God’s Own Keyboard, Now With Bluetooth

For decades a thunderous roar rose from the bowels of IBM keyboards like the animus of angry and forgotten gods. These keyboards have fallen silent of late, due only to incompatibility with newer hardware. Now, Model Ms have been given a reprieve from landfills or recycling centers because of the work of [wulax] of geekhack and his Model M Bluetooth controller board.

Because of some very old and power-hungry electronics, the Model M sometimes draws more power from a PS/2 port than a computer can supply. That means PS/2 to USB adapters don’t work sometimes. In any event, PS/2 ports were declared a legacy port 11 years ago. We’re surprised that new motherboards still include one.

[wulax] got around all these problems by taking the Bluetooth controller out of a cheap mini keyboard and mapping the Model M rows and columns to it. A PCB was made and a rather large battery was stuffed inside the Model M. Now a keyboard from 1984 is wireless and able to interface with just about every computer made in the last few years.

There are a couple leftover PCBs [wulax] is hanging onto. We’d love to see these Model M replacement boards manufactured as a drop-in replacement for Model Ms. Actually, we’re wondering why this hasn’t been done already. If you’ve got an idea, leave a note in the comments.

49 thoughts on “God’s Own Keyboard, Now With Bluetooth

    1. From their web site :

      “Unicomp was established in 1996 when we purchased keyboard technology from Lexmark International, the former IBM Division and long-time maker of high quality keyboards for IBM”

      Looks as good to me as the original…

  1. I have used the same 1984 Model-M for.. well.. a long time.

    Nice to hear folks are not only still using them on modern systems, but hacking them to work with MORE gear.. Although you couldn’t pay me enough to use that new-fangled bluetooth/wireless crap! It’s not
    tempest compliant.. plus, It’ll give ya brain cancer! ;)


  2. I just got my hands on a good old Model M, needs a little cleaning, which is easy enough with a real keyboard. I really would love if this thing became available for purchase. I am quiet adept with a soldering iron, but I am only just getting into PICs and Micro-controllers so I don’t have the skill to build my own adapter. Also does anyone of of a mod for the Model M adding a Super key? (Windows/Apple Key)

    1. I use Linux and a Model M Space Saving and it’s simple to remap the Caps Lock to the Super key:
      edit /etc/default/keyboard and add the line
      reboot and you’re good to go.

  3. I’m a Filco Majestouch user.. I was going to get a Model M but I feel that I can’t live without the windows key.. I use it both in Windows and Linux. It would feel wierd without them. However, PCKeyboard.com manufactures new keyboards (though they really look like they were designed in the 90s)… with the same keys as the Model M.. so it’s all good..

    I still want one at the same time, but I already have my own mechanical keyboard.

      1. Actually, not quite. Windows + L doesn’t work with that for example. I have a vintage 80s Model M I use at the office and have to do CTRL + ALT + DEL then select “lock this computer” with the mouse. Would love to be able to do it with a single keystroke but so far no dice.

  4. I would love to use my Model Ms on my Mac, which I presume these newfangled USB/Bluetooth HIDs will do out of the box. Please open source your hard work and people can make the circuit boards in their local friendly hackerspaces.

  5. Incompatible with modern hardware? Really? The comments above seem to suggest otherwise. The very existence of this hack *proves* otherwise.

    Connector sizes and scan-codes can both be adapted.

    They fell silent not because of incompatibility. That was a completely solved problem the day USB 1.0 first rolled out of the SIG and onto the market, in the form of PS/2-USB adapters.

    They fell silent because of market pressures. They’re expensive keyboards to make and maintain. They’re heavy, making transportation more burdensome. In contrast, contemporary keyboards are cheap, lightweight, and disposable. What do you think Ma and Pa Kettle are going to use for their Internet e-Machine? Which do you think a vendor is going to prefer to minimize their own shipping costs?

    Finally, and perhaps strangely the most important point, consider laptops. The same technology that goes into making laptop keyboards now appears in desktop keyboards (consider some recent HP and Apple keyboard offerings, just as a fer-instance). This reuse of manufacturing infrastructure further reduces costs.

    Find a way to integrate buckling spring keys in a laptop keyboard at competitive prices, and you’ll see the sudden resurgence of the Model M, built to modern specifications, using contemporary connectors, and USB scancodes for maximum compatibility, for both laptop and desktop platforms everywhere.

    BTW, you can still purchase used and new Model-M-type keyboards online. Moreover, Cherry keyboards are still around, where each key uses a Cherry switch, offering a tactile feel competitive with the buckling spring. And, lastly, there’s the Das Keyboard, offering buckling spring technology for modern keyboards. If, that is, you’re willing to pay the price. The products are out there. You just have to look for them.

    I must admit, I’m getting kind of tired of reading blatant misinformation on HaD’s articles. This is the 2nd time in as many days. I ask you to please stop, and think twice before you offer any “explanations” on various market-driven phenomena.

    1. For those Model-Ms which aren’t able to be powered off a PS/2-USB adapter, I can’t imagine that it’d be hard to replace the older microcontroller circuitry with newer parts, keeping the existing mechanical skeleton intact.

      Generating scanset-2 (PC/AT) codes isn’t too hard to do in software, so writing your own keyboard controller should be a relatively easy task as far as HaD projects go.

    2. I could not agree more. My stash of Swedish Model M keyboards are mostly connected to USB adapters. Never had problems with power draw using only keyboards.. Adding a barcode scanner (one of those nice industrial Symbol PS/2 ones now thrown after you since they’re not USB…) makes for more interesting situations.

      A much more interesting hack (that’s been done) is a cheap Sun Type 5 to USB adapter. Much more expensive to buy (like €100) and not as available either.

    3. Agreed. Someone should have told my brother that they no longer work with machines lol. He never quit using his M. There was always some new tape or dongle every three years or so. Me, I could give a crap as long as it isn’t one of those ergonomic keyboards or has obvious “genetic material” on it.
      I guess the guy got what he wanted but with the BT dongle only operating a meter, what is the point of going cordless. This article just kinda made my head hurt.
      Also some of you need to look up the word macro if you want a windows key. I’m sure there is some convoluted reason that that is unacceptable, though-just like a BT dongle that has a shorter range than the original cord.

    1. That’s the problem I have with my 1391401 — people have complained about the Windows key for going on twenty years now, but it turns out, having a fourth meta key? Really, really handy.

      Also, where the hell do you find the socket driver you need to get the casing open? It’s 7/32″ and countersunk in about a three-quarters-inch-deep hole with barely enough clearance for a tool; the only time I’ve seen anything marketed specifically as a Model M disassembly tool, they wanted sixty bucks for it, the bastards. Never have been able to find a similar super-narrow driver for anything resembling a reasonable price.

  6. i love my model m … my collages hate it because its loud
    i got an AT to PS/2 and a PS/2 to USB to run it … dont go cheap on the AT to PS2 because the fucker draws allot of power

    1. Actually, the AT-to-PS/2 adapter is a completely passive device (the PS/2 connector is just a smaller version of the AT connector. Even the pin assignments remain the same between them). It’s the PS/2-USB adapter that’s active.

  7. One of the main reasons they still support ps/2 ports is that you can gain full n-key rollover with mechanical keyboards via ps/2, but usb only allows a maximum of 6 n-key, so only 6 keys can be pressed at once and be recorded.

      1. Yep, >6 key rollover for both gaming and emacs usage.

        Also, I’ve got shortcuts setup that identifty left and right side ctrl/alt/shift/meta as different keys.
        So LCtrl+a is different from RCtrl+a, and both at the same time is a third shortcut.

        So, LCtrl+LAlt+RCtrl+LAlt+LShift+RShift+Rwin+X is actually setup as a keybinding. ( It runs a script that kills all non-essential processes, if anyone is curious. )

        That’s 8 keys at once, and doesn’t work via USB.

    1. The scan interval for PS/2 keyboards is usually sub 10 ms where as USB keyboards can have intervals as high as 30ms. That means a PS/2 keyboard potentially registers your key presses faster than a USB keyboard.

      The PS/2 port is interrupt based which means it notifies the CPU of input. USB is a polling interface which means that the CPU has to constantly check the USB interface for input. So USB devices waste CPU cycles.

  8. Um…These are totally compatible with modern systems (this should be taken with a grain of salt as I know there will be exceptions to this statement). The trick is that a usb adapter won’t work you have to buy a usb converter. I got one when I got mine about 2 years ago. The converter cost about $15 and is significantly bulkier than the standard adapter.
    ClickyKeyboards.com has them for about $15. I have a 1984 Model M that I use everyday with this adapter.

  9. I’ve got both a PS/2 and a USB-converted Model M. The latter is great for laptop use. No problems with power. Bluetooth sounds great.

    Both my keyboards were found in the trash several years apart. One didn’t have a cable – hence my incentive to convert it to USB internally.

  10. I love my model M, truly a keyboard of the gods (especially when dyed black to match a das keyboard ultimate something or other i.e. no key markings… and in my case no indicator LEDs because I went a bit nuts with the spraypaint). What I don’t like is accidentally treading on the amazingly long cable coming off it. I also don’t like the unused features such as that empty speaker grill on the base of my 1991 model and bluetooth could potentially allow something to be done with it.

    Enough ramble, I would love to see this project improved by having solar panels added to that top section of the keyboard that’s empty to recharge the battery, there’s enough space to collect enough juice surely :P

    Might want to add a raspberry pi if you’re going to the trouble of having batteries. Ooh, there’s space to fit all kinds of energy harvesting gear in there too!

  11. Unicomp (pckeyboards.com) sells USB Model M’s. I’ve got several — they work fine on Macs.

    Older Model M’s are sometimes glitchy w/ USB-to-PS2 adapters because they tend to pull more than 0.5A of power.

  12. Wow I have 10 of those keyboards in my basement collecting dust, never thought there was this much of a demand for them. just wow. Might clean em all up and test em out. if they work. I’ll sell em but keep one.

  13. I’ve been searching for something like this so I can use my M with the HP Touchpad. I hate these stupid touchscreens. Give me something with some real tactical feedback. It’s why I still use a phone with buttons (Treo 650).

    I got lucky and bought about 20 Ms for 50 cents each about 10yrs back. Everything has an M on it. :D

  14. I’ve got a half dozen of these I picked up through thrift stores. I’d love to do this project, but the original BT module boards are not manufactured any longer. Anyone know where the boards are available for sale?

  15. A buddy and I are going to work on converting a couple of old ‘M’ keyboards to bluetooth over the summer. I’m still wondering about the logic bridge to use between the bluetooth device (UART) and the keyboard logic.

    I’m between using a UART IP Megafunction and developing an AT device IP for use on a CPLD, or using a PIC16 or PIC18 and bit-banging the AT interface (I’m not sure if one of the EUSARTs will be capable of creating the proper behaviors for an AT bus master or not, but I’m not banking on it).
    If anybody knows, please, by all means, show me the way! I’m super enthusiastic to start work, but I’d like to know that I have a solid design before then.

  16. Hi Bryan,

    I know this is an old post but i’m curious if you can make or sell me one of these mods? I would really love to have my trusty Model M have bluetooth capabilities

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