Finding the right keyboard for you is so important. Whether you are using it for gaming, emailing, or just general everyday use – comfort and style matters. Just as a tradesman needs his tools, you need your keyboard. If you don’t have one that you like, that’s easy to use, and is reliable; then you are just unnecessarily handicapping yourself.
A problem that you might run into, I know I have, is that your keyboard isn’t quite right. There are a few little nagging problems with it, that leave you wanting more. But, you don’t want to buy a new one as it may be further from what you were looking for. This might lead you on a quest to customize your current keyboard into the perfect keyboard for you. Which is great! This is perhaps the only way to ensure you are getting precisely what you want. But, there are some limitations.
This article is going to give you all the information you could need about can you convert a membrane keyboard to mechanical. We will go over whether it’s possible, how to do it, and why you might want to do it at all. You will also get a brief overview of the key differences between the membrane and mechanical keyboards, to help you determine whether or not making the change is even the right decision.
Hopefully, by the end, you will feel fully informed on the matter and confident that you know which type of keyboard is right for you. Especially whether you want to go ahead with making the change to your current keyboard, rather than just purchasing a second one.
Table of Contents
What is a membrane keyboard?
A membrane keyboard is a very interesting type of keyboard. You see, instead of relying on separate moving parts and mechanical switches (like a mechanical keyboard) each key is not separate. Of course, the keycaps themselves move individually, but that’s about it.
There is one large pressure pad attached to the keyboards PCB. When you press a key, the keycap depresses the pressure pad resulting in the keystroke being register by the computer. This is similar to how laptop keyboards have pressure pads under each key. It saves space, it’s generally a little quieter, and is less prone to sticking and jamming.
What is a mechanical keyboard?
A mechanical keyboard works off individual switches rather than one long pressure pad. When you press the key down, a physical switch is flipped to indicate to the computer that there has been input. Rather than just a pressure pad. This is why mechanical keyboards are a little thicker and a heck of a lot louder.
Mechanical keyboards are probably what you think of when you imagine your typical office keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are generally quite a lot more expensive, but you get what you pay for. There can be quite a lot of elitism in the community. Hanging out on forums like Reddit can be a great source of knowledge, but the gatekeeping can be a real turn off.
Can you convert a membrane keyboard to mechanical?
Here’s where things get tricky because the answer is kind of dumb. Yes and no. The problem with a membrane keyboard vs a mechanical one is that they are opposites in some very key ways. Primarily, they rely on different types of switches. A mechanical keyboard uses mechanical ones, a membrane one uses pressure pads. So, how could you swap them out?
It’s not quite as simple as switching out some Cherry Mx blues for some Cherry Mx silent reds because the noise bothered you. You would need to completely remove the frame and separate the pressure pads from the printed circuit board. This is difficult and also very risky. If you take it apart you may not be able to get it back together. It’s not quite as simple as just soldering the pressure pads back on.
Why would you want to convert your keyboard?
There are several good reasons for wanting to convert your membrane keyboard into a mechanical one. Primarily, you would do this if you had a membrane keyboard that you loved but would much rather have mechanical keys and better keycaps. Why you would do that instead of just buying a mechanical keyboard is probably for sentimental reasons.
Overall though, the biggest difference is probably comfort and volume. I, for instance, would much rather type using a mechanical keyboard, the feel and sound helps me think. But, would the person sitting in the cubical next to me in the office feel the same way? I highly doubt it.
Membrane keyboards are much more office-friendly. Furthermore, some people simply don’t want to move away from a keyboard they otherwise love. If the only issue with your keyword is the switch set up (mechanical vs membrane) would it not make sense to make the change and create for yourself the perfect keyboard?
You might also find that, in theory, it may even be cheaper to swap the membrane out for mechanical switches. This would probably require you to do all the work yourself, which won’t be easy. Furthermore, if you end up breaking the keyboard and having to buy a new one any way you will have cost yourself far more than you needed to.
What to do if you REALLY want to convert your keyboard.
Okay, so we discussed the impracticality of swapping out the membrane for a mechanical switchboard. I wouldn’t recommend doing it, but it is possible.
Take it apart
First, you need to take apart the keyboard. Your keyboard can be unscrewed and separated into two sections. The top is where you will find the keycaps. The bottom is the frame and the PCB. This is where you will find the switches. Either membrane or mechanical depending on which keyboard type you are starting with.
This is where it gets tricky, and why you shouldn’t be doing this without the proper knowledge and tools. You will need to separate the membrane from the PCB itself.
Sperate the membrane from pcb
The first step is to unclip every keycap base in the frame. There will be one for each key. Once these are out, getting at the PCB will be easier. Depending on the keyboard, the pressure pad may be soldered onto the keyboard or simply clipped on. The same process can be applied for mechanical switches, except the switchboard will be removed instead of a pressure plate board.
Hope they fit!
The real problem comes with putting the mechanical switchboard on the original keyboards PCB. You have no idea whether it will even line up in such a way that it can be soldered on. The biggest problem here is that you have no way of knowing until you have taken them both apart. Again, my advice would be DO NOT try to convert either one to the other. Speak to a computer repair shop and see if they would be able to make the swap for you.
Membrane vs mechanical
If you had to choose membrane or mechanical, it’s important to understand the differences. They both have their pros and cons. If you are looking for style and are planning on typing/gaming a lot. The mechanical keyboard would be the way to go. If you are typing in an office, and are touch typing, then membrane might be the way to go.
The distinction between typing with membrane and mechanical is based on reactivity and actuation. Membrane keyboards register keystrokes with far less effort and with much greater speed. This can be great for typing but ONLY if you are already very accurate. Otherwise, it will lead to far more mistakes. If you aren’t the best typer, mechanical keyboards are better because each keystroke needs to be more deliberate.
When it comes to gaming the idea is pretty similar. Mechanical keyboards force us to be more deliberate with each keypress. This means getting your combo off takes more physical effort, but you are more likely to get it right. Plus, RGB mechanical keyboards are the backbone of gaming. How can you expect to win without the best keyboard? By practicing I suppose but that takes a little more effort.
Hopefully, you now have a clear idea about what the major differences between a mechanical and membrane keyboard are. They are both great but do very different things well. If you currently have a membrane keyboard but have your heart set on a mechanical one, buy a new one. I promise you that it just isn’t worth the headache trying to convert the one you already have.
I would imagine that if you knew how to swap out the switchboards already, you wouldn’t be reading this article. So it’s very likely you don’t have the knowledge and experience to make the swap yourself, so please don’t try. You can get some awesome mechanical keyboards on a budget.
You will need to buy a mechanical switchboard, switches, and keycaps anyway. So why not just buy the rest of the keyboard too and save yourself from the headache? Whatever you decide to do, good luck and happy typing!