Life & much, much more

The one and only IBM Model M Keyboard

Any computer enthusiast will tell you that whereas computers in general have been getting better over the years, keyboards have been steadily degrading in their preference for design rather than build quality. Simply put, all keyboards nowadays (characterised by mushy rubber dome chicklet keys) are terrible. If all of this sounds like a weird geek fetish to you, stop reading now. Otherwise, read this series of posts which will give you a good general knowledge of the subject.

I had been debating for a while now whether or not to invest in a proper mechanical keyboard. Given that I am mostly mobile on a laptop, lugging around another keyboard would be a pain. But recently I stumbled across an IBM Model M back from 1991 (there is a birth certificate on its back).

IBM Model M Keyboard

After giving it a thorough cleaning, I have been using this for a month now and it is a beauty to type on — I doubt I’ll ever go back to using a regular keyboard again.

A few gotchas for the uninitiated:

  • It’s loud. Loud loud loud. Fine for your bedroom, but can be annoying in the office (you will bring it into work, won’t you?). However it’ll make everyone aware that you’re definitely hard at work.
  • It’s big. So big that it won’t neatly fit into any bag. You may want to consider a “Spacesaver” edition without the numpad.
  • There is no super (windows) key. Annoying if you rely on it for shortcuts, but ultimately a small price to pay for angels tapdancing on your fingers.
  • It’s not hard to press. Although the keys are bigger, it’s easier to type on this than on other keyboards.
  • It uses a PS/2 cable. You will likely need to buy a PS/2 to USB adapter to use it.

For those who have had the same dilemma as I did, make the switch. You won’t regret it.

Dion Moult

I've been developing software for well over 10 years, work as an architect (not the computer kind, the regular sort), and am classically trained as a pianist. I try to do the right thing when I get the chance in my field, such as through contributing to open-source communities and promoting sustainable living.

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  1. My brother bought the DAS Keyboard and swears by it. It is a keyboard similar to the IBM keyboard. It has n-key rollover, which means you can press simultaneously any number of keys and they all get recorded.

  2. Hey Hari – the DAS keyboards and the other modern mechanical interpretations are arguably equally good as the IBM Model M. However they all use (to my knowledge) the Cherry switches rather than the original buckling spring mechanism that the Model M sports. Also, there is something rather poetic about the old-school original with a DoB on its back :) But all in all, any modern mechanical keyboard is worth getting.

    Good point about the n-key rollover. I suspect the model I have supports n-key rollover too, but with the USB adapter a quick test shows I’m now limited to 6 keys.

  3. For me, I am not a keyboard fanatic myself, but I have to say that keyboards are so important because they allow typing so fast if designed well. What with so many touch devices out there in the market with on-screen keys and the lack of tactile feedback, separate, full sized keyboards may end up being a niche market soon.

    I actually own (and still occasionally use) a vintage, classic World War II Era German portable typewriter and I love its clicking noise. Now THAT’s a real vintage keyboard!

  4. Heads up on the Unicomp keyboards. I bought one, and the build quality is definitely shoddy compared to the original IBM Model M, and any cheap $10 keyboard from China gives it a run for the money in quality assurance. Mine came with a CHUNK out of the ‘I’ key. They replaced it free of charge, but that should NEVER be shipped to a customer that paid well over $100 for a keyboard. The keyboard seems to be loosely put together too, with a small gap between the top and bottom halves of the case, and something small rattling around inside, straight out of the box. But currently, IBM keyboards and Unicomp keyboards are the only PC/AT compatible keyboards on the market with buckling spring switches, and the IBM Model F is the only one with capacitive switches. There is a HUGE market opportunity here, for somebody to build a modern keyboard with good buckling spring switches.

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