What is the difference between plate mount and PCB mount stabilizer?

What are Keyboard Stabilizers?

Mechanical keyboard stabilizers are mechanisms that sit underneath larger keys to prevent them from wobbling, feeling mushy, or binding when pressed off-center. They consist of a wire that spans the length of the keycap, with two plastic sliders or stems on either end that insert into the keycap. The wire is mounted on the plate or PCB and keeps the sliders in sync so both sides of the key press down evenly no matter where you hit the keycap.

Stabilizers are essential for any keys that are wider than 2 units (2U), which is the standard width of an alphanumeric key. Common keys that require stabilizers include:

  • Spacebar (6.25U or 7U)
  • Left & Right Shift (2.25U or 2.75U)
  • Enter (2.25U)
  • Backspace (2U)
  • Number Pad + and Enter (2U)

While smaller than 2U, some 1.5U or 1.75U keys like Tab, Caps Lock, and number pad 0 sometimes use stabilizers as well for a more consistent feel that matches the other larger keys.

Plate Mount Stabilizers

How They Work

Plate mount stabilizers, as the name implies, clip into the keyboard’s switch plate which is the metal or plastic layer that sits on top of the PCB and holds the switches in place. The stabilizer wire snaps into place between two clips or prongs that extend from the stabilizer stems.

The plate has extra cutouts to accommodate the larger stabilized keys and provides two friction fit holes on either side for the stabilizer stems to snap into. When installing the stabilizers, you first insert the wire into the stems, then snap the entire assembly into the plate before installing the switches.

Pros

  • Easier to install and remove as they simply snap in and out of the plate
  • More forgiving alignment since the plate holes dictate the position
  • Allow some side-to-side adjustment to fine-tune the key feel
  • Sturdier mounting makes them less susceptible to breaking when removing keycaps
  • Don’t require PCB stabilizer support so they work with any PCB

Cons

  • Plate needs precise cutouts and holes which not all plates have
  • Slight vertical wobble since the wire only has two small contact points
  • Can interfere with switch pins making switches harder to install
  • Limits switch choices to plate mount switches
  • Wire can pop out when removing keycaps if not careful

PCB Mount Stabilizers

How They Work

PCB mount stabilizers attach directly to the keyboard’s printed circuit board instead of the plate. The PCB has two small holes on either side of the larger key footprints where the stabilizer stems press into. Small metal hooks on the ends of the stabilizer wire snap into notches on the underside of the PCB to hold it in place.

To install PCB mount stabilizers, you first insert the wire into the stabilizer stems, then press the entire assembly into the PCB holes. The switches are installed afterwards, sandwiching the stabilizer stems between the plate and PCB for a very solid hold.

Pros

  • More stable and less wobbly due to the wire being secured directly to the PCB
  • Easier to align the keycaps since the stems are held firmly in place
  • Allow switches to be swapped without desoldering since they don’t make contact with the plate
  • Compatible with both PCB and plate mount switches
  • Won’t pop out when removing keycaps

Cons

  • Requires a PCB that supports PCB mounted stabilizers (has holes in the right spots)
  • More tedious to install/remove since you have to unclip the wire from the PCB
  • Stabilizer stems can break if you pull too hard on the keycaps during removal
  • No lateral adjustment so any misalignment can cause binding and scratchiness
  • Occupy PCB real estate that could be used for additional switch pins or layouts

Plate Mount vs. PCB Mount – Key Differences

Now that we know how each type works and their pros/cons, let’s directly compare plate mount and PCB mount stabilizers in a few key areas:

Aspect Plate Mount PCB Mount
Wobble Slight vertical wobble due to wire only being held at two points More stable with less wobble as wire is secured to PCB
Ease of Install Easier, just snap into plate cutouts More tedious, have to clip and unclip wire from PCB
Alignment More forgiving, plate holes determine positioning Must be precisely aligned with PCB holes to avoid binding
Durability Sturdier when removing keycaps Stems can break if you pull too hard on keycaps
Compatibility Requires plate with stabilizer cutouts, only fits plate-mount switches Requires PCB with stabilizer holes, works with all MX style switches
Adjustability Allows some lateral adjustment to fine tune key feel No adjustability, fixed in position
Sound Can rattle and be louder if not clipped and lubed Generally quieter and less rattly

Neither type is strictly better than the other, it ultimately depends on your specific keyboard and preferences. PCB mount stabilizers offer a more stable, solid feel and are often recommended for higher-end custom builds. However, they also require a compatible PCB and are a bit fussier to work with.

Plate mount stabilizers are easier to install and remove, making them a good choice for budget builds or hot-swap keyboards where you may be changing switches and keycaps frequently. They do have a bit more wobble and rattle potential though.

Many keyboards only support one type of stabilizer, so that is often the deciding factor. If you do have a choice, consider your desired switch type, layout adjustability needs, and overall typing feel and sound preferences.

Stabilizer Mods and Maintenance

Regardless of which type of stabilizer your keyboard uses, a few simple mods can greatly improve their sound and feel:

  • Clipping – Snipping off the extra sliders on the stabilizer stems to remove mushy feel
  • Lubing – Applying thin lube to sliders and wire to reduce friction and rattle
  • Band-aid Mod – Adding strips of fabric bandage to stabilizer contact points to dampen sound
  • Heat Shrink/Electrical Tape – Wrapping wire ends to reduce metal pinging noises

Over time, the stabilizer lube can wear off leading to increased rattling and scratchiness. If your stabilized keys start feeling and sounding worse, it’s probably time to pop off the keycaps and re-lube everything.

You should also routinely check the wire tightness as they can come loose over time, especially on plate mount stabilizers. If you notice a key tilting dramatically to one side, a loose or detached stabilizer wire is likely the culprit.

FAQ

Q: Can you use PCB mount stabilizers with a plate?

A: Yes, PCB mount stabilizers work with most plate designs as long as the PCB has the necessary holes and the plate has wider cutouts for the stabilizer stems. The stabilizers actually grip the PCB and plate more securely when used together. Just make sure you install the stabilizers before the switches.

Q: Are plate mount or PCB mount stabilizers better?

A: It depends on your specific needs. PCB mount stabilizers are generally more stable and rattle-free when properly tuned, making them a good choice for premium builds where typing feel and sound are the priority. However, plate mount stabilizers are easier to work with and allow for more layout flexibility, which some users may prefer.

Q: Why do my stabilizers rattle and feel mushy?

A: Rattling and mushiness are common issues with both plate mount and PCB mount stabilizers, usually caused by excessive friction between the stabilizer stems and wires. The fix is to clip the extra sliders off the stabilizer stems and lubricate the wire ends and sliders. This dramatically reduces the slop and tightens up the key feel.

Q: Are Cherry or GMK stabilizers better?

A: Cherry and GMK stabilizers are very similar designs, both using the same plate mount attachment method. However, many enthusiasts feel GMK stabilizers have a smoother, less rattly stock feel due to better tolerances. Genuine Cherry stabilizers can also be inconsistent in their tightness and rattle. That said, both brands significantly benefit from clipping and lubing.

Q: Can I convert plate mount stabilizers to PCB mount?

A: No, you can’t directly convert a plate mount stabilizer to PCB mount as they use completely different attachment methods and stem designs. Plate mount stems are smooth cylinders that pressure fit into the plate while PCB mount stems have hooks that snap into the PCB. The wire designs are also different and not cross-compatible. If you want to switch stabilizer types you’ll need to buy a whole new set.

Summary

Stabilizers are a key component in any mechanical keyboard, and the choice between plate mount and PCB mount can have a big impact on the overall typing feel. Plate mount stabilizers are easier to work with and allow for some layout adjustability, while PCB mount stabilizers offer a more stable, solid key feel when properly tuned.

Ultimately, the right stabilizer choice depends on your PCB and plate combo, switch preference, and desired feel and sound. Whichever route you go, a few simple mods like clipping, lubing, and padding the stabilizer contact points go a long way to improving the sound and feel. Experimentation is key, so try out a few different setups to see what you like best. Happy building!