Hot-swappable keyboards are becoming much more popular in the mechanical keyboard community. When a keyboard is referred to as being “hot-swappable”, what this really means is that there is no soldering required to pull out a switch and replace it with another one.
This can be a useful feature if you like to change switches frequently, for instance from a Cherry MX Brown to a Gateron Brown, or if you simply prefer the convenience of not having to do any soldering. Regardless, it’s a fantastic feature to have for any hobbyist.
- The Top 5 Hot-Swappable Mechanical Keyboards
|Top Pick||Massdrop ALT 65%||5.0|
|Runner Up||Glorious Modular Mechanical||4.8|
|Best TKL||Massdrop CTRL||4.8|
|Best DIY||KDBFANS DZ60RGB-ANSI||4.6|
Drop Alt 65%
The Drop Alt 65% is our choice for the best compact hot-swappable mechanical keyboard. The Alt contains all the bells and whistles that you would expect to be included in a higher-end keyboard.
RGB lighting is included in this keyboard, each key is customizable to your preferred color. Additionally, an RGB under-glow light runs around the perimeter of the case, which can be customized for added effect. Illuminated by the RGB lighting is the double-shot PBT keycaps, this is generally the best combination of plastic material and keycap manufacturing process for longevity. We would expect any keyboard around this price range to have PBT keycaps.
Since this PCB is hot-swappable there are a few different switch options available:
- Cherry MX
- Halo switches
These switches are all compatible with this keyboard.
Last but not least is the very enticing QMK firmware that functions with the Alt. With QMK firmware the Alt is fully programmable, the process of making macros and custom keymapping is extremely simple.
Glorious Modular Mechanical Keyboard
The GMMK is a visually stunning keyboard, it comes with fully customizable RGB backlighting, change the color of any key via software or directly on the keyboard. Additionally, pre-set lighting effects are included direct from the manufacturer.
This minimalist keyboard has a floating keycap design, with a standard keycap layout that makes personalizing your keys simple. One knock on this particular keyboard is that the factory keycaps are double-shot ABS, which are generally inferior to double-shot PBT. If you’re swapping the default keycaps for aftermarket it obviously won’t make a difference, but it is definitely something to keep in mind if you are keeping the stock keycaps.
This keyboard offers a solid and sturdy build with a high-quality aluminum faceplate, it’s about 2.25 lbs so it should stay planted firmly on your desk. The USB cable is detachable and braided, so you can swap out the cable to match your customized look. All the regular multimedia keys are included, and if you are interested in creating macro keys Glorious software will enable you to do so.
The GK61 is the perfect entry-level and highly customizable mechanical keyboard in its price range. For around $50, its difficult to find any other hot-swappable keyboard with the number of features the GK61 has. There is a huge catalog of custom artisan keycaps, cases, and USB cords to choose from.
The GK61 RGB backlighting is particularly good, you get a vibrant shine through the keycaps. Custom software comes with the GK61 in order to control the lighting, however, it is notoriously poor and difficult to use unless you can read Mandarin. Although there are some English directions, its definitely tricky to create macros and personalize the layout.
The one downside of this particular PCB is that it is only compatible with optical switches, it comes stock with the Gateron Optical series.
If you have experience building mechanical keyboards or are a fan of DIY projects, there are other options for you. The GK61 is also available as a DIY kit, you can assemble it yourself (and purchase switches separately). You can easily drop in any Cherry, Gateron, Kailh, Box, or other mechanical switches.
Massdrop CTRL TKL
The Massdrop CTRL TKL is our top pick for the best TKL hot-swappable mechanical keyboard for a few reasons. Along with its smaller twin, the Alt 65%, the CTRL TKL is composed of a low-profile aluminum case with sturdy magnetic feet. The stock keycaps are very solid, double shot PBT keys that are guaranteed to last the entirety of this keyboard’s lifespan.
The CTRL TKL has a plethora of RGB lighting options, backlighting and under-lighting are included in this unit, both are fully customizable. Additionally, this mechanical keyboard is fully programmable via QMK open-source firmware. Creating custom macros and entirely unique key layouts is made very simple.
There’s a certain satisfaction in putting together your own peripherals. For those that like to get their hands dirty and are looking to dive into a little DIY action, the KBDFANS DZ60RGB Hot-Swap Kit is the perfect package for you.
First off, this kit includes everything except keycaps and switches. Those are sold separately on the KBDFANS website.
The quality components and extensive customizability of this kit have made it a popular choice in the mechanical keyboard community.
This PCB also contains RGB backlighting and is compatible with QMK firmware, which is probably one of the best open-source tools for mechanical keyboard customization.
Assembly of this kit is pretty straightforward since the PCB is hot-swappable, there is no soldering involved for installing switches. Simply screw together the components, pop in your switches and keycaps, attach the USB cord, and your build is complete!
If you’re looking for a guide, this TaeKeyboards video shows you how to put together all the parts. Ignore the soldering part of the video as this PCB does not require soldering.