Change the Backlighting Color on a SideWinder X4 Keyboard

About: Currently, I'm at a startup trying to change the world. In previous lives, I was an EE Prof., an Imagineer at Disney, and, according to Jay Leno, "a Japanese scientist" (I'm not Japanese, or a scientist). In...

Microsoft's SideWinder X4 is a low-cost, backlit, gaming keyboard, and one of the very few to feature anti-ghosting technology that isn't limited to some small region of the keyboard. Typically, this feature has only been available on very high-end keyboards. This has made the X4 a hit with budget-minded gamers.

Unfortunately, not everyone loves the color of the backlighting. The X4 features a brilliant red backlight. But many people prefer blue, or even green. In this Instructable, I will show you how easy and inexpensive it is to change the backlighting to a different color. Please note that doing this will void your warranty.

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Step 1: Gather Materials

The keys are backlit by 10 small, rectangular, red LEDs. They are an unusual size, but I have found some 1.8mm LEDs that fit nicely. These are available from HB Electronic Components:

They also have a U.S. distributor:

Shipping will probably cost far more than the handful of LEDs, so you might want to stock up, or do a joint buy with firends. You will need at least 10 LEDs of your choosen color. I would buy some extra in case you break or lose some.

Step 2: Open the Keyboard

There are 14 large screws and 6 small screws that must be removed to open the case. One of the screws is hidden under the Health Warning label. Another is under the left foot.

Remove all of the screws. You will then need to pry the top from the bottom. There are plastic tabs all around the edge, so don't be surprised if it takes a fair amount of force to get it open. The good news is that it goes back together much more easily than it comes apart.

Step 3: Remove the Backlighting Boards

There are three long, narrow boards under the wrist rest that hold the 10 backlighting LEDs. Before removing these, note how they sit, and how the wiring is routed along the edge.

Slide off the connector on the first board. This will allow you to remove all three boards.

Step 4: Remove the Old LEDs

Desolder the 10 LEDs. This can be easily accomplished by heating both leads simultaneously while gently pulling the LED out.

After the LEDs are removed, use Solder Wick or some other method to remove any remaining solder from the holes.

Step 5: Install the New LEDs

Insert the new LEDs with the correct orientation and solder them into place. To help guide you, there is a small square next to the hole for the anode (the longer lead).

(Note: If you do them all backwards by mistake you can just flip the first connector to fix it.)

Step 6: Insert the Backlighting Boards

Insert the backlighting boards back into the keyboard. You will need to lift the sheet of silicone domes and the membranes to fit them properly underneath. Reconnect all the connectors and make sure that they are routed as they were previously.

At this point, it is wise to test your work. Plug the keyboard in to verify that the LEDs are functioning as expected.

Step 7: Close and Enjoy!

To close up the keyboard, first verify that the wires are routed properly and that the membranes and silicone dome sheet are seated correctly. There are posts which extend into the domes, so feel around to make sure that these are fully inserted. There are also some rubber pieces that surround the indicator lights. Verify that these are also seated correctly.

Once everything looks good, lower the top side (with the keys) onto the bottom. Press around the edges to resaeat all of the tabs. Then, flip the unit over, and install the 20 screws.

You are now ready to enjoy your keyboard! Note that the dimmer control works as expected.

Final note for more advanced DIYers:You can increase the brightness somewhat by changing the resistors on the backlight boards. Because these new LEDs will have a higher voltage drop than the original LEDs, you can lower the resistor values somewhat while still drawing only as much power as the original design.

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22 Discussions


6 years ago on Introduction

I was wondering if somebody would be kind enough to reply to my question as I have already modded the X4 but the blue LED's are too dim. They are great in an unlit room but in daylight or a well lit room they are barely visible.
Suppose if, instead of using 68 Ohm resistors, I used 47 Ohm would the sidewinder then be drawing too much current from the USB port? How could I make these blue LED's brighter without overstretching the demands on the power from the USB port?

4 replies

I think that should be okay, but the change in apparent brightness will be small. The eye's response to light is logarithmic - so you probably won't see much difference.

Probably a better strategy would be to try to find brighter LEDs. I would suggest getting something like the Cree C503B-BAN-CY0C0461 and seeing if you can somehow make it fit. (Digikey carries these.) Might be tricky, but they are very bright. If you try this, definitely let us know how it goes...

Oh hey. Thank you very much for the reply. I will try getting some of those LEDs
and I will let you know how it goes with that. I am in the uk so it may be trickier than you imagine but somehow I will get there. I never thought before about how the eye percieves brightness and when I read about the logarithmic response to light it made me realise we percieve red brighter than blue even though the power output is the same


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

Hi, I was wondering if you ever tried this out? I love my modded blue lights, but they just aren't bright enough in regular lighting situations. Thanks!

see my other reply too. Just noticed the Cree C503B-BAN-CY0C0461 are 5mm LEDs. I may just try them and mess with making them fit. I knew that dremmel tool would be useful one day


6 years ago on Introduction

Does anyone have the measurements of the existing LEDs in the keyboard? I swapped them out for purple in my girlfriend's keyboard, but they are so dim you can barely see them. And now I can't find the old ones (even though I know I kept them in a little bag somewhere). But would it be possible to find LEDs that exactly match the size of the stock rectangular ones?


6 years ago on Step 7

i just did this a few minutes ago and it worked. the leds i ordered from "leading leds" came here fast! i live in louisiana and it shipped from maine i was very surprised to have gotten them in 3 days. also with the blue leds i used from them the keyboard isnt very bright at all. in a lit enviroment you can hardly tell its blue. but thats fine it matches the rest of my rig. thank you so much for the DIY it worked perfectly


6 years ago on Introduction

These instructions are great! I had been looking for a blue led keyboard and my boyfriend has the sidewinder x4 and loves it. We found this and decided to go for it since I tried a few relatively inexpensive keyboards that were terrible. I've already purchased 20 of the LEDs that you suggested. I am still waiting for everything to get here, but I'm wondering if these will work for the Num, Caps, and and macro lights as well, or do I need to get different ones? Thank you!

Lima Zulu

7 years ago on Introduction

Your instructions is truly great, especially "get materials" part - it's a big deal to find suitable LEDs. We've changed Microsoft X6 backlight to green using same leds from your list (though is was somewhat hard to find in our country), and it's perfect. But if you want to deal with X6 you should be more carefull - some LEDs are mounted not on separate plates but on main board.


7 years ago on Introduction

Thanks for making this guide! I was debating getting the Logitech G110 or the X4, and knowing I can easily change the LEDs on the X4 made me choose the X4. I dont like the G110's small keys..

Awesome I'm getting this keyboard and it's great to know how easy it is to swap out colors. i like red and all but it's nice to know i have options. :D perhaps i'll rgb mod it.


7 years ago on Step 2

Thanks for the tutorial .. I have changed my x4 to have white backlighting, looks great. What value resistors would you need to make the leds brighter?

5 replies

If memory serves (I lent out all of my X4's), the resistors are 100 ohms each. (Should be marked brown-black-brown if I'm correct.) Assuming a 5V supply, and a forward voltage drop of about 2V for the red LEDs, that gives a current of:

(5V-2V)/100 ohms = .03A = 30mA

White LEDs typically drop about 3V. If you don't change the resistors, this would give a current of 20mA. But if you want to take full advantage of the available current, you want to up this to 30mA. That is:

(5V-3V)/.03A = 66 2/3 ohms

There nearest standard value is 68 ohms. This should be about 50% brighter. However, because the human eye is logarithmic in it's response, you will probably only perceive it as being a little brighter. I'd suggest you try doing one first to see if you think it's worth the effort. In fact, if you can simply hold a 200 ohm resistor in parallel with one of the resistors (100 in parallel with 200 gives 66 2/3 ohms) to see if it makes much of a difference.

The purists will note that these LEDs really are meant to be run at 20mA. Again, if memory serves, these are pulse width modulated, and I don't recall the duty cycle. But presumably, this works out to an average current of 20mA or less, even if the peak is higher.


Thanks for the calculation electron_plumber.

I dont have any 200ohm resistors around to test that out^ or 68ohm ones for that matter.

Would these carbon film 1/4 W ones do the job?

Cheers for the help.


Here's how you find out:

W = V * I = I^2 * R

(.03A)^2 * 68ohms = .0612W which is way less than 0.25W

So these can easily handle the power dissipation. 1/8W resistors would also work fine, and might be easier to fit mechanically...


Thanks for the advice, I will order those resistors and give them a go.

Just to add.. I also changed the LEDs for the Num, Caps Lock etc. and the macro lights. Looks awesome!


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Also... Do you think it would be possible to change the macro present and numlock, caps LEDs with the same white LEDs I used?


7 years ago on Introduction

Hey electron_plumber,
This is a great mod. I had a broken notebook LCD and I took out the WLEDs from it for modding. I followed your guide and here's how the thing looks. I love the dim white glow now. Its definitely better than how it was earlier.

2 replies

I think the white looks great, and I love the repurposing of old LEDs. I've had some cheap LED light bulbs (the kind with lots of individual LEDs) die prematurely and discovered that it's often just a single dead LED that killed the bulb. A lot of these bulbs have the LEDs sticking way up on their leads, so you can just cut them out and still have plenty of tail left to reuse the good ones elsewhere.

Yup, re purposing stuff allows great savings :)

I know what you mean, I was able to cut out 2 LEDs from a 3 LED lamp and use them as a bulb replacement on a 50 year old radio :)

Recently, I found an Samsung LCD monitor lying on the stairs and I was able to replace the burst capacitors with those from an old TV circuit board. The thing still works!

Thanks for the excellent writeup. Very impressive.