How to Hack a DAS Keyboard to Convert the Left Function Key to a Super Key

This page describes a pretty simple hack to convert the left function key on a DAS Model S keyboard to a Windows/Super/Command key. You'll need about 60cm (2 feet) of the thinnest insulated wire you can find, a soldering iron, a bit of solder, about half an hour or so of spare time and some patience.

I like shopping at AUSPC Market because I know, from experience, that I'll get a no-nonsense service that is fast and honest. All of the products in the store have shipping costs factored in to the price of the item, so while the items might look a little more expensive than other stores, there are absolutely no nasty little surprises at check-out time. The other good thing about AUSPC Market is that if their web site says an item is in stock, it really genuinely is in stock on their premises and when you complete your order, their system actually allocates a specific item of stock to you.

When I ordered my DAS Keyboards (I got both the Model S Professional and the Model S Ultimate versions) the AUSPC web site said "not in stock". That's OK, I knew what I was getting myself in for. In fact, the guys at AUS PC emailed me the next day to confirm that I was happy to wait. "It's OK", I said, "This is the best keyboard on the planet! I'll wait!".

I didn't wait long. The keyboards are here now, and they're every bit as good as folks say they are. Except... for one small problem...

Version 2 of these delightful keyboards shipped with a rather ugly oversight built in. I blame the marketing department at DAS Keyboards, it's always the marketing department. The problem is this: where, on every other keyboard I've seen in recent times, there is a 'Windows' key, a 'Super' key, a 'Command' key (call it what you will) somewhere to the left of the space bar, it's missing from these keyboards. It's been replaced with a blue-labelled (On the Professional keyboard) 'Function' key and a blank key with the same function in the 'Ultimate' version of the keyboard.

das-15-fn-key.jpg

(This image, shamlessly cropped from the DAS Keyboards site, shows
the 'offending' function key on the Ultimate version of the keyboard)

None of this would be a particularly big deal, except for one massive deal-breaking clanger of an oversight. Function keys (just like the similar key on many laptop keyboards), cannot be remapped. So, the 'Function' key is, in effect, functionless.

One could argue the good or evil of the 'Super' key, or one could accept that human beings are funny little creatures who get stuck in their funny little ways and don't like it much when someone moves their cheese...

...and set about fixing the problem!

In a world controlled by one company, one starts out by asking that company for advice. I googled. In the process of searching, I came across László Monda's discussion on how to disassemble a DAS Keyboard. I am eternally grateful to László because I would surely have done quite a bit of damage to my keyboard if it weren't for his diagrams showing exactly where all the traps for young players are hidden!

My guide is better than László's however, for two specific reasons: first, I'm not quite as pessmistic as he is about breaking those little clips around the outside of the top bezel, and second, mine has "DON'T PANIC" written in large friendly letters on the cover!

Without further ado, I shall begin with the obligatory 'before' photograph:

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Flip the keyboard on its back...

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and remove the five screws. The locations of the screws are highlighted by those red circles in the picture. Since you need to poke out the warranty label to get at the centre screw, you're now on your own. If you break your keyboard now, you get to keep both pieces! You'll also need to peel up two of the rubber feet on the keyboard to get at the screws underneath but fear not, they're very sticky, they'll re-attach just fine.

The screws were easy, now comes the tricky part, the part for which I am grateful to László. The top bezel is linked to the base tray of this keyboard by way of eight delicate little plastic clips. This is also where László and I disagree: he says that breaking the clips is inevitable, I managed to open my keyboard without breaking any.

Patience and cunning are the key factors here. If you rush, it's a given that you'll be breaking some little plastic clips. If you take your time and use your wits, you'll do OK.

First, take careful note of the locations of the clips designated by the yellow circles in the picture below.

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Then pick the keyboard up. Don't try to do this on a table. Sit in your chair with one end of the keyboard in your lap and gently bend, twist and massage. These clips work by sliding the bezel side inside the tray side and the bezel side of each clip presses out towards the tray side. So, start with one (I did the top-left one, above the top row of function keys, first) and hold the keyboard in a way that allows you to press the top edge of the bezel towards a point diagonally opposite, the bottom edge of the tray. Squeeze gently, wiggle, massage and gently apply pressure to lift the bezel up off the tray. With some firm (but not aggressive) effort, it will pop apart eventually. You'll feel encouraged, and you'll proceed to the next one, the top-right. The side clips aren't too difficult, but the ones along the bottom edge of the keyboard will take some patience. Treat it like one of those little puzzles mate out of pieces of wood. There is a way, it'll just take time!

Once the last clip is undone, the bezel simply lifts off the tray.

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You'll note now that the keyboard is just sitting in the tray. There's nothing actually holding it down, but don't lift it out just yet...

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See those two screws, the ones in the blue circles. You'll need to remove those.

Once they're gone, everything is just floating in the tray. You can gently lift the keyboard and the controller out, and put them face down on your work surface.

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My work as a printed circuit board designer in a previous life taught me to appreciate good design. One of the nicest challenges for a designer is to come up with a good functioning design in a cost effective way. Any monkey can design a board with multiple layers and fine tracks, but it takes class (and more of that patience I mentioned earlier) to design a complex board in a single layer of copper that works well and can be auto-soldered reliably. This is one such board. It's good work!

This is another time to stop, and think, and observe. Look closely at the board. Straight up, you'll noticed that the designer has very kindly labelled the position of each key on the back of the board. That's nice, and saves a bit of fiddling about.

We're interested in two keys. That horrible left Function (Fn) key...

 

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and the right Windows/Super/Command key.

 

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I suppose that I should point out that this 'hack' involves disabling the left function key by literally disconnecting it, then adding a couple of wires to connect it in parallel with the existing 'Super' key on the right side of the keyboard. This isn't a perfect solution, you won't be able to remap the two keys independent of each other for example, but it works, and it'll serve most needs.

So, this hack can be described quite simply: disconnect the function key, wire it in parallel with the right Super key.

Easy, right? Yes, it is easy, but a little risky. Don't lose sight of the fact that you're messing around in the guts of what is probably the most expensive keyboard you've ever owned. There is some scope to mess this up. Please go slow, and be careful.

The next bit involves cutting. Take a sharp knife, remember all those rules you were taught as a kid about safe handling of knives, cutting away from your body (and in this instance your fingers), and be careful!

See those two silver circles that I've drawn a purple ring around? Those are the terminals for the keyswitch. You need to disconnect those from the circuit. To achieve that, you'll need to take a sharp knife - I used a box cutter - and CAREFULLY cut through the copper track that connects the two terminals.

I'm going on with warnings a lot here, 'because I want you to take care. Printed circuit boards are, by design, very tough bits of kit. They're difficult to cut. You need to cut them deeply enough to ensure that the electrical connection is properly broken, but without using so much pressure that you slip and take out some innocent connections in an electrical collateral damage!

OK. Take a deep breath, and make the cuts. Those two yellow lines are the places you'll need to cut. Be VERY CAREFULL not to cut through those thin tracks on either side. If you cut those, this will turn from a clever hack to a desperate repair mission before your eyes!

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OK. That was easy. Now go and get some bandages on your fingers, wipe your blood off the table, and continue. I'll wait right here!

Next, you'll need two wires. Something nice and thin please. I didn't have any wrapping wire handy, so I stripped a pair of thin wires out of a bit of telephone cable. Cut them to just the right length, and use the soldering iron that you prepared earlier to 'tin' (coat with solder) the ends of each wire.

Then, using your soldering iron and your steady hand, install them like this:

das-10-two-wires.jpg

(I'd like you to focus on the classy soldering work and ovelook the mess I made of cutting the copper tracks please!)

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Now, unless you made any slips with the knife, that's the job done! You can go ahead and test the keyboard. If, on the other hand, you made some slips, then you'll need to go ahead and repair those:

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(Just to make things perfectly clear, that short red wire in the last photo is a repair, cleaning up the part where I messed up and cut through an extra track by mistake. You can see the cut just above the end of the long red wire. This is a mistake, NOT part of the hack!!!)

 

Now, that's it. That's really it. You're done. Place the keyboard shiny-side-up on a non-conductive surface, plug it into a computer, and satisfy yourself that your hack worked. It's a good feeling, isn't it!!!

There's only one thing left to do, and that's put it back together. As they say in the classics (I consider the manual, not the car, to be the classic here!), installation is a reverse of removal procedure. Go to it, and enjoy your additionally functional DAS Keyboard!

Here's a photo of my re-assembled keyboard to 'prove' that I got it back together in one piece. This is a true 'after' photo, trust me, I'm a geek!

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I should also point out that I typed up this guide using the very keyboard that is shown in these pictures, AFTER I finished this hack! The keyboard works just fine!!!

Thanks for reading! I hope this helps!

Edit: 30th March 2010, I modded another one of these keyboards just now. With practice, and without needing to stop to take photographs at every step, the mod takes about ten minutes from beginning to end!