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Using a Mechanical Keyboard on Mac

Most keyboard layouts and mechanical keyboards in particular are optimized for Windows-based machines and the shortcuts used within that ecosystem. If you’re a Mac user, or considering switching to Mac, you might be wondering how compatible your mechanical keyboard will be or if you need to do anything to improve the experience.  What happens when you plug a standard mechanical keyboard into a Mac By default, the modifier keys on the left side of the bottom row will map as follows:  Mac Control = Win Control Mac Option = Win Alt Mac Command = Win WinKey Taking a look at the layout of the two types of keyboards, this default mapping presents a layout change that might frustrate you and clash with your muscle memory. The locations of Cmd and Opt are swapped, placing Cmd in the center of the three keys.  To rectify this, there are a couple different options, the latter of which may or may not be available depending on the model of keyboard you have or are considering.  How to remap the Cmd and Opt keys
Solution 1 - Remap within MacOS The easiest and most universal solution is to change the mapping within MacOS; software remapping will work with any keyboard. This works on a per keyboard basis, meaning that the changes you make to your mechanical keyboard will not affect the layout of your laptop and/or Apple-branded keyboard. 
  1. Open the MacOS Keyboard settings (Spotlight Search “Keyboard”, or System Preferences -> Keyboard)
  2. Click “Modifier Keys…” (lower right)
Remap the Cmd and Opt keys as desired (left key description is the physical keyboard, drop-down menu selection is the software action to map)
  1. Click OK and try the new layout
  2. If this didn’t give the desired results, verify with a keytester that your mechanical keyboard keys are mapped as expected (for example, an HHKB layout board might have Ctrl mapped to the Caps Lock already, in which case you would need to reassign the Ctrl physical key, etc)
  3. Note that you can go a little more crazy with this if you’d like - map the Cmd function to the Caps Lock key to imitate the HHKB layout on a standard board, or anything else you might like to try

Solution 2 - Remap the keyboard itself This is significantly more difficult (though made easier and easier thanks to community tools - don’t be scared away if it interests you) and requires a keyboard that can accommodate custom mapping (Drop ALT, CTRL, and SHIFT are easily remapped, while Drop ENTR cannot be remapped). The downside to this solution is that the key remappings are hard-coded into the keyboard logic itself, so if you move the keyboard back and forth between Mac and Windows machines, the layout will now be reversed on the Windows computer.  Hardware remapping to swap Cmd and Opt is really only the ideal solution if you only use Macs and you are also interested in remapping other keys which cannot be configured in software (most common in a more custom layout board). I won’t be going into detail about the remapping process here, as it is more advanced and each method has its own detailed instructions already.  Drop Configurator
Instructions for Drop ALT
Instructions for Drop CTRL
Instructions for other keyboards


Just to supplement this article, I used trial and error to find some of the function key shortcuts for MacOS in my Drop ENTR review! Here’s what I found: Hot keys for controlling the system or media are not labeled on the keys. Drop includes a post card listing the default Fn + Key combos that will do Windows things, but for Mac I had to explore and memorize. You can change the key input in Mac System Preferences and pull up/swap the alt (option) keycap with the Windows (command) cap if you want to make the keys match your muscle memory. The Media controls are the same for Mac as on the Post card for windows but there’s some odd ones as well. I like that you can control four levels of the keyboard brightness, or turn it off. Here’s the default ones I’ve found so far: Fn + F4: Print (either a document you have open, or highlighted in Finder) Fn + F8: Duplicate (in finder) F11: Show Desktop F12: Show Dashboard (old Widgets feature) ScrLk: F14 (lowers screen brightness) Pause: F15 (raises screen brightness) Fn + Up Arrow: Raise keyboard backlight brightness Fn + Down Arrow: Lower keyboard backlight brightness
Interesting. What Mac & OS is that image from? I cannot recall ever seeing Modifier Keys "Function" on any Mac, ever. And I am going all the back to 1984. :D
GenjokoanM1 MacBook Pro 13-inch running Monterey. I don't have much experience pre-Big Sur, so not sure how this differs from the Catalina era.
GenjokoanI still have an iMac running Mojave (and a new M2 Mac Mini Pro running Ventura), let me know if looking at my settings and sharing screenshots might help you :)
Karabiner Elements allows you to remap keys like this as well, also on a per-keyboard basis. It's a bit more detailed and allows you to assign functions, macros, etc to a single key.
whoatacosInteresting! Thanks for the heads up. Took a quick glance and it seems like a really feature-rich option for customization. I'll need to tinker with it a bit more and will likely add it as a more advanced option.
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