Hopefully, this isn't too late. I don't know if you've seen any of the reviews on youtube about the various types of clicky keyboards/buckling spring models but there is one guy who reviews both the original IBM model M, the Das professional, and the Customizer 104: [link]
I trust his reviews. Personally, I adore buckling spring technology. It's got a heavier and more tactile feel than the Das. For me, the fact that the Das has been made to be lighter takes away from that really solid feeling you get when you type on a buckling spring. There just seems to be more of a snap to a model M/Customizer 104. The Customizer 104 is admittedly lighter than the original IBM model M, but I think it's the closest you can get without buying the original.
I've already bought a Customizer 104 a while back, I like it quite a bit. I'm sorta wishing I had saved up for a Topre switch board, though. The Realforce 87U is actually phototristian's new favorite, I recommended it to him about 2 weeks ago and he grabbed one.
Good to see another keyboard enthusiast. I've got a small collection myself, an IBM Model M, Compaq MX-11800, and Cherry G84-4100.
The ABS M1 is a decent keyboard, especially if you picked up on the deal recently (it was $20 on Newegg.com), but it's really just a starter board, to whet your appetite for mechanicals. The switches are nothing special (Fukkas, imitation black Alps), it has transposition errors, the rollover is kinda sucky, and the build quality leaves something to be desired. But I'd still pick it over 99% of rubber dome keyboards.
I haven't yet gotten my hands on an MX blue board. In a poll on Geekhack, it's actually tied with the Model M's buckling springs for preferred mech. switch.
There are three clicky switch types to look out for, and one other that isn't as common but can be gotten for cheap (there are more, but they aren't worth mentioning).
IBM Buckling Springs - ~60-70g activation, sharp tactile point, reset point is the same as activation point, Model Ms are cheap Cherry MX Blue - 55g activation, sharp tactile point, reset point is above activation point so gaming or double tapping can be awkward, most MX Blue boards are either rare or expensive White Alps - ~60-70g activation, mushy tactile feel, lots of cheap keyboards that use it but the good ones are rare.
Also Monterey SMK - imitation white Alps, with a feel somewhere between the white Alps and MX blues. Found only in Chicony KB-5181 keyboards manufactured in certain years, but some claim they're the best they've typed on. Unfortunately the KB-5181's build quality is mediocre.
Also consider Cherry MX Brown switches, which are not tactile, but still have a decent tactile feel, and there are a handful of cheap keyboards that use them. For instance, I got my Compaq MX-11800 with MX browns for $25 shipped.
In my opinion, if you have a heavy hand then the Unicomp Customizer space saver would be the best choice (space saver just gets rid of the excessive bezel that makes the Model M take up half a desk). If you have a light hand, I'd either try an MX brown board, or save up for a Filco or Das with MX blues. If you want to spend more money to try the switches out first, you can get an iOne Scorpius M10 or Adesso MKB-125B with MX blues for ~$50, but the boards themselves have a high failure rate due to cheap manufacturing.
If you want to know more about keyboards, the best place to go is Geekhack.org. Also google "Mechanical Keyboard guide" to get Manyak's wonderful article over at Overclock.net, where I'm an active member and have a number of keyboard dissections. Also, if you're interested I'm trying to set up an order for some custom keycaps for Alps-switch keyboards like the ABS M1--in fact, the key's profile will be designed for the ABS M1's escape key. We need at least 50 orders to make it a reality and are currently at 12, with several more pledged to order within the next couple days. Since several people are making multiple orders (one guy ordered 6!) I think we stand a good chance of reaching 50. If you're interested, read this thread: [link]
I love my ABS M1 so far, but unfortunately, I got it from $50 off Newegg quite a few months ago. Though, had I known about the sale, I'd have had a second one here already as a spare.
I was considering the Customizer 104 (I actually like the excessive bezel to an extent), but I've read that they have some build quality issues, mainly with the printing and the consistency of the feel between keys.
I don't think I'd buy the iOne or Adesso, seeing as they're still quite expensive and poor quality.
Thanks for advice overall. I'll check out the thread(s).
I don't think there are any real build quality issues on the Unicomp, it's made on the same machinery as the original Model Ms and that's been maintained pretty well. The only differences are: drainage holes (a good thing); slightly thinner, lighter plastic; 0.8mm steel plate instead of 1.0mm; modern surface-mount controller board; and 60g springs instead of 70g. Aside from those minor differences it's exactly the same as the Model Ms of old.
Eh, they're nitpicking. Geekhackers do that. Uneven keycaps? Injection molding is never perfect, especially with something small and thin like the Model M's top keycaps. As for inconsistent key feel, buckling springs need a wear-in time of a couple weeks. For someone who's been using used Model Ms, a brand new board will feel a little off until he breaks it in. As for the single vs. double piece keycaps shenanigans, well... Consider that Unicomp was, is, and will continue to be on the edge of bankruptcy (unless they actually do go bankrupt). If they're out of double piece keycaps, they can't afford to blow a sale, so they sent single piece. Don't like it, but I understand why they did it and sympathize to an extent. It's a good company, it just gets a little desperate when sales dry up, such as they have since the recession started.
The Unicomp Customizer is still one of the highest-quality mechanical keyboards still in production, unless you want to get a Das or Filco or Deck, or one of a handful of other high-end boards, they're one of the top dogs, in quality if not in sales and service.
Guess it's back down to between the Das and the Customizer 104 then. I'll see if I can't find a board with Cherry MX Blue switches to try. Probably just going to go with the Customizer since it's cheaper and I liked my friend's IBM PC Keyboard, though.
Heh, I haven't been particularly active since before this place was a corporation and was still mainly about desktop customization (hence "deviant", we were deviating from the normal Windows theme), it's just the forums that kind of keep me around.
It's up to the user to determine which type of switch is best, and unfortunately the best way to do it is by feel. If you live near a Fry's (possibly Microcenter as well), I know they sometimes have a SIIG with Cherry MX Blue switches out for the public to bang on. From there you can find out if you prefer the springier and somewhat less meaty feel of Cherry MX Blue (and to a certain extent Brown) switches, or if you really must have the heavier buckling springs.
Don't be afraid to shop around for old keyboards either. You can often find a used Model M on eBay for less than $30 (used to be less, but the recent resurgence in demand has driven prices up), and if you have a local electronics recycling center you can sometimes find a few kicking around.
Also bear in mind that there are cheaper Cherry MX Blue-based boards out there. The iOne Scorpius M10 is actually cheaper than the Unicomp, and the iRocks KR6230 is still usually under $100.
On the subject of keyboards, I went and dug up an old keyboard that used to be on my dad's old IMB 286. It's a BTC-5339SX, made by BTC. It has an AT connector (I think?), with a 5 pin DIN connector.
From taking it apart and looking at the type of keys it has, it seems to be one of these mechanical keyboards that are so popular. But it didn't feel all that great to me. I don't have an adapter to connect it to my computer, so I didn't use it very much, but it just felt a bit mushy, with a long travel distance to press the keys.
Can't seem to find much on it I'm afraid, but not all mechanical switch boards are created equal. Indeed, some of the really old boards used fairly cheap switches that might have worn out quickly or not even been that good to begin with. Also do bear in mind that key travel doesn't necessarily mean actuation point - if there's no tactile "bump" while you're pressing the switch, odds are it did actuate about halfway down, you just didn't feel it, meaning the board uses linear switches which aren't a great representation of all mechanical boards.
About all I found on that board specifically is that you could still probably get about $40-$50 for it on eBay - but take it to the real gurus on Geekhack, you might get a better offer, or just some praise for owning the thing.
That makes sense. When I looked at the keys, they just had a spring on them, with no bump when you press the keys. There was a padded foil on the backside, so when the keys actually make contact was probably sooner than when the keys get to the bottom.
From my googling, I was surprised at the price it was going for. Is there a reason for that price? Maybe just having an old long-lasting keyboard? The build quality?
I assume that some mechanical keyboards have a bump to them. Are those more popular?
Interesting design, but I'm not familiar with it. If it really is a mechanical board, that alone justifies the price though. Mechanical switch boards can easily last 10 times longer than their rubber-dome counterparts, and they're much easier to repair since if one switch fails you can swap it out for a new one. You can still find old IBM Model M's or Apple Extended Keyboard II's for $30+ on Ebay, and those are often relatively dirty (cleaner ones can go for more).
What it really boils down to is both those things. To most people, the tactile feedback given by most mechanical-style boards is great for typing. You know precisely when your keystroke has registered, so instead of having to press the key all the way down you can let up once the key has been pressed. This leads to less finger fatigue, and some even believe less chance of carpal tunnel. The switches themselves also last much longer (most estimates are at about 10 times as long), which is evidenced by the number of still-serviceable mechanical boards you can find these days.
As for switch types, generally speaking there are three main ones across all technologies:
Clicky + Tactile. These are characterized not only by the tactile bump, but an accompanying click to provide an audible cue as to when the keystroke registers. One thing that should be noted here is that the point when the key de-actuates is not always at the same point as the click/bump. For this reason these types of boards aren't as sought-after by gamers who require multiple, fast keystrokes.
Tactile: Just that bump in the middle, resulting in a quieter typing experience, although curiously not as sought-after as the clicky counterparts (I actually like the clicks myself).
Linear: No bump, no click, no nothing, just a stiff, springy feel. These usually actuate at exactly the same place both up and down making them somewhat more ideal for gamers, although quite a bit less pleasant for typing as they just feel like springier rubber-dome boards.
Dunno about really poor. The build quality is better than most rubber dome boards, it's just that flaws come out much more easily due to the higher complexity of building a mechanical board. I can certainly understand your trepidation however, and it's not without cause at all.
The BEST way is by feel. It's not the only way however. Your best bet is probably Youtube reviews to find out what kind of sound the boards have, and what kind of "feel" the keys have. This can differ from board to board even with the same switch, most commonly due to the differences in sound created by either a direct PCB or metal backplate design.
If you really liked the feel of the buckling spring though, odds are that's not going to change on a Cherry MX Blue. A buckling spring is best described as "meaty", and even modern switches can't quite compare to that really hefty feel (maybe an all-55g Topre, but that's almost undoubtedly out of your price range). In terms of weight Cherry MX Clears (the Deck Legend tactile versions are probably the only place you'll find these) are similar, but they have no audible feedback and the feel of the press is a fair bit different.
As for used boards, it's easy enough to give them a very thorough alcohol swabbing, or even run them through a dishwasher (just give them about a week to properly dry 100%).
Every review I've read on the keyboard was something along the lines of "Do not buy, horrible build quality, terrible customer service!" or similar. The only thing I can see myself buying besides the Das Professional would be the Majestouch Tactile Click NKRO, unless I find some others.
I might try grabbing a used Model M and putting it through the dishwasher then, because I did see a few for just over $30. I also saw a video of someone doing a mod of sorts and painting theirs, which seems rather interesting, and is something I would only do on a cheaper keyboard anyway.
Well, Cherry boards themselves are usually high quality - they're not very prevalent in the US however, and their model numbers can be confusing as hell.
As a side note, as long as you're looking at the Model S, the Das is the board I'd go for over the Filco. Personally I like my Deck (double-shot keys, backlighting, and hand-made quality are too much to give up), but I'll be the first to admit that the switches aren't the best unless you game exclusively on the board.
Yeah, I was considering the Deck but I read that the switches weren't the greatest in a review of quite a few mechanical keyboards. Figured I might as well stick with the ABS M1 (which is still fine, I just want to try something new) over one, since the backlighting isn't that important to me and I'm not a fan of the "font" the letters are "printed" in on them.
Well, the Deck boards use two different types of switches. Most use the linear Cherry MX Black switches, which are still better than rubber domes, but definitely not among the best switches to type on. There are models that use Cherry MX Clear switches (like mine) that are essentially Cherry MX Brown tactile switches, but with the stiffer spring present in the Cherry MX Blacks. They're much better for typing than the blacks, but they are a bit on the stiff side so it's all up to personal preference. But if you don't want a backlit board, the Deck really loses a lot of its appeal, unless you're looking for a gaming-exclusive keyboard (the 82-key Deck is probably THE best LAN party board on the market, except possibly the Happy Hacking Professional II).