More Retro Keyboards of IBM PC, 3270, Reuters and Tople fame

Idk why but I keep buying these vintage keyboard recreations? Maybe just being bored in COVID isolation just make be more inclined to surf the net. I know, first world problems, but in looking at old keyboards, here are some wants:

  1. IBM Selectric keyboard. I still remember the first time I saw that crazy ball jumping up and down, what a strange thing, but I do remember loving the keyboard. It turns out that DAS actually makes one that tries to reproduce that feel. Many folks think the Model M (see below is similar) and the DAS isn’t as good, so maybe I already have one 🙂 but perhaps the closes is the IUBM Keyboard Model B (see below).
  2. Original Sun-2 workstation keyboard. i’m hard time actually fidning this keyboard. It had very low throw and was in the summer of 1983 or 1984, but the ones I can see don’t look like it. I had acutually used a Sun-1 board for my undergraduate research project (but that’s another story 🙂 The keyboard shown on Wikipedia looks pretty ordinary, but maybe that is just my memory. Until then I had use HP, Wyse-75 terminals and don’t remember them as particularly special.
  3. IBM Keyboard Model M. Ok, I got this one and it was in the IBM PC after 1985. I got one from Unicomp and I have to say the buckling spring is way better in memory than in real life. If feels kind of soft (which is the design I supposed). Still I only used it briefly because it is on a little used Windows gaming machine so I might swap it to try it. Super loud for sure! They use a cheaper membrane assembly than the Model F which uses capacitive keyboard. I just swapped it and am using it right now and I have to say, it is just not as nice as I remember. Oh well, nostaligia! The bucking springs do have a unqiue feel to them for sure, but I wouldn’t say they are as, well “precise” as a Cherry MX Blue or Gateron Blue (my current favroite is the Cherry MX Blue).
  4. IBM Keyboard Model F. This was the original steel constructed version that came out in 1981 which was the Model FXT in the original IBM PC, the Model M was the plastic cheaper version. But someone has brought them back for a breathtaking $400 ($550 is you want the Mac keys and the F1-F12 front printed and numpad layout 4), you can have a remade piece of history but it look very sweet with Chyros and this has a huge backorder list, so I can’t really wait to order one and even get their custom spring project that is coming up next. There are a huge number of variants, but the Model 4704 review is great which is a 77-key variant that was actually used on IBM banking terminals. The had lots of difrent models for the Model FXT. There was the Model 100 50 key macropad, Model 200 a 60% and model 300 with 60% with some additional keys and model 400 which was expanded with yet another set of keys to the right of the number pad block. The Model F is actualy the Model 200 aka F62 or Kishsaver and model 300 or F77 which has the number pad block but no function keys (so a little odd). The classic color is beige which is what IBM shipped with. All the Model Fs had a steel backpanel, but these have a steel chasis. The thing weights 4kgs so it will last a long time! This is not an exact duplicate but updated and uses the old look. It’s a USB 2.0 keyboard which is nice but not detachable from the case. And it used the original cork feet for the IBM PC XT which is nice. And it has that same crispness of key feel and quite a step up from Cherry MX Blue and has the flatter tone mainlhy because the chassis is different. They use die sublimiated PDT key caps (much sharper than the Unicomp). You can layout the keyblock anyway you want it (and the firmware setting is hard). I pulled the trigger on this keyboard and spent more on it than I can actually believe, but I think I’m supported a real enthusiast who is doing amazing work.
  5. IBM Keyboard Model B. This was before the buckling spring, this uses something called a beam spring which was even more complicated. It is going to be bigger and heavier and it was what used on the IBM 3270 and were absolute monsters. Yours for $600 from and up from the same person who did the Keyboard F. Woo hoo! These are going to come with Cherry MX x-shaped connectors so you could put on the Drop Matt3o MKL MT3 /dev/tty keycaps which are very close match to the IBM 3270 keys and shape that were lovingly crafted by Matt3o. I
  6. Reuters Cherry 80-9009. These were on 1990s Reuters terminals with special keycaps and the Cherry MX Clear and there is some nostalgia about them. I had not used them in the 1990s, but GMK makes specific pastel keycaps for them called the GMK 9009. The real keyboards were quite specialized and they you can’t just connect them, but you still get Cherry MX Clear (these are stiffer than the Cherry MX Blue and then have alot of pressure to get down to the bottom, so a very different feel). There are quite a few makers with retro-inspired colors like the AKKO 3084 9009 which take the 3084 layout, adds 9009 colors and comes with Cherry MX Blue, Brown and Red. Most folks don’t actualy like the MX Clear, so the MX Blue is probably the closest. Both EPOMAKER and YUNZI sell for $105 a wired AKKO 3084 9009 on Amazon. There doesn’t seem to be a wireless AKKO 3084 with the 9009 keys. Note that if you want those function keys, the 3087 which has 87 key and is lager with the traditional numberpad to the side but not in Bluetooth or in 9009 colors.

Then keyboards I’ve been looking at mainly to try different switches, the truth is that I have an embarrassment of keyboards right now, so mainly just looking for the perfect switch:

  1. Topre keyboards. These are not crappy membranes but Japanese made (Tokyo Press is the rough full name) and more expensive than Cherry MX (which are in turn more expesnive that Gateron, etc). An EPOMAKER Niz 2021 is a good example of keyboard in this configuration. It is $180 and is very silent, so a nice one to try as an alternative to the traditional mechanical keyboards with a like the Cherry MX line, but it has a dome as well, so softer. Interesting to try it. The best known of these are the HHKB (see below for their unique layout) Professional for $300 or the RealForce at $260. There don’t seem to be any Bluetooth variants of these keycaps. I’m trying the RealForce with the 55g keys, that seems to be the best and it is TKL and wired, but should be OK. I just pulled the trigger on Mechanical Keyboards for the Realforce R2 TKL White (I normally get white to match my MacBook 🙂 for $223, should be interesting to see this keyboard. It is made in Japan by Fujitsu, the makers of the TOPRE switch and they use the brand name RealForce and HHKB, so will be great to see the build quality.
  2. Kaith Box. I’m still waiting to the Anne Pro V2 in Kailh Box which is supposed to add a unique feel for $99
  3. Keychron K2 Hotswappable.I sometimes wonder where I should just get a K2 swappable for $100 so I can try different key switchs and caps that are compabile with Cherry MX for research purposes. We had a Keychron K2 in Gateron Blues and they were just OK, I like true Cherry MX Blues better I think.

Then there are some other brands that I’ve not tried but which keep coming up including these brands:

  1. GMMK. After all anything named Glorious has got to be good.
  2. Ducky. I’ve heard many good things about them. There’s the new Ducky One 3 which has a 65% keyboard
  3. DAS Keyboard. Another great name and Calvin says he likes them.
  4. Varmilo. Actually of all the keyboards I’ve got to say I like the look and feel of these the most. The Keychron feels a little flimsy and the Anne Pro is just so compact, but the Varmilo is really nicely laid out and the backlight is great. Their VCS87 is a Bluetooth version but it is not backlit and their wireless uses 4 AA batteries which is unfun to swap out.

A small aside about keyboard layouts and they all mean

In short there are alot of these, there is the standard IBM PC layout which has the tilde and backquote at the upper left and then an ESC key above it. The problem is that with layouts without the Function key row, you need to put those two keys somewhere. With the HHKB (Happy hacker keyboard layout), they move these over to the right where the Delete key lives, so when doing custom keyboards, those are the big decisions.

Personally, I don’t use the function keys that much but with a Mac this is there the dimming and lighting controls are. But since these are already on the user interface except for the dimming the screen I don’t need them that much. That’s why I normally use a 60% key which is smaller when I’m travelling.. This overloads the number keys with the functions and the special keys as well since I don’t use either too much that’s not much of a problem. As long as I can stil use the arrow keys.

If you can’t stand that, then the net bump up at 87-key or TKL (ten keyless) which deleted the number pad on the right. That’s probably the right compromise if you are not traveling, it is slightly bigger.

Finally the full key layout is 104 keys, these have both function keys and a number key. These can be good for gaming where you need lots of extra keys. But I think the 87-key layout is best.

Final thing is to find out if you can get a Mac layout for the Control, Option and Command keys.

I’m Rich & Co.

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