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I have several DataDesk Smartboards which I love. Some are starting to go bad (keys repeat inappropriately, don't have any effect, etc.), and this keyboard isn't available new any more. They use ALPS mechanical keyswitches.

Is there somewhere, anywhere in the world, that I can send such a keyboard to have it cleaned and refurbished (bad keyswitches replaced, etc.)?

Alternately, how can I repair my own mechanical keyboard?

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I'm doing some research on this, but have you tried taking the keyboards apart to start, just to check out the internals, etc? –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '11 at 9:48
    
I have - doing all this stuff is within my expertise, but I'd much rather pay someone else to do it. :) –  Reid Dec 11 '11 at 23:41

3 Answers 3

It's possible the switches might just be gunked up with dust and so forth after years of use. You might try the deep cleaning procedures documented in the overclock.net mechanical keyboard guide. I'll summarize it here in my own words:

  1. Remove the keys from the keyboard. For tools and techniques on how to do this, see How do I safely remove keys from a keyboard?

  2. Open up the keyboard and take out the internals. Keep an eye out for for screws on the bottom of the PCB and any plastic tabs on the keyboard casing that may snap shut.

  3. Wash the removed plastic parts in a dishwasher. Alternatively, if you don't have a dishwasher, or using your dishwasher to wash plastic keyboard parts makes you nervous, you can soak the plastic bits in soap and water for a half hour.

  4. The electronic PCB bits and mechanical switches need to be cleaned differently. You will need distilled water to clean the electronics. The distilled water should be at room temperature, because some of the switch types can be affected negatively be excess heat or cold.

    • Mechanical switches (Cherry, Alps, etc): Place the entire assembly, including the PCB and switches, in a container of distilled water and shake it around vigorously -- so that the distilled water penetrates all the inside of the switches. Take it out, then shake it vigorously again to ensure as much of the distilled water as possible gets back out. Lay it upside down to dry.

    • Common membrane keyboards (rubber domes, buckling springs, etc): Remove the rubber membrane layer(s) and wipe them down with the distilled water. Then wipe it dry with a cloth -- and try to use a cloth that doesn't shed particles, like a microfiber cloth. If the rubber layers won't detach, dip them in distilled water and shake clean, then shake dry. If you have buckling springs, wipe clean and wipe dry with the distilled water.

    • Rubber Dome on PCB (topre, etc): Rinse the rubber domes with distilled water, scrubbing as necessary to remove dirt, dust, and particles. If there are springs, you may want to use a bit of soap or isopropyl alcohol on those, too. Then wipe down the PCB with a damp cloth, and wipe dry.

    Let all the switches and electronics dry overnight at a minimum. Watch out for hidden nooks and crannies that can retain water; consider using compressed air to spray out the hard to reach places that natural air might not get to. You can also place a house fan on the parts to speed up the process, or use a hair blow dryer.

  5. Take the plastic bits out of the water or dishwasher. Examine them and dry them individually, either with compressed air or a towel. Any pieces that are still dirty should be cleaned more aggressively with Windex and/or Isopropyl alcohol.

  6. Be 100% sure everything is totally dry -- wait an extra day if necessary to be totally sure. Then put it all back together in the reverse order you took it apart.

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I contacted Bob Tibbetts from

http://www.northgate-keyboard-repair.com/

and he confirmed in an email that he will repair mechanical keyboards of most types, provided you mail them to him, insured. This is probably only practical within the USA or Canada, depending on how expensive your mechanical keyboard is (some go for $300+).

If the keyboard has an Alps switch, I will repair them. See attached pictures and instructions for repair.

I don't want to quote a cost here but I thought his rate was reasonable, to give you an idea, it was roughly half the cost of the current entry-level basic mechanical keyboards available on Newegg or Amazon.

Email him via the contact information provided on his website for specific details, but at least there is one person in the world who will repair mechanical keyboards via snail mail.

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Thanks Jeff, this is incredibly helpful! –  Reid Dec 11 '11 at 23:52

Have you tried contacting your manufacturer's support line? I found the following information on their website:

Monday - Thursday: 9am-5pm Pacific time.
Email: support@datadesktech.com
Phone: 206-842-5480 ext. 103

Manufacturers are generally happy to repair out-of-warranty keyboards for a fee.

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Yes, you've pretty much ID'ed the root of the problem. :) DataDesk is/was a small company and essentially not in business anymore. Somehow they've managed to maintain a web presence (note the copyright at the bottom of the page - 2001), but e-mails and phone calls go into a black hole. They kind of come and go, and I certainly wouldn't trust them with my (irreplaceable) gear. –  Reid Sep 21 '10 at 0:48
    
first choice should always be to contact the manufacturer of your keyboard for repair, of course. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 15 '11 at 3:06

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