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What is "The Best Keyboard Ever Made"?

Mr.Amiga500

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I know the IBM Modem M is widely considered the best keyboard ever made. I've tried one and it is very nice. I'm wondering if there were other keyboards from that era or earlier that were even better, but nobody talks about them because they were on an obscure computer or terminal that wasn't popular. Hopefully somebody here has experience with the old and unusual computers and terminals of the 1970s and early 1980s. (I know there were lots of old crap keyboards too)

In my (very limited) experience so far, it seems the order goes something like this (ignoring crap keyboards):

buckling spring - IBM Model M (and variations)
Alps switch - SGI (and others)
Cherry switch - Amiga 1000
Mitsumi - Amiga 3000 (used to type this), Atari 1200XL

I'm especially interested in the old keyboards with keys made out of thick shiny plastic (usually black or brown like the Atari 1200XL). Was there an old keyboard with the IBM Model M feel - or better - but with thick high-quality plastic keys? (did any have metal keys??)
 

Mr.Amiga500

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Granted, the chair I tested was $1200 (in 1993!) but boy was it amazing. You just sit down and the data flows from your fingers.

That's interesting, but reaching for the mouse would probably be tedious - unless it had a built in trackball! Ooh... the ultimate would be a split buckling spring keyboard with thick 1970's style plastic keys (colour coded) and a built-in large trackball - on a comfortable firm leather chair. With a setup like that, you could sit back and control the universe. (...with a sly, sinister look on your face, you rub your hands and cackle with delight at your devious plans...:twisted:)
 

vwestlife

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buckling spring - IBM Model M (and variations)
The Model M was actually not the best from IBM. It had a buckling-spring mechanism on top of rubber-dome key switches. The older 83-key XT and 84-key AT keyboards used a buckling-spring mechanism on top of capacitive keyswitches. This gives a much more crisp and responsive feel.

There are five different main ways to design a keyboard, and they all had their own distinct feel:

Capacitive keyswitch: TRS-80, Tandy 1000/2000, classic Macintosh, Atari 1200XL, and many others in the '80s. Because the contact is done electrically, not mechanically, there is no "snap" to the key feel. Some sound extremely "clunky" (TRS-80, early Macintosh) due to mechanical reverberation of the whole keyboard unit. The stiffness of the springs varied widely; some were very light (early Tandy 1000), giving a harsh feeling of "banging away on a board." Others attempted to soften the feel by putting sponge below the keys, giving an expectedly spongey feel.

Capacitive keyswitch with buckling spring: vintage IBM, up through the 84-key AT keyboard. Extremely crisp tactile feel, loud and clickly but also light to the touch. Tough as a Sherman tank, precise as a Swiss watch. :)

Rubber dome keyswitch: became extremely common '90s PC clones, now virtually universal on desktop keyboards. The rubber dome collapses when you hit it and then pops back up when you release the key, giving the infamous "mushy" feel.

Rubber dome keyswitch with buckling spring: IBM/Lexmark 101-key Model M, plus some relabeled OEM versions (such as early '90s Dell). Clicky and tactile, but also heavy on the fingers, due to the added force needed to collapse the rubber dome.

Mechanical keyswitch: many '80s PC clones, Northgate & ALPS keyboards, etc. "Snappy" but also a bit heavy to the touch. The same design as a mechanical leaf switch, used as PC case reset buttons, refrigerator door light switches, and all sorts of other uses.

This is my IBM AT keyboard. I use with a Compaq PIII-866. :)

116klzl.jpg
 

Vlad

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It had a buckling-spring mechanism on top of rubber-dome key switches.
lol wut? Are you sure about that? I could have sworn the Model M was entirely mechanical. Mike! Little help? :p
 

Mr.Amiga500

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@vwestlife

Thanks for the interesting detailed post. :) I think your keyboard is the one I actually tested, not the Model M. So I guess that's the one I should be looking for. What if you need F11 or F12 though?

I suppose the fact that your keyboard is diesel makes it louder than if it was a gasoline powered keyboard. :D
 

Erik

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lol wut? Are you sure about that? I could have sworn the Model M was entirely mechanical. Mike! Little help? :p

Every Model M I've ever seen (and I've owned dozens) has been a pure buckling spring design. Not a rubber dome in the lot. . .
 

vwestlife

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Every Model M I've ever seen (and I've owned dozens) has been a pure buckling spring design. Not a rubber dome in the lot. . .
There is a definite difference in feel between it and the older XT/AT keyboards, though.

Even IBM typewriters had a change in keyboard feel when they apparently switched from the XT/AT-type design to the Model M-type design sometime in the mid- to late '80s.
 

Erik

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There is a definite difference in feel between it and the older XT/AT keyboards, though.

If there is it's fairly slight. I've been using IBM PC keyboards from 1981 forward and have numerous examples in my collection. Aside from some basics (keyboard layout, mostly) the overall feel is pretty much the same for all of them.

If anything the Model M keyboards have a slightly lighter touch.
 

closetofmysteries

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Sun 3/60

Sun 3/60

I learned to type on a manual typewriter (because we couldn't afford a computer when I was 10... I'd type my basic programs in at home to run on the Atari 800 at school!) so I've always appreciated a keyboard with a distinct throw.

I spent about 6 years on an Apple //e keyboard, where I honed my typing. But when I got to university, I found what for me was the best keyboard ever: the Sun 3/60. Just something about how much force it took to bang on that keyboard made me a much more productive typist.

Oh, and the control key was in the right place, of course! Perfect for emacs.

I went to work for Sun for a few years after that - they had just come out with the Sun4 keyboards, that had a shift lock (like most "modern" keyboards) but at least they did have a "unix localization" you could order to get the control key back in the right place.

A few years ago, I found the "Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite II" which I got for all my home and office machines. Its compact, but has a really good throw and feel. But for christmas, my wife bought me a "Das Keyboard II" - its all black with mechanical switches, and I'm typing like a maniac on it. Very nice keyboard, although it drives the people down the hall mad when I'm working...

Cheers,
--sma
 

Floppies_only

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I know the IBM Modem M is widely considered the best keyboard ever made. I've tried one and it is very nice. I'm wondering if there were other keyboards from that era or earlier that were even better, but nobody talks about them because they were on an obscure computer or terminal that wasn't popular.

The keyboard that I like the best is for Macintoshes with ADB connectors, i.e.: 68k machines like the SE or Classic. It is called the power user 105. I have two of these. The one that I like has the lightest touch I've ever felt on a keyboard. The keys give an audible click to indicate funtion.

But the bad thing about this keyboard is that I make a lot of mistakes when I type with it. I wish I knew why, or how to not do that. It would be a joy to compose with otherwise.

Sean
 

vwestlife

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If there is it's fairly slight. I've been using IBM PC keyboards from 1981 forward and have numerous examples in my collection. Aside from some basics (keyboard layout, mostly) the overall feel is pretty much the same for all of them.

If anything the Model M keyboards have a slightly lighter touch.
OK, I had the right idea but I got the specifics wrong. The older XT/AT keyboards do indeed use a buckling spring mechanism on top of a capacitance contact switch. The 101-key Model M uses a buckling spring mechanism on top of a rubber membrane sheet switch, not a rubber dome switch. The rubber membrane in the Model M slightly muffles the metallic clacking of the springs and gives the keys a bit of "give" to the touch.

This web page has detailed cutaway photos of exactly what makes a Model M keyboard tick, and also briefly explains the difference between it and the older XT/AT keyboards:
http://park16.wakwak.com/~ex4/kb/tech_bucklingspring_e.htm

bucklingspring_mov.gif
 

Mr.Amiga500

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@closetofmysteries

The Sun 3/60 keyboard looks interesting. Was it "clicky" like the IBMs or did it have Alps or Cherry switches?

@Floppies_only

The "Power User 105" causes you to type inaccurately? Is it the layout or is the touch so light that you accidentally depress keys? I like "light" touch (like the Amiga 1000), but I don't like "loose". If the "Power User 105" is like the Amiga 1000 keyboard, but "clicky", I'd probably love it. (I still want that 70's thick dark plastic though)


As for the "rubber vs. spring", there are cases where rubber is actually better. On Amiga keyboards, the spring ones (A500, A4000) are too stiff and increase in upward pressure the more you press (not buckling spring, but sprung keys). Other Amiga keyboards (A3000 and I think A1000, A2000) use a "rubber cup" in place of the spring and keypresses require much less pressure. Keys still have individual switches and it's not "rubber dome". (the Amiga spring keyboards also use membrane instead of PCB)
 

Yzzerdd

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I think it's about that time for me to toss in my $0.02.

I understand where Floppies_only is coming from about how the P.U. 105 slows him down. I've never used one, but the concept is still the same for me. When I change between keyboards (school's Acers, Dad's Gateway, My iMac, my vintage machines, etc) there are minute differences that throw me off to the point that I am hitting wrong keys. Just a few seconds of focus and I am good again. Sometimes, I have to scoot my keyboard to the left or right to get myself into the correct position. It is the minute changes that change everything.

I personally prefer the PC/XT and PC/AT keyboards over all. I've never used a PC/AT keyboard, but own an original keyboard used on the PC. I love the clickyness of it. I personally get the highest WPM on an old IBM PC keyboard. Granted, it makes people all angry when I get into a long typing session on my IBM.

When I move, I'd like to get my hands on a PC/AT keyboard. I'd like to get my hands on a different Y2K Compaq that is slightly faster as well to go along with they keyboard. Well, my "to buy" list is a long one, and is totally halted by the move.

--Ryan

P.S. PC/XT= Personal Computer eXtended just as PC/AT= Personal Computer Advanced Technology. Seems that is what it says on the sticker, I use "PC/XT" and "PC/AT" to describe them. I am not saying "PC and XT" or "PC and AT." Keep it in mind, probably the last time I'll slip this note in a message.
 

Vlad

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I've logged my fastest typing times on a Model M, but for some strange reason I kinda like laptop keyboards. The only thing I hate is when they change the layout. Like move the page up and down keys and the Home End keys somewhere else. As someone who writes a lot, that really gets annoying fast when editing.
 

Jorg

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I am a big Model M fan (I type this on a 1993 model that is with me for 15 yrs now).
Before I had an older one, now being used at one of my vintage pc's, as it has the DIN connector.

The only other keyboard that at least stood out from the rest was the one from an HP Vectra 286/12, that I used around the end of the 80's.
Totally different, but also nice, although I prefer the model M by far.

image.php
 

Anonymous Coward

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Do all of the model M keyboards use the rubber dome? I heard that the earlier model M keyboards and the later model M keyboards are completely different, and I can confirm this since I own both late 80's model M and early-mid 90's model M. I've taken apart both XT-83 keyboards and early model Ms on many occasions and they both seem to use capacitive keyswitch with buckling spring. I never saw any rubber domes in there...it's been a while though, maybe my memory is bad.
 
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vwestlife

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Do all of the model M keyboards use the rubber dome? I heard that the earlier model M keyboards and the later model M keyboards are completely different, and I can confirm this since I own both late 80's model M and early-mid 90's model M. I've taken apart both XT-83 keyboards and early model Ms on many occasions and they both seem to use capacitive keyswitch with buckling spring. I never saw any rubber domes in there...it's been a while though, maybe my memory is bad.
Read my correction above. ;) The Model M uses a rubber membrane sheet; the XT/AT keyboards use capacitive contact.

Push and hold a key down on the Model M, then try to push it down with more force -- you can feel the rubber squish a little. Do the same thing on an XT/AT keyboard and there is no squish because there is no rubber down there. :)
 

Mr.Amiga500

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I just got a clicky 1986 IBM Model M and an even clickier IBM AT keyboard. I must admit I'm a little disappointed. I thought an IBM clicky keyboard was "the mother of all keyboards". It is clicky and that's good I suppose, but keypresses require a little too much pressure. The case and the keys themselves are not the thick solid plastic I expected. They're thicker plastic than modern keyboards, but not compared to other keyboards of that era.


Edit: Now that I've had a couple days to get used to it, I now love the IBM AT keyboard! Out of 20 vintage keyboards I've tested, it feels the best - and it's definitely better than the Model M.
 
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