Mechanical Keyboard Upgrade

A few years back, I bought a Das Keyboard 4C Ultimate TKL. It was my first mechanical keyboard and I absolutely loved it. It was an all-black keyboard made with an aluminum top plate and came with a ruler aptly called the FootBar which tilts the keyboard by 4degrees. It also came with an attached 6-foot USB cable.

One of the things I did after the novelty of blank key caps wore off was to replace some of the non-alphanumeric keys with green key caps with white lettering.

My Das Keyboard 4C Ultimate.

It was a joy to use especially during coding marathons. I like how clicky the keys were as my keyboard came with blue switches. Little did I know that they are not Cherry MX blue switches but rather Greetech blues.

Then one day, some of the switches are no longer working. No matter how much I press, it just wouldn’t register the key press. Some of the switches seemed to pick up the slack by registering the key press twice. I knew that part of the maintenance of mechanical keyboards was to clean up the switch contacts, lube the key stems and replace the springs as needed and that the time has come. Since it was already out of warranty when this happened, I thought maybe I can upgrade a few things here and there for this very durable and trusty keyboard.

It already feels like it was built like a tank since there was no flex on any part – thanks to the steel plate where the switches are mounted as compared to PCB-mounted alternatives. The things that I can do is to replace the other key caps, convert the 6-foot fixed USB cable to a detachable one, or replace the switches to Cherry MX blues. I decided to do all since I’m mostly at home.

Good thing that the manufacturer of this keyboard went with a modular approach for the cable and used a 5-pin JST connector. I ordered a 2.0mm 5-pin JST pre-wired female connector and planned on splicing it with a USB Type-C OTG cable by trying to salvage the female end so that my keyboard can have a reversible USB Type-C receptacle. To my surprise, the wires on the Type-C standard are twice as many (to make it reversible, duh) but half as thin per wire than the normal. Maybe someday. Moving on the micro-USB seems like a better option since I still have good cables lying around for that.

2.0mm 5-pin JST connector detached from the PCB.
micro-USB female plug from an OTG cable.
De-solder and splice then shrink-wrap to make it nice.
Top view of my handiwork.
Another look at the micro-USB cable receptacle.

Next up is the move from Greetech switches to Cherry MX blues. I found a seller online but only had 50pcs on hand. I ordered and planned on making this work by replacing only the switches that are acting up and the alphanumeric ones. The switches that are perfectly working from the alphanumeric group will be moved to the modifier keys and/or vice-versa. While waiting for the shipment to arrive from overseas, I found a local online seller with 90pcs on hand that are of the RGB LED-compatible variant. Now, my keyboard does not have any LEDs but future-proofing isn’t that bad when it really comes in cheaper if you think about it. The real main difference is that one has a translucent housing that allows light from LEDs to pass through and light up the key caps. The switches can be … <insert BS here to convince self> … so I went ahead and ordered 90pcs (TKL or ten-key-less refers to the removal of the number pad commonly found on full-sized keyboards. This brings down the number of keys to 87/88).

De-soldered the most useless key as warm-up/practice.
Thanks to the temp-adjustable soldering iron, the PCB was not burned.
Took the opportunity to clean the front of the PCB. This is unreachable due to the metal plate and since this is a plate-mounted keyboard by design.
Started to solder the LED-compatible Cherry MX blues. Corners first so that the metal plate is firmly set in place.
Making my way to the center just cause I wanna.
With the aluminum top plate and all switches soldered in place. Just of posterity.
Key caps without the blank ones. Retro gray on the space bar and arrow keys.

All keys are like new and the USB 2.0 pass-through still works.

Between the Greetech blues and the Cherry MX blues, I find that the Cherry MX switches are less noisy/clicky compared to the Greetech. It is also a bit less firm but I don’t know how to describe it properly. Maybe this is what others are referring to as “mushy” feeling during key presses.

Anyway, the next step from here is to find some key caps. But in the mean time, the green and white will have to do.

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