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IBM Input Devices Hardware

Enthusiast Resurrects IBM's Legendary 'Model F' Keyboard (popularmechanics.com) 184

An anonymous reader quotes Popular Mechanics: 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. The second coming of the high-quality Model F (not to be confused with its more affordable plastic successor, the Model M) isn't a throwback attention grab from IBM, nor a nostalgia play from Big Keyboard. Instead, it's the longtime work of a historian in love with the retro keyboard's unparalleled sound and feel, but frustrated by the limitations of actual decades-old tech.

The Model F Keyboards project, now taking preorders for the new line of authentic retro-boards, was started by Joe Strandberg, a Cornell University grad who's taken up keyboard wizardry as a nights-and-weekends hobby. He started as a collector and restorer of genuine Model F keyboards -- originally produced from 1981 to 1994 -- a process that familiarized him with their virtues and their flaws... Working with a factory in China, Strandberg has carefully overseen the reproduction process one step at time, from the springs to the unique powder-coating on the keyboard's zinc case. Despite the expense (Strandberg estimates spending $100,000 to revive the tooling necessary for the production run), it was the only viable option given the kind of abuse your average keyboard takes on a daily basis. "With 3D printing," he says, "the keyboard wouldn't last a year."

The first prototypes have just left the assembly line, and he's already racked up over a quarter of a million dollars in pre-orders. Does anyone else fondly remember IBM's hefty and trusty old keyboards?
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Enthusiast Resurrects IBM's Legendary 'Model F' Keyboard

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  • XT? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:45PM (#54770515)

    Does it come with an authentic XT connector so I have to use XT>PS/2>USB so I can use it with my modern computer?

    • by Bigbutt ( 65939 )

      My Model M has a 9 pin din with a connector to PS/2. Fortunately even the motherboard I bought last year still has PS/2 connectors or I'd have to add a PS/2 to USB and a scaffolding to keep things in place :) .

      [John]

      • I'd have to add a PS/2 to USB

        Does that even work?

        I had a bunch of Keytronic Flexpro ergo keyboards that had the XT five pin DIN connector. I used a DIN->PS/2 converter for years with good success. Several times I tried adding a PS/2->USB converter but it never worked for me.

        The Keytronic was decent. I needed it for my RSI. I believe Keytronic were the OEM for Sun's keyboards back in the day, which were decent. My last Flexpro died a few years ago. Now I'm waiting for bloody https://ultimatehackingkeyboar... [ultimateha...yboard.com] to deliver the keyboar

        • USB to PS/2 adapters are a mess.

          First there are the passive adapters. These will only work if the keyboard actually supports USB but comes with a PS/2 plug. You can usually identify these because they only have one PS/2 socket.

          Then there are active adapters which nearly always have two PS/2 sockets. In theory a well-engineered active adapter should work with any PS/2 perhiperal or AT keyboard (the AT and PS/2 keyboards used the same protocol but a different connector). In practice I have found them hit and

    • by Megane ( 129182 )

      In my experience, an "authentic" Model M has an RJ-style connector with the clips on the side instead of the top. Back in the day I got quite a few of both AT and PS/2 cables for them. The AT connector just needs a simple dongle adapter to PS/2. And of course they have no Windows keys.

      But I'd rather just replace its controller board with a micontroller to make a USB version.

    • by tsa ( 15680 )

      I connected a keyboard to my little iMac that way because I hated the keyboard that came with it.

  • Selectric (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:48PM (#54770523)
    long live Selectric!
  • by mschuyler ( 197441 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:48PM (#54770529) Homepage Journal

    I figured I would do that to "clean" it. About 500 parts sprung out. I never got it back together again.

    • I had one with my IBM PC-1. When I upgraded it to a 6MHz AT clone, and I had to use an AT keyboard, I thought I'd open it up and see why it sounded so interesting. Too bad, because I used to use it with my GRiDPad 1910, which a friend hacked a full size XT keyboard connector into for me.

  • Impressive—this article hasn't been up very long. You can look at the web site, but the order page is the sad.

    • by Known Nutter ( 988758 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:59PM (#54770579)
      I can't remember having seen a site slashdotted in a long time....

      I finally just got the order page up. Prices start at $325. No thanks.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What? That's barely more than the list price in 1981. Considering that the original was $670 in 2017-dollars, you're actually getting it at half-price!

        And if you think about it as something you can pass down to your children and grandchildren (like a cast iron skillet), the cost ends up being less than $1 per month.

        dom

      • I can't remember having seen a site slashdotted in a long time....

          I finally just got the order page up. Prices start at $325. No thanks.

        The site probably still ran on 1995 hardware.

  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:49PM (#54770533) Homepage

    Unicomp has been making brand new Model Ms for years, using the same tooling that was originally used by IBM to make them.

    What makes the Model F better, other than the historical angle? And if it's just the historical reasons, why bother with a $300 remake instead of the real thing, when you can just buy a new Model M from Unicomp for a lot less money and get the same feel with identical inauthenticity?

    If you're confused reading this, welcome to the club. :)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:00PM (#54770583)
      • Man... only a 2 key rollover on the Model M - that would be of no use whatsoever for me today.

        • by Megane ( 129182 )
          If true, the reason is likely a lack of diodes in the matrix to prevent ghosting. Diodes are required for true N-key rollover, but it should be possible to have pseudo-N-key rollover by allowing any number of keys from the same row or column, and stop generating keypresses when a ghost happens. (Modifier keys are usually on their own inputs to keep them out of the matrix.)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:08PM (#54770615)

      The Model M is buckling spring over a membrane. The Model F is buckling spring over a capacitive PCB. The F is a far more complex design, it's lighter to type, has a louder sound, full n-key rollover, and is much more durable.

      Crazy to think the Model M is the "cheap" solution, huh?

      • by pem ( 1013437 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @04:42PM (#54770943)
        Louder sound? That's what I'm looking for! My co-workers will be so happy to hear I'm replacing my Model M!
      • by cfalcon ( 779563 )

        > full n-key rollover

        It's like fucking impossible to get this working these days. I couldn't find a mobo that met my needs AND had a PS2 port, and in *practice*, N-key rollover is never supported in USB. Frustrating. My keyboard supports it, but that isn't enough without a PS2 port.

        • The Das Keyboard got Nkey to work over USB. From my understanding it connects as multiple keyboards as to keep that feature.

        • by Megane ( 129182 )

          The standard HID configuration for keyboards (the one that works with BIOS at boot time) has one byte of 8 modifier keys, plus 6 bytes for other keys. This limit comes from the "slow" 1.5Mbit speed of USB only allowing 8 bytes of data in a transaction. (I can't remember right now what the other byte is.) There are no key up or key down events, just a list of currently pressed keys. Anything beyond that requires the host to use a new HID configuration with a larger data response, and presumably needs the 12M

    • by Misagon ( 1135 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:12PM (#54770639)

      Some connoisseurs find that the Model F's mechanism has a somewhat nicer feel than the Model M's.
      Because the sensing is capacitive [deskthority.net] and not using a measly membrane, the mechanism is more durable and allows for N-key rollover [deskthority.net].

      Also, Unicomp does not make the Model M in a compact form factor (relatively speaking). IBM used to have a Space-Saving Keyboard [deskthority.net] back in the day, but vintage "SSK"s on the second-hand market are quite sought-after and therefore pricey.

      The build-quality of the buckling spring keyboards has also gradually gone down throughout the years. The Model F keyboards of old had case parts of parts of metal. Even the first Model M keyboards weight about half a kg (about a lb) more than those Model M keyboards made by Unicomp (and the last IBM-branded ones before that).

    • The only problem with Unicomp is the pointer stick... not quite a genuine Trackpoint (springier w/more travel than the original M2), but with the same flawed pointer-stick button design that wears out in a few years & eventually dies.

      I actually own two genuine Model M2 keyboards (a M, with pointer stick). The keyboards are fine, but the Trackpoint buttons died years ago... and apparently, it's NOT an easy repair.

    • by Guspaz ( 556486 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @06:00PM (#54771267)

      Unicomp keyboards have a pretty terrible build quality, and I speak as somebody who is typing this on a Unicomp ultra classic. The molding is terrible, with sharp flashing all over the place and on most keycaps. I had to spend a bunch of time with an xacto knife trimming off flashing to make the thing presentable (and to make it stop scratching me). The top plate of the keyboard also doesn't fit tightly to the bottom half, so the thing creaks if you press on the top plate.

      Overall, it's a nice typing experience, but they're severely overpriced for the very poor level of quality on offer.

    • Quite simple really.. The Model F have a market today, you can sell them to enthousiasts who used to own one.

      Owners of the Model M on the other hand are still enjoying their original product every day and have no reason to buy anything else today.

  • I have a stack of the original IBM XT keyboards in the storeroom. They are PC-XT, so will not work on newer ('286 and up) machines. And they are 83 key so do not have the number pad. They mate up nice to the stack of original PC-XT machines in the same room. ( no XT clones allowed, though there is a stack of salvaged clone motherboards.)

    • by Misagon ( 1135 )

      Oh, those without number pads are actually more sought after than the common type that do have them. If you could persuade your manager to let you have them ... *wink* *wink*.

      ... and there is firmware and build instructions freely available for building adapters from XT protocol to USB.

      • by rnturn ( 11092 )
        I've got one with the XT connector. Glad to hear there are conversion plans out there for USB. The old XT-to-PS/2 adapters are a PITB.
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @02:57PM (#54770571)

    But I'm old enough to remember being in a computing lab filled with clicky keyboards back then. Heck, I remember how a room filled with typewriters sounded.

    I'll take today's quiet keyboards, thank you very much.

    • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:09PM (#54770621) Homepage

      The IBM Model F and M were specifically designed to mimic the feel and sound of IBM Selectric typewriters, since those were pretty much THE STANDARD for typewriters in offices at the time.

      This way when employees would move from their Selectric to a computer, the keyboard would have a familiar feel and sound.

      So yeah, the wonderful feel of these keyboards goes back to the 1960s when IBM perfected the Selectric.

      • My junior-high typing class - where I learned how to type properly - had a mix of Selectrics and mechanical typewriters, while my folks had some portable mechanical made by Royal (IIRC - I can recall the plastic case/cover, anyway). I can remember the frustration with those manual typewriters - getting two or more different letters' strike bars jammed together, having to carefully reposition the paper when you needed to correct a typo you didn't immediately notice, replacing the ink ribbons (or having the r

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@@@world3...net> on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:21PM (#54770671) Homepage Journal

      Cherry MX series switches come in four basic types. One, I forget which, has a nice clicky feel but is also very quiet. A variety of keyboards use them and some aren't that expensive.

      • Cherry Brown.

        Matias also makes an Alps-alike that has similar properties.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Thanks. You are right, they keyboard I have now is MX Brown switches. Feels good and the sound is quiet but just audible enough for a little feedback in a quiet room.

      • The cherry brown is the quiet tactical switch. I have it for my keyboard. It still makes a lot of noise, far more then the membrane. But I think it is because I still haven't learned to type lightly.

    • by DogDude ( 805747 )
      I couldn't disagree more. It was wonderful white noise.
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      At my former employer, my cubicle neighbors hated my loud and fast typings on clicky Dell keyboards (not even Model M and F types)! They were mostly females too! :/ I even made a poll and posted their comments in my http://aqfl.net/node/5825 [aqfl.net] ... ;)

      • I like how you got four respondents who chose one of the "I don't use keyboards" options. There aren't that many jobs where a person won't at least occasionally need to use a keyboard (even if it's just to log one's hours).

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      But I'm old enough to remember being in a computing lab filled with clicky keyboards back then. Heck, I remember how a room filled with typewriters sounded.

      I'll take today's quiet keyboards, thank you very much.

      They make quiet mechanical keyboards - Cherry seems to have taken things to heart and have a line of quiet and noisy switches. I have a Logitech one using Cherry MX Browns and it's not as loud. Sure I can make it loud, but it's a lot quieter. Not as quiet as membrane/dome keyboards, but a LOT quieter

  • I'm sill using an original 1990's IBM Model M (PS2 style) every day. I've changed OS and computers over the decades but not the keyboard. I have to take it apart every few years and clean out the stuff from under the keys. It may be the reduced cost version of the Model F but it's still a usable, sturdy, and reliable keyboard.

    • Same here. Been using an IBM Model M since 1999. Sadly not the same M, as the keyboard decoder died in my last one, but when I got the keyboards in the late 90s I decided to snatch up a few spares because I knew they'd become harder to find with time.

  • by Shuh ( 13578 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:06PM (#54770605) Journal
    ... And Take My Money!
  • Really!! I mean Really!!! I just cleaned out my storage unit a few months back that had stuff in it for 20 years. I just tossed 50 of the original IBM keyboards because no one wanted them, Some of them with such light use they still had the original box. Posted them on eBay and Craigslist for months no-one wanted them. Now everyone wants one. WTH!!
    • by Misagon ( 1135 )

      Was it really Model M or Model F keyboards, and did you sell them for a reasonable price?

      Too often on eBay I see sellers trying to sell some vintage but crap rubber dome keyboard for much more than it is worth. I recon that they must have seen some real collectors' item sell for a lot and not recognised what made that one more special.
      And yes, different markets are different and prices fluctuate. In the US, the going price was around $30 for a regular Model M a few years ago, but over here in Sweden the goi

    • by vovin ( 12759 )

      My impression is that http://clickykeyboards.com/ [clickykeyboards.com] would have taken them off your hands and listed them as well.

      Real shame that ...

  • by niks42 ( 768188 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:26PM (#54770697)
    Buckling springs were a cost reduction over the ultimate keyboard design - which was Keyboard D and associated. Those were the "beam spring" keyboards that shipped with the IBM 3278, IBM 3279 and so on. Absolutely fantastic keyboards, wonderful touch, a near perfect force/displacement profile. They were quiet - so quiet, we had to put an electric clicker into the keyboards, software selectable so typists could hear the keystrokes.

    I had one for years and years. I had an interface that supplied it with the +8.5v, +5vand -2.2v it needed, took its parallel output and mapped it to an ASCII symbol set. I had one wired to a 6809 Forth machine for a few years, but it fell into disrepair when the IBM PC arrived, and suddenly I had a C compiler to code with.
  • ... then I'm going to want to have a clear rubber covering on it that can to protect it from things like accidental spills, even while using it (my roommate back in the day always referred to the one I had at the time as a keyboard condom). Back then, there were just the two styles of keyboard, either XT or extended XT style, and you could get a cover for either one. If something spills on it, you just wipe it with a damp cloth and you're done, or if it gets really bad you peel it off and wash it As far as I know they don't make those anymore because there's too many styles of keyboards now.
    • And thank god. Because while the idea of those were that they were washable, the reality was most people used them to avoid ever having to wash anything.

      Condom is a wrong comparison. I remember when seeing those keyboards "used condom" is more what came to mind.

      Eww.

  • The original site is unresponsive.
  • I love the tactile feedback of a great mechanical keyboard. At home and at work, when I'm typing, people know it. My poor office mate wears headphones most of the time, but he tells me "I can tell when you're inspired, because the noise level goes up significantly".
  • Anybody know if there's any kind of tactical feel/sound difference between the M and the F? I don't remember, specifically.
  • by williamyf ( 227051 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @03:51PM (#54770769)

    I used a Model F early in my career (@ 16 and 17 YO), then I moved to a Model M.

    Almost no difference.

    This is a pure retro/hipster/fad thing.

    Get a good modern Keyboard, where you get a good backlight, lightweight, and good mechanical (for your taste) key feedback, with modern set of keys and macro-recording, and you will be much better served than reliving the days of yore...

    my 2 cents YMMV

    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      Been using a Model M for a long time, for some reason I've never heard of the F until now. Maybe the feel is slightly different, maybe it isn't, as long as it's close I don't care about that. What I do care about is the N-key rollover. If you've ever done much gaming on a Model M, you have experienced this problem. An M-like keyboard with N-key rollover would be a godsend.

      That said, it's the M15 that's the real prize. I wonder if this guy could be talked into doing F-style internals with an M15-style erg
  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @04:11PM (#54770843)
    but I'd kill for the Microsoft natural layout with clicky keys. I've tried those split keyboards but they don't slant the keys at an angle so they're a mess.
    • This guy posted a nice little tenting system made out of craft foam sheets:
      https://www.reddit.com/r/Mecha... [reddit.com]
      http://imgur.com/a/7hhgx [imgur.com]

      I ended up designing one like it for my own split keyboard. Works great, feels great. Just don't spill soda on it.

      I'm also a fan of the Microsoft Natural layout. I got one back in 1994 that lasted for 15 years before the keys began malfunctioning, and I had to throw it out, sadly.
    • by guises ( 2423402 )
      You're talking about a Model M15 [clickykeyboards.com]. And yes, you're not the only one who would like one of those. You can try ebay, but expect to pay $800+ - they are rare and highly sought after.

      If this guy would do the F internals with the M15 form factor, I'd be completely sold.
  • I'm not ever going to see anything at popularmechanics.com, because they pop a "We refuse to show you a damn thing because you are blocking ads" page.

    Lies. I do not block ads.

    I block scripts.

    I'll see every ad you feel like blasting at me If. They. Are. Not. Scripts.

    But I'm not allowing every random malware creator on the planet who buys an ad slot on some random ad server to infect my PC. Period.

    popularmechanics.com is dead to me.

  • by fnj ( 64210 ) on Saturday July 08, 2017 @05:35PM (#54771177)

    Dye sublimation is better than just simple-minded surface printing (which is utterly unacceptable), but double-shot injection molding is preferred. Too bad they did not make the right choice. Big black mark.

  • The ability to plug in a USB drive or USB wireless transceiver for a mouse is very convenient. I would have added $10 to the price and added a couple of USB ports on the side / back of the keyboard.
  • I am typing on a Kinesis Advantage. I have too. My favourite started to fail. Keypresssss reeeepeeeats and other issues. So I went ahead and un-soldered all the brown stem MX keys and replaced them by blue stem MX keys.

    Now they click.

    I also built an Ergodox with blue ckickies. Which is a nice project. Thru hole and SMD practice.

    Which brings me to my point: clickies are cool. Heavy keyboards are cool. Slim, compact keyboards are cool.

    But if you are typing on the staggered design that was designed to a 150cm

    • by dindi ( 78034 )

      I have too = I have two :) ...lol ...hundreds wasted on keyboards and I cannot type :O

  • For that price, I want a keyboard with the control key in the correct location!

  • Back in the late 1970's, I learned to type on a manual typewriter. As a result, I developed a heavy typing touch, which served me well with 1980's keyboards like the VT-100 terminal. A few years later, we had VT220 terminals with LK-201 keyboards. Every key was in the right place, but the key action was lighter and I wore out them out periodically. Today, my typing touch is considerably lighter. The LK-250 is the PC (ancient DIN connector) version of the LK-201, with the alt key replacing the compose k

  • I got rid of one from my junk closet not long ago.

    The blasted thing capped my burst typing speed to about 90 wpm, by which point it kind of feels like running on wet sand—the wet sand of some strange Pop Rock planet.

    I was mainly using to install obscure distributions on old beater boxes.

    I'm presently typing on a Compaq 247429-101 Erase-Ease keyboard (though I never use the left thumb backspace key).

    This thing has been a total workhorse and it has a brilliantly long PS/2 cable.

    Every year or so it begin

  • I've been developing software since 1981 and those keyboards had the best tactile feel whose layout somehow results in less typos. I've used some keyboards that were so bad that they caused RSI.

    Both of my Windows tower computers at home have a IBM model F Keyboard with the function keys across the top. The oldest one has been holding up since 1993.
  • What's the appeal of noisy keyboards? I hate all that clicking and clacking. I have a rather fancy gaming keyboard I hardly use because the noise is so irritating it seriously detracts from my gaming. I have to wear headphones so the sounds of the game aren't overwhelmed by the keys.

    Quiet keys are one of the best things to ever happen to keyboards. And yes, I am old enough to have grown up with noisy keyboards and typewriters. I hated them, and I loved it when keys got quiet.

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