Vintage Apple Keyboard Revived As Standalone Computer

Many of our readers are familiar with the gold standard of classic PC keyboards – the bunker with switches known as the IBM Model M. The Model M’s Apple contemporary is the Apple Extended Keyboard and they are just as highly sought-after by their respective enthusiasts. Though discontinued almost 25 years ago and incompatible with anything made in the last 15, the codenamed “Saratoga” is widely considered the best keyboard Apple ever made.

[Ezra] has made a hobby of modernizing these vintage heartthrobs and rescuing them from their premature obsolescence. In a superbly documented tutorial he not only shows how to convert them to USB (a popular and trivial hack), but teaches you how and where to smuggle a Raspberry Pi in as well.

After disassembly, the project requires only a little bit of chisel and Dremel work before the soldering iron comes out. [Ezra] was fairly meticulous in removing or redirecting the Pi’s connectors and hardwiring the internals. Only 3 pins need to be traced from the original keyboard and [Ezra]’s ADB–>USB Rosetta Stone of choice is the Hasu Converter running on a Atmega 32u4 clone. Balancing cost, range, and power draw from the Pi, he settled on the TP-LINK WN722N for his WiFi solution which is also tucked away inside the case. A single pullup resistor to finish it off and [Ezra] was delighted to discover it worked the first time he plugged it in.

Keyboards from this era use actual momentary switches that audibly click twice per keypress. In our world of screens-as-keys celebrating the lack of tactile constraints, using beasts like the Model M or the AEK to force transistors to do your bidding is like racking a shotgun during a game of lasertag – comically obtuse but delightfully mechanical.

If you are looking to expand on [Ezra]’s tinkering, he has already made a wishlist of additions: a toggle switch to lobotomize the Pi back into a plain USB keyboard, an internal USB hub, and a power switch.

Hear the video of an AEK in action after the break (or loop it to sound productive while you nap).

23 thoughts on “Vintage Apple Keyboard Revived As Standalone Computer

    1. Source article says “The little dev board here is an Arduino Pro Micro Clone, which has the Atmega 32u4 chip.” Doesn’t make the statement correct, but, that’s what he says he used. Furthermore, the important part in context is that it works with any Atmega 32u4, which is why that was mentioned instead of just Pro Micro Clone.

    1. I never owned a Model M (and the ones in the store seemed needlessly noisy), so for me this was the best keyboard of all time. I had no idea that I really NEEDED to hack one of these into a full computer, until this moment, but now it’s crystal clear. Only I’m thinking more along the lines of a two-line LCD text display, as a Python machine. Wonder if there’s room for it in there.

      It does seem a little weird, though, having three microprocessors in one keyboard (including the original one).

  1. I know this is sacrilege to many, but I remember using these keyboards in computer labs in school and I don’t remember them as particularly nice or bad; they’re just keyboards. Now, the model M’s, those are nice! I wish I’d “rescued” some of them when the old lab PC/XT’s got upgraded. May be there are still some languishing in the university surplus warehouse. I need to check that out.

    Anyhow, I like this almost-all-in-one hack. Is there a space for that Adafruit TFT display? So, you’d have an all-in-one computer with full size keyboard and a tiny touch display. (c:

      1. Yeah unicomp is great. The windows key is nice to have, just another useful key in a prime location.

        my only wish is that unicomp would sell a keyboard with the caps lock either removed completely (useless key) or moved to where printscreen and scroll lock are and replace that spot with a ctrl key. Optionally have some dip switches on the bottom to remap it to caps lock, ctrl, alt, esc.

        With unicomp around I don’t see any reason to ‘rescue’ some model m’s unless you see em for $10 or something. Unicomp’s prices are very reasonable (compared to the grossly over priced ‘high end’ mx keyboards) They are also a million times more durable than the fragile mx keys which I have had fail or function poorly fairly frequently – I smoke at the keyboard which I believe is the problem. my $80 adesso at work (where I can’t smoke) has been fine. The $200 filco at home had some issues, two blackwidows just completely crapped out on me and was told by razor to ‘upgrade my drivers’ to fix keys not working.

    1. Are you certain they were this exact model? They were a fairly small subset of Apple’s total ADB keyboard output. Neither the older, standard models (without F-keys) nor the later “basic” ADB models were held in high regard.

      They’re pretty easily identified, thankfully; the good ones have both function keys and a multicolor Apple logo. There is some debate about whether the original Apple Extended Keyboard (the one pictured here) or the slightly later Apple Extended Keyboard II are more desirable; the latter has the Apple logo at the top left, and is height adjustable.

        1. never understood why the small keyboards were considered ‘hackers’ keyboards. Hackers want lots of keys for the numerous keybindings and macros they will have. I have configured the 17 numpad keys to various useful functions in my WM :)

  2. Side note; you can use the AEK, AEK II and most ADB-based input peripherals on modern computers with something like a Griffin iMate. That’s how I use my AEK II on my PC. The commercial options are a little hard to find now, though.

    …Still prefer my Model M (which I’m typing on now,) but the AEK gets used every once in a while when I don’t want to wake the dead; Alps white keyswitches are a *smidgen* quieter than bolt-modded buckling springs.

    1. It doesn’t. Separate author. If you look at the source you’ll see that [Ezra] didn’t have a video with his hack. I figured that many readers would want to know what an AEK sounded like, so I found a video that demonstrates the sound. This rather than all our curious readers having to search for one themselves.

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