Hot swap sockets! On some keyboards they come by default, on other keyboards you can add them as a modification later. For the custom built Kyria, you can choose to have them installed for you. But why would you use them?
Pictured: Mill Max Hot Swap Sockets, available at splitkb.com.
Swap your switches without having to solder
The main reason to hot swap anything, like microcontrollers and switches, is to be able to easily remove and replace the thing you're socketing.
When it comes to switches, it's often hard to decide on a single switch. The variety is huge, and you might try a number of different switches before settling on your final choice. In this case, using hot swap switches makes swapping your switches easy, since you can use a switch puller to easily replace your switches, without having to solder.
Before making your decision, you should know of the caveats:
- You'll want to use a thin plate with your keyboard for the switches to sit reliably. Switches have clips which hook them into a plate. For MX switches, you'll generally want a 1.5mm plate, while for chocs this is 1.2mm. When you use a thicker plate, such as acrylic, the switches won't clip into the plate, and can get unseated much more easily.
- Not all switches are compatible with hot swap sockets. For instance, the Mill Max Hot Swap Sockets don't fit Kailh Pro switches, since their switch legs are slightly too wide to fit in a socket.
- Not all keyboards are compatible with hot swap sockets. The Kyria does fit sockets for use with MX switches and compatible clones, but the holes in the PCB aren't big enough to fit Kailh Choc Low Profile switches.
- Sockets eventually wear out. They're rated for a limited number of times of swapping your switches. Kailh hot swap sockets are rated for 100 so-called cycles, while Mill Max Hot Swap Sockets are rated for 1000 cycles. While sockets are relatively sturdy, their lifetime may be shortened if you use desoldered switches with them, or when you try to force your switches in when the pins aren't aligned correctly.
- Adding hot swap sockets as an aftermarket modification does cost extra. Especially Mill Max sockets are less affordable, as these parts are small, precision-machined and gold plated. This makes them reliable and sturdy.
- Soldering the sockets can be tricky and requires patience. Even experienced builders can get it wrong from time to time, flooding the socket with solder by accident.
- If you're a frequent traveler and like to throw your keyboard in your backpack without a case, you may want to hold off on sockets, as it does require little force to unseat a switch from the sockets.
Many people happily use hot swap sockets. They're nice to have, especially when going all out on build options - they make it easy to swap your switches after the build, making it easy to change, mod or lube them as your preferences develop. However, it comes down to your preferences: they're not required, and can be nice to have depending on what you need.