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April 17, 2010
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Buckling Springs vs. Cherry MX Blue vs. ALPS?

:iconmanjyomethunder:
ManjyomeThunder Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2010
So, after using a mechanical keyboard for the past few months or so, I'm pretty much incapable of using a normal rubber dome one entirely. I absolutely love my ABS M1 and the tactile feel it provides, and could never imagine going back to a regular old keyboard. I've only used my Lycosa a handful of times in the past few months, and mainly because with the backlight off, the keys are impossible to see, making it ideal for practicing using the Dvorak layout.

Now, the other day when I was over at my friend Will's house, he mentioned to me that he had an old IBM computer that he didn't know how to use. To my surprise, it was a Model 5150, aka. THE "Personal Computer". And while setting it up and showing him how to use DOS and play games off some floppies he had, I of course had to use his old IBM PC Keyboard. Needless to say, I absolutely loved it. It was even louder and more tactile than my own ABS M1. And with a bit of research, I found that it uses buckling springs like the Model M.

So, researching a bit I found that new models of the IBM Model M are still made with (almost the same) feel under the name "Customizer 104" by Unicomp. It looks rather interesting, and the color layout is pretty nice to. Of course, it comes at a steep price of $69.99, which then again is actually relatively low compared to say, a backlit mechanical keyboard like the Deck Legend Frost, or something that uses Topre switches like the HHKB Pro.

The only thing is that on researching further, I found that many people prefer the feel of Cherry MX Blue switches (used in the Das/iOne/etc.) to the buckling springs used in the Model M / Customizer 104. Of course, the majority of keyboards using them are significantly more expensive, and I wouldn't be able to buy one as quickly.

So, the question is: Should I stick with my ABS M1 for now and save for a Cherry MX Blue one later? Or should I buy a Customizer 104? Any other keyboards / switch types that people would recommend?

inb4 someone doesn't read, sees the work "keyboard" and replies "g15" or similar.
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Devious Comments

:iconidunwanapea:
idunwanapea Featured By Owner May 24, 2010
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.
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:iconmanjyomethunder:
ManjyomeThunder Featured By Owner May 24, 2010
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.
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:iconphaedrus2401:
Phaedrus2401 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010  Student General Artist
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]

Hope I've been helpful. :)
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:iconmanjyomethunder:
ManjyomeThunder Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010
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).
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:iconphaedrus2401:
Phaedrus2401 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010  Student General Artist
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.
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:iconmanjyomethunder:
ManjyomeThunder Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010
[link] Seems to think there's some annoying drawbacks, others less so. Makes me a bit worried.
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:iconphaedrus2401:
Phaedrus2401 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010  Student General Artist
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.
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:iconmanjyomethunder:
ManjyomeThunder Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010
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.
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:iconrayvinazn:
rayvinazn Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010
Didn't know you were here too Phae, but I'm glad to know we got another keyboard guy around these parts.
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:iconphaedrus2401:
Phaedrus2401 Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2010  Student General Artist
I'm not really active on dA anymore, I mainly use it for image hosting nowadays. Want to read my shitty sci-fi? :p
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