North Facing vs South Facing Switches – What is the right pick?

north facing vs south facing switches

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:

Importance of keyboard switches

Keyboard switches are a critical component of any keyboard, determining the feel and performance of the keyboard. They are responsible for registering key presses and determining the tactile feedback and actuation force required to register a key press. With so many different types of keyboard switches available, choosing the right switch can make a big difference in the overall user experience.

Overview of North Facing vs South Facing

Switches In the world of keyboard switches, there are two main types of switches: North facing switches and South facing switches. Each type of switch has its own unique characteristics and benefits, making it important to understand the differences between the two in order to make an informed decision when choosing a keyboard switch. In this article, we will explore the differences between North facing and South facing switches and help you determine which type of switch is right for your needs.

Understanding Keyboard Switches

What are Keyboard Switches?

Keyboard switches are the physical components that activate when a key is pressed on a keyboard? They determine the tactile feedback and actuation force required to register a key press. There are many different types of keyboard switches available, each with its own unique characteristics and benefits.

Different types of Keyboard Switches

Some of the most popular types of keyboard switches include mechanical switches, dome switches, and scissor switches. Mechanical switches are known for their durability, tactile feedback, and loud clicking sound. Dome switches are more common in laptop keyboards and provide a quieter typing experience. Scissor switches are commonly found in low-profile keyboards and provide a shallow actuation distance and a quiet typing experience. Each type of switch has its own unique benefits, so it is important to choose the right switch based on your personal preferences and needs.

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 placements, 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 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 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 switch 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.

North Facing Switches for Keyboards

Characteristics of North-Facing Switches North-facing switches are keyboard switches that have LED lights mounted on the top of the switch. This type of switch provides a clear and bright lighting experience, making it a popular choice for gamers and users who value backlit keyboards.

Advantages of North-Facing Switches for Keyboards

Some of the advantages of North facing switches for keyboards include bright and clear lighting, ease of maintenance and customization, and compatibility with RGB lighting. The bright lighting provided by North facing switches is ideal for gaming or typing in low-light environments, making it a popular choice for users who value backlit keyboards.

Examples of North-Facing Switches for Keyboards

Some of the popular North facing switch options include Cherry MX RGB, Kailh RGB, and Gateron RGB switches. These switches are commonly found in gaming keyboards and provide a clear and bright lighting experience.

South Facing Switches for Keyboards

Characteristics of South Facing Switches South-facing switches are keyboard switches that have LED lights mounted on the bottom of the switch. This type of switch provides a subtle and subdued lighting experience, making it a popular choice for users who value aesthetics over lighting.

Advantages of South Facing

Switches for Keyboards Some of the advantages of South-facing switches for keyboards include a subtle and subdued lighting experience, reduced light leakage, and compatibility with low-profile keycaps. The reduced light leakage provided by South facing switches allows for a more seamless and streamlined look, making it a popular choice for users who value aesthetics over lighting.

Examples of South Facing Switches for Keyboards

Some of the popular South facing switch options include Cherry MX Silent, Kailh Silent, and Gateron Silent switch. These switches are commonly found in low-profile keyboards and provide a quiet and subtle lighting experience.

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 the 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 around.

However, getting a whole new PCB can somewhat help you out with this issue.

Why do most 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 the 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 and 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.

By Brandon S. Lee

Hi, My name Brandon S.Lee and I am a professional Gamer, I also worked with the keyboard making company called Logitech. I was the quality check manager of the Logitech keyboard department. Here we have a team of people who researched on the keyboards, talked with keyboard users and analyzes the user reviews and then write the product reviews.

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