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[Official] Mechanical Keyboard Guide

post #1 of 14424
Thread Starter 
[Official] Mechanical Keyboard Guide

 

 

Fact: Nearly all keyboards sold bundled with computers or at retail stores use rubber domes under their keys. This is the same technology used in cheap TV remotes. They're made to be as cheap as possible to manufacture in order to maximize profits. Yes, this even includes "high end" keyboards. So why settle for something that is made as cheap as possible?

 

 

So why should you get a mechanical keyboard?

 

There are a few advantages offered by mechanical keyboards over your typical rubber dome keyboard.

 

  • The feel: With a rubber dome keyboard you've got to press the key all the way down to the bottom to get it to register. This wastes a lot of energy and causes fatigue, as most of your effort is spent pushing against a solid piece of plastic. Mechanical keyswitches are designed so that they register before you bottom out, so you only need to apply as much force as is necessary to actuate it, not wasting any.

 

  • The choice: Mechanical keyboards are available with many different types of switches. Each different type of switch, whether it be one of the many Cherry MX options, Topre or Buckling Spring (among others) have unique characteristics that set them apart. As such, there are a multitude of options for you to choose from, to make your typing experience that much easier.

 

  • The durability: Modern mechanical switches such as Cherry MX varieties and Topre switches are built to withstand millions of keypresses, this combined with the modularity of switches like Cherry MX varieties mean that mechanical keyboards can last you far longer than their rubber dome counterparts. 

 

 

Index:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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post #2 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Terminology

 

First, check out the Keyboard Glossary for basic terms, these will be used in this guide and throughout the section and will help you make sense of the information presented.

 

 

Key Matrix

Modern keyboards use a matrix to detect when keys are pressed. This is required so each individual key (of which there may be over 100) doesn't need to be connected to the board controller separately.

 

 

Ghosting

The event when two keys on the board are pressed, and a third key that you didn't press is triggered. This is very rarely seen on even the cheapest modern boards, because manufacturers have the habit of limiting the rollover so that ghost keys are always blocked.

 

 

Key Blocking

The event when maximum key rollover is reached and the computer doesn't register certain keys that are pressed. This occurs due to the way the keyboard checks which keys are pressed. To fix the ghosting issue, many boards are set to not register the input of a given key if the input is received at the same time as certain other keys. This can be problematic if you actually want all those keys to register at the same time.

 

This can be a little hard to comprehend, so consider this example:

 

Imagine the keys Q, W and E are set up on the board so that if you press Q and W then E might is triggered due to ghosting. Now imagine to combat this, a block is in place so if you press Q and W, E prevented from registering. Now imagine you're playing a game e.g. League of Legends where you may need to use Q, W and E at the same time, but due to key blocking, you can't use all 3 keys. To fix this issue, many board manufacturers use a matrix optimised for gaming, this prevents common key combinations such as Q, W and E from having any troubles with ghosting or key blocking.



Key Rollover (#KRO & NKRO)
NKRO is the ideal rollover for a keyboard, no ghosting or key blocking issues and any number of key combinations can be used at the same time. This property is similar to what some peripherals manufacturers incorrectly market as "anti-ghosting", even though Logitech and Razer only apply it to the WASD cluster.

 

Note that despite the precise definition, there are two different versions of NKRO, true NKRO and simulated NKRO.

 

As a general rule, if you're looking for true NKRO, then PS/2 is the interface for you. Due to the ways PS/2 and USB handle input, USB is only really capable of simulated NKRO by implementing various tricks e.g. having the computer register it as multiple devices. While this can let you functionally have NKRO in most situations, in some scenarios such as on particular operating systems, you may run into issues. 


For many cheaper keyboards use #KRO (where # = any integer), where you can press # keys before experiencing key blocking.

Many USB mechanical Keyboards are labelled as 6KRO, this is generally enough for most users. USB keyboards with 6KRO also allow for a maximum of 4 modifier keys to be used with those 6 normal keys. These modifiers include CTRL, ALT, Shift, & Super (Windows, Command, or Meta Key). Sometimes this also includes the FN key present on select keyboards.

 

As for what #KRO you'll need, realistically you will never need more than 10KRO (10 fingers and all that), however some people may prefer NKRO for completeness' sake.

 


Key Bouncing
All types of key switches, including rubber domes, can do this. When you press a key, the switch "bounces" on and off very quickly as it sets into place. This causes keys to register multiple times for each press. Because of this, keyboards need to implement some sort of debouncing delay, so that once you press a key, the controller waits a certain amount of time before registering a keypress. As an example, Cherry MX switches need 5ms of debouncing time, while rubber domes need longer (exactly how long depends on their quality).

 


Polling Rates and Response Times
While it is very useful for mice, it's just about meaningless for keyboards. Let's assume for a minute that all switches have the 5ms debouncing time of Cherry MX switches (which is being very generous). Even if you had super human speed and reflexes, every single key would be delayed by at least that much. So really, any polling rate over 200Hz (at best) is absolutely useless, and nothing but market hype. It may even be a bit detrimental, because you'd be wasting CPU time polling the keyboard unneededly. And unlike USB keyboards, PS/2 boards aren't polled at all. They simply send the signal to the PC whenever they are ready to, which causes a hardware interrupt, forcing the CPU to register that keystroke.

 

 

 

Inputs


PS/2

Advantages:

  • Supports full NKRO.
  • PS/2 keyboards aren't polled, but are completely interrupt based.
  • Impossible for it to be delayed by the USB bus being used by other devices.

 

Disadvantages:

  • PS/2 is not natively designed to be hot-swappable, in some situations unplugging and replugging a PS/2 device into the computer will render it unusable until the system is restarted. This is not always the case however, if the system drivers recognize the device then this will not be an issue.
  • PS/2 connectors aren't as durable as some more modern connectors, as such they can be damaged from repeated unplugging/ replugging and suffer from bent or broken pins.

 

 

USB

Advantages:

  • Easily hot-swappable due to the design of USB.
  • Much more popular interface in modern devices than PS/2

 

Disadvantages:

  • Not as compatible with NKRO
  • Sometimes has issues with BIOS or waking up from sleep
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post #3 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Common Switch Types

 

Introduction

Whilst a difference in properties of a switch may seem trivial to some, to those who use computers extensively as part of a hobby or a career, finding a keyboard perfect for you can make those long hours of typing or gaming much more comfortable, and a big part of how the keyboard performs is the switches or technology it uses.

 

The question is often asked "which switch is the best for gaming/ typing/ programming etc", the answer is simple: There isn't one.

 

There is no switch perfect for a given task for everyone, only personal favourites and subjective recommendations.

 

Sometimes actuation forces is expressed in grams (g), however the gram is actually a measurement of mass, not force, we should really express the force in Newtons (N), but since we know:

 

1kg  ~ 9.81N ~ 10N

 

=> 1g ~ 0.01N

 

We don't want to be using decimals all the time, so instead we use the approximation: 1g = 1 centinewton (cN), a centinewton being 0.01N.

 

As a reference point your average rubber dome keyboard requires between 55cN and 60cN of force to actuate.

 

 

Common Switch Types

Cherry MX Black and heavier linear MX switches (Click to show)


Link: Datasheet
Tactile: No.
Actuation Force: 60g (40g-80g overall) (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down allows a metal leaf to fold inwards, creating a connection between two gold crosspoint contacts.

 

Advantages:

  • Moderately heavy actuation force means accidental keypress are less likely than some lighter switches.
  • Linear travel beneficial for some gamers who don't use the tactility of some other switches.
  • Actuation/ release points at the same point in the travel, benefits double-tapping.
  • Higher lifetime than tactile switches

 

Disadvantages:
  • Some people find them too heavy for long periods of use, particularly for typing.

 

Other linear Cherry switches:

  • MX Linear Grey - A heavier version of the MX Black with 80cN weighting, occasionally used as a spacebar on MX Black boards or on it's own for an entire board.
  • MX Super Black - A much heavier version of the MX Black with a finger breaking 150cN weighting. Historically used for special keys e.g. mode switching where accidental keypresses need to be avoided. This switch is no longer produced.
Cherry MX Brown (Click to show)


Link: Datasheet
Tactile: Yes, small bump.
Actuation Force: 45g (55g Peak Force) (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down allows a metal leaf to fold inwards, creating a connection between two gold crosspoint contacts.

 

Advantages:

  • Small tactile bump helps you know when the switch has actuated, can be useful for typing or holding the switch above the actuation point for gaming.
  • Actuation/ release points at the same point in the travel, benefits double-tapping.
  • Relatively light actuation force, good for long periods of typing.

 

Disadvantages:

  • The tactile bump is sufficiently small that some people don't find it useful.
  • Shorter lifetime than linear switches (still 20 million operations)

Cherry MX Clear and heavier tactile MX switches (Click to show)

Link: Datasheet
Tactile: Yes, large bump.
Actuation Force: 55cN
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down allows a metal leaf to fold inwards, creating a connection between two gold crosspoint contacts.

 

Advantages:

  • Larger tactile bump helps you know when the switch has actuated, can be useful for typing or holding the switch above the actuation point for gaming, many find the tactile bump more useful than the one found in an MX Brown
  • Actuation/ release points at the same point in the travel, benefits double-tapping.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Some may find the switch too heavy for long periods of typing
  • Shorter lifetime than linear switches (still 20 million operations)

 

Other linear Cherry switches:

  • MX Tactile Grey - A heavier version of the MX Clear with 80cN weighting, occasionally used as a spacebar on MX Clear boards.
Cherry MX Blue and heavier clicky MX switches (Click to show)


Link: Datasheet
Tactile: Yes, click.
Actuation Force: 50cN (60cN Peak Force) (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down allows a metal leaf to fold inwards, creating a connection between two gold crosspoint contacts.

 

Advantages:

  • Audible and tactile click very beneficial for typing, audio feedback lets you know when the switch has actuated.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Release point lies above the actuation point, can be very detrimental to double-tapping.
  • Shorter lifetime than linear switches (still 20 million operations)

 

Other clicky Cherry switches:

  • MX Green -  A heavier version of the MX Blue with 80cN weighting, occasionally used as a spacebar on MX Blue boards or on it's own as a heavier typist's switch.
  • MX White - Similar to the MX Green (80cN weighting) but with a soft click. Good for a heavier typist that wants a switch slightly quieter and with a more subtle click than an MX Green.
  • MX Click Grey - A very rare heavy version of the MX White with 105cN weighting. Sometimes found in space bars of MX White boards. 
Cherry MX Red (Click to show)


Link: Datasheet

Tactile: No.
Actuation Force: 45cN (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2mm to actuation, 4mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down allows a metal leaf to fold inwards, creating a connection between two gold crosspoint contacts.

 

Advantages:

  • Linear travel beneficial for some gamers who don't use the tactility of some other switches.
  • Actuation/ release points at the same point in the travel, benefits double-tapping.
  • Higher lifetime than tactile switches

 

Disadvantages:

  • Some people find them too light to type or game with as they are relatively susceptible to accidental key presses.
Buckling Spring (Click to show)


Link: Patent
Tactile: Yes, click.
Actuation Force: 65-70cN (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 2.3mm to actuation, 3.7mm to bottom

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down causes the spring buckles under pressure, causing the hammer at the bottom to hit a membrane sheet and create an electrical contact. You might also notice through the force diagrams that this is the only mechanical switch where the tactile and audible feedback correspond to the exact moment the switch actuates.

 

Advantages:

  • Audible and tactile click very beneficial for typing, audio feedback lets you know when the switch has actuated.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Some may find the switch too heavy for long periods of typing.
Black Alps (Click to show)


Tactile: Yes, bump.
Actuation Force: Simplified 60cN, Complicated 70cN (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 3.5mm

 

Mechanism:

Complicated - Pressing the key down bends a leaf against a piece of plastic, which then bends a flexible foil insert against the rear contact.

Simple - Similar to Complicated, but the leaf is part of the front contact.

 

Advantages:

  • Tactile bump helps you know when the switch has actuated, can be useful for typing.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Tend to develop friction in the travel as they wear.
  • Hard bottoming out.

Note: There are multiple versions of Alps switches including Fuhua, XM and Matias. 

White Alps (Click to show)


Tactile: Yes, click.
Actuation Force: 60-70cN (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 3.5mm

 

Mechanism:

Complicated - Pressing the key down bends a leaf against a piece of plastic, which then bends a flexible foil insert against the rear contact.

Simple - Similar to Complicated, but the leaf is part of the front contact.

 

Advantages:

  • Tactile click helps you know when the switch has actuated, can be useful for typing.

Disadvantages:

  • Reputation for being loud.
  • Hard bottoming out.
  • Ping issue.

 

Note: There are multiple versions of Alps switches including Fuhua, XM and Matias. 

Topre (Click to show)

(larger image)
Link: Patent
Tactile: Yes
Clicky: No
Actuation Force: 30cN, 35cN, 45cN, 55cN depending on model (Force Diagram)
Key Travel: 4mm

 

Mechanism:

Pressing the key down depresses a rubber insert, which in turn flattens a conical spring, touches the relevant contact and creates a change in capacitance on the underlying capacitor pads, activating the switch.

 

Advantages:

  • Incredibly smooth travel.
  • High reliability.

 

Disadvantages:

  • High pricing.
  • Some people find them too similar to rubber domes.

 

This is not a comprehensive list, there are many other less common varieties of Cherry MX, Alps and Topre switches, aswell as rarer switch types not covered here.

 

 

Below is a chart which shows relative popularity of each of the fairly common switch types. 

 

The data for this chart is collected from submissions of the membership form for the Mechanical Keyboard Club and updates automatically

 

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Switch Testers

Looking for a way to try some of these switches before buying a board? Consider getting a switch sampler of some Cherry MX switches such as those from:

Qwerkeys QWER8 V2 (Click to show)

 

Link

Price: £19.95

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Cherry MX White
  • Cherry MX Green
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • Cherry MX Linear Grey/ Cherry MX Clicky Grey (depending on stock)
  • Mounting plate
  • 8x Transparent keycaps

 

Advantages:

  • Looks good as a show piece.
  • Large selection of switches.

 

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than some of the other samplers.
  • Lack of global availability.
Max Keyboard (Click to show)

 

Link

Price: $12

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Mounting PCB board
  • 4x Transparent keycaps
  • 4x O-rings (black)

 

Advantages:

  • 15% coupon off a Max Keyboard board as of Jan 2014.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Not as many switches as the Qwerkeys sampler.
Max Keyboard Pro (Click to show)

Link

Price: $20

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Cherry MX Green
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • Cherry MX Tactile Grey
  • Cherry MX White
  • Red acrylic base
  • 9x Transparent keycaps
  • 8x O-rings (black)
  • 4x Clear rubber feet

 

Advantages:

  • 15% coupon off a Max Keyboard board as of July 2014.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Shipping costs may be high for non-US customers.
WASD Keyboard (Click to show)

 

Link

Price: $10

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • 11x coloured keycaps (Black, White, Light Grey, Dark Grey, Red, Green, Light Blue, Yellow, Orange, Pink, Lilac)
  • 5x O-rings (Red)
  • 5x O-rings (Blue)

 

Advantages:

  • 15% coupon off a Max Keyboard board as of Jan 2014.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Not as many switches as the Qwerkeys sampler.
  • No mounting plate or PCB.
  • Would be nice to include an MX Green aswell to complete the set.
Deck (Click to show)

 

Link

Price: $6

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red with green LED
  • Cherry MX Black with white LED
  • Cherry MX Brown with orange LED
  • Cherry MX Blue with blue LED
  • 4x backlighting compatible keycaps (D, E, C, K)

 

Advantages:

  • LED backlit! (powered by USB)
  • Great value for the money

 

Disadvantages:

  • More switches would be good
Cooler Master (Click to show)

 

Link: NA, EU

Price: $12

Comes with:

  • Cherry MX Red
  • Cherry MX Black
  • Cherry MX Brown
  • Cherry MX Blue
  • Cherry MX Clear
  • Cherry MX Green
  • Mounting PCB board
  • 6x Transparent keycaps
  • Outer casing

 

Advantages:

  • $15/ €13.95 coupon off a Cooler Master mechanical keyboard as of Jan 2014.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Would be nice to see an MX White aswell.
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post #4 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Keycap Plastic and Shape
 

Plastics

The two most common keycap plastics are ABS and PBT. Each has their own price to performance ratio; though in a general sense, PBT keycaps are generally a better buy. Here's some of the reasons why:

PBT (Click to show)

Advantages:

  • Heat resistant up to 150*C (although they are sensitive to hot water above 60*C).
  • Resistant to solvents.
  • Mechanically strong.
  • Does not shine as fast.

 

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive than ABS.

 

More information.

ABS (Click to show)

Advantages:

  • Low cost.
  • Lightweight.

 

Disadvantages:

  • Solvents will "melt" the keys.
  • Keys develop shine faster.

 

More information.

 

 

Keycap shine

Over time, the oils in your fingertips will wear away at the surface of your keycaps and turn the slightly textured surface smooth. The keycaps develop a shine under lighting as seen below, some people use this as a guide to know when to get new keycaps.

A new keycap (left) and a "shiny" keycap (right). (Click to show)

 

 

Keytop Shapes

Cylindrical: Almost all keyboards today use this shape. This is often referred to as sculpted design. The shape is meant to cradle the finger tip.

Example. (Click to show)

 

Flat: Frequently found on laptops and "laptop style" keyboards. These are also found on Point Of Sale (POS) keyboards because of the replaceable legends.

Example. (Click to show)

 

Spherical: This shape is normally found on vintage keyboards and type writers.

Example. (Click to show)
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post #5 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Keycap Printing Methods

Pad Printing

This is the type of printing you'll find on 99% of keyboards. It is the cheapest method possible, short of leaving the keys blank. Pad Printed letters are kind of like stickers, or decals, and you can feel the letter raised above the key surface.

Example: (Microsoft Ergo Keyboard)



Advantages:

  • Low Cost
  • Easy to use multiple colours
  • Any face of the key can be pad printed

 

Disadvantages:

  • You can feel the lettering
  • Wears out quickly

 


Laser Etching and Laser Engraving
Laser etched keycaps are produced by using lasers to mark a design into the surface of the keycap. The process traditionally worked best on light colored keys because light keycap colour contrasts with the dark colour of the burnt plastic, and darker coloured keycaps usually had coloured infill to provide better contrast in the etching. However, recent developments in laser etching has meant that darker keycaps can now have lighter coloured etching without the need for any infill.

 

Laser engraving is similar to etching, but deep grooves are cut into the plastic. This type of keycap is preferred by many enthusiasts as it allows you to see the character on the keycap if you want to, but without the high-contrast look of other types of printing, giving the board most of the sleek look of blank keycaps, but without the impracticality if you can't find a character.


Example: (Dell AT101W)



Advantages:

  • Doesn't wear out easily
  • Not as expensive as some competing printing methods

 

Disadvantages:

  • You can feel the lettering
  • Edge of the character not particularly crisp, slightly blurrier than some comparable printing techniques.

 


Dye Sublimation
Dye Sublimation produces much nicer keys than either of the other two printing methods. A dye is set into the plastic, and seeps a tiny bit into it. As such, even as the plastic is worn down from use, the character is still clear.

Example:



Advantages:

  • Doesn't wear out
  • Can't feel the lettering
  • Can print multiple colors on a single key
  • Can be used on any face of the key
  • High Visibility

 

Disadvantages:

  • High cost compared to some other printing choices
  • Can only print letters that are darker than the plastic (no white lettering on black plastic, for example)

 


Double-Shot Injection Molding
With this method, the keycap actually consists of two pieces. The first piece is the outside of the keycap with the letter basically cut out of it, and the second piece is placed inside it with the lettering embossed to fit into the top piece. You can see it in this diagram:

This method of printing results in the highest quality keycaps possible. The edges of the letters are perfectly sharp, and it achieves the highest contrast, clearest lettering possible. Unfortunately, because of the very high price, they are relatively uncommon as stock keycaps, meaning you may only be able to source them direct from custom keycap companies or via group buys elsewhere. It's easy to check if a keycap is double-shot or not, just look underneath and you'll be able to see two distinct piece of plastic if it's double-shot

Example: Old OCN Keycap




Advantages:

  • Doesn't wear out, ever
  • Perfect edges
  • Highest contrast and visibility

 

Disadvantages:

  • Very high cost compared to other printing types
  • Limited to two colours per key
  • On worn keys you can sometimes feel the edge where the plastics meet
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post #6 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Before you post in the Keyboards section, take a look in the Frequently Asked Questions thread to see if it has already been answered.

 

 

Recommended Mechanical Keyboards
 

For a list of boards recommended by users of OCN, please see this thread.

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post #7 of 14424
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Keycap Layouts

 

Keycap sets come in a variety of layouts, it's important to know what keycap layout your board has so you can buy the appropriate set of keycaps.

 

There are two main ways in which a keyboard layout can vary which will affect which keycap sets you can use, these are the location specific layout and the manufacturer/ date layout.

Location Specific Layouts (Click to show)

This covers differences in the layout of boards such as the size of the enter and shift keys. The two most well-known location specific layouts are ANSI and ISO.

 

ANSI:

  • Popular in the US and some areas in Europe
  • Larger Left Shift than ISO
  • Smaller Enter than ISO

 

ISO:

  • Popular in most European countries
  • Small Left Shift
  • Large Enter key

 

Aswell as these two, there are country specific layouts which may take elements from ANSI and ISO e.g. the Japanese keyboard layout which has the large Enter key of ISO and the large Left Shift from ANSI.

 

There are also language variants for the layouts, will keep the same key layout, but use different characters. Some examples are QWERTZ and AZERTY which are used in Germany and France respectively (among other places).

 

This covers differences in layouts due to manufacturers adapting the more traditional layouts.

 

First note that in terms of keycap sizes, we use the alphanumeric keys as a reference point and say they have a size of 1x.

 

The most popular layout currently is where all of the modifier keys on the bottom row have the same size of 1.25x and the spacebar is 6.25x. If you are planning on replacing your keycaps, it's a good idea to buy a board with this bottom row layout, you will find it much easier to find aftermarket keycap sets in this layout.

 

 

Where To Buy Keycaps

 

The following are places to buy either single novelty keycaps or keycap sets:

 

Ducky also offer ABS and PBT sets from various stores globally.

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post #8 of 14424
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Maintenance and Removing Keycaps


Every once in a while you may want to clean your keyboard. There are many ways of doing this, and can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours depending on how much dirt you're trying to get out of it and exactly what needs to be cleaned. If you've just spilled a can of Pepsi on your board and don't know what to do, you've come to the right place.

A good PC tool for keyboard and general PC cleaning is the DataVac as it can replace canned air and compressors.

 

Before you try to clean the board, we suggest removing the keycaps. The safe and reliable way to do this is to invest in a wire keycap puller, they are much easier to use on various keycap sizes than the plastic ring pullers and a lot less likely to damage a switch than using a screwdriver or coin.

 

First, remove the small keycaps such as the alphanumeric ones. To do this simply grab two diagonal corners of the keycap with the wire keycap puller and pull directly up whilst holding the board down.

 

Then, to remove larger keycaps with Cherry stabilisers, use the same technique as with the smaller keycaps. 

 

To remove larger keycaps with Costar stabilisers (wire stabilisers hooking onto the keycap), hook the keycap puller under one side, then very carefully lift straight up, the keycap should now be free to wobble about (if not repeat the process on the other side). Once the keycap is free to wobble around, push it to one side and try to lift one side of the keycap off the metal hook as seen below.

 

 

Quick Cleaning
Keyboards can get dirty pretty quickly. I mean, let's be honest here; it's not like most of us actually wash our hands every single time we're about to sit down at the PC. And on top of that there's always dust and hair that can fall in-between the keys. So it's always good to give your board a quick cleaning every week or two.

 

  1. Use canned air (or an air compressor if you don't care for convenience) to blow off any loose dust or dirt.
  2. Wipe the keytops and casing down with a clean cloth, dampened with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Pay extra attention to any keys that you might be using the most frequently, such as WASD. Note: On Filcos, use water instead of Alcohol. Filcos have a special coating on them that gets ruined if you use it.
  3. If you're a heavy smoker and the casing seems to be yellowing, wipe it down with Windex.


Doing these things on a regular basis will keep your board looking great.

 


Deep Cleaning
If you've just gotten a used keyboard off of ebay that looks like it was used at a mechanic shop, or just spilled your drink right into it, your board needs a deep cleaning. If you do ever spill anything into it, make sure you clean it immediately. The longer you wait, the worse the cleanup is going to be - and may end up being next to impossible.

 

 

  1. Take the keycaps off of the switches.
  2. Open up the casing and take the PCB/membranes out. Each keyboard is different, but normally there's a combination of both screws underneath the board and tabs on the sides holding the top and bottom pieces together.
  3. If you don't have a dishwasher or prefer not to use it, put both the keycaps and casing in a bath of warm water and dish soap, and let them soak for at least a good 30 minutes.
  4. The process for cleaning off the circuitry varies depending on what sort of switches you have:
    • Cherry, Alps, and other similar switches: Place the entire PCB+switch assembly into a container of distilled water. Shake the board around vigorously so that the water can clean out the inside of the switches as well. To dry it out, shake it until you no longer hear any water stuck inside the switches. Then set it either on it's side or upside down to dry. Using a blow dryer to dry it is safe as long as you don't stick to one spot for too long, and canned air can help get the water out of the switches very quickly.
    • Membrane boards, including rubber domes and Buckling Springs: Separate the layers of membranes, and wipe them down with a damp cloth (distilled water only), and then again with a dry cloth. If the layers are fastened together, dip them into distilled water and flex and shake them around until they are as clean as they can get, then flap them around to get the water out. You may also be able to slip a cloth or paper towel in between them to dry them, but remember to check for any lint that gets stuck. Rubber domes should only be rinsed using distilled water at or close to room temperature (give or take a few degrees) - anything too hot or too cold can permanently alter their feel. The springs, hammers, steel plate, and plastic cover of Buckling Springs shouldn't need more than a quick rinse or wipe-down, but you can always use soap or isopropyl alcohol on them if they need it.
    • Rubber Dome on PCB, such as Topre: Rinse the domes in distilled water at or close to room temperature, rubbing with your fingers if anything is stuck badly to them. If it's a Topre capacitive board, the springs can be cleaned the same way or with a light concentration of dish soap or isopropyl alcohol. Wipe the PCB down with a cloth dampened with distilled water.
  5. Whatever sort of internals your keyboard has, put them aside to dry at least overnight. If there were any ICs or other surface-mount electrical components that you had to get wet, a good way to speed up the process significantly is to use canned air to blow the water out from under them.
  6. By the time you're done with the internals, the casing and keycaps should be ready. When taking them out of the dishwasher or soap bath, take them out and dry them with a towel one by one. If there is still any amount of dirt on them, rub them down with isopropyl alcohol and/or Windex. Isopropyl normally works better, but Windex gets certain things out without any effort that the dish soap may not have caught in a still bath, such as cigarette smoke residue.
  7. Once you're absolutely positive that everything's dry, put it all back together.
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post #9 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Miscellaneous Resources

Keyboard Customization Guides
Dye Your Old White/Grey Keyboard

Switch Technologies
Qwerter's Clinic Cherry MX Info
NKRO on Microsoft Sidewinder x4 - Resistance method
All About Scissor Switches

Programming
SharpKeys - Basic Keyboard Programming
Autohotkey - Advanced Keyboard Programming

Interfaces and Protocols
Interfacing the AT and PS/2 Keyboards
PS/2 Keyboard Interface
PS/2 Keyboard Protocol
XT Scancodes
AT, PS/2, and USB Scancodes
USB in a Nutshell

Switch Matrix and Actuation Design

 

Diagrams and explanation (Click to show)

Keyboards use a matrix of wires, in rows and columns. Each key is a switch that connects a row to a column, where each key has it's own unique position, or address, in the matrix.

This is a very simple 4-key matrix. You won't ever see something this simple in a keyboard, but for our purposes it's more than enough.



To detect keypresses, the keyboard will scan column by column and check to see which rows have been activated. In the image below, when the keyboard activates C1, R1 goes hot and therefore it knows that A has been pressed. When it activates C2, neither R1 nor R2 go hot so it knows that B and D haven't been pressed.



Multiple key presses work in the same way. In this image you can see that when C1 is activated, R1 goes hot, giving the letter A. Then when C2 is activated, R2 goes hot, giving the letter D.



But the problem in this matrix shows up as soon as you press three keys at once. In this image A, B, and D are pressed. The B and D switches short R1 with R2 because they are both closed; so when C1 is activated, both R1 and R2 go hot and the keyboard thinks that C has been pressed, and sends it to the PC even though you didn't really press it. This is what's called a "ghost" key.



There are two methods used to prevent ghosting. The first and cheaper option is for the controller to block that third keypress that causes the ghost key. So after pressing A and D, it ignores both B and C because pressing either one will cause the other to ghost. This gives this board 2-key rollover, because only 2 keys can be pressed at once.

The other option is to install a switching diode in series with each switch. The diodes only allow the current to flow in one direction, so the rows no longer get shorted to each other. In the image below you'll see the A, B, and D keys pressed again, but this time there are diodes to control the flow. Notice how R2 no longer goes hot when C1 is activated.



This method allows for each and every key on the board to be detected independently, giving it n-key rollover (NKRO). It's called n-key because n is a variable, representing the number of keys on the keyboard.
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post #10 of 14424
Thread Starter 

Credits and Thanks


Original Guide Created by Manyak.


Frequent Updates done by Paradigm84.


Alps Section & Input on Buckling Springs thanks to ch_123.

 

Animated Pictures of Cherry MX Switches in action are thanks to Lethal Squirrel on Geekhack.


Animated Picture of the Buckling Spring Switch thanks to Qwerter's Clinic.


Pictures of Keycaps thanks to Ripster.

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