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Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition  (Read 26222 times)

Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #75 on: 08:36 AM - 06/18/21 »
Here are the gerber files for the PCB, bear in mind I haven't got them printed yet, only that the PCB fab house have accepted them. Should be fine, but I'll confirm once I have PCBs in hand.

https://1drv.ms/u/s!Av_FyZZxIrKV30-bYffiIgUj9eb7?e=t8xwBg

Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #76 on: 07:25 AM - 07/22/21 »
Well, progress!

I decided I wanted to make the switches and LEDs in my device hot-swappable; I currently have a batch of cheap Gateron yellows, which are allegedly somewhere near a Cherry MX Red switch. But if I don't like them, I'd like the ability to try something else without too much hassle. I also wanted to be able to change the LED colours on a whim. So, I looked into hot swap sockets. Seems the main ones favoured by mechanical keyboard afficionados are MillMax or Holtite; however, getting hold of them in the UK is not cheap. And the LED sized ones are just not available.

So, I hit Aliexpress, and found exactly what I wanted! They look like copies of the MillMax type, and come in just the right quantity to do an N52te. But, I was pretty sure they wouldn't fit the holes in W11cE's PCB. Took me long enough to figure out how to confirm how large the holes were, but when I eventually did, they were indeed too small. So, I tried to enlarge them. There continued my epic struggles with Eagle. But, I got there in the end! So, I now have a PCB designed to accept the Aliexpress hotswap sockets.

I also eventually managed to get the bottom part of the 3D printed assembly to pass the manufacturability test! It looks like a slice of swiss cheese now, but the fab house reckon they can print it so we'll just have to see how it turns out. All parts are now ordered, so once I have them I'll let you know how it goes!

Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #77 on: 11:12 AM - 08/07/21 »
Parts have arrived, everything seems to fit - next step is assembly!

Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #78 on: 07:32 AM - 08/16/21 »
Well, I did it! And it all worked!

I ordered my PCBs and 3D printed parts from PCBWay, for two reasons: 1) they were cheap and 2) they were one of the only PCB fab houses I found that also offered a 3D printing service. Figured if you're going to source cheap parts from China, might as well just pay one lot of postage. I found PCBWay to be very good - they let you know if there are any problems with your data files, and are generally pretty quick at re-evaluating resubmitted files. On a couple of occasions when reviews of designs appeared to be stalled, a quick email to them got a response quickly to get things moving again.

I wanted to get everything as cheap as possible, because I wasn't entirely certain my amendments to W11cE's parts would work, and didn't want to throw money away - so I opted for the cheapest 3D printing method they offered, which was resin printing using UTR3100 white resin. I wanted to go for white anyway; one thing I always really liked about the N52te was the uniform lighting you got from the PCB-mounted SMD LEDs. With the new PCB and mechanical switches, the LEDS are now above the PCB, and I was worried that the light dispersion wouldn't be as uniform; going for white would reflect more light, I figured, so keep it more like the un-modded appearance. When I received the parts, I was impressed by the quality - they were totally smooth, tough enough for the purpose, and dimensionally accurate! So if you don't mind the white look, I'd definitely recommend the UTR3100 manufacturing process.

I was a little concerned that the switch hotswap sockets would be a very tight fit in the PCB holes, because when I managed to modify the holes in Eagle, the standard drill sizes available included 1.4mm and 2.0mm. The LED sockets are 1.38mm diameter so I was sure they'd be OK, but the switch sockets are 2mm dia, so I thought they might stick in a 2mm hole; however, they went in just fine!

I inserted all the sockets then taped them in place, to solder from the back side:



Soldering the switch sockets was OK, in most cases I got a nice flow around the base of the socket. But the LED ones were harder; because they're so small I guess, the solder didn't flow as nicely and most ended up quite blobby. But it worked!



(Yes, I did clean up the flux residue with IPA afterwards!)

At this point I realised I'd made a mistake with the 3D printed bottom plate - although I'd made many attempts at modifying the design to remove all the <0.1mm thickness parts, I had completely forgotten that the holes for the switch and LED contacts would need to be bigger to accommodate my hotswap sockets! Bit of a facepalm moment there. Easily solved by reaming the holes out with a small drill bit, and a bit of filing to countersink them a bit to allow for the solder. I have NOT been back to the 3D model to correct this - if I did, I would use a cone-shaped hole to allow for the solder around the base of the sockets. I do not plan to go back to the design myself any time soon as I don't have the time, but if someone else needs help with it I'll help out then. Or, just do what I did and drill & file it :p

Next I soldered the diodes and resistors into place. This was easy enough, but a note on the resistors: hotswap LEDs are all very well, but different colour LEDs require different resistors. I had two types of LED in mind: plain blue, to match the original style; and slow-cycling RGB LEDS, because RGB wooo. I basically chose my resistors (100ohm 1/8W) based on the blue LEDs' forward voltage, which also happened to be compatible with the forward voltage range of the RGB LEDs. So, just be careful choosing your resistors if you want to change LED colours!

Next step was fitting! Here's a shot of the inside of my device, because it shows the tiny USB hub I use to only have one cable coming out of the controller (well, the underside of it, at least). Also an excess of wire from the USB hub to the Teensy; it ended up like this because when I did the analogue joystick mod, I only took the dpad-module off, rather than disassemble the whole unit, and needed excess wire to be able to solder it all up and get it back together. Looking back, it would have been much better to fully disassemble, and by doing so I could've used much less wire. Not planning on changing this now, as I'm a great believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".



Here's the inside with the keypad inserted; I managed to desolder the entire ribbon cable from the original keypad, once I'd resoldered it to the new PCB (and tested everything!) I applied hot glue to strengthen the connections and insulate any bits of bare wire.



This is what it looks like from above:



Throughout the process, I had been testing it using an old laptop; once I had reassembled the case, I plugged it into the gaming PC, and was pretty gutted when it started constantly connecting and disconnecting :( I imagined I must have damaged a connection or something during reassembly. However I re-tried it on the laptop before ripping it apart again, and it worked perfectly... so for some reason or another, a Windows problem had arisen and must be at fault. Before I got too technical on trying to resolve it, I tried the old trick of plugging it into a different USB port - and that worked perfectly, phew!

Once assembled, the keys feel amazing compared to the old rubber membrane efforts. And the lighting effect is just as good as the original, which I had been worried wouldn't be the case with switch-mounted LEDs! My choice of LEDs certainly wouldn't be to everyone's taste - I had a good idea that the colour-cycling LEDs wouldn't stay in sync for long, and I was right about that. When you first power on they all start off red, then green, and so on... but quite quickly they start to go out of sync, and you end up with technicolour unicorn vomit on your keypad lol. I actually kind of like it though, heh. So I might keep it, rather than return it to blue. Nice to have the option though!



In use, it's fantastic. A massive improvement. The only thing I might change, is that I think I preferred the feel of the original keycaps. I may in future convert the original keycaps to Cherry MX fittings by taking the pegs from donor keycaps, like Diesector did. Or, I may just see if I adjust to the difference.

I'm still not quite there; one thing I've learned is that you're never done with a mod lol! Apart from the keycaps, I'd like to mod the thumb button too. It's just not responsive enough; many times I don't press it firmly enough and it doesn't register the keypress. I have a low-profile mechanical switch to fit in its place - but that's for another day!

If you want to do the same, here are the parts you will need:

Hot-swap switch and LED sockets from AliExpress (if you want both types, be sure to pick the "colour" as "led add switch")

PCB from wherever (if you do use PCBWay, I have a referral link) EDIT: actually, I forgot - if you’re in the UK, I have four spare PCBs (the minimum order quantity was five), drop me a message on here if you want one.

Modded bottom plate - note this needs further tweaking for the hotswap connectors, I haven't had time to modify it yet.

Top plate

Archive.org snapshot of the first page of this thread with pics intact
« Last Edit: 12:56 PM - 08/17/21 by Pistol451 »

Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #79 on: 09:16 AM - 10/26/21 »
New developments :)


I started having some trouble with my analogue stick - when pushing forward in game, it would start to not work, or even start moving backwards! Tried squirting contact cleaner in there, no improvement. Figured I would have to replace the analogue stick, went as far as ordering replacements - until TuFFrabit pointed out that it sounded like a bad connection. Sure enough, when I was investigating fitting a new stick, I notice that disturbing the wiring caused one of my ground wires to detach from the pin it was soldered to. It clearly hadn't been a good connection, so may have been intermittently failing, which could have caused issues with the reading from the stick potentiometer if the common ground was glitching about. Resoldered the connection, and on reassembly all was well! So, if your stick starts misbehaving, check your wiring!


Also, I decided it was time to replace the rubbish thumb key. Low profile mechanical switches are best for this, but I was struggling to find Red ones in the UK for a sensible price. Aliexpress to the rescue again... there I found a set of six Kailh Chocolate low profile mechanical switches, which included Red and Yellow versions as well as four others, and also came with keycaps. That was pretty useful as I'd get to compare the Red and Yellow versions, as well as having keycaps for modding. Also, low profile keycaps are also had to find - so I picked up some Kailh ones from Aliexpress while I was about it. Ordered a 1.5u and 2.5u keycap as I wasn't sure which would suit best, and the price was negligible compared to the postage!


I didn't want to cut away the key PCB, as I always prefer to be able to restore things to default (usually 'cos I mess something up lol), so I was hoping there would be enough clearance for the switch to fit. Luckily there was, with the way I did it. I wanted to remove the bare minimum of plastic, so essentially I just widened the opening enough for the width of the switch, and cut away a bit at the back:













The switch will "see-saw" a bit as it's unsupported at the back, so I when gluing it in place I put some hot glue under the back of it to stop that happening.


Next it's time to wire it up. I'd read previous posts about just using two of the wires from the main PCB, which sounded ideal as I hate soldering to pads - I'm always petrified I'll screw up the traces. If I could just solder directly to the point on the back of the PCB where the wires attached, that would save me a lot of work! However I misread the instructions, and couldn't get the signal for a keypress to register... turns out I was using the wrong points  ::)


I was soldering to the red wire, and wondering why connecting to the other points did nothing but make the device wig out in a way that didn't make me want to continue. So I bit the bullet, and soldered to the pads using very fine wire, which fortunately went much easier than I expected! Just checked, and I think it's the two wires furthest from the red wire that I should have tried - so for anyone else trying this mod, try that first lol. Applied some hot glue to strengthen the connections:



Don't forget to pass the wires through the hole before you solder to the switch! I left my wires nice and long, as once the switch is glued in, you won't easily remove it if you need to remove the guts in future, so longer wires means less strain on the connections while you're moving the PCB about.



Applied glue from above at the back for support, and from below to fix it in place and provide strain relief and insulation from the PCB:



PCB in place (so for future reference, try soldering to the two leftmost points, furthest from the red wire, which would be a lot easier than soldering to the pads!) showing the length of wire I left:



The device reassembled, with 1.5u width keycap in place!



I think it looks pretty awesome! In use, it is so much better than the crappy unresponsive rubber dome key, I haven't dropped a single input since I did the mod. The only thing I might change in future, is to re-use the original keycap, by gluing the pegs from one of my spares from the switch sampler to the underside of it; the original keycap is moulded to ergonomically align with your thumb. The one I have on now is slightly angled, and feels good, but could be better with the original keycap.

Offline Od1n

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #80 on: 10:22 AM - 10/26/21 »
Oh wow Pistol451 that looks indeed awesome, great job! :)
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Offline Pistol451

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Re: Tut: Modded N52te, 2016 Edition
« Reply #81 on: 12:27 PM - 10/26/21 »
Oh wow Pistol451 that looks indeed awesome, great job! :)


Cheers @Od1n!


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