I recently bought the non backlit Magicforce 68 by Qisan from Mehkee because I wanted to see if I’d like the smaller form factors. The board originally had Outemu Blue switches, but I soon changed them to Gateron Greens since I wanted to be able to apply more force to bottom the switch out (I’ll be making a post soon about soldering switches to a board). I soon realized that this could be a great test board to try out other mods like adding LED’s.
A friend of mine did this exact mod before me, so I got some advice from him prior to this build, but more information about this mod can be found on a couple Geekhack and reddit threads that I’ll link at the bottom.
Before You Get Started:
Things you will need: LEDs in the color of your choice, resistors, forceps, needle nose pliers, electrical wire, wire stripper, nail clipper, a precision tip soldering iron, solder, solder sucker, and a couple hours of time.
The LEDs I used are the same my friend used, which are these. We chose these LEDs because of the length of the legs (3mm) and the fact that we had multiple color options. I added strictly white LED’s since I plan on changing keycaps soon and like a uniform color, whereas he had blue LED’s for the modifier keys (caps lock, shift, enter etc.) and white for all other keys. It’s all personal preference.
Now, the resistors we chose had a resistance of 1K Ohm. Plain and simple, a resistor limits the amount of power an object receives to a controlled amount. White LED’s generally need 1K Ohm resistance, whereas other colors like blue and green may need up to 1.2. These were the resistors we purchased. They come in a long strip and you just peel the plastic back to grab them. Warning : These resistors are very tiny, I’m talking a speck on a desk. Only peel back a couple at a time to play it safe and not lose them. I lost at least 15, but thankfully we had a lot of leftovers.
As far as forceps are concerned, I used this kit. I used the forcep on the far left, the ESD 10 for this entire project. Comes in a nice case for all of them, and since I do guitar repairs, the other forceps can come in handy. The ESD 10 held onto those tiny resistors like a champ and the tips did not melt when the soldering iron was accidentally touching it at all.
For the soldering iron, I used a Weller WLC-100 Soldering Iron and the ST7 Conical. A lot of people recommend the higher tier Weller and Hakko for soldering irons to use in the Mechanical Keyboard community, but despite frequently repairing guitars, I could not justify spending $100 on a soldering iron. I found this Weller for $40 and the bit for $5 and figured it’d get the job done. The wire can be pretty much any electrical wire, I just found this on Amazon and it worked perfectly fine. To strip the wire, you can buy a wire stripper or get a pair of scissors and strip the wire at an angle to remove the rubber casing and expose the wire within.
The Actual Process
The first thing you will need to do is identify how to disassemble the keyboard. The Magicforce 68 board I have has 6 screws, two in the center, one of which is behind the sticker, and one under each rubber pad. I used the flat side of a pair of needle nose pliers to lift the rubber pads up to remove the screws. After that, carefully lift the bottom of the case and grab the pliers. The bottom of the keyboard is connected to the top via a header cable. This header cable grabs the power from the USB cable and then transfers it to the board. Carefully wiggle the header cable out using the pliers by grabbing each side and wiggle away from the header. Unfortunately, the header seems to be of a weak plastic, but after pulling it out over 20 times, there’s no damage.
Let There Be Power!
Now that you have the board in two separate pieces, let’s take a look at the PCB (the board that has all the switches).
The bottom of the board will look like this. Each switch will have two small holes above (the light blue circle) for the LED. Near the switch will also be two very small silver pads (the black circle). This is where you will put the resistors. Each pair of pads will get one resistor that will sit across the two pads. Now, near the left hand side of the board you will see two yellow circles. This is where you will create a jumper cable and connect it to the two points. That is the first order of business. Please note, if your board does not have those LED holes, nor has the pads for the resistors, than you will not be able to put LEDs in them. Stop here and reassemble your board.
The purpose of the jumper cable is to draw power from the header portion on the left hand side to the ground on the four squares. You only need to solder one of the pins on the header (I used the bottom one) and only one square in that larger square of four.
I soldered most of the wire together so that it’d be easier to solder the wire to the points. Then I tinned the soldering iron and using needle nose pliers on the electrical wire, held it down and heated the wire to the small pad. The same goes for the header pin. In hindsight, this was the hardest part of the entire project. Again, the reason you need this is so that power goes to the LEDS
Onto the LEDS and resistors. Aside from the caps lock, which already has the green LED that I certainly plan on switching, you will have to add 67 resistors and LEDs, 69 if you add the two extra ones under the spacebar that I did not do. I started with the small cluster of Ins, Del, PGUP and PGDN. Since I barely use those four keys, I figured it’d be a good place to start and reduce risk if something goes wrong. I recommend tinning both the small pads. You don’t need a lot of solder, just a small dot.
From there grab a resistor on your forceps like the second image in this post, and then grab your soldering iron (which I had set to around 600 or 700 degrees fahrenheit. Make sure the resistor is parallel to the board, that way you can lay it down flat. Heat both the soldered pads with the soldering iron and you should see the solder begin to melt. Place the resistor on the now liquid solder points and hold it there for a couple seconds to let the solder solidify. Remember, these resistors are called SMD’s or Surface Mount Diodes, so you want to make sure there is direct contact with the pads and that they are flat. What I tend to do after I’ve let the solder cool down is to grab the resistor in the center, and heat the solder up to readjust it, or I’ll place the forceps directly on top of the SMD, and heat the solder up to press down on the SMD to make sure it’s flush. You can then add an LED. Make sure the longer leg is on the positive side and solder it on. The end result of one of these switches should look like this.
You can see that the SMD resistor is at an angle, it still worked. These resistors are wonky at times, but they’re very durable. I never worried about the heat from the soldering iron breaking or damaging the resistor. You can then begin to test the keyboard to see if the LED and resistor are working together. Plug the plastic header cable back into the keyboard and plug the keyboard into your PC to see if the LED lights up. If it does, you’re in business, if not, that means the LEDs aren’t 100% connected to the board, and the same issue could persist for the SMD resistor. Try resoldering the SMD and LEDs to fix the issue. Some of mine took as much as 4 tries to get it all working. Once it works, use the nail clipper to clip the long LED legs. You don’t have to cut them in any special way, just make sure they’re down in size. Once everything is set in stone.
- Make sure the LED legs don’t touch each other. If they touch, the LED will not produce a light
- Make sure you put the longer leg through the hole that has the ‘+’ symbol, doing it the other way will not produce a light
- Work in bursts. I started with 5 SMD’s at a time and then eventually progressed to doing a whole row and then testing it out when I got comfortable with it.
- Take your time and take breaks. Don’t overwork yourself or you’ll make more mistakes and potentially ruin the board.
- A plastic face mask or nose protection will help with regards to the smoke of the solder.
- Don’t forget to wipe solder residue from your dirty soldering iron every now and then by using a slightly damp sponge.
- Tin the soldering iron tip to make it hotter for longer.
- If the SMD pads look a little burnt, use a alcohol swap or pad to wipe any residue away and then, after the alcohol dries off, add some new solder and try again.
- This took me around 4 days and about 10 hours total (First four or five hours were without a precision tip or forceps, those were dark times)
- Be conscious of the fact that the keycaps the MF68 come with are not backlit compatible, meaning that although SOME light may bleed through, not all of it will and it won’t be consistent.
- After you get everything up and running, and you shut off your PC with the MF68 plugged in, it may not shut off the LEDs. To resolve this in Windows (if the board is connected directly to your PC and not through an USB hub, is to search for power settings -> Choose what power buttons do -> and turn off Fast Start.