I have an IBM Model M (PS/2) at home and a Leopold FC500R with Cherry brown switches at work. I like the Model M better than the Leopold, but both are very nice keyboards.

In college, my roommate Steve bought me a used Model M from Goodwill for like $8. It was missing a few key caps and was a bit worn, but it still worked quite well and I loved it. It had an AT style keyboard connector (rather than PS/2 or USB) but with a passive PS/2 converter, worked great. I stupidly gave it away when I sold my desktop shortly after graduation, thinking I could easily find another keyboard I really liked and because I was mostly using an Apple G4 PowerBook for my day-to-day computing.

I wish I hadn’t.

Luckily, there’s great resources online for keyboard aficionados (of which I’m probably one). EliteKeyboards sell a few different varieties of Cherry switch keyboards, Unicomp still make brand-new buckling spring keyboards (apparently they bought the rights from IBM along with the manufacturing equipment), and ClickyKeyboards sell new and used IBM Model Ms.

My Model M that I have now I purchased new from ClickyKeyboards in 2006. Since then, they seem to have almost 0 new Model Ms in stock. It seems the IBM Model Ms are starting to run out, people who have them keep them for decades (no joke). So really, the only choice is to either buy a used Model M or to buy a new one from Unicomp, if you want true buckling spring action.

Personally, I enjoy the buckling spring feel more than the Cherry switch feel. My Cherry brown Leopold is nicer than a soft dome keyboard, but the key travel is longer than I’d like and the force over the travel doesn’t change in as nice of a way as the Model M does. It’s quieter, but the keys bottoming out still make some noise (so it’s not “silent” as some might suggest).

If you’ve never tried a buckling spring or Cherry switch keyboard, you should. They are much nicer to type on than cheap dome keyboards. And once you’ve gotten used to them (assuming you like them), going back is hard. I’ve found I don’t like the hand positioning on the Microsoft ergonomic keyboards, and although the dome switches on those are rather decent, I still prefer a Model M or Cherry switch ‘board.

One thing to notice when buying either a Model M or a Cherry switch ‘board is the shape of the key caps and the sculpting of the keys in relation to each other. The Model M has a nice sculpting of the key positions relative to each other such that from the side, the keys seem to wrap around an imaginary cylinder. Many of the Cherry switch keyboards don’t do this. My Leopold does, and that’s why I picked it over the others. If this is something you care about, be sure to research the configuration of the keyboard you’re interested in before buying.

Regardless of which keyboard you choose, if it’s a Model M or Cherry switch one, it should last decades. You’ll pay more for it (budget around $100 or so) but in 10 years, when it’s still working, you won’t have spent a cent more and you’ll still have one of the nicest keyboards available.


02 July 2012