Mechanical Keyboards?
May 4, 2009 9:12 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend a mechanical keyboard?

I'm thinking of buying an old Apple Extended Keyboard II for my Windows PC. Will I have any problems with compatibility if I buy a ADB/USB adapter?

I noticed that the Apple keyboard is much cheaper than the IBM Model M and some of the newer mechanical keyboards. Is it because it isn't as high quality? I've heard that mechanical keyboards last forever, but do you think it's a good idea to buy a used 19-year-old keyboard? If not, would you please suggest a good alternative mechanical keyboard?

If you need any more clarification, please don't hesitate to ask. Thanks a bunch.
posted by bobertdude to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is what you're after, and if it's not then this is what you want.

I have an honest to god IBM version of the spacesaver model, predating the windows keys, and it still goes like a champ.
posted by NortonDC at 9:19 PM on May 4, 2009

Model M's are remarkable keyboards. They're amazingly resilient, but most importantly they're very maintainable; parts that are bad can usually be replaced without much difficulty and can be obtained without much trouble, mostly since there are so many of these resilient little keyboards lying around everywhere—at garage sales, at thrift shops, anywhere there are old machines decaying in piles. In fact, you'll often find that the only part of these old machines that works 100% is the keyboard; and so many clones of the Model M were made over the years that it's a virtual standard in many ways, with many other types of keyboards having interchangeable keys, keycaps, buckling springs, et cetera.

If you want a Model M, you shouldn't be one of those people who wastes two hundred dollars or whatever on a 'mint condition' keyboard with hand-painted letters in old germanic font from their original line in 1974 or whatever. Seriously, while the original Model M isn't necessarily everywhere, it's remarkably easy to find one or one very similar to it at a thrift store if you're so inclined. It takes some care and some looking, but you'll find one that's clean enough, and you can clean it yourself, replace some of the keycaps, and have it working nicely in no time.

Me, I don't have much satisfaction with the old Apple Extended II boards, though they're great—I just don't like huge keyboards. I used to feel as though I needed to spread out on my keyboard, as though I should have a bit of room, but after a little while on my Happy Hacking Lite 2, I realized it was actually slowing my down a bit to have that much space. Now I'm used to a small keyboard space, and I can type a good deal faster since I don't have to reach and I'm accustomed to some of the keystrings I used to get around on it. It was only $65—and, most importantly for me, it's got a fantastic key action, nice and clicky and responsive. Ah, and the finest part: the 'Control' key is in the right place. (Although you can reconfigure the keys with a set of switches on the back if there are things you want to switch around.) I feel like it's the most affordable and functional of the brand-new range of mechanical keyboards available right now.

It kind of depends, of course. Are your very attached to the idea of having an attached keypad?
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 PM on May 4, 2009

Best answer: I've used Apple Extended Keyboard IIs since around 2003 or so, and I love them. I think they've got a great feel, and they're extremely durable -- you can get them for $5, clean them, and they'll work great indefinitely. They're not quite the Model M, but they're of very high quality -- the most likely problem you'll see is that the slider that raises the height of the keyboard won't work right. The main reason that they're so cheap is that as you've noticed, you need an ADB adapter, which do come with limitations (my experience is that the Griffin iMate works great in any given OS once said OS is booted, but you'll need to have a spare "real" USB keyboard if you ever need to touch the BIOS) and aren't cheap.

The Extended Keyboard IIs have a very different feel than the Model Ms. The Extended Keyboards used ALPS mechanical keyswitches which were fairly clicky but had a rather light touch. The Model Ms used a buckling spring design that had just as much click, but required substantially more force per keystroke. I find the Extended Keyboards to be much less fatiguing over time. Not many people talk about the difference between ALPS switches and buckling spring designs, as they lump them into "those old huge clicky indestructable keyboards," but the actual feel is completely different. You should know which you prefer going in.

The PC equivalent to the Extended Keyboard II was the Omnikey series of keyboards made by Northgate in the late 80s and early 90s. They also used ALPS keyswitches, and had an extremely similar keyfeel. In the same way the Matias Tactile Pro purports to be a knockoff of the Extended Keyboard II keyfeel, the Avant Stellar line of keyboards is a knockoff of the Omnikeys. My feeling is that it's better to just get an old used one in decent shape, clean it, hook it up with the adapter, and then use the hell out of it.

Good luck!
posted by eschatfische at 9:59 PM on May 4, 2009

Yeah, and NortonDC is right on the money: if you want a new Model M-style board, full-size and extended in all the standard ways, the PCKeyboard folks are the ones who make exactly what you want.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 PM on May 4, 2009

I'm pretty happy with my Cherry G80-3000, which is a nice combination of solid clicky action, classic design and affordable (< $100) price. They also have other models, with more bells and whistles if that's your thing.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:37 PM on May 4, 2009

There is a huge difference between the buckling springs on the Model M and the Alps switches on the Apple Extended Keyboard. As eschatfische stated, the bucking springs have a much heavier keystroke and and also loud as hell, which will irritate anyone trying to work/sleep in the same room as you. They are, however, much easier for a person used to normal cheap rubber dome keyboards to get used to. The lighter Alps switches feel unprecise and are much easier to bottom out, which may be disconcerting at first.

I have a Unicomp SpaceSaver (buckling spring) and a Northgate Omnikey Evolution (Alps). They feel completely unlike each other, but both better than normal keyboards. I also don't like attached number pads, so both these boards aren't the ideal one. Most modern mechanical boards nowadays use Cherry switches, since Unicomp is the only one with the buckling spring technology and molds, and Alps doesn't make switches anymore. Cherry switches come in a wide variety, from clicky to quiet, firm to soft, so try to find out which switch you prefer.

Some other mechanical keyboards not mentioned above are:

Das Keyboard - known for their blank keyboard, but they have a normal printed one as well
ABS M1 Mechanical Keyboard - cheaper compared to some of the "boutique" options
Filco Majestouch Keyboards - imported from Japan, with some number pad-less options

And for more information and discussion there's the GeekHack forums.
posted by meowzilla at 11:23 PM on May 4, 2009

Seconding the recommendation for the Happy Hacking series of keyboards. They do not have the same clickity feel and battleship heft as the IBMs, but they are nice.
posted by zippy at 11:29 PM on May 4, 2009

Well, first of all, model m's are expensive? You can get them on ebay for around $20 or less! I bought a set of 8 for about $35 (that was around 6 years ago, though). They are indeed great keyboards, I only lost one by spilling water on it, one issue with them is that you can't really take them apart without breaking the case, but I did not worry too much about it because I had 7 spares. I did save all the keys from it so now just looking at ebay I see that I could buy a one with missing space bar for cool $0.99.

They are noisy and I don't like to use them at night, so I recently bought ABS 1 keyboard which is also bucking-spring but much quieter. It was on sale for $45 at newegg, but the sale is finished, usually they sell for $60. I also got a Lenovo SK-8815 keyboard which is rubber dome but has a nicer feel and tougher construction than regular keyboards, I use it right now because I did not yet receive the ABS M1, but of course a bucking spring design is much nicer.

I did not use northgate or apple keyboards so I can't comment on them.

If I were you I'd track down cheap model M on ebay (one strategy may be to try to buy a collection of spare keys and then wait for a missing-key keyboard to be listed). If you need at times to use a quieter buckling spring keyboard, wait for ABS M1 to go on sale again.. not sure if they often have sales, that was the first time I saw one.

I can send you a free space key if you pick up that missing space key keyboard that's listed there now..
posted by rainy at 12:53 AM on May 5, 2009

Apple Extended Keyboard II Vs IBM Model M

They don't build them like this anymore.
posted by caddis at 4:20 AM on May 5, 2009

I've used (and written about) a Datadesk keyboard, which is supposedly mechanically identical to the legendary Apple keyboard (as I understand it, Datadesk was the OEM for the Apple keyboard and released a house-label version). I had one that lasted me for about 11 years. I'd say that's a good lifespan for a keyboard.

I've got a new-old stock Datadesk right now, but for the time being, I'm trying out a brown-switch Majestouch (which I learned about through geekhack). They key action on the Majestouch is lighter, and it's got this menu key that does me no good on a Mac, but it's a very good keyboard.
posted by adamrice at 7:03 AM on May 5, 2009

I own the Unicomp Spacesaver mentioned above. I use it at work and it is awesome. I think I ended up paying a bit over $100 for mine when all was said and done. (Shipping the thing to Canada was expensive.) It's smaller than the Apple Extended Keyboard II, has a windows key, and uses buckling spring switches. It's a Model M keyboard clone. (In fact, I am pretty sure Unicomp used to make the IBM keyboards, if i'm not mistaken.)

If you were to get an Apple Extended Keyboard II, you'd need a USB adapter. Otherwise the keyboard should work fine in Windows. The only issue is that the alt and windows key would be mislabeled -- I think. You can find them on eBay all the time, though the keyboards are damn old now, so there is a matter of finding one in reasonable condition.
posted by chunking express at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: Ebay Model M

I've decided on buying the Model M, and this was the cheapest I could find. Does it look okay (in other words: is it fake)? It may seem like an odd question to ask, but I'm always worried of spending my money on fake stuff. Thanks!
posted by bobertdude at 5:03 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: I just shot out the order for a IBM Model M. Thanks to all who contributed.
posted by bobertdude at 7:08 PM on May 5, 2009

It's the right keyboard. It's from '90 and I've heard that from '93 onward they were not as good. This one looks exactly like the one I'm using which is from '84. Congrats. You're good for the next 30 years or so :-).
posted by rainy at 7:59 PM on May 5, 2009

Response by poster: i've had the keyboard for months and it's been great. i spilled water all over it and it worked wet. anyone thinking of buying one should go for it. i'm never gonna need to buy a new keyboard again. thanks metafilter! :D
posted by bobertdude at 8:42 PM on March 9, 2010

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