The humble keyboard, a neglected accessory? We spend countless hours typing on them, yet rarely give them a second thought, often still using the free bundled keyboard (or a similar one of inferior quality). Right now I’m typing on my trusty Saitek Eclipse, which is a pretty nice keyboard and still being sold under a different guise, though the majority of my typing is done on my laptop keyboard. I haven’t typed excessively in the last while, apart from the odd assignment and blog post though I’m hoping to get writing more in future. This rekindled my interest in old keyboards, particularly of the mechanic variety. Those familiar with the field will have most likely heard of the IBM Model M, the mother-of-all keyboards, as you can see from the picture.
This mechanical beast uses a buckling-spring mechanism to give a proper click and tactile feedback, for the proper typing feel. Or so I’ve heard. They were manufactured mainly between the mid 80s and mid 90s, branded IBM and Lexmark. I’m sure I’ve used a Model M at some stage in my childhood, but not in the last number of years. This only adds to the intrigue and mystery, as does the rarity. I’ve been searching for one for a while at a reasonable price, though most sell for ridiculous money, particularly as some of them are over 20 years old! They have most definitely achieved antique status, and is probably the most usable antique on the market.
The Model M came in a number of flavours, some with trackpoints, trackballs and even an incredibly rare split ergonomic model (the M15). One recently sold for $1600! That could buy you a damn good system at the end of the day. I want to see what all the hype is about, and why so many people still use these keyboards. The only way really is to get one for myself, which may be an expensive exercise. IBM stopped making Model Ms a long time ago, though they still live on. Unicomp purchased the license for the buckling spring mechanism and manufactures the keyboards using the original designs, but often with improvements, such as USB connectors. From what I’ve read, the Unicomp KBs are of slightly inferior build quality to the IBM made ones, using lighter materials in some cases.
For info on anything keyboard related heard over to geekhack – these guys are serious about keyboards! I’ve extended my search to their forum, yielding a few potential models. There are some real collectors on there, and it doesn’t seem to be enough to own just one. One I have particularly had my eye on is the Unicomp Endurapro, seen in the picture. This is a buckling spring keyboard with an IBM-like trackpoint integrated. (This seems like a good time to declare my love of trackpoints as well; they are just awesome things. The first time I saw one, when I was much younger, I thought a pencil rubber had been wedged between the keyboard keys.) The mouse functionality is a definite plus, being able to use the keyboard on it’s own, plus I like the look it gives it. The one I’m looking at has blank key caps, like the DAS keyboard, which should be interesting as it is supposed to improve typing speed as well as looking completely pro. The price is rather steep though compared to free keyboards, and I don’t know whether to try and justify it as a long term investment in keyboard glory. It should last for many years, but will I get tired of it before then?
I would like to hear from anyone if they have used mechanical keyboards to find out if they are really that good. For now, I’m considering trawling the charity shops and secondhand stores in Belfast to see if an old Model M is knocking about. There must be some hiding out there!