Mechanical Keyboards

Discussion in 'Pete's Computer Corner' started by pete, Aug 3, 2014.

  1. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    A mechanical keyboard is unlike the $10 special keyboard that you buy at Wal*Mart. Those keyboards don't have a switch under each key, but a little plastic or rubber "bubble" (sometimes called a "rubber dome") that you press and that makes contact with a membrane (really a sheet of plastic with some metal contact points) and that membrane tells the computer that a key was pressed. Mechanical keyboards use a real switch for each key. The main advantage of a mechanical keyboard over the non-mechanical one is that it feels a lot nicer to type on. The second benefit is that some of the mechanical switches "click" to tell you when a key has been pressed. That's helpful to someone like me, who both doesn't really know how to type and who has really big fingers, so I'm constantly almost pressing the spaces between the keys.

    The other way to tell between a mechanical and non-mechanical keyboard is usually the price. The cheapest name-brand mechanical keyboard I know of costs about $50. The ones I like are significantly more expensive.

    Mechanical keyboards use a couple different kinds of switches. Two things to note: all Cherry switches are made by Cherry Corp., regardless of who made the keyboard, and buckling spring switches are all made by IBM (in the 1980s and 1990s) or the company that currently owns the patent, Unicomp, regardless who made the keyboard. There are a couple of other companies that make their own -- that $50 keyboard I mentioned has switches from a company called ALPS -- but probably the biggest name is Razer.

    Finally, all mechanical keyboards are rated by how hard it is to press down a key. Cherry distinguishes between their switches by using different colors. Buckling springs are usually in the 60-80cN range (i.e. stiff). Razer's are 45 or 50, depending on the model.

    Thus endeth the introduction. If you'd like a very detailed article, check out this link.
     
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  2. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    So, I've played with a few in the past few months. Let me tell you about them.

    $65. I've played around with a 20+ year old IBM Model M that I bought off eBay. This is the "original" buckling spring keyboard and it's reputed to be the best ever. In my opinion, it's not. The keys are very stiff and my hands and wrists ache after using one for any great length of time. The keyboard does feel better than any membrane one I've used, though.

    $90. I bought a brand new Cherry MX-Blue switch keyboard for work. The Cherry Blue switches are supposed to be the finest tactile switch you can get for typists, excepting the buckling springs. It has a lower actuation force than the buckling springs (50cN vs 60-80cN). It's ... wonderful. I had a friend walk by and he asked me about my new toy. I showed him and told him how much I payed. "That much?! You're kidding!" "Try it." <Taps a few keys.> "Um. Maybe it is worth it." After a couple months, though, I wanted to buy a really nice one for home. The one I have is nice, but it's essentially a budget model. I wanted to get an inexpensive one that I could use in low light. So, I got ...

    $114. The Corsair K70. This one has Cherry MX Red switches that are a little softer than my Rosewill (45cN) and isn't quite as "clicky." It was fantastic: it's put together nicer than the Rosewills @ $90. It's got illuminated keys and a group of media keys (volume, etc.). Note I used the word "was." When I turned on the illumination, my speakers started shrieking -- and my speakers ain't cheap: they're JBL Creature IIs. So, I decided to send this back and get store credit.

    I am planning on buying a different Cherry MX Red or Brown keyboard, but I also have been looking quite closely at the Razers. Unfortunately, I have to buy what's available at the store I purchased from -- it's not Newegg -- and their selection is a lot smaller. I had a $30 off coupon ....

    EDIT: One other thing: a lot of companies do not have a 10-key number pad on their mechanical keyboards. Watch out for that.
     
  3. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    One of the reasons for the "stiffness" of the classic IBM device is that they were designed originally for people who were crossing over from the classic electric and mechanical typewriters. The days of folks who regularly (for a living, not just for school) typed with early electric or (God forbid) mechanical typewriters are pretty well past us now.

    Do the math: most who are near retirement age learned to type either on a computer, or on an electric typewriter. (Electric machines date back to the 1940s, and by 1960, virtually all schools had made the change to what was then current in industry, the better to teach to the task.

    I've been fortunate enough to live and work in environments where all types (sorry) of machine were part and parcel of our life. My dad was one to buy new stuff, as well as old stuff, so we had two classic cast iron frame Remingtons, a high end portable (for their use) and a cheap portable (for me to use for school), an early IBM electric (with the classic upright cast iron frame; the only place I've seen one since is in the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!), and (right before I moved on to college), a IBM Selectric.

    All of these had different characteristics (for example, the cast-iron frame machines had better leverage over the portables - more height = longer levers = less effort to deliver the stroke to the surface of the paper. And, if you feel that your computer keyboards are jerking you around, you should try going from a classic Remington to a cheesy Remington portable. It was like moving from a five pound barbell to a twenty pound barbell, without warning. Yikes!

    Those days are now gone. I've still got a portable typewriter (a wheel typewriter, electric), but compared to our computer boards, it's laborious to operate. If I had to do "real work" on a classic Remington, it would take me a month to develop the muscles (they're in your lower and upper arm) to manage the keywork.

    (In case youse haven't noticed, I have no trouble churning out lengthy postings on this message board (and others). Unlike most who can type con furiouso, I'm not into arguing with others - just looking to produce consistent, well-thought out statements. It's a habit developed from years and years of writing a term paper equivalent of legal research and argument every few days. Those fingers can really get a-flyin' when I'm in a hurry.)

    And, I pity the folks that have to operate a computer for real communicating (not tweets or Facebook postings, but something that has to carry a detailed message) without touch typing skills. Many computer keyboards are well designed for touch typing, and there are inconsistencies between boards that might cause problems for some operators.

    I don't care for the old IBM boards all that much, but I'm not happy with many of the portable keyboards either. Some sort of happy medium might exist, but I have yet to find it.

    And, then there's keypunching...
     
  4. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    From what I understand, IBM actually did use the same buckling spring technology on their typewriters. The original patent is from the early 1970s, IIRC.

    Of course, because I'm the Highlander and have lived for at least 800 years, I've actually used both electric and non-electric typewriters. I've even used Magnum typewriters: they type multiple copies. Interesting and intimidating beast.

    Anyhow, the main reason why I bring the discussion of mechanical keyboards here is because everyone that's here obviously is using some kind of computer. The mechanical keyboards have made the computing experience a lot better for me. At this point in my computing life, I don't really need the fastest, bestest computer. I need to just improve how I do things and part of that comes from being able to type a lot faster on a keyboard. Mechanical keyboards help me do that. Also, if you have a problem with your hands/wrists and even playing an instrument is uncomfortable, I think you might want to take a look at mechanical keyboards.

    The bestest keyboard I used before the mecahnicals was probably the "chicklet"-style Apple keyboard. I was somewhat surprised when I got one of those because they didn't look all that great. They're actually quite nice to type on, though.

    =============

    As a separate part of the discussion, there are also a few kinds of key caps. The best are laser etched, so they don't wear out that quickly, but a lot of keyboards have letters just printed directly on the key or the letters are stickers. I've never worn out any of the laser-etched ones, but I have with the latter two -- sometimes in months. One of the fun things you can do with mechanical keyboards is just replace the keys. That's a good thing if you have a keyboard that might last 20 years.
     
  5. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I rapidly wear through both printed and cast keycaps. However, as all of our computer equipment is from the Apple stable, a trip by the story gets you replacements then and there, and without cost.
     
  6. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

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    When I first started reading this thread, I didn't look what sub-forum it was under. I was curious as to why you were writing about electric keyboards, and when you became so well-versed in those. :oops: "When did Pete start taking an interest in keys?" I asked myself... Idiot... Hey, it's a holiday Monday here in Canada, and I only just had my first cup of coffee. I don't even think my eyes are fully open yet... :ugeek:

    Oh... But I was trying to get my Smith Corona electric typewriter (circa 1964) hooked up to my wireless router. I figured since you were a computer tech, you could help me do that. Are you saying that's impossible? Maybe you're not as good as I thought you were. :wink: :p :emoji_relaxed:
     
  7. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

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    OK, now for my on-topic, and serious reply to this thread...

    My favorite computer keyboard has been a Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. I've had it for 8 or so years now. I don't know if it's mechanical or not--until I read this thread, I really hadn't given this any thought--but it has been great. Like the reviews say about it though, the space bar can be tricky to operate consistently. I've found that there is a sweet-spot on the space bar though, and if you hit it just right, it works correctly every time.

    In the laptop world, I must admit I have never been a fan of Dell's keyboards. (I've owned Dell laptops for 10 years.) Then a couple of months ago I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad T540p with "chicklets", and it is the best-feeling laptop keyboard I have ever used.
     
  8. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    Having started on a manual typewriter in school and then as a clerk in the military, I loved the move to the IBM Selectric typewriters. When I moved to the computer software industry, I had a favorite keyboard that I programed with batch files. Then I met a programmer who couldn't/wouldn't work without his favorite keyboard of which he had three backups. I worked as a trainer for new people and had to be able to work on many peoples computers, so I stopped havening a favorite UNTIL...

    Yup, I fell in love with the Microsoft ergonomic keyboards. Note, I never pay new prices for a keyboard. And I get a corporate alumni discount. I could type much longer without wrist pain. As a touch typist, I never look at my fingers, but do appreciate a bit of a click to let me know I actually pressed a key. YMMV.
     
  9. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

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    can't stand the MS Ergo Kbd, it's a piece of crap. In my opinion.

    See, it's just how some of us hate Buffet Clarinets or love Selmer Saxes. It's a question of ergonomics and sausage fingers. :)

    (I still have my clicky IBM keyboard, P/N 1391412 (w/o looking it up). It's just a wee bit noisy.)
     
  10. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I agree with the fat fingers comment. I can't reliably use the left hand "sliver" key (Eb/Bb) on an Eb clarinet, and consistently miss the target with the nasty little "bis" key, even on a baritone saxophone. (That second may be more due to my clarinet upbringing than the size of my fingers, to be fair.)

    I am blessed with the inability to perform on flute-shaped objects, which is a good thing, since the keywork on an octave flute ("piccolo") is just too close together. The nerve of those flute designers...

    That said, consider the difficulties that this guy would have faced with an Eb clarinet:

    Wadlow statue.JPG

    No, not our young, muscular and average height punk of a step-great-grandchild. Instead, consider the man represented in the photo by the life-sized bronze statue.

    Although he's long-time dead now, Alton IL native Robert Pershing Wadlow really was that big. One can only imagine the problems that he would have faced with a Bb clarinet, much less an Eb one.

    My father, for some unforeseen reason, knew Bob (as did my mother), and he said that the contrast in person was every bit as striking as that presented here by the bronze. (Dad was present at the dedication, and he played some role in the erection of the statue, so close was his relationship with the man. I think that he set the stonework for the base, but I'm not sure.)

    All in all, part of the mystery that surrounds my father to this day. But, you've got to figure that a man who counted both Joe Garagiola and Yogi Berra as close personal friends, was on a first name basis with Stan "The Man" Musial, and managed to move from an Army ground reconnaisance unit on Guadalcanal (where his duties largely consisted of sifting through rotting Imperial Japanese Army corpses to glean information for future island campaigns) to getting sent back to the 'States to get trained on a new radar system for the USAAF) would have had something in common with the world's tallest human being (8' 11.5" at the time of his death). Just what, though, I can't say.

    If nothing else, Mr. Wadlow would have put bass saxophones into a proper human context.
     
  11. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    I actually am versed in synths and samplers. I was even invited to teach a 1 day class at the second college I attended. Mind you, my experience is a bit outdated.

    There are things out there I could use to do this. It depends on what level of functionality you want and how much you're willing to spend. It's definitely not impossible, so there :p.

    This also reminded me that the electric typewriter I used in high school and a bit of college was my mom's electric Smith Corona. I think it weighed about 3.6 tons.

    ===========

    The Microsoft ergo keyboards are rubber dome-type, not mechanical. Again, because I'm not really a typist, I dislike all ergo keyboards -- especially the old Macintosh ergo keyboard from Apple that came out in the late 1980s. Apple had some legal problems because a keyboard that splits in the middle isn't the definition of "ergonomic."

    I did a very brief check. Seems that there are about 5 ergo mechanical keyboards out there, and they're expensive. The cheapest one was $250. One way of looking at that might be that ergonomic typewriters weren't exactly common. Arguably more people type now than in, say, the 1970s or earlier.
     
  12. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

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    Yes, the keyboard is one of the deciding factors to buy a ThinkPad. I now have an external Edge-Style Keyboard...
     
  13. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I had one of those ergo Macintosh keyboards, bought just for the hell of it. The strangest thing is that we have absolutely no idea what became of it.

    The split enabled a better wrist angle and typing posture, but after I switched over to laptops in 1991, it became a burden and thus was put away.
     
  14. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

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    Yup... It sure does... Mine was my mom's too... (There's that weird twin thing again! ;) ) It is blue, and is "portable"--in that it lives in a black plastic case that can be carried around--if you tons of weights in a gym that is! :D

    I also have a Smith Corona learn to type instructional set that includes lessons and records. My mom bought them for my dad who was a hen & peck typist. He never got past that stage, so the instructional set is still basically new. I think I tried them a couple of times before I took typing classes in Jr. high.
     
  15. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Mmmm. My mom's also got a Singer sewing machine from probably the 1960s. It's a greenish color.

    =========

    So, after much deliberation, I'm going to get ... a Corsair K60. There were three or four keyboards within $5 to $10 of the K60 at the store I went to:

    The CM Storm Ultimate. Cherry MX blue switches. Illuminated. I just didn't think it was as good as the Corsair.
    Razer Black Widow Stealth. Proprietary switches; copies of the Cherry red switches. Illuminated. First, I started seeing a lot of posts saying that you'll either lover or hate the switches. Second, the printing on the keys is what I'd call "script kiddy standard." Very blocky. Also, because the keyswitches are proprietary, I don't know if I could get replacements for the keycaps. You can get pretty decent Cherry-compatible keycaps for around $20 a set.
    Rosewill RK-9000br. Cherry MX brown switches. No illumination. These are overpriced at the store I went to. I do think they're an excellent buy at $70 on Newegg.

    If I had a bit more cash ($30), I'd have gone with the low-end das keyboard that has printed keycaps (Newegg doesn't carry these, so I switched to Amazon). Some of the top mechanical keyboards I've heard of are das keyboard, Ducky, and Filco. Ducky and Filco are way out of my price range, but if someone donates a wad of cash to me, I'll definitely get one.
     
  16. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

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    Yes, my mom had one of those too. (We have it now.) It is beige, and sits in a solid wood, floor cabinet. Works as well now as it did when it was new.
     
  17. Jacques5646

    Jacques5646

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    This forum keeps astonishing me...even if the way between a sax key and a computer key is rather easy to follow. My large fingers have been trained on telex in the (Swiss) army some decades ago and struggle now on the oversensitive iMac keyboard. Glad to know an alternative exists; I'll give the Corsair a try. Thanks for the tip (of your finger).
    J
     
  18. Jacques5646

    Jacques5646

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    BTW, have you solved this problem or is the illumination switchable to off ?

    J
     
  19. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I started my career as an operations auditor at Smith Corona in Cortland, NY. It was a soup to nuts operation - raw steel rolls and ABS plastic pellets in one end of the plant, and finished typewriters in their cases out the other end. About the only thing they didn't fabricate themselves was the motor core - copper windings around an iron bar. Full tool and die shop that made all the stamping fixtures, as well as the plastic injection and blow molds. They even made their own "torture test" machines - little electro-mechanical robots that typed away like mad for weeks on end to determine mean time to failure. I don't think there are very many manufacturing facilities like that around these days. It was a fascinating place to work, and as an auditor, I got to poke around in all the fabrication and assembly areas.

    About half the people in town worked there. Unfortunately, they were a bit slow on the uptake with the personal computing wave. They tried to move into daisy wheel word processors and printers but weren't very successful at that. I haven't been back there since 1981, but suspect that it is all gone now. Cortland's main claim to fame these days is the state university, and hosting the Jets football training camp.
     
  20. Helen

    Helen Content Expert Saxophones Staff Member Administrator

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    Me too as in...

    That's really interesting saxhound. I grew up in a family very loyal to Smith Corona, but then we were very brand-loyal to a lot of things. I think that tended to happen when you grew up in a family whose primary income earner worked his entire career for the same company. In our family's case it was my dad who worked all his life for VW/Porsche/Audi in Germany and Canada. He was a master mechanic/trainer for the company.

    Back to Smith Corona... When I went to college in '87, my mom got me an SC electronic typewriter that had a small LCD preview screen just above the keyboard. This preview, and machine's limited amount of memory, greatly reduced the amount of white out I had to use. ;) Then when I went to university in 1990, in I got a SC laptop word processor that came with a daisy wheel printer. A couple of years later I got my last Smith Corona product: a desk top word processor with a yellow monitor--hey, this is flashback Thursday after isn't it? :) --and SC's high resolution transfer printer. I used those products for years, until I got my first PC around '98 or so.... Although had I known Pete could hook the old SC up to a wireless router, maybe I wouldn't have bothered. :emoji_rage:
     

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