Mechanical Keyboards

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

  1. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    For all of the efforts of traditional/electric typewriter folks to bring their traditional machinery forward into the Twentieth Century, the die was cast as soon as the computer possessed both a display screen and memory to buffer the output. Even with the crude "Tag and Edit" system used in the early machines (Osborn, anyone? I've hefted machine guns that were more portable, but the editing made it all worthwhile), the word processor route was head and shoulders above what they enabled on the typewriters.

    My Olivetti portable in the storage unit is a very capable wheelwriter, with some buffering capacity, but I never was able to type slow enough to use it, always overrunning the buffer. It was fun to watch the wheel type the characters, however - so distracting that it led to making mistakes.

    After some early dalliance with Apple ][ machines and the Osborne, the advent of the Macintosh system was ll that it took to kill all other systems of writing for me (including regular typing and handwriting). Once the true laptops and portable printers came along, it was Katie bar the door.

    My prior employment was as an investigator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and I spent about 70% of my time investigating fatalities and catastrophy events. As these rely not only on physical evidence but also on witness testimony, extensive witness statements were part and parcel of the job.

    Witness statements can be cumbersome to create. First, you interview the witness to draw out their story, then you rough out the statement, and then you construct the final version in writing for them to sign. Errors or revisions make the whole process even more time consuming (and hand cramping in the bargain).

    Not so with the computer/printer combination. Notes go in in outline form, sentences get constructed and revised, the final product gets reviewed and revised as needed, and it's print, sign and witness, all in one go. I could conduct seven to eight interviews and statement signings, all in the time that it took my fellow employees to take one.

    When I moved up in the world, I moved heaven and earth to a ) sort out the good investigators under my command, and b ) to provide them with the same setup. Our unit's productivity soared - good for them and good for me. Of course, the fact that we lived and worked in Catastrophe City (Houston TX) made it all necessary. But, the computer/typing trained/portable printer/capable interviewer combination was the first of its kind in the nation. And, it only cost a thousand bucks a head.

    Now that I'm retired (no more performance reviews to write, no more death and destruction to review), it's not as critical. But, it still works well.

    Oh, and my Olivetti is a neat looking machine - Italian design and all of that. Too bad it can't really edit what gets typed...
     
  2. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    That typewriter with the one line LCD was in development when I was there. The codename was OWP (Office Word Processor) and it was a big secret - even the abbreviation was not be be spoken outside the four walls. IIRC, the big problem was that they couldn't get the daisy wheel to strike consistently with the same amount of force, and also a fast typist would outstrip the limited amount of buffer memory, causing the machine to periodically stop accepting input.

    Regarding Olivetti, SCM purchased a factory from them in Singapore that produced the portable ball type machines. They were pretty good typewriters, but also extremely heavy. The cases were also of a traditional wood and metal construction and added several pounds of weight. One of the first things they did was create a plastic blow mold case for it that weighed slightly less than a pound. Apparently the blow molding technology could not be exported, so we made them by the thousands in NY and shipped them to Singapore. I imagine that was pretty expensive.

    SCM Corporation was an interesting 1970's conglomerate. In addition to typewriters, they made paint (Glidden), paper (Allied) and spices (Durkee) among other things.
     
  3. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Yup. I'll just turn it off. I might just find an interesting way of routing some cables so the speakers aren't affected by the interference.

    I recently found a place that's called MechanicalKeyboards.com, which should have been an obvious place for me to look first. Not only are their new prices quite reasonable, they do have quite a few really nice used keyboards that are still under warranty. For instance, they have the Ducky DK9008G2 Pro for $105 (Cherry MX red switches). That's $25 off list. They even have keyboards made by Cherry Corp., themselves. I have one of Cherry's lowest-end keyboards and it's very good, so I'd assume that the really high-end ones are quite nice. You might also look at Amazon's Warehouse Deals and search for online coupons for the store of your choice. That's how I got my $30 off coupon.
     
  4. Jacques5646

    Jacques5646

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    Great find, thanks again. Being from Switzerland, we do use some esoteric key placement, with accents, etc. Are these mech keyboards customizable ?
    Thanks in advance
    J
     
  5. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

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    From my experience back in IBM, US keyboards are from a distinctly different design than European types; they have an oblong horizontal Enter key while ours is vertical and accomodates one extra key (102 vs 101 keys).

    If anything, look if they have a UK layout, it's what I use if there isn't a Swiss one.

    IBMs buckling spring keyboards still should be around, or check with Lexmark as these have bought them from IBM.
     
  6. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    I got TWO people in one thread. Kewl!

    BTW, the IBM Model M keyboards have a few different variations: a DIN-8 plug, a PS/2 plug, an RJ-45 (telephone) plug, and probably a couple others. They also do not have the "Windows" keys. For my money, unless I could find someone selling one for really cheap, I'd go with Unicomp: they're USB, they're warrantied, and they have all the keys. They have an additional fee for "custom" keycap layouts, if you want a UK or other style, but it's all of $10. From what I understand, Unicomp makes maybe 20 keyboards a month, so just about everything is a "custom order," that's probably why odd keycaps/layouts aren't more expensive.

    That's also if I decided I liked the IBM Model M. It really is kinda stiff. I'm very much so happy with my Corsair K60 with the Cherry Red switches. It does make me wonder, however, how much better a DAS Keyboard or Ducky keyboard with Cherry Brown switches would be.

    YMMV because I'm in the US, but I've got keyboards all around me with different enter keys. I've also gotten in laptops and keyboards ordered accidentally with UK and French keycaps. They didn't look too odd. I even used the UK one for a bit. IIRC, the bottom row wasn't ZXCVB, but something else. I've even had left-handed 10-key sets.

    Regarding key layouts on your standard Cherry keyboard, a quick Google search turned up this website, which has a bunch of different makes, models and languages. At the absolute least, you can buy a bunch of keycaps to swap around the keys.
     
  7. Jacques5646

    Jacques5646

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    Thanks, Ben. You are, alas, right. I checked with http://mechanicalkeyboards.com/ and they confirmed the kbds they sell are not customizable. And, as an additional hassle, I'm on Mac...
    But I hate the standard iMac kbd. Have you heard of a mechanical or mechanical-like kb with our beloved ¨, `, ', ç suitable with the Mac ? Lexmark doesn't seem to make anyting else than printers and related accessories.
    Tschüss
    J
     
  8. tictactux

    tictactux Distinguished Member Distinguished Member

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    Buy an USB-PS/2 connector (something like this) and see whether your iMac likes it... I have some of them, and they work fine with my laptops (windows and linux).
     
  9. Jacques5646

    Jacques5646

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    Thanks Pete, I'll spend some nights dissecting the site !
    J
     
  10. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    (First, I confused myself. To recap, I initially got a Corsair K70 keyboard. It had some problems, so I was going to exchange for the older K60. However, I stayed with the K70 because I wasn't going to get my $30 off coupon refunded.)

    Here's another interesting thing: I think that the Corsair keyboard I got is probably the highest quality full-size keyboard you can get under $150. I'm now seeing them listed around $110. The K95 adds a few macro keys and raises the price to around $150. The reason I say "quality" is because the K70 and K95 both have aluminum case tops. I used to think an aluminum body was overkill. That was until I started taking my Rosewill Cherry MX Blue keyboard to work. It's got a big chunk taken out of it above and to the left of the ESC key. Still works fine, though.

    I let my fingers do the walking through a few websites. Ducky's Legend series, which is a better keyboard, is around $150. DAS Keyboard doesn't make one. I see that Filco makes aluminum cases, but I don't see any of the keyboards they sell listed as having one. (Filco also doesn't make a full sized keyboard.) Looks like you buy their basic keyboard for $150 and buy the case ... for another $150. And don't let the "SteelSeries" line of keyboards confuse you. They're referring to the metal plate that the keys are mounted on -- which most higher-end Cherry MX keyboards have. They have a plastic case with "metal components."

    The problem for me is that I now know that I want to get a Cherry MX brown keyboard in the future. I have to hope that Corsair still makes the K70 variant with the brown switches for awhile!
     
  11. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Well, I bought another one. A Logitech G710+ Cherry MX Brown. Why? $25+ off list.

    Two eBay links:
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Logitech-G7...rd-with-Tactile-High-Speed-Keys-/301101938796
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Logitech-G7...rd-with-Tactile-High-Speed-Keys-/301165603515

    Both are about $90, with free shipping. Refurbished. New is $115 on Amazon. Some places go as high as $150.

    I probably did too much research on this. I had an opportunity to buy a Das Keyboard for $90. I found out that the company that makes these for Metadot is iOne. In other words, that Das Keyboard is a stencil of a $90 keyboard (their higher-end ones are made by a different company). The Corsair K70 I wanted is $130. That's too high for my budget, unfortunately. I then tried to find the best Cherry MX Brown switch keyboard other than the Corsair K70 and found out that there's a toss-up between the Logitech and the CoolerMaster Trigger Z. Which isn't in stock.

    Besides, my birthday is coming up :p.

    I now have some interesting options. I will put up one of the three mechanical keyboards I have for sale after I determine which one is the best. I'll also put up my G13 gamepad, too.
     
  12. Tony Fairbridge

    Tony Fairbridge Tony F

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    In the mid-60's I worked for IBM in London, and was a regional specialist on, among other products, the Selectric Golfball typewriters and the numerous variants that it spawned. They were still to be found as computer input/output devices 20 years later. I still have one in my junkroom somewhere.
     
  13. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Hey, you could probably get at least $80 on eBay if it's got a PS/2 or PS/2 connector.
     
  14. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    My G710+ came in last night. Again, this is the version with Cherry MX Brown switches. There is also a new G710 (no plus sign) that has Cherry Blue MX switches.

    I've been using it for a few hours, now. Impressions:

    * I don't like it quite as much as my Corsair with Cherry MX Red switches. It has a very nice feel -- don't get me wrong -- but the Corsair feels better.
    * I do like the fact that it does have the tactile feedback. Some of the keys are a bit bigger than standard, too. This combination makes it more difficult to accidentally press the wrong key. Definite plus.
    * I like the white backlight a lot. It's easier on my eyes than the Corsair's red backlight. However, the G710+ also has a orange backlight behind some of the macro keys. If I had a choice, like with a high-end Ducky Shine keyboard or with the ones that you can choose any color backlight, I think I'd pick orange.
    * It does have six macro keys and three memory slots for those macros, so I think it's 18 macros total, without looking at user profiles. That's pretty decent. However, I think I'm going to stick with the iPad virtual keyboard for macros.
    * The keyboard has mainly black keycaps, except for the arrow keys and WASD keys: they're grey. I don't mind this too much, but Corsair and other companies do include the "standard color" keycaps so you can switch them out, if you want. Hey, buying some aftermarket replacement key caps is only about $13. Step your game up, Logitech! This keyboard's $150 in some markets.
    * Logitech decided to reverse the shift characters on the keycaps for the shift keys. As an example, on a normal keyboard you'd see the % above the 5. The G710+ has the 5 above the %. I think I like that for the number keys 1 ... 10. I'm not sure about the other keys.
    * An interesting and unintended feature: the keyboard is tall enough, with the stands down, to slide my Apple trackpad underneath it a little. Gives me a bit more desk space, so I'm happy.
    * The keyboard software is available for both the Mac and PC. I'm very happy with that. The G710 only has PC software.

    That's all for now. 'Bye!
     
  15. hakukani

    hakukani

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    I learned to type in 9th grade on a manual typewriter. The school had just bought electrics, but the room didn't have the power distribution to plug them all in. So, we used the manual typewriters with blank keys. I worked up to about 75 WPM on them.

    For high school graduation, my mother bought me a Smith Corona portable typewriter. I typed all of my papers in undergrad school, and I also typed my first wife's papers on it (she didn't learn to type in school because she didn't want to be a 'secretary'), because I could stand the tap, tap.....tap.....tap, tap, tap...tap, thunk, thunk. of her hunting and pecking for hours on end. This all came to an end when I first started on an apple II, and later with a Mac + that I had access to.

    I didn't think much about keyboards until I bought my first computer, a dell PII in 1998. It had a nice, but noisy mechanical action. Fact is, I've still got it. I like the lenovo's keyboard best on laptops, but I spend most of my time on an apple bluetooth keyboard with a newer technology ten key extension. I use that with an apple magic trackpad. I like both keyboards and trackpads.

    I am back to teaching keyboard skills in an elementary/intermediate school. Kids get into really bad and even weird habits, because they start typing any old way starting in kindergarten using computers. The common core standards have a component that says that kid should be able to compose a page at one sitting in fourth grade, two pages in fifth, and three in sixth. The standard has renewed ed folks' interest in keyboarding skills. When you consider that a page has about 300 words, you can complete a page in 10 minutes if you can type a mere 30 words a minute. Research has shown that high school to adults can compose at the rate that they compose in their heads at 45 wpm. That's what I work toward in my classes (along with other computer literacy skills).
     
  16. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Well, I went through a complete day with the G710+. I do like it a lot. That means I'll be putting my Rosewill one up for sale.

    I did some more research on my three mechanical keyboards. I found a small disadvantage and a small advantage.

    I've mentioned that one of the big advantages of a mechanical keyboard is that they last for upwards of 50 million keystrokes. However, that's really the switches, not the keycaps. You can, however, get replacement keycaps. Unfortunately, the Logitech G710 and 710+ as well as the Corsair K70 use non-standard keycap sizes for the bottom row of keys (ctrl, Windows key, alt, space bar, alt, Windows key, menu key, ctrl -- and the macro keys on the G710s -- going from left to right). The Rosewill ones use standard sizes. Heck, Rosewill even sells keysets for $20 to $40.

    Which is a nice segue.

    I did a bit of research on keycaps. The best kind to get, because they never wear out, are called "PBT" or "double-shot." The "double-shot" phrase is more descriptive, as it tells you how they're actually made.

    Anyhow, the combination of all this is that you can actually narrow down stuff for the ultimate computer keyboard ...

    * PBT keys
    * Metal body (or metal top, at least)
    * Cherry MX keyswitches

    ... but find out that doesn't exist. There are keyboards out there with an aluminum case, like my Corsair K70 ($140), and keyboards with double-shot keycaps, like the Vortex keyboards ($105-$180, depending on where you are in the world), but a keyboard with an aluminum case AND double-shot keycaps? Nope. There ain't one. That's kinda odd. And I don't think I'd want to build my own keyboard. If I wanted, I could get a 100% aluminum body -- if I don't mind not having the 10-key pad (i.e. "ten keyless" or TKL). I think it'd cost around $250 for the parts.

    So, what's the cheapest full-size aluminum top keyboard that has PBT keycaps you can buy for the entire keyboard? It's the Ducky Legend. They're around $150. It's then another $50 to $70 for the keycaps.

    Hmmm. Well, when the warranties on my K70 and G710+ run out in three years, I'll consider buying a couple PBT sets.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2017
  17. SOTSDO

    SOTSDO Old King Log Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    I'm a touch typist from before my high school days, where I was hammered into the regular habits of the approved methods by a stern (and very hot) business instructor. While I can fly across the bottom 5/6s of the board, the number row and the function keys never found their way into my hind brain. I can consistently hit the "1" and "7" keys; anything else is either hit and miss or hunt and peck.

    Thirty years of writing the equivalent of five term papers a week during work for OSHA have finely honed my skills. Macros have helped, but every macro had to be composed, and there were some things (like describing how a man was disemboweled by a flying valve and pipe assembly shot from a mud pump) that were not amiable to "pre-composure". Write five thousand words on investigating that, and you rapidly learn to navigate the Sholes keyboard with that kind of production.

    Here's the guy who first invented, and then disowned, the modern typewriter keyboard:

    [​IMG]

    I don't know whether to praise the man (for what is, after all, a very clever invention), or to curse him for the finalized layout that we now have to face. Why the hell did he disown his own creation? (And please, don't start in on the whole Dvorak mess.)

    Anyway, I tend to keep my computers for a longer time than most, a habit that purchasing the expensive lines that Apple offers tends to inculcate in the purchaser. Over some forty years of dealing with these things, we've gone through more than a few of them (we have a "multiple computer" household - everyone pays for their own, incidentally), mostly desktops at the start, exclusively laptops at the current time.

    While the computers tend to hold up very well electronically (only one failure before obsolescence to date, a second hand "pizza box" machine purchased by my son at a discounted price - the monitor went to pot when my mother was using it as a diversion during her dotage), one area where they frequently fail is in the key caps.

    The key caps don't themselves break (save one exception somewhere along the line, split right down the middle in what looked like a quality control issue); what gives way is the lettering atop (or moulded into the key). While Apple has been great at replacing them at no cost save the trip to the Apple store (one of Steve Job's decent ideas), it is a nuisance when your letters "E", "A", "O", the spacebar, and the return key wear away. Aside from looking like crap (and removing resale value), it provides an inconvenience for those (like my lovely wife) who are not as lapped into typing as a touch typist.

    After years of having to address the worn-down key cap issue (where the "E" is nothing more that an big white patch on a double shot, or where the paint is gone from certain keys), I have traced the problem to a combination of fingernail abrasion (a combination woodwind musician and nail chewer from the days of my youth, I finally mastered the habit, only to find that my digits are now tipped with soft little chisels) and very corrosive skin secretions (the dermatologists have tracked them down to a combination of a copper-related allergy along with some pretty nasty oil oozing from my glands - if I don't shower at least once a day, my hair resembles a poorly cleaned paintbrush), I have given in to purchasing silicone keyboard covers. They are a first class nuisance under the fingertips (I'm typing without one just now, and my WPM rate climbs way up there), but they are cheap, easy to replace, and (more importantly) easier to keep a replacement in stock.

    After much experimentation, I have settled upon one brand (the boxes for which are now packed up, so I can't share that with you). This one fits the keycaps better than the cheaper ones, and the matt surfaces are easier on the eyes than the shiny clear ones. (Used at a low angle to the head (while sitting on the couch), key top glare can be a major factor when you are hunting for which key gives you the "pipe" character ("|").

    Plus, having a used one on the board makes it easy for me to track down the problem keys - just look for where the matt grey "key top" on the cover is being worn away.
     
  18. saxhound

    saxhound Moderator Staff Member CE/Moderator

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    Double shot tech is fascinating, but obviously a lot more expensive than silk screen or painting. I mentioned my tenure at the old Smith Corona factory. Each keyboard operation consisted of one person working two injection molding machines, a staging area to manually trim the flash and let the first injection cool before the second, a custom foot press cutter that separated the final product into individual letters, and a grinding machine for the plastic waste. Probably a million dollars in capital equipment right there. Throw in that the molds in the injectors had to be reworked every couple weeks, (which would take a machine down for several days) and the costs really start to add up. IIRC, we had four or five of these setups in order to keep up with production needs (multiple colors, manual vs. electric, etc.). One of my jobs as an auditor was to validate the material usage and labor standards as set by the industrial engineering department. I really felt bad for those guys because there were too many variables. Put a new or reworked mold in the machines and the operator was flying through the work with very few defects and minimal need for flash trimming. As the mold wore down in critical areas, the reject rate went way up, and the operator would fall behind because they were spending all their time on manually trimming. Our recommendation (which didn't go over too well with management) was to take the best operators and pay them a flat rate per hour instead of piecework, and then give them all a bonus when they met the production targets. The payroll manager (a crusty old guy who had designed the piecework system) called me a Communist.
     
  19. Gandalfe

    Gandalfe Administrator Staff Member Administrator

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    Woah, nicely told experience. I really think good management is an art, not a science. But top dollar goes to the ruthless leader who fires employees every year, some with a percentage in mind. (Like GE's CEO Jack Welch recommendation 20+% a year.)
     
  20. pete

    pete Brassica Oleracea Staff Member Administrator

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    Jack Welch is an idiot if he has a particular percentage in mind. I do understand his reasoning. I just don't agree with it. Then again, I'm not a CEO.

    In saxhound's example, I'm assuming that this workplace had multiple presses. While I think flat rate + bonus dependent on meeting quota isn't a bad idea, you could also cycle employees on the presses. You get to use the good one today, the bad one tomorrow. Something like that.
     

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