Let’s set a scene.
You’re in the beginning stages of laying out a design for your ultra-custom keyboard, and you’re looking at several different configurations but you’re scratching your head because you’re not sure which type of keyboard will be the best fit for you.
Or maybe you’re trying to pick out a pre-built mechanical keyboard and have come at an impasse trying to decide between which style of keyboard is the best. Do you pick a keyboard with PCB-mounted switches or a keyboard with plate-mounted switches?
In this post we will go over the differences between the two and help you determine which one will best fit your needs.
So, let’s jump right in.
What the heck is a PCB/plate-mounted board?
Let’s clarify some of the differences really quick. The PCB is the foundation of your keyboard, everything starts here and is built off this part. Like a motherboard on a computer, the operations of the keyboard start at the PCB. The switches are soldered onto the PCB and send the electrical impulses when the keys are pressed. Pretty cool right?
The plate mount is added on top of the PCB for extra support, this helps prevent the keyboard from flexing and provides some extra stability. Not every keyboard has this part. This is what the main difference between the two types of switch mounted configurations, whether or not they have this plate.
Both configurations (plate-mounted and PCB-mounted), both have a PCB board. The main difference is in how the switches are soldered to the PCB.
The switches are soldiered and mounted directly to the PCB, making for a relatively simple installation.
The switches also come with guiding pins to help install the switch to the PCB. In general, this type of installation has a lighter feel and the keys will tend to bounce a bit more. The PCB mounting style is generally used with smaller keyboards as they tend to flex less and need less structure to hold together.
Due to the lack of reinforcement, the keyboard will feel more rickety and less stable. If you are a heavy-handed typist or you enjoy of feel of a very stable keyboard, this might not be for you.
But overall, the PCB-mounted style is cheaper to produce because it does not require the additional reinforcement plate and some might find it easier to build.
Instead of getting installed directly to the PCB, the switches are mounted to a metal plate that is installed above the PCB. The switches are then soldered to the PCB after being placed in the metal plate. The plate allows the keyboard to feel more reinforced and stable with a heavier feel.
These plates are often used with larger keyboards to provide more support because due to the extra size, the keyboard tends to flex more. The plate also adds more rigidity to the keyboard and helps keep everything better secured.
The switches have one major difference from the PCB mounted style, they do not need the additional guiding pins because they are installed into the plate instead of directly to the PCB. Once the switches are installed into the plate, they are soldered to the PCB board.
Just keep in mind, once you solder the keys the plate will be very difficult to remove. You will need to remove the keys to take off the plate and re-solder each key back to the PCB board again. If you plan on making lots of modifications and changes, this might not be the right style for you.
Overall the plate-mounted keyboards are higher quality and tend to last longer.
Some people prefer the finger-feel of this style of mounting because it makes the keys more stable and less rocky. Just keep in mind this configuration is typically more expensive due to the extra components and assembly.
In a pinch, it’s possible to modify the PCB-mount switch to work with a plate-mount by removing the extra pins on the bottom used to secure into the PCB. Keep in mind you cannot PCB-mount pin less switches.