High-end gaming mice have been malfunctioning at a much higher rate than normal lately. Browse through any gaming or hardware forum, and you are bound to encounter at least a few posts reporting premature issues with gaming mice.
The problems mentioned in these user accounts are invariably the same and are comprised of either dead or double-clicking switches. The overwhelming majority of defective micro-switches also seem to be manufactured by Omron. What makes matters worse is that Omron is generally the preferred micro-switch supplier for nearly all high-end gaming mice companies.
A Clear Case of Poor Quality Control
While one could argue that these forum reports could be a vocal minority amplifying acceptable margins of hardware failure rates, I have personally encountered the same Quality Assurance (QA) problem with two new mice this year alone.
Then there’s the fact that gaming-mouse-maker Zowie had to recall nearly its entire gaming mouse range on account of many users reporting premature double-clicking with the Omron switches. The company has since relied on Chinese micro-switch maker Huano to replace the problematic Omron parts.
Zowie isn’t the only manufacturer that has dropped Omron. Cooler Master’s brand new MM710 ultralight mouse also comes with Huano switches. Even Razer has launched its flagship wireless mouse equipped with in-house optical switches instead. Meanwhile, the Reddit and official support pages of brands that still use Omron switches, notably Logitech, are inundated with users reports of the same double-clicking problems.
The Double-Click Pandemic
If you are one of the many users stuck with out-of-warranty mice rendered unusable by these QA issues, this guide will show you how to replace faulty micro-switches. We will be working on the Razer DeathAdder, which ranks among the most ubiquitous gaming mice, for this guide. It also happens to be relatively more complicated to disassemble than most other gaming mice. In other words, if you can strip this mouse down, you won’t have any trouble servicing most other popular gaming mice.
What You Will Need
Hold on for just a minute before you reach for your screwdriver/hammer and attempt to open up your mouse. Now is a good time to take stock of what we need for this project. Included are hyperlinks to relevant Amazon and AliExpress listings of the recommended items. These tools and parts have been chosen to strike a good balance between value and performance.
Our recommended soldering equipment alone amounts to $137 in total, and is comprised of quality tools that will serve you well in the long run. However, if you don’t want to spend a fortune on a one-time repair, you can buy this handy soldering kit that costs a mere $17 for the same set of equipment. If you go for the cheaper soldering kit, feel free to skip items from 4 through 8.
- Phillips head screwdriver with tips/bits in PH0 and PH00 sizes
- Flat-head screwdriver with a thin-edged tip or an X-ACTO/hobby knife
- Spare credit card or plastic spudger tool
- Tweezers or needle-nose pliers
- Soldering iron
- Desoldering pump (solder sucker)
- 67/33 rosin core solder
- Solder flux
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Masking tape
- Mouse skates/feet (optional)
- Replacement micro-switches
You can save a few bucks by not buying replacement mouse feet, but then you might want to do away with the X-ACTO knife and instead use a flat-headed screw driver to carefully pry off the mouse feet without damaging them. Choosing replacement micro-switches is fairly straightforward if you take our advice. Spend a bit more and buy these Kailh micro-switches with an MTBF rating of 60 million clicks.
You can save a few dollars by opting for Huano switches rated for 50 million actuations. If you prefer lighter clicks, or otherwise insist on Omron parts, these top-end Omron blue micro-switches rated for 50 million actuations are what you need. However, be advised that the same switches are also widely reported to malfunction in the flagship Logitech G Pro mouse.
Getting Down to Brass Tacks
1. Get your workplace ready with the requisite tools and preferably a magnetic tray to hold screws and small parts.
2. Flip the mouse over to expose its underbelly. In this particular mouse the screws are hiding behind the top two mouse feet and the compliance label. This is generally the case with all mice. as the manufacturers want to make any attempt at self-servicing the mouse apparent to them. That is moot in our case since our mouse is out of warranty anyway.
3. Use an X-ACTO knife to scrape off the feet cleanly, or alternatively a flat-headed screwdriver with a thin edge to pry them off without ruining them. Two screws will be hidden behind each of the small feet at the top. Unscrew them with a phillips head (PHO or number zero) screwdriver.
4. The final screw is hidden behind the compliance label. Use the tip of your screwdriver to hunt for it. You’ll know you’ve found it when you feel the sticker give under pressure. Push right through to break the seal and unscrew the final barrier in your way.
5. You should be able to separate the shell with a bit of prying with a spudger tool. An old credit card will also work in a pinch.
6. Grab both halves of the shell and gently pull apart, but don’t go all the way yet or you may end up damaging the cable responsible for RGB illumination up top.
7. Use tweezers or preferably your thumb and index fingers to gently ease out all three JST connectors interfacing the USB cable and daughter boards for the optical sensor as well as RGB control.
8. Remove the PCB housing from the optical sensor for the mouse wheel. This should free up the wheel itself for removal, but we can’t extract it before we take out the main PCB.
9. The final two screws securing the PCB onto the bottom chassis pass through the micro-switches for the side buttons. Undo these two screws. Partially lift the PCB while grabbing the bottom chassis with one hand and the main PCB with another.
10. With enough clearance between the PCB and the bottom chassis, you can now slide the mouse wheel away from the hub, which is otherwise known as the encoder.
11. With the PCB out of the mouse, we are halfway through the guide and ready to move onto the critical desoldering and soldering parts. Just make sure you note down the correct orientation of every switch you plan to replace at this point. Snap some photographs for good measure.
12. If you have fancy helping hands or other means to mount PCBs, that’s well and good. However, there’s no shame in keeping the PCB flat on the workbench either. We aren’t exactly using power tools here.
This is also where you clean the solder joints with isopropyl alcohol applied using lint-free wipes. Coffee filter paper is not only inexpensive, but it also works well for this purpose. Wait a few minutes for the alcohol to evaporate completely. This is especially true if you are using lower concentrations of alcohol. Generally avoid using less than 90 percent isopropyl alcohol.
13. We must first prep the soldering gear before we can desolder the bad switches off the PCB. This includes the soldering iron, desoldering pump, and solder itself. Don’t forget to moisten (do not get it soaking wet) the sponge that comes with your soldering iron stand.
You’ll need it to properly tin and wipe the tip of the iron. Applying some flux onto the solder joints removes any oxidation or contaminants on the surface. This helps the joint melt quicker and make the desoldering process less painful than it has to be.
14. Set the soldering iron to heat up to 350 degrees Celsius or approximately 660 degrees Fahrenheit. Wait for it to reach at least 300°C.
The iron tip must be properly tinned before we can proceed. That involves melting some solder onto the tip, followed by wiping it onto the moist (yellow) sponge. This thermally shocks any oxidation or impurities off the tip and leaves it with a lustrous silver surface.
If your soldering iron’s tip has oxidised badly, you may have to repeat this procedure several times until it is tinned bright and shiny. However, this step is indispensable because a well-tinned tip is absolutely essential to achieve good thermal transfer.
15. Desoldering involves heating the joint with the hot soldering iron held in your dominant hand and a fully primed desoldering pump in the other hand. Once the joint receives enough heat, the solder liquifies enough to be sucked off the joint with the help of the desoldering pump.
Start off by priming the desoldering pump and keeping your thumb ready on the trigger. Gently touch the tinned tip of the soldering iron to the joint. This will boil the flux away, which should chemically scrub the surface clean to ensure optimal heat transfer. The solder within the joint should melt in no more than three seconds.
Important: rmember, there is no need to apply undue pressure to the joint. A light touch is all you need. If the solder doesn’t melt, this could be because the tip temperature is too low.
This problem exists in cheaper soldering irons where the heating element is further away from the tip. In that case the tip temperature can be significantly lower than temperature at which the heating element is set. You can compensate for this inherent inefficiency by raising the preset temperature until the tip gets hot enough. It would be advisable to use a soldering tip thermometer to verify the tip temperature.
If the tip is at the right temperature and properly tinned as well, it’s a sign that you may have selected the wrong-sized tip. In other words, the physical contact patch between the tip and the joint doesn’t have enough surface area to efficiently transfer heat. This happens when the tip size is less than half the size of the joint itself. Switch to a larger tip to improve heat transfer.
Care must be taken to avoid using too large a tip because that will transfer too much heat into the joint and risk damaging the PCB and mounted components. Finally, don’t forget to tin the soldering iron tip before working on every joint. Refer to step 14 to make sure you get that procedure right. The tip oxidizes rapidly owing to high temperatures and a grey or blackened tip is inherently bad at transferring heat.
16. The thermal contact area can also be increased by touching the soldering iron tip to the joint, followed by quickly melting some solder directly onto the point of contact. This causes the molten solder to flow between the tip and the joint, increases the contact surface area, and thereby accelerates the transfer of heat. The solid solder should now easily transform into a molten blob between the tip and the joint.
17. Without removing the soldering iron tip, bring the tip of the desoldering pump down onto the PCB and cover as much of the joint as possible. Depressing the trigger will suck all molten solder into the desoldering pump, leaving a clean pad and exposed switch leg as depicted in the inset photo. Lather, rinse, repeat for all three legs/joints.
Don’t despair if your first attempt doesn’t remove all solder. Refer to step 25 and re-solder the joint before attempting desoldering again. This might sound counterintuitive, but the vacuum-operated desoldering pumps work more efficiently when the joint is filled with solder. It might take a few tries, but you will eventually get the same results as I did.
If you still can’t get relatively clean results, try cleaning the desoldering pump. The tip, or even the reservoir, can get jammed with solidified solder that cannot be entirely declogged by depressing the plunger. Lining the tip of the desoldering pump with silicone oil or other non-flammable lubricants also prevents it from clogging up.
18. If everything went well in the last step, the faulty micro-switch should slide right off with a few (extremely light) twists using tweezers or needle-nose pliers.
19. However, the world isn’t perfect, and sometimes a virtually invisible sliver of solder could still be stuck between the pad and the component leg.
This is easily remedied by holding the switch with tweezers or pliers and touching a hot and well-tinned tip to the joint. When I say joint, I specifically mean that the soldering iron tip must simultaneously touch both the switch leg and the PCB pad. This won’t work if the tip touches only one of these surfaces at a time.
Wiggle the switch until the final strand of solder melts away and sets it free.
20. Repeat this process for all faulty switches that need to be replaced.
21. Soldering new switches onto the PCB is considerably easier. Orient the switches in the correct position that you have hopefully made a note of beforehand.
22. Use two pieces of masking tape to pull the micro-switch in opposite directions as shown in the image. This holds the switch securely in place and prevents it from moving out of position while soldering.
I probably don’t even have to remind you to avoid skipping this step, especially after you have experienced the joys of desoldering first hand.
23. Flip the PCB over to the business end and clean the pad and the switch legs with isopropyl alcohol like you did prior to desoldering.
24. Add some flux to the work surfaces.
25. Don’t forget to tin the soldering iron tip prior to working on every joint. Touch the tip to the joint in such a way that it is simultaneously in contact with both the pad on the PCB and switch leg.
Introduce the solder between the joint and the iron tip. It should flow effortlessly into the joint. Only flow enough solder to form a concave solder fillet on the joint. Remove the iron tip by gently flicking it upwards along the leg. This makes sure that the solder covers the entirety of the switch leg. It’s easier to add more solder later than it is to pump out excess and redo the joint.
26. This is how your joints and fillets should appear if you followed the instructions faithfully.
A bulging convex fillet on the joint is either a sign of excessive solder or a cold joint. Desolder the joint and solder it again until you have it right.
27. And just like that you have replaced the micro-switches and fixed your mouse.
Follow steps 11 through 1 in reverse for reassembly and test the mouse to verify if this little operation has been successful. Now it’s time to grab some beer and frag some n00bs with your freshly refurbished gaming mouse.