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Input Devices Upgrades Hardware

Review of the Model M-Inspired Unicomp Customizer Keyboard 383

ThousandStars writes "I wrote a review of the Unicomp Customizer Keyboard, which is a modern version of the IBM and then Lexmark Model M much beloved by nerds and hackers. The pros of the Customizer: it's sturdy, remarkably similar to the Model M, has great tech support, and uses a USB interface. Oh, and it's Mac-friendly. The cons: at $69 it's somewhat expensive, and its noise won't be music to your cubemate's ears." Note: this is one of the very, very few buckling-spring keyboards you can get new these days, instead of prowling through thrift stores, eBay, and university dumpsters.
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Review of the Model M-Inspired Unicomp Customizer Keyboard

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  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:25AM (#23585981) Journal
    Um yeah, I used one until the PCB crapped out last year. Replaced it with a Das Keyboard [], which also has buckling springs. It's a little less sturdy than the Model M though, I wish I had gotten the Unicomp model.

    Maybe you just have weak hands?
  • by freenix ( 1294222 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:33AM (#23586109)

    The model M is not immortal and any good nerd has at least three in the closet. I have only had one of these die on me and it was probably a wiring problem that I can fix but it was nice to have more waiting. They seem to be going for about $25 on ebay, so the internet has not let you down by letting people share their love. Perfect knowledge and many providers is a fair market so $25 is a fair price for a used keyboard. Finding a cache in a dumpster is like finding several hundred dollars on the street and you should save them all for yourself, your friends or just to sell them.

    New keyboards like this are worth their price if you type a lot. It does feel good to type on and it will last forever. The only problem with the new ones, like the reviewer noticed, is the windows keys which decrease the size of Ctrl and Alt so that you might miss them.

  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:35AM (#23586131)
    That runs contrary to most other's experience and ergonomic principles. The buckling spring keyboard offers 3 types of feedback - visual (character on a screen), tactile (when the electrical contact is made, the key "gives"), and auditory (the famed "click"). Rubber dome keyboards only really offer 1 of these - visual. The tactile and the audible are generated by the key hitting the bottom of the stroke and are dependent on the force with which the key is struck, so typists tend to continue the stroke until the key bangs into the stop, then return the finger. In a buckling spring, it is possible to type without ever making contact with the physical limit of key travel, so finger motion and shock is reduced.

    In other words, you're a troll.
  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:44AM (#23586245)
    A quibble - Das Keyboard does NOT use buckling springs. It uses a different type of keyswitch - I'd guess Alps or similar. The old Northgate keyboards, also a cult fave, were similar. Similar tactile feel, but less of everything - less noise, less force feedback. Some prefer them over the stiffer and louder IBM keyboards.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:45AM (#23586269)

    Manufacturing is alive and well in the United States. The job growth from manufacturing isn't particularly strong though, as there is tons of automation. One guy running a couple of CNC lathes is more productive than 4 guys running manual lathes, and so on. Or something like Hyundai, where the spend less per vehicle on welding, but have higher consistency, because they are fully automated.
  • USB vs. PS/2 (Score:5, Informative)

    by chiph ( 523845 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:45AM (#23586271)
    If you're waffling between getting the USB version of the Customizer and the PS/2 (and intending to use it with a PS/2 to USB converter), get the USB model of the keyboard.

    I have the PS/2 Unicomp, and it draws too much current for most USB converters, so you get irregular text entry and occasional lockups. This prevents me from using it with USB-only computers, like my Mac. :(

    I would love it if Unicom put a two-port USB hub inside the keyboard, so I have a place to plug in the mouse and maybe a USB memory key.

    Chip H.
  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:49AM (#23586311)
    Another source for Model M's: []

    And for Northgate Omnikey's []

    So sayeth the Internet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:52AM (#23586355)
    Dude, I still have two working M's (this post courtesy of one of them) and wouldn't change them for anything, included the optimus maximus.
    And yes, I type quite a lot.

    As for being slowed down, well I happen to be also a keyboard player (I mean synthesizers) and prefer an unweighted touch to the traditional weighted piano keyboard. I will certainly play much better and faster on a unweighted keyboard than on a piano or weighted one, but I'll never dare to say that unweighted keyboards are much better than weighted ones to a classical pianist, even if I'm deeply convinced that it's true, because it's still important what we're used to and what we learned to play/type on.

    So, you probably don't like the old model M because you didn't spend a lot of time using it.
    If that's the case, please don't do it, or once you get used to it you'll spend the rest of your life wandering about flea markets and surplus stores for old model M's, spare parts and keycaps, etc.
  • No it doesn't. The Das Keyboard has Alps switches (which are noticeably inferior to buckling spring).
  • Matias Tactile Pro (Score:3, Informative)

    by ThousandStars ( 556222 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @09:56AM (#23586411) Homepage
    Note: this is one of the very, very few buckling-spring keyboards you can get new these days, instead of prowling through thrift stores, eBay, and university dumpsters.

    It's ThousandStars, the original submitter [] here. Note that you can also get a reborn Apple Extended II keyboard called the Matias Tactile Pro 2.0; I also reviewed it [], but unfavorably, and it suffers from a number of deficiencies the Customizer doesn't. Even Mac users (I am one) are better off with the Customizer.

  • Re:too big (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:01AM (#23586499)

    I have to disagree. I have a black Das Keyboard (you know, the one without markings). The numeric keyboard is a life-saver (somehow it's just not possible to touch-type the numbers above the keyboard)...
    Flamebait? How is that Flamebait? Fricking mod on crack...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:15AM (#23586699)
    According to [] they were more-specifically identified as model numbers 1391472, 1397681, 1370475, 1392464, 1392934,1395100.

    I have one connected to my Mac Mini at home and two spares in case anything happens to that one.
  • Re:Hear Much? (Score:3, Informative)

    by JPLemme ( 106723 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:18AM (#23586735)
    I love my clicky keyboards. The problem is that when you surf the web ^H^H^H stop to think about work-related things everyone around you knows it because of the silence.
  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:18AM (#23586739) Journal
    I've looked, but I haven't found any actual confirmation of that. Apparently the keyboard is made by Cherry, who makes the switches as well.

    You're right though, the switches are noticeably different than the Model M's. Inferior is a matter of opinion, they're a little quieter which is OK by me. I'm mostly disappointed by the light construction of the case. Also the board isn't as curved as the Model M, so it's a bit less ergonomic.
  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) * on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:21AM (#23586789)
    Model M keyboards turn up quite frequently on EBay.

    Just use the search term 'clicky'.

  • by FishWithAHammer ( 957772 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:21AM (#23586793)
    $69 for a keyboard isn't particularly expensive. True, keyboards around that price usually have whiz-bang features, but not always.

    G11 Gaming Keyboard - $69 [] (And while I like the feel of it for gaming, it sucks to do real work on!)

    Das Keyboard II - $79.99 []

    For an outfit as small as Unicomp seems to be, a somewhat minor markup over what it'd cost from somebody else is pretty reasonable.
  • Re:USB vs. PS/2 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:38AM (#23587041)
    There's a mod for the PS/2 keyboards to work with USB when power draw is too high. Basically, you solder two 4.7k ohm pull-up resistors on the keyboard's circuit board. These are connected to pull-up the clock and data lines.

    If you're wary of modding the keyboard, you can build an adapter like so:
  • by AHumbleOpinion ( 546848 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:50AM (#23587231) Homepage
    Unicomp also offers keyboards without the windows keys, models with control where caps lock is normally found too.
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:54AM (#23587315)
    The buckling spring is what gives the keyboard a satisfying feel when typing. I'm very much not a fan of the mushy "quiet" keyboards. There's just such a satisfying feel when typing on something that feels like it could be attached to a typewriter. :)

    The Model M's were the first keyboards I learned on and I was pleased as punch to find out people were still making them all these years later.

    I don't know about this new version they have but the one I bought is here: []

    Solid, durable, not likely to crap out on you. Not a slashvertisement but a testimonial.
  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @10:55AM (#23587335)
    There are some things in this world us lefties just have to learn to do right handed. Fire a rifle would be another one.

    Actually, while there aren't any worthwhile ergo left mice, there is a reasonable selection of ambi-mice available. I use a Razer Copperhead myself and find it very comfortable. I've also used some the upper tier microsoft mice and found them alright, until they stopped putting detents in the wheel.

    As for rifles... they do make plenty of left handed rifles, but learning to shoot right-handed would probably be a valuable skill, simply because you may have to use the equipment at hand, which will probably be right handed. I learned to golf RH for the same reason - my Dad wouldn't buy a set of left handed clubs to so I could hack around as a kid.

    How does the military account for handedness? Or is everybody just right handed, (like everybody is straight)?
  • by Benski ( 12045 ) on Thursday May 29, 2008 @11:04AM (#23587461)
    I had been using an old Model M (with the blue IBM logo) for the last 7-8 years. Bought a Unicomp recently to get windows keys and USB.

    It's awesome.

    but two nitpicks:
    The IBM Model M had two layers of key covers on each key. A blank peice that inserts into the keyboard base, and a cap with the letter inked on it that goes over. The Unicomp has the letters printed on the bottom peice, and no cap. I find that this effects the weight enough to be noticably different. I ended up swapping the peices over to the new Unicomp. Everything fit dead-on except for the Alt and Spacebar keys, and obviously the windows keys which are not present on the original IBM.

    Second, the Model M had a drainage system (for when I spill my coffee :) that is absent on the Unicomp.

"Help Mr. Wizard!" -- Tennessee Tuxedo