Misc Ramblings

What's the Best Keyboard Ever?

Ever get a new computer look at the wimpy $5 keyboard included in the box and wonder... "Is there something better?"

You bet there is. It's not one of those oddly shaped ergonomic offerings from Microsoft or Logitec. Neither is it a keyboard loaded down with silly multi-media keys and flashy back-lighting. Nope, the Best Keyboard Ever Made is as plain looking and minimally featured as keyboards come...

IBM Model M - The Best Keyboard Ever - Bar None

The best keyboard ever made is the IBM Model M pictured above. Why is a keyboard designed nearly 30 years ago, devoid of multi-media keys, wireless or even usb connections so great? Build quality and the most precise and tactile key action ever devised.

For starters, an IBM Model M keyboard weighs about 5 lbs. With a thick and heavy plastic frame surrounding a heavy steel backplate and mechanical buckling springs supporting each key they're built like a tank and made to last, which is more than can be said for almost any other keyboard manufactered in the last decade. In fact, the Model M I'm typing this on now was made in 1992! I salvaged it from a date with a dumpster and have been happily clicking away on it since 2001. I've probably typed a million lines of code on mine and it still works as well as the day it rolled off the assembly line. Think any of today's keyboards would hold up as well after fifteen years of use? They clean up real well too. Pop the key caps off, run em through the dishwasher, and they're good as new.

Longevity and build quality are nice, but what really sets the Model M apart is the key action. If you've never typed on a Model M, you're missing out. Instead of todays rubbery key clicks, a Model M's buckling spring key mechanisim makes a very audible and tactile click with each key press. It's a very precise and mechanical feel, and for anyone who types a lot, a great aid in both typing speed and accuracy. I read somewhere once that the key switch mechanisims on today's modern rubber dome keyboards are rated for about a million key strokes before they fail, the buckling springs in a Model M are rated for more than 25x that amount.

So where does one aquire one of the Best Keyboards Ever? IBM stopped manufacturing them long ago, but they can be found used and in good working condition on eBay for $15-20 + shipping. Not a bad deal when you put it up against modern keyboards at three times the price. If you want something new there's pckeyboard.com which sells a version of the Model M as the "Customizer 101" for $60.

Still not convinced of the Model M's keyboard superiority? Try these links
Wikipedia's entry on the Model M
Dan's Data
How many other keyboards have multiple websites devoted to their greatness? I'll bet none ;-)

Mike Case can be contacted here