Numerous interesting mechanical keyboard switches pop up on today’s market. Because of their variety, enthusiasts are continuously impressed, insinuating their eagerness to try new switches. However, relying solely on online reviews cannot fully inform you of the typing experience a switch would bring, and that is why you must test your preferred keyboard switches.
Testing keyboard switches is a vital step in customizing your keyboard. There are multiple ways how to test keyboard switches. However, most require purchasing essential materials. But, it is better to spend early for assurance than not trying switches and be disappointed when they fail to meet your expectations.
Are you still confused about testing keyboard switches? No need to worry! This article will discuss the important Ws and Hs of mechanical keyboard switch testing. Continue to read below to know what switch testing is, where you can buy necessary components for testing, and most importantly, how to test mechanical keyboard switches in various ways.
Buying Mechanical Keyboard Switches
First off, before buying mechanical keyboard switches, examining online reviews from official shopping websites and YouTube video reviews are the closest you can get for a decently reliable source of information. YouTubers in the keyboard community frequently post and review newly released and budget switches, going into depth about the specifications of a keyboard switch and even conducting a sound test.
From this information, you can then get a vague idea of the switch’s sound profile. Since sound tests are affected by various factors (e.g., microphone quality, table material, etc.), you cannot readily assume that the switch’s sound profile would sound the same as what you heard from the video. On the other hand, when it comes to the typing feel of your preferred switch, you can estimate its specifications regarding its switch type, spring weight, actuation force, and actuation point. On the other hand, Reddit may have existing threads about a specific switch’s typing feel if you want a more community-based opinion.
Additionally, aside from the switches themselves, one more thing you have to consider is your keyboard type. If your keyboard is a non-hot swappable board, you should know how to desolder and solder switches on its PCB.
Fortunately, hot-swappable mechanical keyboards enable you to easily change switches without soldering. We recommend hot-swappable boards for newcomers to the keyboard hobby and busy hobbyists who do not have the time to desolder and solder their keyboard switches.
However, even with all of these factors considered, the typing experience of the switch itself will still be ambiguous. Relying on reviews on the internet is useful. But, it still poses a significant risk as there is a high possibility that the product may fail to fulfill your expectations. For that reason, before you buy switches for your custom keyboard, you should experience the said keyboard switches firsthand by testing them.
Ways on How to Test Mechanical Keyboard Switches
Buying Mechanical Switch Testers
If you’re looking for a proven method in testing mechanical keyboard switches, keyboard switch testers are worth your interest. A keyboard switch tester is a collection of individual mechanical switches on a small board, wherein some have keycaps included, and some do not. We recommend this method as this is the most practical method given that you only need to buy a few switches.
By using keyboard switch testers, you can experience the typing feel and the sound profile of a keyboard switch. Additionally, mechanical switch testers are customizable as some suppliers give consumers the freedom to choose from their offered switch options. Although most of the time, premade keyboard switch testers are the readily available switch testers in the market.
One of the pros when buying premade keyboard switch testers is the possibility of discovering switches suitable and not suitable to your taste. If you are confused about where to buy one, brands like Kailh, Zeal, Cherry MX, and Gateron offer keyboard switch testers using their mechanical keyboard switches.
The Kailh switch tester features their Box switches, the Whites, Box Navy, Royal, Royal Clear, and most of their products in the Kailh Box lineup. In comparison, Gateron switch testers include Black, Clear, Yellow, and their Silent switches. Moreover, if you are looking for true variety, KBDFans also offers the “ultimate” switch tester, consisting of 130 switches from different brands like Gateron, Cherry, Kailh, and other popular companies.
Building a Practice Custom Keyboard as Switch Tester
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If you’re looking to spend more bucks for more assurance, this method is perfect. Building a practice custom keyboard as a switch tester is buying four (4) or more pieces of each mechanical switch you prefer and installing them onto the bare bones.
Keyboard hobbyists tend to use this method for its a bundle of getting to experience and test their switches and another inclusion to their custom builds. We only recommend this if you are genuinely interested in building more custom keyboards, as the process will be pretty expensive and impractical for most newcomers.
Nevertheless, even if it is expensive, it can be worth its price if you want to ensure the typing experience of the mechanical switch you wish to buy. Because instead of having just one switch to test, building a practice custom keyboard with several of each switch would provide a much more accurate typing experience, thus more assurance for your satisfaction meter and expectations.
Cannonkeys’ Practice series provides a simple path for newcomers an opportunity to practice building a keyboard at a little cost. It features several layouts; moreover, the custom kits are cheaper than other commercial keyboard kits. Therefore, you can buy and use one of the products in Cannonkeys’ Practice lineup as a mechanical switch tester. However, you need to know how to solder switches onto PCBs to utilize the Cannonkeys’ Practice kits.
Buying Secondhand Individual Switches
In line with buying mechanical switch testers, buying secondhand switches are the most optimal budget option you can pursue. Mechanical switch testers available in the current market are usually brand new switches. Thus, the cost for a few switches may seem not worth the high price just for testing.
So, instead of buying brand new and readily made switch testers, you can purchase secondhand mechanical keyboard switches of your preference. It lowers the cost considerably compared to buying new switch testers. It also provides you with extra choices since you can find switches that are not even available as switch tester options by suppliers and their brands.
To buy secondhand individual switches, you can first look at inactive mechanical keyboard communities on social media. The best examples of these online marketplaces are Reddit, specifically the subreddit, r/mechmarket, Facebook marketplace, and Carousell.
However, buying secondhand switches for testing can become a hassle when you do not have a hot-swappable mechanical keyboard because it does not have a readily-made platform for testing. You can make a DIY alternative switch testing platform from cardboard by cutting holes on the material and attaching switches onto the surface to counter this problem.
Where to Buy Mechanical Keyboard Switch Testers?
You can buy mechanical keyboard switch testers online on different retail websites, such as Shopee, Amazon, and AliExpress. These shops can provide you with well-known switch testers such as the Cherry MX switch testers, the Gateron switch testers, and the Outemu switch testers.
If you’re looking for an official supplier of switch testers, KBDFans has a designated category featuring various switch testers, such as the Zeal and Kailh switch testers. You can also find KBDFans switch testers on other online retail websites, wherein some offer them for a much lower price.
What to Take Note of Before Buying Mechanical Switches
Compatibility to Your Keyboard’s PCB
Mechanical switches can be either PCB mount or Plate Mount. PCB mount switches feature 5-pins, while Plate mount switches feature 3-pins.
If your keyboard is compatible with 3-pin switches, you can also choose to buy 5-pin switches. You would only have to clip the two plastic pins of the 5-pin key switch to fit into your PCB. The 3-pin switch would function appropriately on a PCB-mount compatible keyboard as the two plastic pins are only meant for stability when directly mounted onto the PCB.
It is also important to note that 3-pin switches can fit onto a 5-pin switch compatible PCB. However, you would experience some difficulty in the switch’s stability as it would easily pop off the socket of your PCB.
Thus, we recommend that you thoroughly research the switches you’re going to buy and their compatibility with your PCB to eliminate the inconvenience and need for extra effort when installing.
Orientation of LEDs in your Keyboard
The orientation of the LED of your keyboard is either north-facing or south-facing. Accordingly, you have to get mechanical keyboard switches compatible with the LED orientation of your keyboard.
You should consider that some switches are not compatible with North-facing LEDs. Likewise, some switches are also not compatible with South-facing LEDs.
One of the problems when dealing with north-facing LEDs is the keycap interference with Cherry profile keys. However, you can easily avoid this by getting a more extended stem switch. Examples of these switches are the Glorious Panda, Feker Panda, and Boba U4T.
Switch Housing and RGB Shine-through
In line with the LED orientation of your keyboard, you also have to consider the board’s RGB shine-through and your switch’s compatibility, especially if you love those gamer lights illuminating on your keyboard. The switch compatibility with shine-through depends on their housing.
Mechanical keyboard switches have different types of housings — most of which feature clear housings, opaque housings, and tinted housings. Clear housings are the safest option for RGB to shine through the switch easily. A switch with this type of housing will illuminate the LEDs the brightest out of the three types.
On the other hand, opaque housing causes some interference with the RGB shine-through. Compared to the clear-housing switches, its RGB shine-through is considered hazy in color. However, some opaque switches feature a hole in the switch’s housing, which allows the LED to pass through more brightly.
Lastly, the tinted housing switches would not cause interference in the light’s intensity, but it would display a tinted color of the original RGB lights. Take, for example, the AKKO Matcha Greens, the switch has a green-tinted housing, and when illuminated by the LED of your keyboard, the RGB would have a slight tint of green with the lights.