The Model M Keyboard

Have you ever taken a close look at your computer keyboard?

Chances are, the one you’re using now is what’s referred to in the industry as a “disposal keyboard”, and probably costs less than $10 to produce.

When you buy a computer today, it usually comes with a mouse and keyboard. Computer companies manufacture these components as cheaply as possible to maximize their profit on the computer itself. It’s called bundling, and every industry does it- from cellular companies to prostitution (try the reverse cowgirl/tossed salad combo. It’s to die for!).

If your keyboard and mouse last for five years, consider yourself lucky.

My keyboard is called the IBM model M keyboard, and it’s the same type of keyboard that came with the very first IBM PCs way back in 1984. The M is considered by most computer programmers and career-typists to be the best keyboard ever produced.

IBM turned out typewriters for 50 years, so who better to design the perfect computer keyboard?

Inside, the model M keyboard is mechanical. It uses a key press design called the “buckling spring key-switch”.

IBM’s idea was to design a computer keyboard that was as close to an IBM Selectric typewriter as possible. And they did it. The model M keyboard actually uses a spring under each key, so as you type, the keyboard makes a distinct clicking sound, and provides a very unique feel. The model M is known as the “clicky” keyboard.

The M actually utilizes three of your five senses as you type:

You can feel the key when you hit it correctly.

You can hear the click as you type.

You can see the result of the key press on the screen.

And because the keys require a bit of pressure to activate them, you can rest your fingers on the keys without activating them, just like you learned in typing class.

Compare this to a disposable keyboard where each key press causes a rubber pad under the key to make contact with a plastic sheet. The only way you know if you hit the key correctly is to watch the screen.

And I’m sure everyone has experienced a broken or sticky key on these newer keyboards.

My keyboard is 24 years old, but other than replacing one key and one spring, it’s been a workhorse that has stood the test of time. Like clown porn.

And by the way, it’s mostly steel, which makes it the perfect weapon for home defense.

The only compatibility issue I’ve dealt with has been with the plug. The Model M keyboard comes with a plug called a PS/2.

The PS/2 had been the standard keyboard connector for almost 20 years.

The problem I ran into is that PS/2 connectors are not that common on new computers. USB is now the norm.

You can still buy motherboards that have the connector, but they don’t always work with the old keyboards.

The reason they don’t always work is that on the old IBM computers, the PS/2 connector provided power. It takes about 112 mA to power the M keyboard. The PS/2 ports on new computers only provide about 1.2 mA, as that’s all that’s required to power the new disposable keyboards. So when you plug the M keyboard into a newer computer, it doesn’t usually work.

I got around this “low voltage” issue by purchasing an adapter that changes the plug from a PS/2 connector to a USB connector. And since USB ports provide plenty of power, the M keyboard works just fine now.

The M keyboard rocks. I expect them to bury me with it.

I bought mine here a while back.

11 Comments

  1. I know, ’cause I’ve been told by a reliable source, (your father) that you are brilliant at the computer. Since I started reading your blogs, I know that you are also a most fascinating, hilarious loon! Yay!
    Love,
    your cousin Euni

  2. Stewie11 says:

    Well Fatman. I too know the joys of a clicky keyboard. There is nothing else I would rather use. If I have to do a lot of typing, I will plug it into my laptop. It’s loud though and keeps Lois awake. 😮

  3. Brit93 says:

    This was before my time, but I Googled it and watched this video. What an interesting keyboard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psjZzAC6dKI

  4. DW3 says:

    You didn’t mention that unlike the new “garbage” keyboards, the letters do not wear off the keys. I think on modern keyboards that the letters are silk screened on. But on these older keyboards, the lettering is recessed and painted on so th letters don’t rub off.

    1. Redrock83 says:

      Agreed. And even if they do, you can remove the keycaps and replace them. It will last forever!

  5. TheRealSheldonCooper says:

    This is definitely the best keyboard ever constructed. It is very loud in my office though. I think it may bother some people. But they are not important. This keyboard is as perfect as my seat on the couch.

  6. WeberT says:

    Those were REAL MAN keyboards! Hell yeah! :mrgreen:

  7. Jason87 says:

    My high school used these keyboards but the Dell Optiplex version. You wouldn’t believe how annoying it was, having 30 students, and 30 clicky keyboards typing at the same time!

    1. Slim says:

      The legendary Model M from IBM! Mine lasted over 4 different CPUs and PC technologies, from the ORIGINAL IBM AT all the way to the first Pentium processor. Just pop out the keys with a screwdriver, wash the whole thing with dish soap and it was brand-new, beautiful and flawless for another year of exquisite typing.
      Noisy? That was the best part: One clear clicking note, one keystroke. Both arriving at the exact same instant, all the time

  8. Renegade says:

    Expensive as all hell on eBay, but certainly the best keyboard ever made. Hands down. A clean and restored one goes for $150.

  9. JasonT84 says:

    The clicks are pretty loud and it’s a huge keyboard. Typing on it is nice and you will make less mistakes. Worth it.

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