Author Topic: A beginners guide to MX-style keyboards that nobody asked for  (Read 1050 times)

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Offline granola bar enthusiast

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Hello my fellow rectangular input system enthusiasts, I recently got bored so after a few minutes of reading hate posts about keyboards and the custom keyboard community I have decided to make a giant cocaine dump of a tutorial for beginners ranging from some cool stuff I sponged up from my 8 months of nerding out about keyboards. I urge you to look at instead and have some actually smart people explain to you the basics but if you are still here, you are a maniac for reading something I would type out, also let's get started.

Catagory 1: Layouts
In the keyboarding world, there are multiple different layouts that are usually squished into two categories: the types of layouts such as 60% and TKL which change the positioning and size of some keys and typically change the total size of keyboards but don't affect the location of the letters and keeps the same QWERTY layout of keys, and the other type of layout which changes the location of the keys from the QWERTY layout to for example; COLEMAK or DVORAK although these are a completely different discussion so I will not be covering this type in here especially as I myself don't know much about it and am a QWERTY user just like the majority of you.

The basic layouts which you have likely seen in most gaming keyboards are either 60% (which leaves just the keys necessary for gaming), TKL (or 80% which chop off the number pad), and full size (or 100% and is also your typical keyboard layout with everything on there). Besides these, there are more unorthodox layouts such as 65% (60% with the arrow keys), 75% (65% with a function row), 40% (60% without number keys), and 1800 (full size but squished together pretty much). I have not described these very well, but I urge you to spend some time looking at keyboards here or elsewhere to better understand these layouts.

Catagory 2: Cases
The case of a keyboard is the backbone of the keyboard and is what everything else is mounted to (usually) and is quite literally the casing that surrounds everything besides the keycaps. Different cases have compatibility for different layouts, and different mounting mechanisms for the other components to be attached to it, for example, the Bakeneko has a little area for the gummy o-ring mounted PCB to sit on where the Tofu75 has screw holes for the PCB to screw into and these have different feels and sounds due to this despite both being made out of aluminum.

There are multiple different materials for the case of a keyboard that changes its general sound. The 3 most common are Aluminum, Polycarbonate, and Acrylic. Aluminum is the most premium material out of the 3 and usually has a more refined, higher-pitched sound. Polycarbonate is usually used in cheaper boards and has a lower-pitched sound, although since it is plastic instead of metal like aluminum it suffers less from ping and more from hollowness in keyboards typically. Acrylic is the least common out of the 3 and also is usually used in cheaper keyboards, it has a more sound that is more in the middle of the spectrum and like polycarbonate has less of an issue with ping than aluminum.

Catagory 3: Switches
Switches are what sends the signal to the keyboard and play a very large factor in how a switch feels. While switches are a fairly well-known thing outside the keyboard community although are mainly seen as one of three switches that are all made by one company, Cherry. While Cherry doesn't necessarily make bad switches, the community recently has been designing their own switches which have some improvements over Cherry's line of switches. Although they keep the 3 main types of switches: Linear (no bump during keypress), Tactile (Bump during keypress), and Clicky (audible clicky feeling bump during keypress).

Inside an MX-style switch, there are 4 main parts: The stem, which is what the keycap holds onto, and has legs that interact with the leaf to send the signal and are typically made out of the thermoplastic POM. The leaf, which is what sends the signal and is typically mounted inside the housing and is difficult to remove, there are different leaves for both linear and tactile switches, and mix-matching them can cause a very weird feeling that many do not want. The housing, which is what encases the switch and has the leaf connected to it, can affect the smoothness and sound of the switch a large amount, is typically split up into two parts, the top and bottom housing, the bottom housing contains the leaf and top is what you see holding the stem in place when the switch is mounted, the top housing is typically made out of Polycarbonate and the bottom is usually Nylon.

Part 4: the PCB
The PCB of a keyboard is what the switches are mounted onto, and is typically what the switches send the signal to which then sends the signal to whatever it is connected to. There is also a type of PCB that is usually seen in beginner-oriented keyboards called hot-swap PCBs, hot-swap PCBs have hot-swap sockets (usually manufactured by Kailh) under the area where switch-pins are mounted and make it so you can easily swap out switches without having to take apart your entire keyboard, then desoldering every single switch then soldering the ones you wanted back on.

Part 5: the Plate
The plate of a keyboard is what holds the switches in place and in many occasions, is what mounts the keyboard to the case. The Plate of a keyboard is basically a sheet of a chosen material that switches are mounted onto with the PCB aligned right under it. There are many different plate materials but the main ones are Aluminum, Brass, Polycarbonate, POM, and FR4. These give different sounds and feels to the board.

Aluminum is stiff and has a higher pitched and louder sound, Brass is very stiff and has a very high pitched sound that is also loud, Polycarbonate has the softest feel out of the bunch and has a lower-pitched sound, POM is barely stiffer than Polycarbonate and has a higher pitched sound, FR4 has a feel barely softer than Aluminum and is extremely low pitched.

Catagory 6: Foam
In many boards (especially newer ones) you will typically see them utilizing foam to fix some of their rough edges, some of the most common uses of foam in boards are case foam, plate foam, and PCB (commonly as PE) foam.

Case foam is commonly used and is a fairly old concept, to reduce hollowness and ping, foam or silicone is placed under the PCB to reduce dead space in the case, this can reduce noise level, hollowness and ping, and make a board somewhat deeper and have a more dampened sound. Plate foam also is a fairly well known concept where foam or silicone is placed in a plate-like shape in between the PCB and plate, this can act to dampen the sound level, deepen the sound, and make the board much quieter. PCB foam goes by many names, but since it doesn't have an super agreed on name most people call it by it's material, the most common being PE foam. This is a thin sheet of foam that goes right on the PCB and act's as a way to separate the switch from the PCB, this affects the sound at it's core and frequently causes a more marbly sound, this mod was popularized by the Jelly Epoch.

« Last Edit: Sat, 28 May 2022, 22:51:10 by granola bar enthusiast »