Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 18th Jul 2017 17:29 UTC
IBM

You may not know the Model F by name, but you know it by sound - the musical thwacking of flippers slapping away. The sound of the '80s office. The IBM Model F greeting the world in 1981 with a good ten pounds of die-cast zinc and keys that crash down on buckling metal springs as they descend. It's a sensation today's clickiest keyboards chase, but will never catch. And now it's coming back.

I used several of these growing up, and I've come to understand I'm the only one who didn't - and doesn't - like mechanical keyboards one bit - I find them tiring and way too loud. I want the thinnest possible keyboard with the shortest possible travel while still having a decent, satisfying, but very quiet click. I find Apple's Magic Keyboard is the exact right keyboard for me, but I also know I'll be one of the very few, especially on a site like OSNews.

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cade
Member since:
2009-02-28

Now you've done it, a theme very personal to me.
Here's one for people still deciding to venture in the mechanical keyboard space.

Here we go ....

My experiences with mechanical keyboards are diametrically opposite to some here.

Once I experienced a "mechanical" keyboard I could never go back. My first mechanical keyboard was the Unicomp "Model M" clone. I used it for about 4 years before losing a few keys. If I had known about the "nut and bolt" fix I would not have thrown it away but fixed it and still be using it today. The "fix" addresses cost cutting issues related to the manufacture of the Model M (not Model F) keyboard. I think I came across a Fujitsu (?) branded Model-M looking non-buckling-spring "quality" keyboard where they had a factory implemented "nut and bolt" type system sandwiching the internal plate/membrane layers together. So, it helps to know about the construction of the keyboard and deciding if it's "quality" or not.

Anyway, I loved the sound/feel of that Unicomp keyboard and actually made my typing experience more efficient/fun. When that Unicomp was gone and prior to purchasing my next mechanical keyboard, it was very difficult to go back to my former "lower quality" keyboards including HP rubber dome keyboard, Apple chiclet keyboard, Microsoft natural/wavy rubber dome keyboard. These classes of keyboard have no "feel" and no typing/finger related ergonomics; this was realized after extensive use of the former mechanical keyboard. For example, lacking of a real mechanism that offers feedback to the fingers about "optimum" key-press (bottoming key-presses being common).

I would argue that key-travel depth is important and should exist (to me, Apple chiclet-like keyboards are foolish). Take the extreme case, imagine typing all the time (say software development) on a glass panel (e.g. mobile phone effect); not good for your fingers, no opportunity for your finger actions to optimize for the key-presses.

After realizing the "mechanical keyboard" effect was real, i.e. could not go back to non-mechanical keyboard after using a mechanical keyboard for quite a while, the search was on for a new mechanical keyboard.

I wanted to replicate the "Model M" type experience (w.r.t sound and key-press) but using "Cherry MX" switches since I wanted to get experience with this alternate switch technology. Model M's have "heavy" keys which was fine for me. Testing a blue switch mechanical keyboard, in computer shop, felt too light. The data on green MX switches implied a heavier switch but back then, about three years ago, green MX switches were rare in computer stores and gaming/computing setups and so was difficult to find a model for testing. Anyway, I took the punt and ordered a green Cherry MX switch CoolerMaster Quickfire stealth keyboard.

During initial typing experience it was obvious the green MX switches were heavier than the blue cherry MX switches and I preferred the greens over the blues; both in sound and key-press load. However, the greens were lighter than the Model-M and I missed that Model-M type key-press feeling. I also preferred the sound of the Model-M, but the sound from this green MX switch stainless steel back-plate keyboard is still okay for me.

After more than two years on the green switches, and in terms of keyboard switches, cherry MX green switches would be the go-to switches for me (blues are too light). Regarding non-switch technology, I would still be interested in having a Model M/F type buckling spring mechanical keyboard in my arsenal of mechanical keyboards. I remember reading about a person in Australian agricultural industry who was using mechanical keyboards for his computing setup in country area with computing environment being a very dusty one. His model M's were working fine even when alot of dust penetrated into the interior of the keyboards. The same could not be said for a cherry MX keyboard (I believe it was a blue cherry MX switch DAS keyboard). The DAS is a good keyboard but an overly dusty environment was not meant to be handled by a conventional switch type (Cherry, Alps, etc.). The buckling spring system appears to handle overly dusty environments. Hence one of my reasons for respect of the Model F/M type bucking spring in addition to the keyboard experience they offer.


A few things I noticed with people using my mechanical keyboards include:
- Bottoming-out key-presses even with relatively high keypress-load being the "norm" due to their experiences with rubber-dome keyboards. I would remind people about letting their fingers feel the keys and then would notice the bottoming-out effect to lessen and also the "key-stomping"-like effect lessen. This is made possible when the key has a decent amount of travel and a quality/heavy spring mechanism to offer feedback to the finger; very obvious with those Model-M/F-type buckling springs and also the heavier cherry MX switches.

- Many people keep their forearms relatively stagnant and implicitly rely on twisting of their hand about a twist axis passing through their wrists; this is ergonomically non-optimal. A bit of lateral forearm motion helps with the typing experience.


I miss the stereotypical clicky-clacky audio effect of the Model F/M keyboards but I have acclimatized to the clicky sound of the Cherry MX green switch keyboard (differs from higher-pitch cherry MX blue sound, I prefer the sound of the greens). Being a lone software developer consultant I do not share an office with other people and so any "noise" from the keyboard was never going to upset anybody nearby.

FYI, I do many hours of coding per day and it's obvious to me the mechanical keyboard experience is real.

Siblings/friends who do much less typing than me realize the differences with a mechanical keyboard, especially after explaining my experiences/psychology with mechanical keyboards. It's another matter developing the respect for the mechanical keyboard effect and spending about $100 for a quality mechanical keyboard.

For most casual internet/office/etc. users they implicitly accept the cheap/low-quality/mass-produced keyboards that the manufacturers have fooled us into thinking for too many years that these keyboards are a "quality" attachment to the computer.

OTOH, if excessive typing translates to money (e.g. software development, sys admin, gaming, etc.) then in my book a mechanical keyboard is the way to go.

I chuckle abit when I read people complaining about "heavy" keys on a mechanical keyboard. I prefer heavier keys. The "heavy" green MX switches are lighter than the Model F/M buckling spring keys and still I prefer the heavier buckling springs. I would be interested in a heavier clicky/clacky green MX switch if it ever existed. Still, with these heavy switches my keyboard typing experience is "fluid" and "sane" (virtually no bottoming out of keys).

One analogy is with tennis racquets. In the 1970's/1980's my friends and I grew up swinging the much heavier wooden tennis racquets (say about 14 ounces) which was the "norm". Later, during recent decades many casual tennis players flock to the lighter 9-to-10 ounce carbon fibre tennis racquets while my friends and I use our own custom-modified weight/balance/etc, versions of the standard "players" (pro/hefty) type carbon fibre frame (modified by ourselves). My friends and I have acclimatized to the heavier player-like frames and find it difficult to use the lighter frames. The modified frames are just more natural to us and much more healthy as they dampen the load of the incoming hi-speed (high-momentum) tennis ball during multiple sets of tennis play.

Likewise, the mechanical keyboard is more natural to me and I do not feel "tired" when doing long hours of coding.

Mainstream tennis racquets got cheaper, lighter and less efficient but all along the way there was always available quality player/hefty/pro tennis frames.

Similarly with mechanical keyboards.

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