PCBs using sockets that allowed switches to be pulled out without any soldering.

Now this feature has gone mainstream, with research firm Technavio reporting the global hot swap keyboards market size was valued at $253.11 million in 2020. They estimate it will grow by $434.44 million from 2021 to 2025, a staggering 22% compound annual growth rate [1].

It‘s easy to see why. Being able to quickly swap switches creates nearly endless customization options compared to soldered keyboards. Keep reading to learn how it works!

How Hot Swappability Works

A hot swappable PCB has special sockets that the mechanical switches insert into. These sockets create a stable electrical connection using contact pins that press up against the copper contact pads on the switch pins.

This socket holds the switch in place mechanically while also allowing the signal to pass through. No soldering required! Most common sockets support 3 and 5 pin switch designs from all the major brands like Cherry, Gateron, and Kailh.

Hot swap keyboards often include extra switches so you can easily customize each key. Just pop off the keycaps with a cap puller, use the switch puller to remove the current switches, and swap in your preference. The whole process is straightforward enough for most beginners to DIY.

Hot Swap vs Soldered Keyboards

Many stock mechanical keyboards still use traditional soldered designs where the switches are permanently attached to the PCB. This makes modding much more difficult:

  • You‘ll need to de-solder each switch you want to remove using a soldering iron, solder wick, flux, etc. Not fun or easy!

  • Then you need to carefully solder each new switch in place without damaging the PCB or switches from excess heat.

  • Any mistake risks permanently damaging the keyboard. Not ideal for casually testing switch types!

Hot swappable boards avoid these risks entirely. You get the benefits of easy customization without the cost of desoldering equipment and hours of delicate electronics work.

For most enthusiasts, the choice is clear – hot swap for the win! But you‘re probably wondering if all switches will actually work in these boards…

Mechanical Switch Compatibility

The vast majority of common MX style mechanical switches will be compatible with hot swap keyboards, thanks to the cross shaped stem essentially becoming an industry standard. This includes all the most popular switches from brands like:

  • Cherry – The original MX switch creators, popular for their smooth and consistent feel. Offered in Blue, Brown, Red, Clear, etc.

  • Gateron – Known for affordable switches with smooth motion rivaling Cherry. Colors match Cherry functions.

  • Kailh – Innovative switch designer pushing new designs like box shaped housings. Great value.

  • Outemu – Budget linear and clicky switches with decent quality for the price.

And many more from Razer, Logitech, Novelkeys, Durock, Everglide etc all use the same + shaped stem cross-section to slide into hot swap sockets reliably.

However, you should be aware of a few compatibility issues:

  • Optical switches use light beams for actuation instead of metal contacts. These won‘t work in hot swap boards designed for mechanical switch pins.

  • Low profile switches have shorter travel and a different housing shape that likely won‘t align properly with sockets.

  • Alps and other vintage switches may not have support either depending on socket design.

As long as you stick with standard, full height mechanical MX style switches, you‘ll have endless options for hot swapping fun! Now let‘s dive deeper into picking the perfect switch.

Finding Your Ideal Switch Type

Switches really come down to personal preference – the right feel for your typing style can make all the difference in speed and comfort. Here are some key characteristics to consider:

Actuation Point

This is how far down you need to press for the switch to register. Shorter actuation can increase typing speed in theory, but also increases typos for some. Common actuation points include:

  • 1.2mm – Very fast and light, but easy to mispress
  • 2.0mm – Middle ground suitable for gaming and typing
  • 4.0mm – Longer travelPreferred by those who bottom out keys

Actuation Force

The amount of force in grams required to depress the switch. Lower force needs less effort but sacrifices feedback. Some common actuation forces are:

  • 45g – Very light and easy to press
  • 55g – Moderate, a popular force for gaming
  • 65g-80g – Heavier feel preferred by some typists

Tactile Bump

A tactile bump during the key press provides physical and auditory feedback. Great for typing feel. Actuation and reset points impact its effectiveness.

Audible Click

Clicky switches have a separate mechanism that produces an audible click during actuation, making key presses very distinct. Not ideal for shared office spaces.

Travel Distance

The full distance in mm to bottoming out the switch. Anything from 3mm-4mm is common. Shorter travel can increase speed.

This table compares some popular switch options to consider:

Switch Type Actuation Point Actuation Force Travel Distance
Cherry MX Red Linear 2.0mm 45g 4.0mm
Cherry MX Black Linear 2.0mm 60g 4.0mm
Cherry MX Brown Tactile 2.0mm 45g 4.0mm
Cherry MX Blue Clicky Tactile 2.2mm 60g 4.0mm
Gateron Ink Red Linear 2.0mm 60g 4.0mm
Gateron Yellow Linear 2.0mm 50g 4.0mm
Gateron Brown Tactile 2.0mm 45g 4.0mm

This variety means you can fine tune the switches to match your playstyle. For example, linear reds excel for gaming due to the hair trigger actuation, while tactile browns provide that essential bump for satisfying typing.

Don‘t be afraid to experiment – with hot swapping it‘s easy to change up switches anytime. Speaking of which, let‘s look at some hot swap keyboard recommendations!

Top Hot Swappable Keyboard Picks

Here are some of my favorite hot swappable mechanical keyboards to give your custom switches a worthy home:

Keychron K8

  • Thin and wireless for flexible use
  • RGB backlighting with good software
  • Choice of low profile or regular MX switches
  • Decent value 75% layout

The Keychron is a great intro flexible hot swap board though keycaps and stabilizers could be better.

Glorious GMMK

  • Barebones or fully built versions
  • Multiple size options from 60% to full size
  • High quality boards with lots of community support
  • South facing switch design preferred by enthusiasts

Glorious PC Gaming Race lives up to their name – the GMMK line set the standard for enthusiast quality hot swap.

Epomaker GK68XS

  • Compact 65% form factor
  • Bluetooth 5.1 + wired connectivity
  • Aluminum case with RGB underglow
  • Gateron switch options
  • Good software configurability

The Epomaker GK68XS punches above its price range with a premium typing experience from the Gateron switches and solid aluminum case.


  • High-end keyboards designed with input from /r/MechanicalKeyboards
  • Multiple layouts, barebones or fully built
  • Strong aluminum frame
  • Per switch and underglow RGB lighting

Drop collaborations result in best-in-class boards for enthusiasts wanting a fully loaded typing experience.

Feker IK75

  • Affordable 75% board great for first hot swaps
  • Wired and wireless modes
  • Hot swap PCB with screw in stabilizers
  • RGB underglow and side lighting

For budget conscious upgraders, the Feker IK75 packs in top-tier enthusiast features at entry level pricing.

Switch Modification Options

Got the switch swap bug? There are also some cool modifications you can do for further customization:

  • Lubing – Apply lubricant to make switches smoother and reduce friction
  • Filming – Add films/stickers to improve switch feel and sound
  • Spring swaps – Trade out springs to change weighting

Just be careful not to damage switch housings and you can create completely unique switch sensations!

Troubleshooting Common Hot Swap Issues

Running into problems getting switches to work properly in your hot swap board? Here are some troubleshooting tips:

  • Check for bent or damaged pins on the bottom of the switch interfering with the socket connection

  • Examine sockets for broken clips or housing damage preventing switch insertion

  • Ensure switch and keycap stems are fully seated and aligned properly

  • Clean debris or dust out of sockets that could impede connection

  • Try another working switch in the same socket to identify any problem switches

  • Listen for scratchy, inconsistent or intermittent key presses signaling a bad solder joint

Don‘t force switches into place; stop and examine both the socket and switch if you meet excessive resistance. With care and patience, you can get flawless hot swap action.

Go Forth and Swap Switches!

I hope this deep dive has shown you the incredible customization hot swappable mechanical keyboards offer. The days of being limited by soldered switches are over!

Now you can freely experiment to create the perfect tactile typing experience. Just match standard MX style switches with compatible hot swap keyboard sockets and you‘re good to go.

Take some time to research which switch characteristics fit your needs. Then order a variety pack so you can swap them in and out until your fingers are delighted.

Let me know how your keyboard hot rodding adventures go – maybe you‘ll discover a new favorite switch and inspire someone else to give hot swapping a try!

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