An Update on 65% Layout Kits at CannonKeys

We have some exciting news today about some 65% layout products we'll be introducing. Sometime later this month, we'll be introducing a few new products - the Practice65v2 Kit, Stacked65 Keyboard, and Instant65 PCB

One of our most successful products here at CannonKeys has been the Practice65. At $44.99, It's an affordable way to get some practice soldering while also building out a FR4-sandwich style keyboard.

But from our perspective, there have been a few downsides to the Practice65. For a 65% board, there's usually 68 keys and switches that someone has to solder. On our Practice kits, that also means 68 diodes to solder. And on top of that, if someone wants to add LEDs, that's an extra 68 resistors and LEDs to solder. In case you were wondering - that's 544 pads that someone has to solder. Finally, the USB mini port, reset port, and blue pill add an extra 53 pads, for a total of 597 pads to solder.

Needless to say, while this definitely provides a lot of practice for people, it's also really easy to make a mistake while working on one of those 597 pads. 

In particular, the most error-prone parts are the USB Mini Port and Blue Pill, and often times, if you get that wrong, its a huge pain to desolder them and try again. At this point, a lot of people give up or buy a new Practice65 to start over. Not to mention - the flashing process can also be a little tricky to newcomers to the hobby.

We've rethought the Practice65, and we came up with the Practice65v2! When thinking about the Practice65v2, we had a few goals:

  • Keep it affordable and thereby accessible
  • Continue to provide practice to people who are new to soldering
  • Address the pain points in v1 around flashing
  • Give customers an upgrade path

With all this in mind, we decided to reuse one of our most successful PCBs - the Savage65 PCB.

The new Practice65v2 is similar to the old one in that it provides a PCB, hardware, and 2 FR4 plates to create an FR4 sandwich style keyboard. But now, we're relying on the presoldered Savage65 PCB to provide the logic for the board. No longer will we have to mess with low profile sockets and blue pills for the Practice65v2.

One of the biggest challenges while doing this was keeping the price affordable. PCB Assembly does add a significant cost to PCB production, and when we first designed the Practice65, that was a large barrier to offering a kit with a pre-soldered PCB. Luckily, our Savage65 keyboard has been quite successful. Because of this, our purchase volume has gone up, and with that, the per-PCB cost of assembly has gone down, allowing us to finally use the PCBs in this style of kit. The Practice65v2 will only have a $3 increase in price - bringing it to $47.99!

There are some extra benefits of using the Savage65 PCB as well. The PCB supports VIA out of the box, so customers won't have to flash the keyboard at all and it features a presoldered USB-C port.

Instead of having to solder nearly 600 pads, the new Practice65v2 only requires 136 pads to be soldered - or 272 with LEDs. So you still get about half the practice you'd get from the v1, but from our perspective, that was a good trade to make given the ease it provides.

Overall, we think the $3 increase is definitely worth it, given all the benefits provided.

But that's not all - we're also building out an upgrade path for those who buy the Practice65v2 kit! You may have seen a new keyboard we're going to stock called the Stacked65. It's a stacked acrylic style of keyboard case, and serves as an upgrade path for the Practice65v2. If you build a Practice65v2, you can later purchase a Stacked65, and swap in the top/PCB assembly from your Practice65v2 into the Stacked65 case. No extra soldering or desoldering will be necessary.

Finally - one more thing we'd like to mention - we're also going to be offering the Instant65 this month. This is a hotswap keyboard with RGB Underglow that is compatible with the Savage65. And because it's compatible with the Savage65, that means it'll also work with the Practice65v2 and the Stacked65 as well! Though - if you use it with a Practice65v2, you're not going to be getting much practice.

Anyways - we hope you like these new changes to the Practice65, and we'd love to hear what you think about them. Feel free to join us on Discord to discuss.

TL;DR:

  • New Practice65v2 is $47.99, and uses the preassembled Savage65 PCB instead of a Blue Pill based PCB
  • Stacked65 is an acrylic layer keyboard that also uses the Savage65. A Practice65v2 can drop in to a Stacked65 without any de-soldering.
  • Instant65 is a new hotswap PCB featuring cool white or warm white per key LEDs and RGB underglow and is compatible with everything the Savage65 PCB is compatible with.

Frequently Asked Follow-up Questions

  • What about the Ortho48/Ortho60/Ortho75/Practice60?
  • We don't plan on replacing these quite just yet. The reason the Practice65 is possible is because the Savage65 PCB has done well, and we can purchase them in large enough quantities to make this viable. The Practice60 can probably get the same treatment, but we want to see how this goes first.

  • Can I buy just the plates for the Practice65? Or just the case for the Stacked65?
  • At this time, we're not going to sell the plates only or case only - all kits will come with a Savage65 PCB. We might revisit this decision in the future.

  • Can I use my Practice65v2 Assembly with the Savage65? The PCB is the same right?
  • While the PCB is the same, the plate is not, so it's not possible to use the Practice65 assembly with the Savage65.