Alright, this week is going to be fun, I get to talk about some brands that most of us have certainly heard about before, but whose actual structure had been a mystery to me until recently. CIY and Team Wolf. For now, I’ll say they are owned by the same parent company (Shenzhen Interlink/ABT), I’ll come back to explain how this was determined in a minute. You probably know CIY primarily for their keyboards, and Team Wolf also for keyboards and maybe their metal keycaps, but did you know both of them make switches too, well kind of, look it’s complicated okay? That’s why I have an article to write.
First, let’s establish the players here. Who is CIY, who is Shenzhen Interlink/ABT, who is Team Wolf, and how are they all related. CIY makes keyboards like the Tester 68, which are sold by 100 different people under 100 different names. One of those is the “Keebmonkey x Amibit KBM68”. Yes, that’s right, even Keebmonkey, who famously pretends to have super exclusive stuff when they just buy it off AliExpress, has given a name for the manufacturer here. Cool, so we have another name for CIY.
Keebmonkey has also gotten quite a lot of flack, some deservedly so, for their practice of claiming all their products are exclusive custom projects and have also been accused of being an outright scam early on, with some not believing that any products would be shipped at such a low price. In response to that, the owner provided a poorly redacted invoice for the keyboards, to prove they were a real company. In doing this, they leaked enough information that Butre over in the switchmodders discord was able to find a matching address for their supplier. The manufacturer of the CIY board, which is reportedly called Amibit, also goes by Shenzhen Interlink.
That’s great, except in these brands’ unending quest to make me smash my head through my monitor, Shenzhen Interlink does not list CIY under their About Us or Brands pages. Just Team Wolf, MeToo and UpVich. Crap.
Okay, while I asked in the switchmodders discord for a little help here, I ran off to go put together some random puzzle pieces like I do. I’ll run through this quickly because it all ends up irrelevant in a minute here, but damnit I worked hard to find this information the first time and it’s going in the article.
Shenzhen Interlink owns Team Wolf
Team Wolf also goes by Wolf Pie at least according to machine translation
Wolf Pie eSports has the CIY logo as their banner picture and sells CIY products like the Tester and GAS keyboards.
Many Taobao links later, this trail of breadcrumbs I had pieced together doesn’t matter. Ventamora in switchmodders was able to find the true missing links. CIY’s website lists drivers for Team Wolf keyboards, and Team Wolf’s website sells CIY keyboards.
Later I also found that Shenzhen Interlink does mention CIY on their website too. I can’t put into words how much easier this process would be if the information were just easy to find and in an organized location like under all the brands Shenzhen Interlink owns, but no I get to look under Industry News to find CIY mentioned.
Okay, now that I have said CIY enough times that those letters mean even less than they did when we started, who wants to guess what it stands for. The Centre for Intellectual Youth in Uzbekistan? No, but that was a good guess. As a matter of fact, it stands for “Change It Yourself”. Is that some kind of self-help book? I mean, probably, but that’s not what it means here. Shenzhen Interlink created an entire brand based around hotswap sockets that allow you to change your switches yourself without the need to desolder them. The reason they are so proud of this is that they very well may be the first widely available brand with designated hotswap sockets.
Now, one of the main reasons this blog even exists is because I don’t always take these brands at their word, so of course, I double-checked this, but please let me know if you have a correction. I got into mechanical keyboards relatively recently (like late 2020/early 2021) so I don’t have the personal experience of the keyboard scene before hotswap sockets came out, but I remember that hotswap was a pretty big selling point for the first GMMK boards and that it was a relatively uncommon feature at that time.
Sure enough, Tom’s Hardware noted this as a somewhat standout feature in their 2017 review, but they also mentioned two other early hotswap boards. The Wooting One came out earlier in 2017, and the Epic Gear Defiant came out in 2016 but limited you to their own switches. If those are the earliest Tom’s Hardware has to mention, then maybe Interlink is right.
Finally, Something About Switches
So, what many of us will know CIY best for is their Tester 68 keyboard, famously cheap and plenty of people have bought this to use for a simple hotswap board to test switches or as a super beginner custom mechanical keyboard. They carry plenty of other products, as well as a new budget gasket keyboard, but what you might not have known is that they have three different switches too. Is it a red, brown, and blue switch? Nope! That would make sense, and you should know by now that logic is strictly forbidden in most of these brands. Instead, we get two linears and one tactile, each made by a completely different factory, isn’t that fun?
Guess we should start at the beginning with the CIY Evolution Red. This is a fairly basic linear with winglatch housings. 42g actuation weight, and 60g bottom out according to most information on it, and not much was known about the switch until recently. It seems that this switch is made by the same factory as some other lesser-known switches, the NextTime Engine and, the NextTime Bulbasaur/Watermelon Pro switch. These are the only switches that the CIY Evolution Red has a compatible housing with. All three switches have red stems with the exact same spring weights, and they share a relatively uncommon design on winglatch switches of a clear “no slot” LED slot. So hooray, we know something else about it, but nobody knows who makes NextTime switches so it doesn’t get us very far.
Next Time Evo Red and a frankenswitch of the Evolution Red and NextTime Bulbasaur
Thankfully, the seller I have been working with on Taobao for most of the products going up on the store with this article has been very helpful and seems to actually know what they are talking about. First, to establish they actually have any answers, when I asked them about the parent company of CIY and Team Wolf products they stated it is “Abit Corp” which seems to be perfectly in between the ABT nameplate on some of my Team Wolf switches, and Amibit, the name Keebmonkey uses to refer to the Tester 68 manufacturer. Now I don’t know why they have so many names and abbreviations, but these do all seem to be the same company. Wait, one more name. In an Ecplaza (seems to be a business directory) page linked by Shenzhen Interlink they also refer to themselves as Shenzhen Arbiter, which is probably where the various abbreviations come from, Abit and ABT make sense, but I’m not sure where KeebMonkey is getting the “M” for Amibit, oh well.
This information is also provided in the listing for some of these switches on Taobao. This seller was also able to get me the software for the GAS68 gasket board from CIY before it was available anywhere else (with only a few viruses on my friend’s computer in the process) which looked like the file had just been uploaded, so I believe they may be an official representative of CIY/Team Wolf/Abit.
So, what does my all-knowing Abit Corp employee have to say about the CIY Evolution Red switches? They are made by Jixian. Now, of course we don’t take these claims blindly, and I am waiting to get ahold of some Jixian switches so I can confirm compatibility or markings, but they are at least both winglatch. Also, when manufacturers lie, they usually like to take credit for their own products, not name a previously not discussed factory, at least in my experience. If this is backed up further by cross checking Jixian switches, this might give us more information about NextTime switches as well.
It Gets Easier From Here
One switch down, two to go. Well, two more CIY switches, but the Team Wolf ones will go quickly after this. Next in the order that I learned about them would be the CIY Magic Color Series Sakura Pink Linear Switch, which will be abbreviated to CIY Sakura Pink from here on out. Here we have another linear switch, this time in a traditional cherry style housing, with a dustproof stem. This is also a relatively light linear switch, with some tell-tale markings of being made by a relatively newer manufacturer called HaiMu.
The specific design of the dustproof portion of this stem is usually the first part that tips me off when I am looking for a HaiMu switch, the angle at the edges is my first mark to look for. More conclusively though, are the two holes in the bottom housing, placed between the support pins in a 5 pin switch. All of their dustproof switches are, or at least have been so far, dustproof. There have been earlier non-dustproof switches from HaiMu which also have only been seen in 5 pin variants so far, but those seem to have been discontinued in favor of the dustproof designs. HaiMu will have to get an article themselves in the future, hopefully some more information comes out soon.
The last note about HaiMu switches here is the one thing they share between their dustproof and standard switches, which is a leaf with rather sharp right angles compared to other brands.
And CIY’s next and so far final switch would be the CIY Phantom. This is an “HP-like” tactile switch because isn’t everything at this point? But, there are two things that make this switch particularly interesting. First would simply be the fact that it is a fully clear tactile switch, something that has been mostly neglected in favor of linear switches. Second, and even more interesting, this CIY Phantom switch appears to be made by BSUN.
Now, these switches share a few markings that we have seen interchangeably between BSUN, Feker, Aflion, Lumia, and Mengmoda such as the small numbers centered between the pins, and numbers on the circular cutout of the LED slot, what makes you sure they are BSUN? Great question, it is a relatively minor detail that seems to be one of my best indicators of a real BSUN switch.
These switches have a minor ridge on the underside of their top housing that you can see through the LED slot when looking from the bottom of the switch. It is almost impossible to photograph on these clear switches, so instead I’ll add a picture of some other switches that have this ridge so you know what to look for.
And Team Wolf
This is going to be a relatively short section, as these switches are simultaneously not objectively good switches, and there isn’t much information on them. Team Wolf sells a small variety of switches, I have seen them listed under the Team Wolf name, some nameplates include either a triangle logo that is a simplified Team Wolf logo or maybe an A for ABT, and some are actually branded as ABT. They have a set of simple “Chery clone” switches, with a standard red, black, and blue switch, as well as some more interesting optical switches.
As you can see, the most interesting part of these switches is their round cutout for the stem cruciform in the top housing. They are relatively scratchy and wobbly switches, but they are definitely interesting. The Team Wolf seller on Taobao claims these switches are actually manufactured by ABT as opposed to another brand. While that is hard to confirm, they have definitely had a lot of useful information so far, and who else would bother redesigning the top housing in such a weird way?
Oh, and the black bottomed red switches are branded Manic, which is a collaboration with a South Korean gaming brand sharing that name. There isn’t anything particularly different about those besides the nameplate and black bottom that I can tell.
And, finally getting into the optical switches, they all share the same circular top housing cutout, as well as tan bottom housings. The only ones that I managed to find are all clicky, and they include both a V2 and a V4. Don’t ask about the other numbers, they are either lost to time, or they only release the ones that work just like how we don’t have WD sprays 1-39 and they went straight to formula #40.
Okay, so clicky optical switches. I’ll be honest those rank pretty low on my list of personal preferences, especially since these are also pretty wobbly switches. But, what is really interesting about these is that the V4 optical are the first non-Kalih clickbar switches I can think of. While V2 used a clickjacket for their click mechanism, V4 use a clickbar in the same implementation as Kailh. You can see when you click through the slideshow from V2 on to V4 that the clickbar is situated at the opposite side of the stem legs, and you can actually see it from the bottom of the switch.
So Team Wolf supposedly is making their own switches, or at least their parent company is, and their innovations include a circle on the top housing, and a clickbar on their most recent optical switches. They aren’t very good, but I am always excited to see a new manufacturer on the market, especially one that is willing to take risks. Even if that risk is as weird as putting a square peg in a round hole.
That’s all for now, check back in a while to see whatbrand gets disected next.
And of course another shout out to Butre, Ventamora, and Switch.Riiport for their help with some of the research.
Everything listed in the article is live on the store as of today, except the NextTime switches, but I did just recently order some of those too.