The hysteria of Mechanical keyboards is not just associated to improve typing quality but durability and customization are some major factors you hardly get with any type of keyboard. Keyboard customization is the most loved part by enthusiasts but what should be the direction of switches can be the biggest confusion while transforming the keyboard.
One has to pay attention to every component of custom keyboard building and should research more on PCB (printed circuit board). Precisely switch orientation is a component that must be thought-through to set the LEDs’ position on the keyboard. Orientation switches mainly determine the type of keycaps to be fixed on the keyboard.
You are faced with two configuration choices to pick anyone from North facing & South facing switches.
Here in this post, we will be discussing what is meant by switch direction and everything you should know about north-facing and south-facing switches so that you have a better idea to decide while buying or customizing your mechanical keyboard.
Let’s get this comparison started:
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- 1 What does Switch direction mean?
What does Switch direction mean?
Before getting into details of south-facing & north-facing switches, we should understand switch orientation or direction. It basically describes in which direction mechanical switches are positioned on a mechanical keyboard or PCB.
As said earlier, the terms of south and north-facing switches mention the direction of placement of LEDs on the keyboard’s PCB. LEDs in south-facing switches are actually found towards the bottom side of the keyboard switches and face the direction of users on the keyboard. The difference in placement of LEDs is prominently termed as north & south-facing switches.
These switches are generally used in custom keyboards but these days south-facing switches have been seen in some prebuilt and a few beginner kits due to heavy demand from consumers.
North-facing switches, on the other side, have LEDs on top of the switches that are fixed in the socket of the PCB. These switches are common in budget-friendly keyboards; however, north-facing switches have also been used in custom keyboards of past decades.
If you think mechanical switches are only divided into south-facing or north-facing switches, let us enlighten you that west and east-facing switches do exist as well. Both the switches offer similar pros and cons like south-facing switches, the reason for such switches to be used very rarely is that they can be only applied on such PCBs, which are multi-layout compatible and provide maximum space.
North-Facing vs South-Facing Switches
Apart from different LED placement, like on the bottom in the south and being on top in north-facing switches, some other major differences are worth mentioning in this comparison.
Cherry Profile Interference
You must have heard about the cherry profile north-facing interference, it is arguably the major drawback that north-facing switches have come up with. Unlike south-facing switches, north-facing cause keycap interferences with cherry profile keycaps.
If you will try to place cherry keycaps with north-facing switches, the keycap will touch the switch-top, which creates a problem with the switch bottoming out and affect typing feel & sound badly. Even though the keyboard would still be useable with such a weird combo of north-facing switches and cherry keycaps but you cannot get to feel optimal quality typing and sound.
Due to the immense popularity of cherry profiles for keycaps, keyboard enthusiasts choose not to go with keyboards with north-facing sockets, on contrary, they prefer buying boards or PCBs with south-facing switch sockets.
If that’s the case, don’t you think manufacturers would only have set south-facing sockets on all keyboards why is it not that so; you guessed it right.
RGB Shine Through Keycaps
However, cherry profile keycap interference is not an issue when it comes to south-facing switches but the lacking of let-through keycaps is surely a factor of a disappointment for hobbyists.
North-facing switches have RGB LEDs exactly below the keycaps’ legends that provide vibrant and gleaming light through from characters. Whereas RGB LEDs are placed on the lowest side of keycaps concerning south-facing socket switches. In this way, LEDs shine through within the space of keycaps instead of onto the legends similar to north-facing switches.
This is not just it, the blockage in light at top of the keycap occurs due to the upper housing of the switch and keycap stem. These many hurdles let quite less light reach on the legends that make characters turn out to be rather vague and dull.
As a mechanical keyboard without RGB is truly a turn-off for many e-sport players or fanatics, that is why you would have seen top-tier brands like Corsair & Razer hardly put south-facing switches sockets on their gaming keyboard because ultimately RGB does matter.
Yet some cherry profile hobbyists do not find RGB lit-through any big issue, while many choose to go with dye-sub PBT keycaps that lack shine-through legends. With this kind of keycap, the limited RGB feature that you can get is beneath and around the keycaps, in short when you opt to use dye-sublimated PBT caps, the LED position does not matter that much.
Is it possible to swap switches?
That’s the common question asked, can south-facing switches be changed to north-facing switches or vice versa? It is impossible to change the location as switches are already socketed into PCB.
The switches are made to be fitted in a particular way in which holes are punctured within PCB so that the pins of switches pass through holes to be positioned. While the pins can be fit in only one way and there is no way switches can be swapped from north-facing switches to south-facing switches or the other way round.
However, getting a whole new PCB can somewhat help you out with this issue.
Why do mostly mechanical keyboards put north-facing switch sockets?
Backlighting is the iconic component for which mechanical gaming keyboards are widely popular. Top-rated brands like Razer have used this element quite innovatively with their chroma RGB modern technology.
To offer vibrant and dynamic RGB backlit on gaming keyboards, LEDs have to be placed on topmost of the switches on the PCB. This makes characters on keycaps fully illuminated so those shiny well-lit legends can be easily seen in dim light or even in dark.
For mechanical and most prebuilt keyboards north-facing switches have become standard, although with the rise in demand for custom keyboards the fall in popularity of north-facing sockets has been noticed.
Which is a better pick South-Facing or North-Facing Switches?
Considering the benefits and drawbacks of both South-Facing or North-Facing switches, south-facing switches offer some more potential advantages than north-facing switches. You will be able to use any kind of keycap with this orientation of switches without worrying about interference which provides your keyboard a better feel and great sound.
Above all, when it comes to the hobby, keyboard building is all about personal preferences and the right choices you make depending on what you want on your keyboard. If you like to have vibrant and bright RGB so you should pick north-facing sockets without a doubt. Likewise, those who prefer using the best compatible keycap certainly opt for no LEDs or south-facing switches.
If you choose to pair up dye-subbed caps with north facing switch sockets you will lose the chance to get the only advantage of shine-through keycap characters offered by the north-facing sockets anyway.