Role of ‘Daughterboards’ in High-End Custom Keyboards

The world of high-end custom keyboards is fascinating, full of jargon and technicalities that can both excite and confuse users. One such term that users frequently encounter is ‘daughterboard’. Longtime tech aficionados, experienced in disassembling game consoles or building PCs, may already be familiar with this term. For newcomers, however, it could be an entirely new concept.

Daughterboards – A Brief Overview

Daughterboards are supplementary circuit boards that connect to the main Printed Circuit Board (PCB) of a device, including keyboards. Their primary role is to host USB connectors, offering manufacturers more flexibility regarding the placement of their USB ports and enhancing the durability of the main PCB by reducing stress exerted on it.

Understanding what a daughterboard is and its function can significantly assist users in making informed purchase decisions. This knowledge can also be incredibly helpful when it comes to disassembling and modifying custom keyboards.

Daughterboards – Where Did They Come From?

Manufacturers have been incorporating daughterboards into various devices for quite some time. The primary objective is to extend the device’s functionality without significantly increasing its bulk, thereby preserving its original form factor.

In the past, daughterboards were primarily used for expansion cards in desktop PCs. Over time, their usage has extended to devices like game controllers and consoles, such as the Playstation 4. Now, daughterboards are becoming increasingly popular in custom mechanical keyboards. They initially appeared in high-end custom keyboards but are now found even in entry-level ones like the Glorious GMMK Pro and the Keychron Q1 and Q2.

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In a custom keyboard, the function of a daughterboard depends on how it’s incorporated into the design. While they are often used to accommodate a separate PCB for the USB connector, some custom keyboards utilize the USB Type-C daughterboard for the OS selector switch, toggling between Windows and Mac.

Advantages of Incorporating Daughterboards into Custom Keyboards

The benefits of including a daughterboard in a custom keyboard are plentiful. Firstly, they offer manufacturers greater leeway in choosing the USB port’s position in the case. This flexibility enhances creativity and design possibilities, transcending traditional mechanical keyboard case design constraints.

Furthermore, daughterboards prove especially beneficial for flexy and bouncy gasket mount keyboards. Without a daughterboard, the USB port might suffer strain due to the keyboard’s flexibility, potentially leading to damage. A daughterboard mitigates this issue, improving the USB port’s durability.

Replacing a broken USB port can be a daunting task. If the USB port on a daughterboard snaps off, the user merely needs to replace the daughterboard instead of the entire PCB – a far simpler task.

Another advantage is the ease of assembly. With traditional custom keyboard PCBs, aligning the USB Type-C port with the corresponding Type-C cutout in the keyboard’s case can be a challenge. A daughterboard simplifies this, letting users align and fix the daughterboard in place before connecting it to the main PCB with a JST connector.

Potential Drawbacks of Having a Daughterboard in a Custom Keyboard

While beneficial, the presence of a daughterboard can introduce some minor complications in custom keyboards. It can be an additional hurdle during keyboard disassembly, particularly for newcomers. For manufacturers, designing the keyboard’s internals becomes slightly more complex, which can marginally increase the end product’s price.

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Additionally, keyboards with daughterboards usually have a proprietary PCB, meaning users can’t easily swap out their PCBs if a component breaks. The only exception would be if the manufacturer offers extra PCBs for sale.

Should You Opt for Keyboards without Daughterboards?

While many enthusiasts advocate for the superiority of custom keyboards with daughterboards over traditional PCB designs, it doesn’t render standard PCBs obsolete. Nor should it discourage potential buyers. Keyboards without daughterboards are typically more affordable, given the simpler PCB design. They’re also easier to disassemble and modify, simplifying the installation of modifications.

The primary consideration for users is the assembly of gasket mount keyboards. These may be slightly more difficult as the USB cut-out of the case has to align perfectly with the PCB. There may also be limits on the bounce and flex of gasket mount keyboards, given considerations about the USB port.

Despite these minor issues, custom keyboards with regular PCBs remain a solid choice in today’s market. Yet, it’s worth noting that an increasing number of manufacturers are integrating daughterboards into their PCB designs.

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