Do You Miss The Sound Of Your Model M?

There is one aspect of desktop computing in which there has been surprisingly little progress over the years. The keyboard you type on today will not be significantly different to the one in front of your predecessor from the 1970s. It may weigh less, its controller may be less power-hungry, and its interface will be different, but the typing experience is substantially identical. Or at least, in theory it will be identical. In fact it might be worse than the older peripheral, because its switches are likely to be more cheaply made.

The famous buckled springs in operation. Shaddim [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The famous buckled spring in operation. Shaddim [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Thus among keyboard aficionados the prized possessions are not necessarily the latest and greatest, but can often be the input devices of yesteryear. And one of the more famous of these old keyboards is the IBM Model M, a 1984 introduction from the computer behemoth that remains in production to this day. Its famous buckled-spring switches have a very positive action and a unique sound that once heard can never be forgotten.

So if you are a Model M enthusiast and you miss the characteristic clack of high-speed buckled-spring typing on your modern-day laptop, what’s to be done? Fortunately [Ico Doornekamp] has the answer, in the form of bucklespring, an IBM Model M sound emulator. Install it on your Linux box, your Mac, or your WIndows PC, and relive the classic sound of the 1980s as you type!

Yes, it’s gloriously silly, we’ll grant you that. And all your colleagues will hate you for it. But we know some of you won’t be able to help it, and will spend the next few days gleefully clacking away from your MacBook Airs until you get bored with it. After all, if using your computer no longer has the power to entertain, what’s the point?

If the Model M is too new for you, it’s not the only desirable IBM keyboard of yore, how about a Model F? Or give up on these newfangled electronics, and just use a typewriter.

Via Hacker News.

Header Model M image: Raymangold22 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.

62 thoughts on “Do You Miss The Sound Of Your Model M?

  1. I recently found my keyboard from my late 80’s 486 machine, stored away in our attic and long forgotten. It was an MMG mechanical keyboard with wonderful “action” and sound. It had been well packaged when stored and now just awaits my getting the proper adapter to convert it to USB so I can start using it again. Maybe I’ll use it to play a nice game of Castle Wolfenstein!

    1. Someone should take one of those that is very thoroughly dead, one with the steel bottom cover and two steel plates inside which slide together using pins and ‘keyhole’ slots, and see what calibers of bullets it can resist. Should at least withstand .22 rimfire and some sizes of shotgun pellets.

      1. Wanna know why the steel plates were there?

        Because secretaries didn’t like the beta keyboards, they were light weight and bounced. The secretaries where pounding on the keys. Because of the clack and memory muscle training from the IBM Selectric typewriters they were use to.

        Steel plates can take a rifle shot, used as a lethal weapon. But in the end just held the keyboard down better.

    1. What kind of Cherry MX? Blue, black, brown, red…? There are linear Cherry MX switches with no clicky sound, so If your keyboard was assembled with them, you wont get any sound like the old IBM keyboards. I think the Cherry MX blue switches are the best ones when you want an oldschool sound and feeling.

      1. I bought one of the Lenovo gaming keyboards that hat Cherry reds and painstakingly transplanted all of the keyswitches from a Razer Black Widow Ultimate. The Razer was good, but the angle of the keyboard and the lack of a proper wrist rest lead me to do the transplant. I used the keycaps from the Razer (where possible) and used a dremel to shorten the height of the CTRL keys so they wouldn’t accidentally get actuated by my palms. I think I figured out that I had to desolder 1200 connections or so. I reused the red LEDs from the Lenovo, but with the Razer “Green” keyswitches. I didn’t do this for gaming, I did it because I do A LOT of typing for my work and I got tired of buying a $120 keyboard every 2-3 years. Now I can buy keycaps when they wear out.

    1. agreed, you will never get any of mine either. A local surplus junkyard got a ton of them in a long time ago and I salvaged all the good ones and was even lucky enough to snag a single illusive black m keyboard.

  2. No, the sound is the thing I do not miss.
    I miss the feel of the keys, Model M has by far the best keys ever built. I stil do have one – but it’s so fucking loud that I do not use it.

      1. You think you need the “tactile feedback”, but you really don’t. It’s like craving for old loud cars without power steering where you could hear the engine and time your shifting by ear, and feel the road surface by the vibration of the steering wheel, but it’s completely superfluous – a kind of stockholm syndrome for obsolete technology, or worse, hipsterism.

        Most of the “ergonomy” of old computer keyboards is just replicating the faults of typewriters for familiarity, and most people who argue for them do it out of cargo cult reasons – such as thinking that flipping out the little legs that lift the rear of the keyboard are there for easier touch typing – they’re not. They only make things worse for you.

        A soft-bottoming short travel, scissor switch flat keyboard is ergonomically better and faster to type on without using excessive force. The only trouble with modern keyboards is the unreliable erratic action of the cheapest rubber dome switches and sloppy engineering with the key guides, which is easily avoided by not buying the cheapest possible shit.

  3. This is one keyboard they really need to bring back in to production, agreed it is not the sound that is attractive but the tactile feel of the keys. The robustness of it is great as well. and to clean it just pop the keys off and clean out the dust.

      1. I use a Unicomp at work everyday, glad to have gotten away from the limp feeling and sliding all around the desk super-light membrane keyboards. I absolutely love my Unicomp, though it likely is not cubefarm friendly :)

    1. Personally I find membrane-type keyboards easier to clean, because even if you take it apart (removing the controller and foils with the contacts), the keys are held in place, then you can literally hose it down with dish soap and hot water… or use a pressure washer if you have a way of keeping the parts from flying off :D

    2. I miss my Ms (lost to various drink-spillage disasters (to the point that it’s not washable)/lack of old-school keyboard plugs on modern computers — I know there’s an adapter, but hard to find one that works)/components older than me letting the smoke out. Also had a mint OG IBM keyboard — without F-keys, wish I’d kept it long enough to get into this stuff and mod it to work on a modern system/plug.

      My fiance swears it adds 20wpm to his typing speed, and he’s not wrong:

      That’s just copying whatever book was handy, with 99% accuracy. I wish we’d done a comparison video on a regular modern keyboard and/or the latop chiclets we both use now. Me, I’m an advanced “San Franciso nightclub patron” typist, to borrow a joke..

  4. I’m shocked nobody’s posted this yet, but you can get NEW buckling spring keyboards based on the original Model M design. A company called Unicomp bought the intellectual property and sells them. They have them in USB and PS2, with and without Windows keys, and even with an without the little red nubbin mousing thing (yes I know it has a dozen hilarious names).

    That said, even though I dearly move the sound and feel of a Model M, I’ve come to prefer Cherry MX keyswitches; there’s more manufacturers that make them, you can get them in a variety of tactile/sound profiles, and they can be had customized to hell from places like WASD keyboards if you want. I have a Filco with Cherry MX Browns right now.

    1. I have both the original Model M and the Unicomp replica and while the keys feel fairly close to the same the sound is not even close to the original. This was the most disappointing thing about that keyboard – otherwise it’s great…

      Oh, and it also doesn’t have the original spelled out Num Lock Caps Lock Scroll Lock sticker, just some weird hieroglyphics.

  5. The Unicomp is OK but it’s not the same as the original model M. The build quality is not the same. I own 5 original model Ms and have tried using Unicomp replacement parts. Not the same.

    I love my model Ms and have bolt modded 4 of them. They’ll last forever now. There’s several ways to make them work on modern systems from replacement controller boards (phosphorglow.net), USB micro controllers with Soarer’s converter or TMK to just a simple ps/2 to USB.

    If you want a windows key then use Sharpkeys (a free program) to re-assign an F# key to windows.

    Keep an eye on eBay for good deals $30 or less I’ve gotten mine for. Deskthority and geekhack have guides on the care and feeding of your model M. What to look for and how not to get scammed. I prefer the mid 1990’s with the drainage channel in the frame.

    Be weary of anyone saying it’s a rare 1985 model. That the IBM copyright date they weren’t made till 1989.

  6. Point of order, the animated buckling spring animation above is the Model F mechanism, not Model M.

    I’ve used Model Ms from 1993 to 2014. Now I use a Model F and it’s glorious!

  7. I dont know why but my 23 year old likes the sound of the older type keyboard.
    And he ended up buying a couple of expensive ones before he found the right one.
    Now he is trying out different key lay outs. That must be hard on the brain.

    Me I go for design. right now I have a ibm something that is more like a laptop think pad keyboard, I built a stand so its at the right angle and it has a hat and mouse pad on it and no keypad.
    It was from a slide out terminal from a rack And I love it.
    Oh and it has a usb hub build in. Funny i didn’t see the hub for a couple of months.
    I Just love it.

  8. I got a few of those over the years. I felt in love with the first one, and got a few more for spare parts… But that was useless since it seems those things just cannot die.

    Best keyboard ever for typing, but terrible for playing (they start ghosting after 3 simultaneous key strokes). Not a big deal though. You just need to add a n52 or something like that to fix the issue.

    Nowadays I use a unicomp knockoff just because my kvm cannot handle the model 13 but I know they are still around and I’ll use them again some day.

  9. I believe there was an IBM laptop with semi-mechanical keys.
    It had a buckling mechinism like modern laptop keyboards but had a flat metal pin sticking upwards at an angle of the substrate that connected with a pad on the substrate floor of the keyboard. Wasn’t clickey or anything to run home about.
    It was many years ago but that is the only mechanical laptop keyboad I remember or vaguely know of.
    I only knew of it’s construction when I wanted to salvage some useful parts from it and got curious about the keyboard.

  10. As a fuddy-duddy (but not old, I never used the NCP Arpanet), I miss the pre-september usenet, when it was possible to get a full feed with a 1200 baud modem. I was never into the IBM boat-anchor keyboards.

  11. I still can’t be parted from my Model M or Unicomp (depending on the situation) for daily use. If I was trying this software while stuck on a laptop, it would probably just make me mad because I would be constantly reminded that I was on a short-travel rubber dome monstrosity, or worse a chicklet keyboard.

  12. I use the Unicomp keyboards and they are just fine. The plastic case is a little creeky and thinner and it does not have the heavy steel plate of the originals and I suspect that’s what the change in sound is all about, but it really scratches the need for a clickey keyboard. Don’t hate on the unicomp. It is the best non gamer conventional keyboard out there right now and at an affordable price for a professional.

  13. Im a big fan of old keybords too, but.. I found two main problems: the lack of windows key and ps2 port! Since i use mainly laptops, i dont have ps2 ports available, i tried some ps2 to usb adapters and despite of working they are not 100% perfect, sometimes one key get stuck and typed forever; the other is the latency that is introduced to typing, less when writing a document, but way more perceptible when playing games..

    And for all theese reasons i got stuck to a usb keyboard!

  14. Try a different adapter. The ones I’ve used either worked perfectly, forever, or didn’t work at all. That said, many, many Model M sites out there to advise which ones work best. I picked up this one at a thrift store–the keyboard I’m using itself came from a dumpster. It’s ‘birthday’ is 30March93. (3/30/93). It worked immediately. It still does…probably always will

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