Announcing: Keyboards with crunch

I’ve founded a G+ community for fans of the Model M and other buckling-spring keyboards. Here it is:

Keyboards with crunch

Buckling-spring keyboards are wonderful devices for the discriminating hacker, vastly superior to the mushy dome-switch devices more common these days. But for various reasons (including the mere fact that they contain a lot of mechanical switches) they can be tempermental beasts requiring a bit of troubleshooting and care.

This community is for people who want to know how to find, care for, and troubleshoot their clicky keyboards.

UPDATE: After research and feedback, the name is now “Tactile Keyboards”.

27 thoughts on “Announcing: Keyboards with crunch

  1. Here is a fairly good retailer of clicky keyboards. Their “learn” section was useful in deciphering the terminology used in discussing this style of keyboard.

  2. Nice! I’ve tried to tell my friends about how great mechanical keyboards are, but few seem to care. Such is the lot of the evangelist, I guess.

  3. What about keyboards that use Cherry MX, Alps, or Topre electrostatic capacitive switches?

    Many of those are often mistaken as `buckling-spring keyboards’ despite not using buckling springs, because they also have a similar `crunch’ to them.

    A friend of mine recently recommended a Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 to me (which uses Topre switches), warning that it “feels so good that you may continue typing after the computer is turned off”.

    Have you used any of those? Prefer the actual buckling-spring feel over all of them?

  4. >Many of those are often mistaken as `buckling-spring keyboards’ despite not using buckling springs, because they also have a similar `crunch’ to them.

    I have explicitly widened the charter of the community to include these.

    I don’t know how they compare in feel to a Model M, though, as I have not used them.

  5. I, personally, would not use “crunch” to describe the feeling you’re looking for.

    When I read “keyboards with crunch”, what immediately comes to mind is the various hard crumbs that end up slipping underneath my keycaps when I’m bad and eat in front of my computer.

  6. Call me weird (you have before, lol), but I’m a scissor switch purist. I’ll put up with buckling springs or even mushy domes in a pinch, but the scissor switch key is my favorite (despite being a little bee-itch during reassembly when I haven’t quite got the key cap centered on the frickin’ thing.)

    I agree with Jon though: “crunch” is probably not quite the effect you’re looking for in a buckling spring or capacitive keyboard.

  7. >I, personally, would not use “crunch” to describe the feeling you’re looking for.

    I needed to avoid any kind of pissing match with clickykeyboards.com

  8. > I, personally, would not use “crunch” to describe the feeling you’re looking for.

    You’re just not typing fast enough….

  9. >I needed to avoid any kind of pissing match with clickykeyboards.com

    I was thinking something like “keyboards with snap”. I’m not sure it has quite the right ring to it, but it doesn’t draw up the same images that “crunch” does.

  10. From your article: “they can be tempermental beasts requiring a bit of troubleshooting and care” and “clicky”.

    This doesn’t match up with: “vastly superior”.

    Selectively superior, perhaps. Better in some ways, sure. You prefer them – without a doubt. Vastly superior because I prefer them … umm … I’m going to go with no on that.

  11. >This doesn’t match up with: “vastly superior”.

    It does, but you need to understand the details. The “vastly superior” is the ergonomics – required force per keystroke has actually been measured and drops significantly when you don’t have to bottom out.

    The tempermental part is mainly the Unicomps; that’s because they haven’t refreshed the controller since 1985 or something when it was designed for the PS/2 interface – it can have power-draw problems with cheaper USB chipsets. Some Unicomps also have insufficient strain relief on the cabling.

    Newer tactile designs avoid these problems but, alas, don’t have true buckling-spring switches.

  12. It does, but you need to understand the details. The “vastly superior” is the ergonomics – required force per keystroke has actually been measured and drops significantly when you don’t have to bottom out.

    Scissor-switch keyboards — such as most laptop keyboards and modern Apple boards — require about the same amount of pressure, have shorter key travel, and make less noise while still providing a nice tactile feedback. It’s not as snappy as a Model M but it’s enough for most users, and a vast improvement over full-travel dome boards — which almost invariably feel like typing on a damp sponge.

    Let’s face it, we love these things mainly for nostalgia reasons — and, for some of us, because they are what our fingers were trained on. In a modern, open-plan office setting, they are vastly less than ideal.

  13. >Let’s face it, we love these things mainly for nostalgia reasons — and, for some of us, because they are what our fingers were trained on.

    If this were true, the gamer segment of the tactile-keyboard market would be nonexistent.

  14. Yeah, I’m a fan of the Apple USB (the modern Aluminum one with a scissor switch).

    I literally can’t think while someone is typing on a buckling-spring keyboard near me, unless it’s one of the special quiet ones, because they’re so damned loud.

  15. As the owner of Unicomp’s Model M equivalent keyboard, I definitely prefer Cherry switches over buckling springs. Specifically brown switches. The lower force actuation and reduced noise (especially with o-rings dampers) were what sold me on the Cherry brown switches.

    These days, I would never use a full sized keyboard anymore. Give me a Noppoo Choc Mini (my home keyboard) or CoolerMaster Quickfire TK (my work keyboard) instead, depending upon whether I need to type a lot of numbers.

    And the place to learn all about mechanical keyboards is geekhack.org.

  16. My all-time fave keyboard was the VT100. I was a very energetic typist, having learned on mechanical typewriters. When the VT100 blew a capacitor, I got a Zenith of some sort, and broke a key within a couple weeks, at which point management got me a VT220, which was a piece of dreck compared to the 100, but was at least sturdy.

    For the PC, no doubt that the Northgate Omni-Key is the best I’ve ever used. Not sure how it stacks up to the M.

  17. For the PC, no doubt that the Northgate Omni-Key is the best I’ve ever used. Not sure how it stacks up to the M.

    The OmniKey used ALPS White keyswitches. If “clickiness” is what you favor, the Model M is the gold standard but the OmniKey will come close — maybe even a bit closer than a Cherry Blue board like the Das Keyboard.

    However, if one of your criteria for a PC keyboard is having “the F keys on the left, where they belong!” then the OmniKey/CVT Avant Stellar is clearly superior. :)

  18. The function keys actually belong on the right, as on the VT100. ;-)

    I did, however, become quite good at touch-typing WordPerfect operations on the Ultra. Yeah, I meant that one, though I did have an Omni-Key 102 later.

    Thanks to hlr, I see that I can in fact buy a new keyboard with Alps keyswitches. I’m tempted. OTOH, having become accustomed to dome-switch keyboards, maybe it isn’t such a great idea. One thing I disliked a lot, back in the day, was using the Northgate at home, and the VT220 at work — the VT was just irritating. The cheap Logitech at home at least doesn’t give me anything great to remind my fingers about how crappy the keyboards at work are.

    I noticed, at the wiki rozzin linked to, the Cherry has (or had) an “Alps Click” switch, but I wasn’t able to find any keyboards which use it. Could be that I would find the Blue or Green CherryMX to be quite nice as well.

  19. “I literally can’t think while someone is typing on a buckling-spring keyboard near me, unless it’s one of the special quiet ones, because they’re so damned loud.”

    Heh. Perhaps the return-to-good-clicky-keyboards movement will also jumpstart a movement back to good headphones like the these:

    http://www.headphone.com/headphones/sennheiser-hd-280-pro.php

    I’ve had 4 pairs of these over the last 15 years – and the only reason I’ve had 4 was that one drowned, one was stolen, the third I gave to a needy friend, and the fourth you will take from me and my model m style keyboard only from my cold dead skull and hands….

  20. I recently got myself a Happy Hacking keyboard and am glad I did. It doesn’t click, but it does have very nice key switches. Best of all is the layout which is very minimal, which reduces hand movement and takes up very little room on the desk.

  21. “If this were true, the gamer segment of the tactile-keyboard market would be nonexistent.”
    Yes, gamers are renowned for being objective and dispassionate in their reviews and opinions of stuff.

    Or perhaps you mean the starcraft players and people for whom the term APM actually means something? Can you cite?

  22. >Or perhaps you mean the starcraft players and people for whom the term APM actually means something?

    I have no idea. All I really know is that as I cruise vendor sites selling mechanical-switch keyboards, I keep tripping over references to them as “gaming keyboards”; here’s an example.

    Some posts I’ve seen at geekhack.org imply a belief that the lower total force required when you can perform keystrokes without having to bottom out the key translates into faster keyboarding and some possibly crucial few milliseconds of reduced latency when gaming.

    This belief may be wrong, but it certainly isn’t nostalgia for 1985. Which was my point.

  23. All hail the gaming community for their willingness to spend money on good keyboards. And their realization that keyboard feel, aka mechanical switches, is more important than other bells and whistles. Without them, the mechanical keyboard revival would have never happened.

    I know that both of my current keyboards, the Noppoo Mini and the CoolerMaster TK, are a direct result of gamers willing to spend money.
    http://www.amazon.com/Noppoo-Mechanical-Gaming-Keyboard-Cherry-Switches/dp/B00A219E1I
    http://www.amazon.com/CM-Storm-QuickFire-TK-Mechanical/dp/B00A378L10

  24. Heh….why did I misread that as “Tactical Keyboards” ? ;)

    Actually…..that’s given me an idea….

  25. >Actually…..that’s given me an idea….

    Oh wow. Oh fuck. I can’t wait to see this one…

    /me imagines a camo-pattern keyboard with fiendish weaponry built into it…

  26. /me imagines a camo-pattern keyboard with fiendish weaponry built into it…

    Now I’m remembering that scene from Hackers where Zero Cool spray-paints camo onto his keyboard.

    The Model M is already a tactical keyboard, being quite serviceable as a crude by highly effective bludgeon.

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