Mechanical keyboards usually come in two flavors: hot-swap and soldered. Initially, users may lean towards hot-swap keyboards. However, many enthusiasts will recommend soldered keyboards over hot-swap keyboards. These clashing opinions make purchase decisions more complicated for newbies.
Hot-swappable keyboards are highly recommended for beginners since they make testing different kinds of switches much easier. Soldered keyboards are best for more advanced users who already know what switches they want. The choice will depend mostly on whether or not you know how to solder and if you plan to swap out switches often.
In this article, we will compare these two keyboard types, and we will tell you everything you need to know about them. And by the end of this article, users should clearly know which mechanical keyboard type best fits them.
What is a Hotswap Keyboard?
A hot-swappable keyboard is a mechanical keyboard that allows users to replace their mechanical switches easily. No soldering or special skills are required. These keyboards are incredibly convenient and perfect for beginners since they allow the user to experiment with various switches.
In addition, hot-swap keyboards are easier to maintain compared to traditional mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keys rarely become faulty. However, if they become faulty, the user can easily replace the switch.
Are All Hot-Swap Keyboards the Same?
One thing to take note of hot-swap keyboards is that not all of them are the same. Some only support certain switches, while others are incompatible with newer 5-pin switches. One notable example is the Drop ALT, which is only compatible with 3-pin switches,
Furthermore, some hot-swap keyboards are only compatible with a specific type of switch. Some notable examples include the Skyloong GK61, which is only compatible with optical switches. Another example is the Rakk Lam Ang Lite (also sold under a different name in other countries) which is only compatible with Outemu switches.
Most keyboards with limited mechanical switch compatibility are usually found in the entry-level price brackets. Custom keyboards and other higher-end hot-swap keyboards are usually compatible with almost any mechanical switch under the sun.
Can You Buy In-Stock Hotswap Keyboards?
Hotswap keyboards have become incredibly popular throughout the years. You can now see them in practically any price bracket, which means that your options aren’t limited to group buy keyboards. Users can purchase Hotswap keyboards from various brands that sell in-stock keyboards.
What is a Soldered Keyboard?
Soldered mechanical keyboards are the exact opposite of hot-swap mechanical keyboards. Unlike hot-swap keyboards, you must manually solder each key into the PCB before it can work. Most prebuilt keyboards from big-name brands such as Razer incorporate soldered switches.
Despite its popularity in the prebuilt market, soldered keyboards aren’t exclusive to them, and they are also widely seen in the custom mechanical keyboard scene.
For soldered builds, users have to solder their own switches, and they must also have the necessary tools for properly soldering the switches without damaging them. In addition, users also have to manually desolder switches if they wish to replace them, mess them up during soldering, or need to replace a faulty switch.
Why Do Soldered Keyboards Still Exist?
Since hot-swap keyboards are way more convenient, many users wonder why soldered keyboards still exist. It all boils down to two major reasons: stability and layout options.
Soldered keyboards are considerably more stable than hot-swap keyboards. They do not wobble and cannot be accidentally removed while pulling keycaps.
Also, soldered keyboards offer more layout options compared to hot-swap keyboards. 60% keyboards, for instance, can have arrow keys. Other sizes, such as 65%, can also have special layouts such as split backspace.
Lastly, several enthusiasts claim that soldered keyboards help make builds special, and this is because users will be committed to their chosen configuration. Because of this, soldered custom keyboards are mostly reserved for “endgame builds” or more expensive builds.
Can You Convert Soldered Keyboards Into Hotswap?
Most manufacturers offer both hot-swap and soldered PCBs to consumers. However, some refuse to offer hot-swap PCBs. This can be frustrating, especially for newer users who want to try different switches and configurations on their keyboards.
Luckily, you can convert soldered keyboards to hot-swap keyboards through mill-max sockets. They are very high-quality and are made of quality materials. They are arguable as reliable as the standard Kailh hot-swap sockets found on most hot-swap keyboards.
The only thing to note is that companies are not offering this as an option for their keyboard kits. This means that this is something that you will have to do yourself. However, soldering these small pieces can be difficult for newer enthusiasts. We highly recommend asking for the help of a keyboard builder, especially for higher-end keyboard builds.
Which Should You Choose (Hot-Swap or Soldered)?
Given that both hot-swap and soldered keyboards have pros and cons, which one should you choose? The answer will depend on your personal preferences and your experience in the world of mechanical keyboards.
If you are someone who has never touched a mechanical keyboard and is still exploring all the switch options, then we highly recommend going for hot-swap keyboards. They are more user-friendly and will help users find their preferences.
However, we highly recommend soldered keyboards for more experienced users who have tried soldering before. They will give you more layout options and help make your build extra special. Also, you can convert them to hot-swap keyboards if you decide later on that soldered keyboards aren’t for you.
Pros and Cons of Hot Swap Keyboards
- Easy to maintain
- Allows users to explore various switches
- More convenient
- Limited layout options
- Some keyboards have limited switch compatibility
- Less stable compared to soldered keyboards
Pros and Cons of Soldered Keyboards
- More stable compared to hot-swap keyboards
- More layout options
- It makes the keyboard build more special
- Difficult to maintain
- It can be difficult for users who have no equipment or experience
- Harder to maintain
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.