Human life is almost impossible to live without a keyboard, whether it is for entertainment or work. It is an essential computer peripheral. In addition to the traditional membrane keyboard, the mechanical keyboard seems to be more popular among young people and professionals in the computer industry. With the help of this keyboard, one can greatly improve efficiency and user experience. Compared to the traditional keyboard, the heart of a mechanical keyboard lies in the printed circuit board (PCB), which is responsible for providing individual electrical connections for each key and switch, thus improving functionality and performance. In this article, TechSparks will provide a detailed guide to choosing a mechanical keyboard PCB that will be suitable for all keyboard users and people who want to DIY a mechanical keyboard! Let’s get started!
Why Add PCB in Keyboard
Seeing this, you may check your own keyboard, but unfortunately, there seems to be no PCB, because most of the keyboards used are membrane switches. In a membrane keyboard, pressing a key causes the top film to contact the middle film, creating a connection between open and short circuit points, resulting in key closure. The circuit on the bottom film detects this key closure and sends the corresponding signal to the computer or device to indicate that the key has been pressed.
In contrast, a mechanical keyboard includes separate mechanical switches for each key, which are mounted on the PCB through the soldering and assembly process. When a mechanical switch is actuated, the PCB generates a closure signal that is transmitted to the control chip to perform the intended operation.
The traditional keyboard can almost meet our needs, why design a keyboard with PCB?
Firstly, incorporating a PCB extends the lifespan of the keyboard. Mechanical keyboards utilize separate mechanical switches that are fixed to the PCB, allowing them to withstand up to 30 million keystrokes. Additionally, in the event of a key failure, the switch can be desoldered and repaired, ensuring continued functionality. In contrast, membrane switches may experience rebound issues and typically have a lifespan of up to 1 million keystrokes.
Secondly, the inclusion of a PCB enhances the user experience, which is particularly noticeable for gaming enthusiasts. Mechanical switches provide a tactile feedback and a distinct clicking sound when pressed, offering a more satisfying experience for gaming or typing. Moreover, since the PCB is programmable, users with knowledge of circuitry can fully customize the keyboard PCB, allowing for greater customization options tailored to individual usage preferences.
Most importantly, incorporating a PCB into the keyboard helps to address key conflicts. Traditional keyboard circuitry employs a matrix design, where each key is connected to the intersection of rows and columns. When multiple keys are pressed simultaneously, the keyboard may fail to accurately identify the keys due to them sharing the same row or column lines. This can be frustrating for fast typists or frequent keyboard users. By adding a PCB, each key on the keyboard is equipped with a separate signal output line. In cases of simultaneous key presses, these electrical signals are transmitted to the controller via distinct circuits, thus avoiding key conflict issues.
Mechanical Keyboard PCB Compatibility
When purchasing a keyboard PCB there are three compatibility issues to consider: keycaps, switches, and interfaces.
Regarding keycaps, it is important to choose ones that match the PCB’s size, layout, and thickness. For instance, Cherry MX keycaps are compatible with standard ANSI layouts, while DSA keycaps are suitable for columnar layouts.
When selecting switches, factors such as pinouts, electrical characteristics, shape, and size should be taken into account. Some keyboard circuit boards may only work with Cherry MX switches, while others support switches from brands like Gateron and Kailh.
In terms of interfaces, TechSparks recommends using USB due to its high-speed transfer, hot plugging capability, and compatibility with most operating systems.
If you need to design your own keyboard PCB board, focus on choosing styles that support customization, programmable features, and firmware updates. This will allow you to customize your keyboard using software like QMK firmware, enabling you to create unique keymaps and macros. Programming can be done manually or through an online editor or third-party software.
Where to buy keyboard PCB
- KBDfans: A company specializing in the production and sale of keyboard PCBs. On their website you can find not only the best keyboard PCB but also other related accessories for you to use. This might be the better option if you are new to this as they have a great customer support and after sales team.
- AliExpress: An online shopping platform based on Chinese sellers, where you can get cheaper mechanical keyboard PCB than Amazon.
- Mechanical Keyboard Store: It is a great option for those looking for customized products and professional-grade keyboards. While prices may be higher compared to online marketplaces, these stores offer a wider selection of products and accessories, such as keycaps, switches, and cables. Additionally, some stores may provide repair and maintenance services, including cleaning and replacing accessories. Customers can choose from their favorite brands, models, and accessories, and can consult with knowledgeable staff for recommendations and suggestions. Many well-known mechanical keyboard brands, such as Cherry, Filco, and Leopold, also have their own display areas and sales points within these specialty stores.
PCB Forum for Keyboard Enthusiasts
- Geekhack: This is a well-established forum for keyboard enthusiasts to purchase custom keyboard parts. Buyers should exercise caution when dealing with sellers who may operate through Amazon or personal websites. It is advisable to compare prices with other sources before making a purchase. If the price is the same, it may be safer to purchase from a more established website.
- r/mechmarket: This subreddit is dedicated to buying and selling mechanical keyboards and related parts. When purchasing from a seller, it is important to review their feedback history and consider using a middleman service for more expensive purchases.
- Deskthority: This forum is less well-known than Geekhack or r/mechmarket, but it is a great resource for finding rare or hard-to-find PCB board mechanical keyboards. While it may have a smaller selection, buyers can find unique options that may not be available elsewhere.
Cheap Keyboard PCB Manufacturer
- JLCPCB: One of the leading PCB manufacturers in China, utilizes advanced equipment to complete design and manufacturing work efficiently, often with a turnaround time of just two days.
- PCBWay: With extensive production experience, offers a complete quality control system and professional after-sales service. Their affordable prices make them an excellent choice for DIY enthusiasts or small and medium batch production enterprises.
- Seeed Studio: It is a well-established electronic product development company with rich production experience and a professional technical support team. They offer comprehensive one-stop services to address all aspects of keyboard PCB production.
Keyboard PCB Troubleshooting
When troubleshooting a keyboard printed circuit board, there are several steps you can take to diagnose and resolve any issues:
- Check Wiring: Make sure all the wiring is properly connected and in good condition. Loose or damaged wires can cause connectivity issues.
- Inspect PCB: Look for any visible damage to the PCB, such as cracks, corrosion, or burn marks. These can indicate a problem with the board.
- Test Switches: Use a multimeter to test each switch to ensure they are functioning properly. Press each key and check that the corresponding switch registers a response on the multimeter.
- Check Firmware: If the switches are functioning correctly, the problem may be with the firmware. Check for any updates or known issues with the firmware, and try reinstalling it.
- Test USB Connection: If the keyboard is not being recognized by the computer, test the USB connection with a different device or cable to rule out any issues with the computer’s USB port.
- Try Different Computer: If the keyboard is still not functioning correctly, try connecting it to a different computer to see if the issue persists.
If these steps do not resolve the issue, it may be necessary to replace the PCB or seek professional assistance from a keyboard repair specialist.