Mechanical Keyboards: North-Facing vs South-Facing Switches
Mechanical keyboards were originally designed in the 70s for typists who needed to type quickly and accurately. They use mechanical switches that provide a tactile typing experience not found in traditional desktop keyboards.
The orientation of the switches - north-facing or south-facing - is a debated topic among mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. This article will explore the differences between north-facing and south-facing switches, including the pros and cons of each. By the end, you'll have a better understanding of which switch orientation works best for you.
If you're going to buy a new mechanical keyboard or planning to customize your own mechanical keyboard, then you should know the differences between north-facing and south-facing switches. It will help you make an informed decision.
What Are North-Facing Switches?
In mechanical keyboards, switch orientation refers to the direction in which the LEDs are oriented on the Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). North-facing switches have their LED holes facing toward the top of the keyboard when placed in the socket of PCB. As a result, the LEDs are located directly under the keycap legends, providing better illumination of the keycaps.
North-facing switches are more common and are found in most budget-friendly mechanical keyboards. They are also used in some older custom keyboards.
Disadvantages of North-Facing Switches
While north-facing switches are known for their better illumination of keycaps, they do have some drawbacks. The main issue with north-facing switches is keycap interference when using Cherry profile keycaps.
If you use Cherry profile keycaps on north-facing switches, the keycaps will come into contact with the top of the switches, preventing proper bottoming-out. This negatively affects the tactile sound and feel of the keyboard and can also impact typing accuracy and consistency.
As a result, many keyboard enthusiasts building custom mechanical keyboards avoid purchasing PCBs that have north-facing switch sockets. In recent years, many brands and keyboard designers have also switched to south-facing switches for this reason.
However, you can still use north-facing switches as long as you're not planning to use Cherry profile keycaps.
What Are South-Facing Switches?
South-facing switches have an LED hole that faces toward the bottom of the keyboard. When seated in your keyboard's PCB, south-facing switches have their LED holes facing towards you.
South-facing switches are popular among users because they do not cause any interference with Cherry profile keycaps. However, they are less common than north-facing switches because not all PCBs support multiple layouts.
South-facing switches are often found in custom keyboards. However, due to increasing consumer demand, keyboard manufacturers are now producing keyboards with south-facing switches.
Disadvantages of South-Facing Switches
While south-facing switches solve the problem of Cherry profile keycap interference, they also have some drawbacks. One issue reported by most keyboard designers is that south-facing switches lack the same amount of RGB glow as north-facing switches.
With north-facing switches, the RGB LEDs are directly beneath the legends on the keycaps, which makes the legends look bright and vibrant. However, with south-facing switches, the RGB LEDs are located on the bottom of each keycap and cannot shine directly through the legends like north-facing switches.
This is a problem for users who value RGB lighting. In fact, it is also the reason why gaming brands and keyboard manufacturers avoid using south-facing switches on their mechanical keyboards. Their focus is on RGB lighting, and north-facing switches provide better illumination for this purpose.
North-Facing vs South-Facing Switches: Which One is Better?
After considering the pros and cons of north-facing and south-facing switches, it's time to decide which orientation is better. However, this completely depends on the user's preferences.
Those who value bright and vibrant RGB lighting should choose north-facing switches, while those who prioritize better keycap compatibility should opt for south-facing switches.
Experts typically recommend south-facing switches as they offer better compatibility with any keycap, including Cherry-style ones, without interference. This provides a better sound and typing experience.
The main disadvantage of south-facing switches is that they don't offer as much RGB shine as north-facing switches. However, this is not a big issue for most users who use dye-sublimated PBT keycaps that don't have shine-through legends. With dye-subbed PBT caps, the RGB LED location doesn't matter as much.
North-facing switches provide a vibrant and stylish keyboard, but they sacrifice keycap compatibility, which may affect the typing experience. For this reason, keyboard enthusiasts generally prefer south-facing switches over north-facing ones. However, if you're not planning to use Cherry profile keycaps, you can still use north-facing switches.
Mechanical keyboards offer a tactile typing experience that cannot be matched by other types of keyboards, and switch orientation is a key feature of mechanical keyboards.
North-facing switches provide better RGB shine, while south-facing switches offer wider keycap compatibility. The question of which switch orientation is best is often debated by users.
In this article, we provided a clear understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of both north-facing and south-facing switches, and our research has shown that south-facing switches are the better option if RGB is not a concern.
|Better RGB shine
|Keycap interference, limited compatibility, affects typing experience
|Wide keycap compatibility, better sound and typing experience
|Less RGB shine
We hope this article has provided clarity on the orientation of keyboard switches and helped you make a more informed decision when purchasing or customizing a mechanical keyboard.