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Keyboard PCB - Something You Need To Know About Hot Swapping Keyboard PCB

Every keyboard has a PCB under the keys, which makes it possible to type words on your computer. A keyboard PCB is a very complex and the most important part of the keyboard. If you’re looking for a keyboard PCB manufacturer or simply want to learn about it, this article will help you go through all the minute details you should know about keyboard PCBs.

Table of Contents

What’s a keyboard PCB?

A keyboard PCB is put under the keys of the keyboard. It’s a central hub for housing all the conductive material for each key, microcontroller, LEDs, etc. The size of the keyboard PCB depends on your actual keyboard’s size, as the PCB has to be large enough to let all the keys rest on it.

When a key is pressed, it touches a conductive material just below it on the PCB. Each key has a dedicated conductive material under it on the PCB, letting signals pass through the microcontroller on the keyboard PCB.

What are the types of keyboard PCBs?

1.Full Size PCB: These PCBs are the same size as the keyboard and have a numpad and LED indicators. They also support backlit LED support for the keyboards.
2.Tenkeyless PCB: Those keyboards without a numpad use this type of PCB that’s designed for compact keyboards.
3.60% PCB: Keyboards that are even more compact than tenkeyless ones use 60% PCB. These PCBs facilitate keys including alphanumeric pad, arrow keys, and a few more important keys.
4.Programmable PCB: These types of PCBs are used in keyboards that you can program as you wish. You can customize key mapping, select backlit color, and more. You’re most likely to find these types of keyboard PCBs in gaming laptops and expensive gaming keyboards only.

What are the components in a keyboard PCB?

Components can be found in computer keyboard PCB
Components can be found in computer keyboard PCB

1.Switches: It’s the most important component that register keystrokes. Each key will have a dedicated switch that’s mapped to a specific ASCII code. These ASCII codes help identify the pressed key.

2.Diodes: Diodes ensure that the current flows in the right direction when the keys are pressed. When the user presses multiple keys simultaneously, a diode is responsible for helping identify each keystroke and let the microcontroller register them sequentially.

3.Microcontroller: It processes the input keystrokes and forwards the data to the CPU of the computer through connection ports like USB, bluetooth, WiFi, etc.

Also read: What is single-board computer (SBC) ? your ultimate guide

What materials are commonly used in keyboard PCBs?

  • FR Laminates
    The most common laminate material is FR-4, which is the most preferred choice due to its flame retardant and high electrical conduction properties. FR-2 is another choice, best suited for simple keyboards. Those looking to cut on their production costs can choose FR-2 material. If you want to go even cheaper in price, select FR-1, which is similar to FR-2, but FR-1 has a little lower electrical properties.
  • Metals
    Some common metals include aluminum for cost-cutting. If you need high electrical properties, then copper is better than aluminum. These metals are just for electrical conduction and traces making.

Also read: What is Aluminum PCB? Here’s everything you need to know

  • Other General Materials
    Some more important components include solder masks, lamination, and silkscreen, which is used to make mark logos, key labels, and other markings.

Soldered Keyboard PCB VS Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB

Soldered keyboard PCB VS hot swappable keyboard PCB
Soldered keyboard PCB VS hot swappable keyboard PCB

Definition

  1. Soldered Keyboard PCB
    These PCBs have switches embedded on them. If you want to remove or replace switches, you’ll have to remove the soldering and solder a new switch again.
  2. Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
    The switches in hot swappable keyboard PCBs are not embedded and you can remove them or swap their places by hand, without any soldering hassle. The switches are placed in sockets that are embedded on the PCB.

Also read: Unlocking the potential of embedded PCB -revolutionizing component integration

Advantages

  1. Soldered Keyboard PCB
    Since the switches are soldered, you’ll get a stable keyboard and there’s no risk of loose connections, electrical shocks, or short circuits.
  2. Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
    If you have a personal keyboard mapping preference, a hot swappable keyboard PCB would be the right choice. You can swap the keys according to your typing style and requirements.

Disadvantages

  1. Soldered Keyboard PCB
    If you want to make changes to a soldered keyboard PCB, then it’ll be time consuming. Moreover, it’s very likely to damage your keyboard while repairing or modifying it.
  2. Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
    Despite the ability to swap switches, not all the switches are compatible with each other. And in pursuit of swapping the switches, you’re actually increasing the risk of loose connections.

Construction

  1. Soldered Keyboard PCB
    The switches are first soldered to the PCB. Every key on the keyboard has one or two metal pins that are inserted into the switch to make an electrical and mechanical connection.
  2. Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
    Instead of soldering the switch, a connector is soldered on the PCB for each switch. The switch is then placed on it and stacked with a key on the top. This allows keyboard users to just swap the key and switches on the keyboard, because the switch can potentially be swapped to another connector.

Price

  1. Soldered Keyboard PCB
    Since this is the most common type of PCB in the market and the manufacturing process doesn’t require expensive raw materials, soldered keyboard PCB is often cheaper worldwide.
  2. Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
    Due to the complex manufacturing process and increased number of components, the overall cost of the product is high.

How to design a keyboard PCB?

1.First, design the layout key matrix, and other features that you’d like to have in your keyboard. Then choose a PCB designing software that you think is best for you.
2.Create a PCB layout using the software. You need to finalize the placement of all the components on the PCB in the software.
3.Make all the electrical connections, so that the switches are connected to the microcontroller and ensure that all the electrical connections are complete.
4.To complete the electrical connections, you’ll need to lay out traces. For every switch, there will be a dedicated trace. Mismatched traces and switch connection will result in incorrect key mapping.
5.Set the dimensions of the PCB and determine its shape. Make some space for the mounting holes, LED indicators, etc.

Best software for designing a keyboard PCB

●Altium designer is a dedicated PCB-designing tool, known for use among experts.
●KiCad is an open source free tool that is best suited for beginners and intermediates.
●Eagle, owned by AutoDesk, is flooded with tons of libraries to make it easier to work.
●OrCAD enables users to make schematic diagrams, PCB layouts, signal integrity analysis, etc.

What to look for when selecting a keyboard PCB?

1.Decide if you want a programmable PCB that allows you to customize key mappings, macros, and other functions.
2.Look for a PCB with good build quality and durability. This ensures the longevity and reliability of your keyboard.
3.Check if the PCB supports the specific type of switches you want to use. Most PCBs are designed to accommodate popular switch types like Cherry MX or Kailh switches.

Final Verdict

After learning about the keyboard PCBs, you might be excited to run your keyboard brand. If yes, then you’ll need help from a keyboard PCB manufacturer, such as IBE Electronics. IBE Electronics has mastered in making programmable, hot-swappable, soldered, and all types of keyboard PCBs.

FAQ
What components can be found in a keyboard PCB?

1.Switches: It’s the most important component that register keystrokes. 
2.Diodes: Diodes ensure that the current flows in the right direction when the keys are pressed. 
3.Microcontroller: It processes the input keystrokes and forwards the data to the CPU of the computer through connection ports like USB, bluetooth, WiFi, etc.

What are the advantages of keyboard PCB?

Soldered Keyboard PCB
Since the switches are soldered, you’ll get a stable keyboard and there’s no risk of loose connections, electrical shocks, or short circuits.
Hot Swappable Keyboard PCB
If you have a personal keyboard mapping preference, a hot swappable keyboard PCB would be the right choice. You can swap the keys according to your typing style and requirements.

What software can be used to design a keyboard PCB?

●Altium designer is a dedicated PCB-designing tool, known for use among experts.
●KiCad is an open source free tool that is best suited for beginners and intermediates.
●Eagle, owned by AutoDesk, is flooded with tons of libraries to make it easier to work.
●OrCAD enables users to make schematic diagrams, PCB layouts, signal integrity analysis, etc.

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Author

Bella

Hi, I am Bella, a professional PCB and PCBA related field content creator. Since I graduated, I have dedicated myself to PCB and worked with PCB engineers to complete various PCB and PCBA design and manufacturing projects. Based on the electronic knowledge accumulated as a PCB engineer for more than 5 years, I am now mainly responsible for writing content about PCB and PCBA by sharing some skills and views. If you have any ideas and demands about electronics, especially about PCB, you can feel free to leave your messages on our comment section and I would like to share my views and suggestions with you.

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