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Why I use a 20-year-old IBM Model M keyboard (arstechnica.com)
52 points by Tomte 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 63 comments





If you are interested in an IBM Model M I recommend the Unicomp UB4044A (http://www.pckeyboard.com/page/product/UB4044A). It's a IBM Model M with USB. I bought one over a decade ago (build date 4/20/2007).

Also, Ars Technica updated the URL date in this story. The original URL is http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2013/11/why-i-use-a-20-year-o... and it redirects to the 2018 link here.


I will also recommend Unicomp.

> I bought one over a decade ago (build date 4/20/2007).

Awhile ago I remember hearing that they were having some financial problems because essentially they never had repeat customers: buy one keyboard and you'll never need another.


They need to make a new Spacesaver model (one without the numpad) and not only will they have a lot of new customers, they will also have each one of their old customers come back to buy one.

> They need to make a new Spacesaver model (one without the numpad)

Yeah. I'm in the market for a new keyboard and am thinking about a TKL. Just spent some time on the Unicomp site looking for a TLK version to no avail.


These are very high-end buckling-spring reconstructions, including TKL layouts: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/ .

On the downside, no idea when it will actually ship, and significantly more expensive than Unicomp.


I did see those from a link elsewhere in the thread. The cost and uncertain delivery timeline make that a non-starter for me, though.

They don't have one, and they definitely should.

And if they don't want to rejigger to do backlit keys, they could add a USB hub with three ports: one for a mouse, one for a USB stick or such, and one for a USB-powered LED lamp.

I'd buy that.


You are right:

https://web.archive.org/web/20131119203754/http://arstechnic...

Sneaky.

But that clears the "twenty years", five years ago that would have been accurate.


If you need/want the original, you can also get SDL -> USB cables (I bought one on eBay), which is a nice alternative to adapter dongles.

Something else is going on here... Let's look at the reasons given:

- Noise

- Pleasant to use

- Accurate

The real reason is because the author is a hipster programmer and wants to elevate his status. It is well known that "real" coders who set up ISP's in the 90's and accomplished other badass feats of superhuman programming use clicky keyboards (https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/40897/how-do-i...).

This goes back to the bullshit nature of most technology jobs. It is such an empty life to work on abstract intellectual problems with no discernible results in the real world, as noted by David Graeber:

"Crucially, the realization brings a delight, the pleasure at being the cause, that is the very foundation of our being." - https://harpers.org/archive/2018/06/punching-the-clock/

The key (pun intended) component here is the theatre of a loud keyboard. It FEELS like you're getting work done! The author readily admits it, "This thing is loud, which really makes me feel like I'm getting serious work done when typing."

So the noise and being pleasant are really one in the same. The feedback make him feel better about being able to make something that produces change in his environment. Even if he is his own audience and only fooling himself, that is enough.

Finally, I question the accuracy piece. I grew up typing on mechanical keyboards, and therefore can appreciate the haptic sensation and noise aspect, but I'm happier with my keyboards' accuracy today. Most of my typing errors are not an issue of incompletely depressing a key, but typing the incorrect key. Mechanical keyboards do nothing for improving this kind of accuracy.

Theatrics for an audience of one. That is the reason. Plain and simple.

(edited for formatting)


I’ve come to understand that the most fashionable form of status seeking is loudly espousing the belief that other people can’t possibly enjoy things, so they must be status seeking.

Good observation. Please enjoy some genuinely earned status from me.

Or perhaps he just knew that those of us with fond memories of Model Ms would enjoy reminiscing (and maybe reacquiring) and those who've never experienced Model Ms might be interested to learn why we liked them.

Now all that's left to do is hope that your analysis succeeds in robbing the author of their ill-gotten joy.

What's more important, doing important work, or thinking you're doing important work?

Doing important work.

Next article in the series, "Why I killed my co-worker"

I remember those days. One is annoying. A dozen or so all going at once... well it just sounded like work was happening and as strange as it sounds it was kind of nice.

Now the big Epson impact printer in the eggcrate-foam lined coffin (meant to contain the BZZZZZZZZZT! BZZZZZZZZZT! noise) was never something I adjusted to. We eventually moved it to a storage closet. God bless the silent laser printer!

But then I do recall buying a Walkman so that I could listen to music (casette tapes and the radio) while working, consuming batteries rather quickly. Perhaps nostalgia is making my memory of keyboard sounds seem less annoying that it really was.


You obviously never heard a twin head long track daisywriter going full out.

I was doing a long print run on one and put ear defenders on


The vt100 key click sound was awesome but that was just a bit loud.

Indeed. I had a much-loved Model M that I had to give up pretty quickly once I went to college, in the interest of staying on good terms with my roommate.

I have a customer that loves to hear my 1996 model M. To her, it means that progress on work is getting done to resolve the issue she called me about.

I use a Unicomp at work and I'm still alive!

For those interested, there is a guy selling old-school re-creations of "Model F" keyboards (circa 1981-1983) here: https://www.modelfkeyboards.com/

Sadly, they do not have the 103-key layout.


I've got a Unicomp 104-key purchased at least twelve years ago. While I'm a big fan of the feel and sound, as a daily driver the actuation length and force becomes tiring, so it's been mothballed.

I'm using a steel backed unit with Cherry Browns and damper rings (it's a Ducky — WASD/Code were always OOS when I was ready to buy) and it's okay, but it honestly doesn't feel that much nicer than a fresh, cheapo rubber dome unit.

I've been curious about the Topre keyed boards which reputedly have a solid, but damped, "thwumph" response — that sounds right up my alley, but they are a lot of cash for a blind buy, since I've never seen or touched one.

Anyone here have experience with the Topre boards?


> “For starters, the sound. This thing is loud, which really makes me feel like I'm getting serious work done when typing.”

Someone should immediately start building super noisy pens, pencils, erasers and markers. But, like, really loud.

And loud brushes of course! Loud post-its!


It's not the noise, it's the feedback, this is the same reason people like keyboards that have tactical feedback. Having fast feedback signals to our senses when working can keep us working longer without fatigue.

Yea, like the feedback of a loud buzzing sound a pen could give every time it feels pressure on the tip. Could even make it vibrate!

As an Emacs user I'm ALWAYS struggle to find a good keyboard for my setup. Actually I'm using a K550 Yama simply because it have enough extra key to have many things work's at a single keypress (and does NOT require any software to program/use those extra keys), I'd like some Maltron keyboards but they are (IMO) too expensive and without backlight, other "classic Emacs user's keyboards" feature simply too few keys to be comfortable.

Perhaps I'm looking for something like https://i.redd.it/z5knt99vpbsy.jpg but...

A trend I noticed is however that substantially all new keyboards tend to have less and less keys than ever, while ancient keyboards tend to offer more keys in various fashion, like SUN type [67] keyboars or $I_do_not_remember with a full function key row + another S-function key on top etc. And that's IMO it's a bad sign: keyboards means production, mouses means consumption. Having big keyboard IMO means produce many thing, having mouse-centric UI means being a consumer of someone else service.


He mentioned three cheap keyboards that came with his computer - who has a comparison between this keyboard and a modern mechanical?

I've tried several modern mechanicals, and have one with Cherry blues, and used to have one with Cherry brown, which died after just a few years. My 25 year old M is still feeling as good as new, and aside from a little shine on some keys looks pretty new too. Most modern ones have plastic that ages far faster.

I still pick the M when there's a lot of typing needed. It's about as loud as blues, but a little less annoying (for me anyway) from the slightly less plasticky sound, but has a distinctly nicer typing feel. Partially because it has a back board that's heavy steel meaning there's no flex at all - every modern mechanical has some degree of flex, sometimes lots and partially it feels a little different to Cherry blues. Something hard to describe but probably when and where on the keypress the click and release happen.

Having the extra Windows/Cmd key on the base row would be nicer sometimes. I wish I had gone for the one with combined trackpoint though.

I fully expect it to outlast my need for any keyboard and still be in as-new condition. :)


I used model M in the 90s, I wouldn't use one today though unless I wanted to drive everyone around crazy mad at me. As for the cherry blues, it gets on my nerves far quicker than model M could ever do. It has to be down to the nature of the switch itself the sound is artificial and the feedback is awful even with the good key caps on a sturdy board.

> Something hard to describe but probably when and where on the keypress the click and release happen.

Exactly this, there are some mods that can fix this icky release, never tried those. If I remember correctly it shortens the key travel as well so it might not be to everyone's liking.


I have a Filco Majestouch and there's literally zero flex. It's the only modern keyboard I've ever touched that feels this stable. I really like it. Tenkeyless with Cherry Browns.

These are LOUDER. Significantly louder. If you don't like MX blues because they're clicky, this has an actual spring that deforms. And of course, no attempt to soften the noise.

If it's an original, they have PS/2 connector instead of the more modern USB, so you'll likely need a dongle.

There are no hyper keys at all - no logo keys, no menu key. Of course, no volume control, no media keys.


Not compared to my Corsair with Cherry Blues it's not. They're about the same volume, but have a decidedly different sound.

With IBM's mechanical switches, it's the same mechanism causing actuation and tactile feedback. With some modern mechanical switches, they're separate mechanisms, which means that they can disagree slightly. For example, with the Matias Quiet Click switches that I'm currently using, the actuation point is actually slightly past the tactile feedback (you can see it in this graph: https://input.club/the-comparative-guide-to-mechanical-switc... )

Buckling spring (and beam spring) switches have a tactile drop, where the tactile feedback is that the force required to press the key drops off at the actuation point. See what that looks like here: https://input.club/the-comparative-guide-to-mechanical-switc... (that's actually the Model F; the M was essentially a cheap flimsy version of the F, if you can believe that: https://input.club/the-comparative-guide-to-mechanical-switc... ).

Compare that to most modern mechanical switches, which have a tactile bump, where the tactile feedback is that the force required to press the key spikes up right before the actuation point, then returns to previous levels. The "standard" mechanical switch of today is the Cherry MX Blue, which shows this very clearly: https://input.club/the-comparative-guide-to-mechanical-switc...

These are 2 very different feels.

The "hip" new switches these days are NovelKeys' Box switches, some of which have tactile feedback more like IBM's, though the drop is less sharp: https://input.club/the-comparative-guide-to-mechanical-switc...

I haven't tried the Box switches yet, but of any of the switches I've tried, based on typing experience: I'd take IBM over anything else. That said, I switched to Matias Quiet Click a while ago, because I'm pretty sure my office mate would have killed me if I brought my Model M in to work.


I'm typing this on an M0110 (keyboard from the original 1984 Macintosh) that I rewired to a Teensy (https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/8q4o4n...). I won't say that it's my favorite keyboard to type on, but it's loud and definitely cool.

My keyboard at work was built from an Apple Extended Keyboard II (I harvested the switches/keycaps and built it up from a custom PCB - https://www.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/comments/4xr1wv...). A lot quieter than a Model M, but IMHO it feels better than most of the modern switches.


I use a KB9910. It's not a mechanical keyboard, because I don't like the clicks.

But the amazing thing is how reliable it's been. It's probably 23 years old and works absolutely perfectly. I have a second one just in case, but I've never needed it.


Not all mechanical keyboards are clicky. I hate the sound, but love my mechanical keyboard with black switches. No tactile feedback

My first serious job was four and a half years in the mid-90s with an RS/6000 for a desktop machine. I loved that keyboard. Nothing else has ever been as good.

The RS6k wasn't too shabby either, but perhaps without quite the same longevity..

I love these things. We used to affectionately refer to to these as "Taka-Taka's" for the beloved sound they make when typing. I miss these.

Unicomp bought the tooling and makes a full n-key rollover usb version of the M http://www.pckeyboard.com/page/SFNT

“For starters, the sound. This thing is loud, which really makes me feel like I'm getting serious work done when typing.”

We’re all a bunch a little code monkeys. We can’t imagine programming without a keyboard, that’s why we’re still programming with keyboards.

Eventually, someone will invent the future, and we will all be happy and wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.


What would you program with other than a keyboard? Block diagrams are the only serious programming tool I know of that calls for a mouse to do most of the action and even then there is a good deal of keyboard work on the components themselves.

Brain computer interface, that gloves thing in Minority Report, contact lens monitor and virtual keyboard by monitoring your hands like in Rainbows End, lots of other stuff I'm sure. All you need is some interface between you and the operating system.

“Eventually, someone will invent the future...”

You’re doing that thing where you ask what exists that’s better.

With AR and VR, for example, we’ll need something other than a keyboard to interact with our computers. Hopefully, that’s the necessity that will be the mother of invention.


I am enjoying my K70. RGB lightning is a major advance, regardless your level at typing.

This should be doable and fun to bring to oldies, corsair uses this TI chip family: «TLC5958 64x64 Led driver matrix». http://www.ti.com/tool/TIDA-00161


Had 2 clicky model M's, now have 2 K70s - K70 has everything I loved about the M. With the K70, you've got the 4 different kinds of switches (linear/non haptics, clicky/not) - I'm on the red, linear, non-clicky. The build quality (made in Germany) is definitely solid. I've been driving LEDs from my .vimrc - that's a trick the M couldn't do.

I dumped mine 4 month ago (half the letters were gone, there was a hole in the E key) because it was time to do so as I moved and changed country.

It was a heartbreaking moment for me, and I'm happy to read here in the comments suggestions for equivalent. Thanks.


I shelled out ~$600 for two new in-box model Ms from the 80s last year, worth it.

I haven't used a model-M in a long time, but I luuurbe my Das Keyboards. Makes using a mac almost tolerable (even comes with volume itunes doodads).

My pals all think I'm nuts for "spending so much on a keyboard" but I'm hammering on the damn thing all day, and using a chiclet keyboard or some other inferior keyboard would make me crazy.


I also have a keyboard from the 80s that I really like, but these days I switched to the Ultimate Hacking Keyboard (UHK). Lack of modifiers is a problem: I really want at least three on each side of the space bar.

I have a short (no numpad) WASD keyboard with the quiet red switches and custom key labels and love it.

Only feature I'd like to have is the ability to split it somehow.


To be picky (besides clicky ;-)), that specific keyboard:

>Mmmm.... manufactured in 1985, just like Ars Features Editor Nathan Mattise.

was manufactured (on 28th August) 1992, and only copyrighted 1985.

Neither 1992 nor 1985 are "twenty years", for the record that is respectively 26 or 33, or more like around 30 years.

This said, you'll have to take my Model-M (and my HP28C pocket calculator) out of my cold, dead hands, it is good to see that some of the younger folks still appreciate the reliability and sturdiness just like some of us old dinosaurs still do.

Long life Model M!


> From the archives... registered May 10, 2012

May 10, 2012?

Yet another date, the Wayback Machine Cache has it Nov 17, 2013.


As you grow older, you'd better switch to Matias Alps Quiet Click and Cherry MX Red or even Cherry MX Speed Silver.


I'd be more impressed if they were still using the RS6k it originally shipped with.

i am using Razer BlackWidow keyboard - the closest thing to IBM keyboard that i could find.

Check out Unicomp, they bought the rights to produced Model Ms: https://www.pckeyboard.com/

I love the Model M, but it has a Caps-Locks where the Control should be, so I don't use it anymore.



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