Reclaiming The Numpad For Laptop Users Everywhere

We have to agree with NYCResistor, the exclusion of numeric pads from laptops is a real loss for productivity. Ever try to working with a huge spreadsheet ledger without a 10-key? Sure, there are usually function key alternatives hiding somewhere on those reduced keyboards. But that’s hardly the same thing. We think it’s time to take back the numpad. This project shows you how easy it is by using some old time lab equipment to replace the missing keys.

They’re using a Teensy microcontroller board to translate the key matrix into USB inputs. Most of the work is already done for you because of the USB HID Keyboard library available for the development board. Scanning your own key matrix, or decoding the buttons from some rad hardware like this Walters 600E is up to you. A demo of the rig in action can be found after the jump.

Is there anyone else who wishes the 10-key had an ‘X’ on it for coding hex values? Perhaps that will be a future project for us.

37 thoughts on “Reclaiming The Numpad For Laptop Users Everywhere

    1. It ain’t just HP laptops, it’s basically any laptop that’s 17 inches or larger. Depending on the 16 incher, some do, some don’t, and very few 15-inchers do. Don’t think I’ve seen anything smaller than a 15-incher with a numpad.

      That said, my laptop has enough room for a numpad on the right of the keyboard and a media control center on the left. AND it only weighs about ten pounds, and has survived getting between a fifteen-mile-an-hour, two-hundred-pound me and a car…

      1. What make and model is that laptop? The one I’ve got is pretty solid, but when I eventually have to replace it, having one which can shrug off a car sounds like a damn fine plan.

    1. It’s ok, lots of us had aneurysms just after reading the headline. I think Targus mastered this a couple of decades ago. They can often be found in thrift shops too fwiw. I would dare to say that they can be had for under a dollar in those places. I agree with the others with the usual “kudos good hack” but this is entirely one where a cost-effective solution has been at hand. Also just because something has a number pad, doesn’t make it a good HID source. After reading some other HaD posts and the many keyboard snobs on here, I doubt switching key throw depth and tactile response would help those guys be any faster. It would also seem that if you do that much code in hex addresses and such, that you would have a dedicated programming station with a full keyboard and a decent size monitor ala outputs or via docking station. Putting this hack in the Mad Max file for post apoc usefulness :)

  1. And the best thing about the USB numpads I’ve seen is the ability to move them to the LEFT side of the keyboard. This makes it quite convenient for using in Blender (right=mouse, left=navigation) and also for entering data where it isn’t convenient to just tab to the next cell.

    I like the idea of repurposing old equipment but not sure it makes it ‘reclaiming the numpad’. :p

  2. Oh, and AutoHotKey under Windows should be more than enough to turn a useless ancillary numpad key into ‘X’, or you could remap all six of the ancillaries (calculator functions, Enter, decimal) to A-F, without even needing to warm up your soldering iron. Better yet, you can switch in and out of hex mode just as often as you like. I’m using AHK to remap Caps to Control and a bunch of other stuff for use with Emacs, media player control, and I forget what all else. It’s great stuff, free as in beer, and a lot more (re)configurable than anything you can possibly do in hardware.

    (One note about it, though: Under Windows 7 and probably Vista, you may need to extend the low-level hook timeout for AHK to be really reliable — if you’ve tried AHK and found that your hotkeys silently quit working at random until you restart the script, then this is what you need to do. Push it out to 10 seconds or so and AHK becomes rock solid, and I’ve been running that way for two years and seen no ill effect from it.)

    1. Autohotkey + wireless numpad + win98 laptop running hyperterm = instant industrial robot teach controls.

      Because you just can’t get the parts for 25 year old machines…

      1. I, uh, don’t know how to tell you that a piece of software called ‘AutoHotKey’ may, among other things, just possibly be a key remapper. It probably can read the HP softkeys; I’ve used it with a Compaq (proper Compaq, not HP “Compaq”) in the past, and it had no difficulty understanding the softkeys on that machine. If they generate scan codes at all, AHK should be able to work with them.

    1. HaD is now pushing the sale of RasPi boards so no, an Arduino would not work with this :P Fret not, though, I’m sure Adafruit saw your post and is working on a “kit” to sell at the next maker faire etc.

  3. I’m a programmer, I use a numpad. Thus, I got a laptop with a numpad AND a single-row enter key AND a large pipe/backslash key. Amazing what a little bit of foresight will do…

    1. on my laptop (where i program alot) the 3 biggest keys are enter, pipe\backslash, and backspace. And right below them large shift and control keys and nicely placed arrow keys take the place where a number pad would go.

  4. As much as it can be useful to have a keypad on a laptop occasionally, I’m very glad most laptops don’t for one very simple reason: it’s bad for your wrists if the keyboard is off centre.

  5. 1. I agree with several comments, you can buy an USB numeric keypad and even put it at the left.
    2. Those TI calculator type keyboards are far worse tan any substitution like 7890/UIOP/JKL/M
    3. But as silly as it may seem, the comments that it started are an interesting clue on how people use their notebooks.

  6. I’ve had troubles finding laptops WITHOUT numpads – because I want something I can have in my LAP and not on a 10x10m desk.

    There’s A LOT of laptops with numpads being shipped today. And this was also true when I was scouting for my earlier laptop – 4 years ago.

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