When considering keyboard switch mounting, the comparison should be plate mount vs. PCB mount methods.
And switch means the tactile, linear, or clicky electronic component under the keycap.
These discrete types of switches can be plate or PCB-mounted, and we’ll demystify what these two terms refer to below.
Read on to learn more!
What Is a Plate-Mount Keyboard Switch?
With plate mounting, the keyboard switches don’t attach to the circuit board directly.
Instead, they sit on a plate with holes to secure them, and these holes allow pressing to reach the PCB below.
So the keyboard must have a plate frame between the switch and the PCB.
Since the setup already offers mechanical backing, the plate-mount switches only have three pins under the housing.
They include two metal pins and a center-positioned plastic pin that positions the switch correctly.
A mechanical keyboard with a brass plate
You must solder or fit these switches directly on the plate for installation.
Pros of Plate-Mounted Switches
Plate mounting introduces one primary benefit, a solid build quality.
The metal frame stabilizes the keys and prevents flexing.
So this keyboard switch mounting technique is ideal for large keyboards because it creates a solid structure.
Cons of Plate-Mounted Switches
The mounting method has its drawbacks, which include the following.
Plate-mounting a keyboard switch is expensive because it requires a metal plate.
Plus, the mounting process takes time.
Changing keyboard switches from a plate-mount type to a PCB mount is impossible.
The former has three pins, while the latter requires five.
And you cannot attach the two extra pins needed for PCB mounting.
Not Easy To Modify Later
Once you mount (solder) the keys to the keyboard plate, it becomes challenging to make changes later.
If you want to move this plate, you must desolder the key switches first, then make the changes.
After that, you’ll have to solder the keys back to the plate again.
What Is a PCB-Mount Keyboard Switch?
PCB-mount keyboard switches have five pins, two more than the plate-mount switch.
So you can call them 5-pin switches and the plate-mount type three-pin switches.
A slot for a PCB-mount (5-pin) mechanical keyboard switch
Of the five, only two are metal pins.
So the two extra pins are plastic.
And they protrude from the sides to provide stability.
Like the plate-mount switch type, the metal pins enable the switch to work.
On the other hand, the large middle knob ensures correct positioning.
Also included on the underside are guiding pins for simplifying the installation process.
So during installation, you should mount and solder the switches directly to the circuit board.
This setup makes them easier to install and modify.
The mounting mechanism is common in small keyboards because they don’t flex as much as the large ones.
Also, they don’t need a sturdy frame to hold the structure together.
Pros of PCB-Mounted Switches
Mounting switches on the PCB has the following benefits.
Cheaper To Set Up
Not using an extra metal plate makes the setup cheaper to build.
On top of that, you’ll need less time to build the project.
Easy To Modify
This setup is more flexible because, unlike plate-mount keyboard switches, you won’t have to desolder all buttons to make changes.
And it is worth noting that you can convert PCB-mounted mechanical switches to the plate-mount type.
Cons of PCB-Mounted Switches
The only con with these keyboard switches is they can be wobbly.
Since it lacks a sturdy plate, the firmness of this keyboard relies on the soldering quality.
Blue mechanical switches
Plate Mount vs. PCB Mount Keyboard Switches
These two mounting options have the following differences.
You can use 5-pin and 3-pin switches on prebuilt, custom, or hot-swappable keyboards.
But some models have exclusive designs for either option.
Here is a list of the typical PCB-mount and plate-mount compatible keyboards.
Plate-Mount-Switch Compatible Keyboards
The plate-mounted keyboards that fully support the 3-pin switches include the following.
- Drop custom mechanical keyboards
- Keychron K6
- Leopold FC700R
And the typical 3-pin plate-mount switches include the following.
- Gateron Blues, Reds, and Browns
- Kailh Speed and Box
- TTC Silent Reds, Pink, and Blueish White
A mechanical keyboard with a brass plate and tactile switches
PCB-Mount-Switch Compatible Keyboards
These switches are compatible with more hot-swap and custom keyboards, but the KBT Vortex is exclusive (five pins).
And remember, you can clip the two extra pins to fit the board in a plate-mount keyboard.
So the switches are widely compatible.
Typical switches include the following.
- Cherry MX Grays, Greens, Blacks, and Silvers
- Durock T1, Piano POM, Daybreak, and Dolphin
- Alias Silent switch
When installing a plate-mount switch, fix the three pins on the plate.
After that, install the plate above the keyboard-printed circuit board.
And you still have to do this installation if using a hot-swap keyboard.
However, PCB-mounted keyboard switches don’t use plates.
They sit directly on the keyboard-printed circuit board.
Plate-mounted switches are ideal for large keyboards because the setup is more stable and rigid.
But we don’t recommend them for small keyboards because the hardware will be too thick for its size.
And you don’t need that much strength when building a tiny keyboard.
So PCB-mount switches will suffice for this application.
Red and yellow keyboard switches
The major difference between the two switches is the number of pins.
As stated earlier, the plate mount only has three pins, while its PCB-mount counterpart has five.
The former only needs three because the plate provides the required stability.
And of the three, two are metallic to contact the PCB below to transmit electrical signals, while the middle knob is plastic.
This center knob enables correct positioning.
And the three are in a similar location on either switch.
The two extra pins in the PCB-mount switch are plastic and offer stability to prevent wobbliness.
Adding a plate above the keyboard, PCB drives up the final cost.
This factor explains why you should only consider this option for full-size keyboards.
But if within your budget, you can include this plate in a small keyboard.
The benefit of this additional frame is a more premium feel.
The buttons are noisy on a plate-mount system, but the noise level depends on the switch.
For instance, keyboards with Topre switches are not as loud as those with Cherry MX switches.
But PCB-mount switches are more rubbery, so practically no noise comes from them.
As stated earlier, plate-mount switches feel loud because the keys remain rigid and have a sharp landing.
But the PCB-mount switches feel soft because the subtle PCB flex gives them a smoother landing.
Lastly, there is the rigidity difference. Keyboards with plate-mounted switches feel more solid, premium, and heavier than their PCB-mounted counterparts.
It is worth noting that manufacturers use different materials to build the plate, meaning the board can have varying properties.
Plate Mount vs. PCB Mount: Keyboard Plate Materials
These four typical plate materials alter the keyboard’s sound and feel in the following ways.
- Aluminum: As the most common material on custom and pre-assembled boards, aluminum plates have zero flex and are easy to cut.
- Brass: Brass is more rigid than aluminum. And some say it produces loud, bassy switch presses. But the material stains and oxidizes with time. So it needs treatment once in a while.
- Carbon Fiber: A sturdy, lightweight plate material that flexes to give a bouncing effect. Keyboards with this plate are ideal for gaming because the keypresses feel bouncy when playing.
A gamer’s mechanical keyboard (note the switches)
- Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is like the plastic version of brass because it emits a bassy sound.
- But it doesn’t oxidize and feels more bouncy.
In conclusion, the key difference between plate-mount and PCB-mount keyboard switches is the number of pins.
However, the most significant variations arise from the plate vs. direct PCB mounting.
And as you can see above, the rigidity, key feel, keyboard size, cost, and noise level differ due to this factor.
So consider your requirements first, then pick the most appropriate switch mounting mechanism.
We hope this article has been insightful.
Comment below to let us know your thoughts about the post, or inform us if we left anything out.