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July 7, 2019 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Are mechanical keyboards really good for gaming? [Eurogamer] “When it comes to PC gaming peripherals, stats and specs drive purchases. Gaming monitors became popular because they offered lower latency or higher refresh rates, while gaming mice boasted higher sensitivities and improved tracking accuracy. Yet this quantitative trend doesn't seem to apply to one peripheral in particular: mechanical keyboards. No single stat separates mechs from their non-mechanical counterparts, yet mechanical keyboards are routinely recommended over alternatives that cost a fraction of the price. Why is this the case? Are there genuine gaming advantages? The answers lie in how mechanical keyboards went from niche accessories known only to retro enthusiasts to a key part of the multi-million dollar esports industry in only a few years.”

• How and why I built my first mechanical keyboard [The Verge]
“Depending on who you ask, mechanical keyboards have any number of benefits. Some people like how long they last, others like the way they feel, and plenty of people claim that their tactile feedback makes them easier to use. For a lot of people, however, much of their appeal comes from customizability. You can buy different keycaps, change their mechanical switches, and in some cases even swap out their USB cables or microcontrollers to get a keyboard that’s tailored to your preferences. Modifying an existing keyboard will only get you so far, though. For the ultimate bespoke keyboard, you have to build one from scratch. The process won’t be for everyone. The components can be expensive, you’ll need to do a lot of soldering, and there’s every chance you might break something if you’re not careful. But at the end of the process you’ll end up with something that’s completely individual to you and your needs, whether it’s typing, gaming, or some horrific Frankenstein mix of the two.”
• The complete guide to mechanical keyboard switches for gaming [PC Gamer]
“There are two core keyboard types: Mechanical keyboards have individual key switches and metal springs. Rubber dome keyboards—most modern, cheap keyboards—have a sheet of rubber that provides the resistance, tactile feeling, and registers the keypress to the computer. Mechanical key switches give an unmistakable, stronger feedback as you type in the form of feeling a bump, hearing a click, and/or feeling a smooth bottom out to the keyboard’s base. Not only does it feel more satisfying than a rubber dome keyboard, it can be more precise, too. In the early days, choosing a gaming keyboard meant a binary decision of going with either Cherry MX or membrane. That’s no longer the case. That’s no longer the case. Instead, the market is now saturated with a ton of switches that offer a wide range of characteristics. The massive selection can be overwhelming even for a seasoned gamer. We’re hoping to make that decision a little less daunting with our keyboard switch guide.”
• You Don't Have to Spend Hundreds to Get a Really Good Keyboard [Gizmodo]
“If you’re not on a laptop or a phone look down at your keyboard. It’s probably the one that came with your PC. Maybe IT handed it over as they explained the no porn policy at the big company you work for. However you acquired it (and you almost certainly didn’t pay for it), there’s a very good chance it’s a hot piece of garbage. That isn’t your fault! The keyboards that ship with most towers and all-in-ones these days are not great. The same goes for the cheap $10 specials you pick up on Amazon. You need something better. You need a good keyboard. The problem is when you talk to someone in-the-know about keyboards they tend to point you towards...expensive ones. I know this because I have definitely suggested friends spend more than $200 on a keyboard before. But it doesn’t have to—it shouldn’t—be that way. There’s a middle-ground between the luxury models that keyboard nerds like myself adore and the absolute garbage that came with your computer or you spent the equivalent of two coffees on. So let’s go over what you should know when buying a decent keyboard.”
• Apple Should Make a Mechanical Keyboard [Vice]
“As a company, Apple has traditionally been known throughout its history for two things: It serves creative people from Jeff Goldblum to Grimes, and it hates buttons, going to extreme lengths to minimize or remove them from its designs. In some ways, that desire to ditch buttons has proven a major benefit for the tech industry in general—see the way the onscreen multitouch keyboard, an Apple original, came to define the smartphone and tablet—but in others, it’s been a major headache, such as with the MacBook Pro’s butterfly keys. But as Apple struggles to win over creatives with its most recent iterations of the MacBook Pro (to say nothing of its stagnating Mac desktop lineup), the company may want to consider doing something unprecedented, at least for them: It should leap on the buzz around the mechanical keyboard and spend some time building one of its own. Yes, yes, it goes against Apple’s ethos as a button minimizer—and as recent patent filings suggest, the company is actively heading in the opposite direction by experimenting with Force Touch enabled virtual keys for its laptops—but it would throw a pretty useful bone to the audience of pros that it’s struggling to keep happy.”
posted by Fizz (61 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thoroughly pleased at the increased availability and lower prices for mechanical keyboards over the last few years. I don't do any kind of gaming that would be improved by a mechanical keyboard, but they do a lot to keep the RSI at bay for me.
posted by asperity at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Apple already knows how to make the best keyboard in the world, and all I really want in an input device is for them to bring it back before my vintage A1314 fails.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:10 PM on July 7, 2019 [9 favorites]


I like a mechanical keyboard for the sheer tactile clicky clicky joy.
posted by Pastor of Muppets at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2019 [12 favorites]


I like a mechanical keyboard for the sheer tactile clicky clicky joy.

This.

Also, lights. Having back-lit keys is a plus.
posted by Fizz at 2:20 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've been a programmer for nearly 25 years and I don't think I've even seen a mechanical keyboard, at least not since the 80s. I must move in the wrong circles.
posted by pipeski at 2:39 PM on July 7, 2019


I'm mildly shocked that there's no mention of ergonomics. Possibly because of my Very Large Self, I get terrible hand cramps and wrist pain typing on non-ergonomic keyboards for longer than 2-3 hours (and I'm a programmer, so often 2-3+ hours typing). I understand that mechanical keyboards tend to be a bit wider than regular chiclets and the like, but the curve is what saves my wrists from daily pain.
posted by thoughtbox at 2:47 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


As a gamer I've never understood how mechanical keyboards would improve performance.

As a scientist and programmer however my mechanical keyboard (Cherry MX brown) sparks so much joy clackety clack clack (on preview: what everyone else said).
posted by Alex404 at 2:49 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Anyone else use a split keyboard?
posted by mfu at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


My home office is basically a keyboard graveyard at this point, to the extent that I have begun literally just giving away keyboards. After a few months trying to relive the loud, clicky glory days of my youth with Cherry Blue switches, I noticed that my wrists basically always hurt. Then I heard about how the Apple magic keyboard was apparently good for RSI because it’s so flat and has fairly short key travel.

Reader, I married it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:19 PM on July 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Half my co-workers are obsessed with mechanical keyboards and quite a few of them have built their own.
posted by octothorpe at 3:25 PM on July 7, 2019


RE: Apple Should Make a Mechanical Keyboard

One reason I have a long running resentment of Apple is they bought the maker of my favorite keyboard (at the time): the Fingerworks Touchstream. No switches, two big touchpads with the nascent multi-touch tech of the time. Single presses were keystrokes, two fingers was mouse, gestures for shortcuts, etc. It was a zero-force keyboard at a time when activation force for RSI related keyboards wasn't really something you could optimize for. Apple bought them, folded the technology into their phones and whatnot, and a gloriously customizable input method became "pinch" or "tap".

Between that and their puck mice and fragile keyboards, I think it'd be better if they just stopped "innovating" in this space.

RE: Mechanical keyboards
As you might have gathered from the above, I have shriveled up RSI hands/wrists. My current RSI board is a Freestyle Advantage, MX Red switches with o-rings to soften the feedback from bottoming out. (Also a Dvorak layout, sometimes foot pedal.) It's... awful for gaming but amazing for everything else.

I still manage to game some, and I knew this company had recently branched out from the small, desperate market of the afflicted to Xtreme E-Sports Gaming Keyboardz. So I picked up a Freestyle Edge (also MX Reds). It's a split ergo keyboard with fancy blue lights, but it's been nice so far for both gaming and typing.

Probably the weirdest thing is that I've been using a split keyboard with Dvorak and a flat keyboard with Qwerty for over 20 years. So depending on how my hands are angled, I'll touch type one way or the other. For gaming, I keep the Edge in Qwerty and get really confused for the first few seconds of text entry!

Also, if you're curious about mechanical keyboards, get a switch tester. It's a little desk toy with a grid of various key switches you can click mindlessly to drive people crazy. Or, you know, test switches before you buy a keyboard with them.

On preview: mfu, both of the above are split. The Edge can be shoulder width apart, but the Advantage has a set distance. I like to put a pointing device in the middle so I don't have to work my shoulders much to move the mouse.
posted by Anonymous Function at 3:29 PM on July 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Oh also I cannot highly enough recommend the enormous trackpad Apple makes for desktop use. It is a wonderful marvel.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


Computer preservationists are increasingly running into a new trouble restoring old machines: mechanical keyboard collectors pulling keyboards out of old terminals and consoles, modding in adaptors to use them with modern PCs, and adding them to big keyboard-only collections. Here's a representative tweet. You can debate the issue from the perspective of either hobby, but as I'm rooting for the computer restorers myself, I'm going to say that it's a bit like breaking up rare old grandfather clocks so you can hot-glue the cogs to your steampunk TV remote or whatever.

Sure, an IBM beam-spring keyboard really is a satisfying thing to type on, and sometimes I give my own a clickety-click as I walk by---but it's attached to the IBM 5100 it's always been attached to, and it's going to stay right there, gosh darnit. With the keyboard pulled, the rest of the machine would surely have been junked before I got to it.
posted by tss at 3:48 PM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm the only developer at work with a mechanical keyboard, because I brought my own, because I was spoiled from having one at home. It's slightly confusing to people that I have a gaming keyboard at work, but whatever.

Unfortunately now my home keyboard is now a not-great-feeling Logitech wireless thing -- because I can switch it seamlessly between my PC and my Monome Teletype Eurorack module via a Logitech Unifying dongle.

(Having two QWERTY keyboards on my desk along with all the music gear just wasn't going to happen, the USB KVM switch I tried was an utter failure and passive USB switches result in something like a 3-second delay during which my computer's audio cuts out, which wasn't acceptable while using it for music production...)
posted by Foosnark at 3:57 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I just recently purchased an additional mechanical keyboard so that I have one for both work and for home office situations. Once you are accustomed to a mechanical keyboard it's pretty difficult to go back to one that is not.

I've never been able to enjoy the chiclet style of keyboards that are so prevalent in our office (I suspect because of cost). Though I do understand that if you have RSI, these types of keyboards are often a bit easier to live and work with, so do you doing you.
posted by Fizz at 4:02 PM on July 7, 2019


After a few months trying to relive the loud, clicky glory days of my youth with Cherry Blue switches, I noticed that my wrists basically always hurt. Then I heard about how the Apple magic keyboard was apparently good for RSI because it’s so flat and has fairly short key travel.

The nice thing about the mech keyboard renaissance is that there are a ton of options for both activation force and travel. I like Brown switches, which require way less force than the clicky ones like Blues but give more tactile feedback than the "pro gamer" linear ones like Reds.

Although for extremely low travel, you're still looking at membranes, and Apple's "Magic" line really does excel there, especially the newer models.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2019


I don't know about switches but my heart aches for spherical keycaps.
posted by fleacircus at 4:05 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


but my heart aches for spherical keycaps.
Here you go. Enjoy.
posted by Fizz at 4:15 PM on July 7, 2019


Just last Friday I bought a mechanical HP classic wired keyboard to help me through a long weekend of typing. It cost €14.99 and clickety clacked away jes' fine. It was right there on the shelf next some multi-€100s gamer keyboards. I am not a gamer so have no idea how it would do for that purpose, but for typing it was right on.
posted by chavenet at 4:17 PM on July 7, 2019


I am a diehard adherent of the IBM Model M. I've been typing on (not the same) one for 30 years. Unicomp sells new ones with USB plugs; these days I use a black one with black keys that doesn't seem to be available anymore. I've been sorely tempted by the remake of the Model F, mostly for the cool retro metal chassis, but I think any change in keyboard layout at this point would just be irritating to me - I don't even have Windows keys. Every once in a while I get jealous of all the cool keycap sets the Cherry MX kids get but I've never touched a Cherry keyboard in person and I am skeptical that the buckling spring mechanism of the classic IBM keyboards can be improved upon.
posted by jordemort at 4:52 PM on July 7, 2019 [7 favorites]


Tldr; Gaming peripherals tend to be built to take the abuse that manchildren dish out, and much like a good pair of boots, spending the extra cash on a no-frills gaming keyboard will save you money in the long run.

As I tended to wreck the inexpensive input peripherals that came with desktop computers, I made a decision a while ago to pick up gaming input devices. First, with a Microsoft Sidewinder mouse, and given how much I liked that, I got a Logitech G9 at work when HP.com blew them out for about $35. The appeal was manifold - I could easily set the weight of the mouse, it had high DPI optics that I could downshift for detail work in Photoshop, and it's corded - the fewer batteries I dispose of in my life, the better. It also came with two different grips, which ultimately just helped extend the life of the exterior. Had I known the G9 would become something of a legend, I might have bought more for that price. The mouse wheel on my Sidewinder eventually stopped responding, and I went to buy a G9 to replace it, only to find they were commanding $200-$300 on Amazon a few years ago. Looking now, both the G9 and the Sidewinder mouse are still absurdly priced in the secondhand market.

But this is about keyboards.

In the late 90s, I had a Thinkpad, and got hooked on the Trackpoint. At a computer show (do those still happen?), I found someone selling external IBM keyboards with the Trackpoint, in Thinkpad black, and I bought all two of them that they had. I don't recall if they were truly mechanical, but they were clacky, tactile keyboards. By the time the second one bit the dust, USB had long been in fashion, but all the keyboards at work were slim wireless keyboards. I picked up a slim wired keyboard, which looked nice, but typed like a laptop keyboard, and before long, was exhibiting signs of wear indicating it was on the way out.

Around the time, I had just purpose-built a custom desk of my own rude design, and the keyboard tray I'd modified to fit on there didn't give me a lot of room for the mouse. I wanted a keyboard that would last, and I liked the trim design of gaming keyboards, but also wanted a keypad, because, well, I worked as a cashier when I was 16 and once you learn a keypad, if you continue to work in situations where you use a lot of numbers, it's hard to go without. I stumbled upon the CoolerMaster Quickfire TK just after it had been discontinued. Black keyboard, white LED backlighting, Cherry MX Brown mechanical switches, and a unique layout that got a few inches back on the keyboard tray without sacrificing a built-in number pad.

Absolutely every place that had a listing for them was sold out and was not getting any more in stock - the only exception was Fry's, which had inventory, but you could only buy them in-store - not convenient when you live in Philadelphia. Happily, a friend of mine had recently moved to California, and picked one of the last ones up for me, and that was over five years ago. So far, so good.

If I'm hard on keyboards, my wife is an uncaring brute. She's never not wrecked a space bar, and after going through countless cheap keyboards, I recalled my LAN party days, and the kind of absurd key slamming people around me did, and I convinced her to come with me to Microcenter, which we are fortunate enough to have nearby. She dropped about $100 on some gaming keyboard with mechanical switches and it's done an incredible job holding up. Humorously, she leaves the backlighting on a rainbow palette cycle. She always made fun of PC gaming peripheral LED nonsense - rightly so - but given more options than anyone would need w/r/t keyboard backlighting, she basically leaves it in gaudy demo mode, and that still makes me chuckle.
posted by Leviathant at 5:49 PM on July 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


Here you go. Enjoy.

Newww, I mean like this.
posted by fleacircus at 6:24 PM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


In the late 90s, I had a Thinkpad, and got hooked on the Trackpoint.

We have thinkpads for our work computers and they have track pads. In another universe this completely takes off and instead of touchpads, we just have giant round dots. Hmm...
posted by Fizz at 6:36 PM on July 7, 2019


Another vote that's ride or die for my Model M. Hell, I'm typing this right now on my Lenovo Y900 that I got for a damn good sale price not only because it has a huge screen which is a boon for my use case (always plugged in, portable workstation basically) but also because it touts a mechanical keyboard that is nice and clicky and responsive and a pleasure to be honest.

I don't want to bury the lede and get into how it's better or worse potentially for gaming but I know it's overall a better thing for me and my use case to have a keyboard that's not made by the lowest bidder and/or a well built but zero travel monstrosity (I'm looking at you Apple).

*click*

*clack*
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:55 PM on July 7, 2019


I've also never tried a Model F but would love to, but that price point. Ditto for the good and/or DIY split keyboards...
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:58 PM on July 7, 2019


I will say that playing Typing of the Dead as a teenager on a Model M did make for a far more viscerally satisfying experience overall
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:05 PM on July 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


My favorite keyboard ever was from an RS/6000. It was pretty much identical mechanically and electrically to the pack-in AT keyboard, but had a mini-DIN instead of the full size DIN plug and was about half the weight. It still had the steel backplate for stiffness, but it wasn't overbuilt to the point of being a practical bludgeoning weapon.

IBM/Lexmark's 1996-era membrane boards were also quite good because they managed to retain the tactile feedback and positive feel while being far quieter.

The second best keyboard ever was a programmable job from the late 80s or early 90s. It had the same excellent tactile feedback as the buckling spring boards, but had a much lower break over force. Unlike some modern clicky boards, however, it still provided sufficient resistance to avoid inadvertant key presses when resting one's fingers on the keys. Sadly, I can't for the life of me recall who made the damn thing
posted by wierdo at 7:29 PM on July 7, 2019


My switch to mechanical keyboards was actually for gaming, but not for the typical tactile/ergo reasons.

I bought one because membrane keyboards kept failing after a year of me using them. My not-super-fancy mechanical has fared for quite a few years now.
posted by mitabrev at 8:02 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Another vote that's ride or die for my Model M.

I keep one on the mantle in case I have to fight off a horde of marauding orcs.

I'm mildly shocked that there's no mention of ergonomics.

The Dactyl-ManuForm is so grotesque it wraps around to being a bit charming, if you want to print your own.

More here:
https://www.allthingsergo.com/the-best-ergonomic-mechanical-keyboards/. The list includes off-the-rack and kitbased ergonomic mechanical keyboards.

see also: tokyo mechanical keyboard (and kit) store

Finally: searching for 'ergonomic' in r/MechanicalKeyboards

And the ergonomic subforum on geekhack.org keyboard site
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:03 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Digging in geekhack a bit more, here's a MEM - a 3d printed modular ergonomic mouse
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:06 PM on July 7, 2019


My unicorn wish list:
- fully split
- tentable to 45° or so
- capable of negative slope with a palm rest
- backlit keys
- actual Apple keycaps with function/media keys
- usb
- available with tactile, non-clicky switches, preferably short travel

I don’t know why I basically have to 3D print an Ergodox to get this.
posted by a halcyon day at 8:19 PM on July 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Masterkeys S is pretty decent if you just want some keys in a rectangle that go clicky clicky.
posted by ethansr at 9:27 PM on July 7, 2019


As a gamer I've never understood how mechanical keyboards would improve performance.

One advantage of a mechanical keyboard over a membrane is that the activation point is higher - on the tactile mx switches for example, the 'bump' half way down is when you've activated the key, while a dome membrane doesn't activate unti you bottom out, i.e. literally press the key all the way down. Combine that with a lighter spring version, if you do it lightly and only go down to the activation point, you will get a faster press rate. It's also very consistent and reliable, while membrane keyboards get worse as the rubber wears out. Kinda niche though unless you're a pro starcraft player or something.

Another issue is n-key rollover. Cheap keyboards use a matrix that works only if multiple keys won't be held down simultaneously. So for gaming, if you hold down three or four keys at once (for example, two directions for a diagonal move, plus jump, plus fire) it can end up missing a keypress entirely, or even adding an additional 'ghost' keypress as it interprets the combined signals as a different letter. More expensive keyboards such as mechanicals give individual lines to (some or all) keys, so they can't be misinterpreted, with the common ones being 10-key rollover i.e. it will correctly handle up to 10 keys pressed at once, or n-key rollover, where it will handle literally all of them at once.

Incidentally, scissor switches such as found in slightly older apple keyboards (pre the latest butterfly disaster) are a kind of mechanical hybrid. They have the rubber domes of a standard membrane keyboard, but have a little mechanism a bit like a pair of scissors on each side to balance and support the key as it goes down. They also usually have a very short travel, which is why they're common in better laptop keyboards and for example apple's desktop keyboard - the combination of smooth, short travel is very popular for a reason, though I'm not personally a fan.

I grew up learning on bucking spring model-m knockoff keyboards, and then at home ended up on mushy membrane keyboards, so I naturally hammer the keyboard far too hard, and used to wear out membrane keyboards about every 6 to 12 months. Switched to cherry mx mechanicals at home and work, and though I still mostly bottom out the keys, I'm slowly, slowly getting better at hitting them more lightly with the tactile feedback, have a lot less finger strain due to the spring cushioning the impact and they're still going fine some 6 years later. And they've now cost less than the cheap membranes would have during the same period.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 11:39 PM on July 7, 2019 [4 favorites]


I'm mechanical-keyboard curious, but worry that getting one will spoil me and make my laptop-dependant job more difficult. I got one of these gimmicky things for extended writing sessions on my phone and it's a massive improvement over tapping on a screen.
posted by St. Oops at 11:52 PM on July 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Oh, right, hot takes about the Apple butterfly mechanism aside,* the standalone Magic Keyboard with the butterfly mechanism but also proper amounts of key travel is really great overall, if you're okay with it not feeling like a big loud mechanical keyboard. It feels a lot "crisper" than the previous-generation scissor switch mechanism. And for gaming, there was a thing some months ago that determined it's arguably the best gaming keyboard just because there's so little distance you have to actually press the keycaps down in order to actuate the key.

*which are honestly probably pretty well merited in their laptops, at least — even a very low rate of failure can wind up being significantly greater than before, especially in something like a keyboard that will likely undergo literally hundreds of thousands or millions of keystrokes in its lifetime, leaving aside the extremely polarizing "effectively zero key travel" feel.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:42 AM on July 8, 2019


oh also I got a TextBlade beta test ("TREG") unit a couple years back and at this point I kind of never expect it to go to full launch, not because it has issues, but because of a constant sense of scope/feature creep on the part of the makers. It's not the greatest typing experience in the world (though if it stayed more securely in place during use, that would absolutely help), but it does certainly stand head and shoulders above any other pocketable keyboard for usability.

The downside being that, well, most of the time when I'm using my phone or iPad, I'm not planning on typing something so long that it would be faster to find a flat, solid surface to place my phone/iPad onto and then start typing on an external keyboard that is itself also on a flat, solid surface. ƪ(˘∇˘)ʃ
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:14 AM on July 8, 2019


Switched to cherry mx mechanicals at home and work, and though I still mostly bottom out the keys, I'm slowly, slowly getting better at hitting them more lightly with the tactile feedback, have a lot less finger strain due to the spring cushioning the impact and they're still going fine some 6 years later. And they've now cost less than the cheap membranes would have during the same period.
I have a Corsair keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches from a few years ago. Back when I bought it, I was having wrist trouble and you couldn't easily try out or buy mechanical keyboards in the UK without going to specialist gamer shops, so off I toddled to Overclockers UK. (These days, you see them in the likes of PC World and even Argos.) It looks like something you might find in a teenage boy's bedroom, with red backlighting.

I just find it too noisy to use day to day! When I'm typing, it's often late at night because that's when I find I work best for some reason, so it's quiet outside, it's quiet in the house, and the keyboard sounds like a herd of elephants in tap-dancing shoes marauding down the hallway. I don't know if it's the Cherry switches themselves or the way I type. I need to get better at not bottoming out on the keys, I guess, but it's been years and I haven't been able to do it yet. How did you manage to do it? Did you just mindfully learn to type lightly?

I spent four years working opposite someone with a Model M keyboard - a proper 1980s Model M, goodness knows where he'd got it from. My hearing is still recovering.
posted by winterhill at 2:46 AM on July 8, 2019


My home office is basically a keyboard graveyard at this point

Same, because for years I only used one type at a time and needed multiples of whatever that was, plus backups.

I don't game, but I'm really happy about the prices and availability lately.

I've always been curious about the Unicomps, but never could get a good read on them. The one I'm using now has brown knock offs.
posted by bongo_x at 3:23 AM on July 8, 2019


So I'm going to relate the same story I do every time this gets discussed. Here we go:

I was having wrist troubles circa 1998 due to how much time I spent on a keyboard -- whatever keyboard my computer at home or work happened to have. I switched to a Kinesis Classic, which is ergonomic in layout, designed for minimal hand moving and good wrist support, and has mechanical keys. 20+ years later I'm still using their keyboards, and my wrists are still working.

I've gone through a few, mainly due to having employers buy them for me and also so I didn't have to use a PS/2 to USB adapter. The current model is the Kinesis Advantage 2, which is available with Cherry MX Brown or Cherry MX Red switches (I use the brown). It's also hardware programmable (remapping + macros) and supports external footpedals that show up as just normal keypresses or macro'd key combinations (making them work in basically any application with no special configuration). Also works great for gaming (my home one has thousands of hours of FPSes and other games on it).

That being said:

I'm mechanical-keyboard curious, but worry that getting one will spoil me and make my laptop-dependant job more difficult.

I can't speak for you personally, but I can say that for me it hasn't been an issue. I work on a Macbook, and when I'm at my desk I have my fancy keyboard and when I'm not I use the built-in keyboard and in 20 years of having a similar setup I haven't lost my ability to work with other keyboards. I probably type a little bit faster on my Kinesis but I spend 30-40% of my time without it and it's all good.
posted by tocts at 4:30 AM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, I bought a mechanical keyboard for my home Linux box to replace a worn Logitech with standard squishy keys. This was a cheap one (about £30+40), a 87-key slab of black plastic with clicky Cherry-knockoff switches and removable keycaps (it even came with a keycap puller). There was some sort of hardcore/31337 logo/branding on it, suggesting that it was a play for the gamer market.

So far, I've been quite satisfied with it; it definitely feels more satisfying to type on than a generic squishy PC keyboard, and despite being cheaper than name-brand mechanical keyboards, it seems to be solid and reliable. (I don't play games on it, so not sure whether it measures up for gaming.) A while ago, after reading about custom keycaps, I ordered a few sets; it's currently wearing the TEX ADA keycap set, though I'm waiting for my Danger Zone keys to be manufactured and shipped.
posted by acb at 5:19 AM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Side note of shamelessness: if any of y'all have an Ergodox that you tried and didn't like, well, maybe let a fella know and maybe we can work something out.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:29 AM on July 8, 2019


Apropos of not entirely nothing, watch out with some of those vintage keyboards, particularly third-party Mac ones from the mid-nineties. I remember a friend, idling on an IRC channel back then, randomly emitting:

welcome datacomp

Turns out the ROM inside the keyboard was hardcoded to send that string no matter the context. Some amusing examples, caught as a fly in amber, on the Internet...
posted by Jubal Kessler at 5:50 AM on July 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


Btw, as far as DIY keyboards go, what I'd like to see is miniature keyboard assemblies with the size and form factor of, say, the Psion 5MX. Either caseless circuit boards with keys on top and a USB output or, paired with a screen, as cases for Raspberry Pi-class ARM boards.

(I'm still annoyed that the Gemini PDA I crowdfunded, which was listed as an Android or Linux device, is not actually usable with Linux. What I'd like to see is a case shaped like it one can slot something proven to work, like a Raspberry Pi Zero, into.)
posted by acb at 6:44 AM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I am also super curious about mechanical keyboards but there's a problem with the shopping experience: there are SO MANY different options that are not testable through just looking at the thing on a screen. The whole point (for me) is to find a keyboard that feels great to use - but how the hell am I supposed to test them out? I need there to be a place that has all of the various switches in use on different keyboards that I can go to and test drive. But to my knowledge, this place does not exist.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:18 AM on July 8, 2019


ASR-33 or GTFO.

kaZACK kaZACK kaZACK kaZACK
posted by flabdablet at 7:23 AM on July 8, 2019


I need there to be a place that has all of the various switches in use on different keyboards that I can go to and test drive. But to my knowledge, this place does not exist.
I went to a specialist gamer shop that happened to be close to my parents' house. They had several keyboards on display, out of the box, to be tested out. I'm not a gamer, but it was the only place I could find where you could actually sit down at a keyboard and test drive. (I then bought the keyboard from that shop, rather than going "thanks for letting me sit and test all your keyboards, I'm off home to buy my favourite from Amazon".)

I'm in the UK, you probably don't want to travel to Overclockers UK, but there'll be something similar in your city.
posted by winterhill at 7:39 AM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I need there to be a place that has all of the various switches in use on different keyboards that I can go to and test drive.

So, it's not free or anything but as mentioned above, there are various switch testers [1 2 3 as examples] available that at least partially get you there. Obviously it's not the same as typing on a full keyboard, but it can give you an idea of what the differences are.

(I didn't use one personally -- I started using my beloved Kinesis keyboard before mechanical switch mania and the rise of Cherry switches and I don't honestly even know if the early models c. 1998 were the same kinds of switches as the modern ones -- but I have had coworkers get switch testers to get a feel for what kind they want to use in a keyboard.)
posted by tocts at 8:00 AM on July 8, 2019


I've always been curious about the Unicomps, but never could get a good read on them. The one I'm using now has brown knock offs.

I own a pair of Unicomp Classics. Bought the second one while the first one was in for service, because I couldn't wait.
posted by mikelieman at 8:26 AM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


Mechanical keyboards? That's where I'm a viking!

While I cannot say that it was (strictly-speaking) my first, it was certainly the most formative, so I'll pour one out here for my IBM 5150 with the model F, which taught me the joy of mechanical keys and the correct placement of the Control Key.

From there I spent years on a model M - primarily a much-loved spacesaver Model M, though these days I spend my working hours banging away on a more mac friendly option, the Matias mini tactile pro. I'm pretty split on my love for buckling spring vs Alps-alike keyswitches at this point - the spacebar twhock is slightly more rewarding on the model M, but the majority of keys are every-so-slightly "crisper" feeling on the matias (without going the full-on "this is clearly plastic-on-plastic" feedback sound/feel that I get from cherry switches).

I also have a topre deck, the novatouch tkl, which combines topre switches with mx-style keycaps, meaning I can and did easily replace them. I really like the topre switches too - the novatouch would likely be my daily driver if I didn't already have the matias (the matias wins primarily on having the no-tweaks-needed mac layout, and a built-in usb hub for trivial trackball connecting (yep, mechanical keyboards and trackballs - I'm that guy™)
posted by namewithoutwords at 10:04 AM on July 8, 2019




This whole recent mechanical keyboard thing is baffling.

Don't get me wrong. I cut my teeth on mechanical keyboards in the '80s, the XT and AT keyboards, and Apple's Extended Keyboard. They were big, they were heavy, and they provided an excellent typing experience.

In the '90s, the mechanical keyboards went away, replaced with ridiculously bad plastic dome keyboards. I was just astounded at how terrible they were, and wondered how people could stand to type on them. I hoarded Northgate OmniKeys and AEKs, bought adapters to keep them functional, and felt smug in my assertion that mechanical keyboards were infinitely better than anything else available on the market. Through the aughts, I think that was right. I often wondered why nobody had stepped in and created a mass-market mechanical keyboard during such horrid times.

But then, keyboards got better. Scissor-switch technology improved, and in the late aughts, Apple and other manufacturers started building keyboards that allowed for a tremendous amount of accuracy with light presses. Soon, just about every keyboard was OK, from the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro to the Dell XPS to the ThinkPad whatever, and I found I could type with ease on just about everything.

So what happened once mass-market keyboards were perfected? It was time for mechanicals to come roaring into the market! Just when I least needed them, a remarkable number of different key-switches and styles suddenly became available, at lower and lower prices. As I looked on slack-jawed, the two-decade hole in the market suddenly filled with a ridiculous variety of different keyboards and switch-types to serve every need. All manner of gamer kids with their RGBs and their 1080 Tis snatched up good, no, great keyboards that I would have longed for back in the days of the early aughts. Yet, ironically, I didn't need one!

But it was not for naught. Having realized that they had attained the pinnacle of perfection with the mechanical early-90s Extended Keyboard II and the scissor-switched 2012-2015 Retina MacBook Pros, Apple decided to try and one-up everyone with the ludicrously disastrous "Butterly Keyboard" that would break (or at least miss a keypress) if you simply looked at it, thus making this new era of mechanical keyboards still necessary for a reliable typing experience, at least with the newer Apple laptops.

But godspeed you Cherry Blue fanatics - I'm sitting this next era of keyboards out. Maybe one day again I'll experience the nirvana of replacing a squishy dome keyboard with something that used the wiggly but oh so clicky ALPS keyswitches. Or maybe not.
posted by eschatfische at 3:14 PM on July 8, 2019


Honestly, my personal favorite keyboard is the one on my 2014 MacBook Pro. Flat (but not too flat or prone to breakage like the newest MBP keyboards), with lighted keys, and able to take a lifetime of typing.
posted by Quackles at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2019


yes UGH I bought a Keychrome because it was on some crowdfunding thing and it seemed kind of interesting and it was only like $60 (which wasn't that much of a gamble if it wound up being a very good keyboard I could just sort of use all day every day) but then the LEDs under EVERY KEYCAP were constantly set to "disco dance party" mode no matter what, and even if I tried to set brightness to zero to counteract this, the "change light pattern" key was immediately adjacent to the left arrow key with no space between them, so I would constantly hit that accidentally and the keyboard would go WHAT'S THAT I GUESS YOU WANTED MAXIMUM LIGHT BRIGHTNESS RIGHT and go back to being extremely distracting to my peripheral vision.

I have reached a point in my life where I would actually pay a premium, if I were to buy a mechanical keyboard, to have one without party lights.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:03 PM on July 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


A few years ago, I bought a mechanical keyboard for my home Linux box to replace a worn Logitech with standard squishy keys. This was a cheap one (about £30+40), a 87-key slab of black plastic with clicky Cherry-knockoff switches and removable keycaps (it even came with a keycap puller). There was some sort of hardcore/31337 logo/branding on it, suggesting that it was a play for the gamer market.

So far, I've been quite satisfied with it; it definitely feels more satisfying to type on than a generic squishy PC keyboard, and despite being cheaper than name-brand mechanical keyboards, it seems to be solid and reliable. (I don't play games on it, so not sure whether it measures up for gaming.)


I went on almost the exact same journey, replacing a squishy Logitech keyboard with what was at the time one of the cheapest mechanical keyboards on Amazon. It's a lovely little keyboard and I've even grown to like the silly gamer LEDs. According to typingtest.com, I can do 60wpm with the Logitech and 100wpm with the cheap mechanical.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:43 PM on July 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have reached a point in my life where I would actually pay a premium, if I were to buy a mechanical keyboard, to have one without party lights.

Same. I discovered that Gigabyte made a bare bones mechanical keyboard with no lights & no gimmicks. Bought two of them on the spot.
posted by pharm at 2:41 AM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've never understood the mechanical keyboard love. Like, sure, the keyboard on my c64 was better than the horrible plastic membrane thing on my Sinclair, despite being at a wrist-destroying height off the desk. But I'm typing this on an Apple wireless keyboard that sits on my desk. I've got an old Apple mechanical keyboard in the closet and it's just this giant hideous monstrosity that takes a lot more effort to type on; this thing I can just gently tap with my long fingernails and a keypress happens. With a pretty positive clicky noise if that matters to you, too, though I think it's mostly from the nail hitting the key rather than the actual mechanism.

...actually now I am wondering if anyone who loves mechanical keyboards over lower-profile ones keeps their fingernails long. Needing more force to type this way sounds like a sure route to broken fingernails.

The other keyboard in my life is whatever the heck Apple replaced my 2017 Mac Pro's keyboard with when they had to replace the whole top half of the case to fix a defective battery.

But what the hell do I know, I'm an artist and my main point of contact with my computer is my Wacom tablet. The keyboard's mostly for shortcuts.
posted by egypturnash at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2019


this thing I can just gently tap with my long fingernails and a keypress happens.

ohh no this is a nightmare feeling for me and the main reminder to trim my nails. I’m not a long travel or heavy key press fan, though— I’ve stashed away my old pre-unibody MBP because the keyboard is relatively cushy compared to my 2012 rMBP.
posted by a halcyon day at 6:24 PM on July 9, 2019 [1 favorite]


I love the feel of old mechanicals, but I loath the noise (and garishness of "gaming" peripherals). Love a good scissor switch, though. Short travel ftw.

Got a Logitech diNovo Edge back in 2006 or so as a 'got a PhD grant!' present to myself, got a RMA to a revisioned version after a few months. Still using it as my daily home keyboard for both work and games.

Sure, it's a little battered and the WASD keys+ are worn off, but every single key works perfectly; and it's very quiet.

Last year, as a 'got a raise' present to myself, I bought a gently used Edge off of eBay out of pocket to use as my work keyboard, partially as a courtesy for a temporary office mate.

The Lenovo T420s had an amazing keyboard; I could out-type on that over the Edge, but that could just be muscle memory. The X61s keyboard was a thing of beauty, like dwarf deer or fairy armadillos.
posted by porpoise at 7:39 PM on July 9, 2019


eschatfische: Thank you! It was the Northgate OmniKey whose name that I couldn't remember.

Those things had great tactile feedback to help keep you from bottoming out the key while at full force and much lower breakover pressure than the IBM boards of the time, but not so low as to be frustrating like the pack in mechanical keyboards most OEMs were shipping in the mid 90s.
posted by wierdo at 9:29 PM on July 9, 2019


I grew up with a Model M and it will forever be my holy grail of keyboards, even if my family did scream at me because I kept waking them up with pounding torrents of typing in HTML chatrooms at 2 am.

My favourite thing about the Model M (and good, newer mechanical keyboards) is how heavy and solid they are. Membrane keyboards aren't sturdy enough to sit still when I type, they squeakily shuffle around my desk. It is infuriating!!
posted by Feminazgul at 8:27 PM on July 11, 2019


I am using the standard keyboard provided by my new employer and it sucks so much and as soon as I get my old mechanical keyboard back with its Cherry MX Red switches I am going to be much more productive. My typing on this thing is so damn mushy and typo-riddled and it takes so much more force to hit the keys even though it's a flat-keycap sort of membrane keyboard.
posted by asperity at 9:39 AM on July 25, 2019


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