Nyan Keys: Because Your Keyboard Is Painfully Slow

You probably don’t notice keyboard latency when typing or doing mundane tasks, but if you start gaming, that’s also when you might start complaining. Every millisecond counts in that arena. Think your keyboard is fast? Think again. Because unfortunately, no matter what you’ve got in there, that key matrix is slowing you down. What you need is an FPGA-based keyboard with an overkill MCU. You need Nyan Keys.

[Portland.HODL] set out to make the lowest-latency mechanical keyboard possible that would accept any Cherry-compatible switches, and boy howdy, is this thing fast.

Coupled with the STM32F723VET6 MCU is USB 2.0 HS, which has an 8000Hz polling rate. At worst, key latency measures 30μS, which blows the 1mS average out of the water.

Because it uses a Lattice Semi iCE40HX 4k FPGA, each key switch can connect to its own I/O pin, which also eliminates the need for diodes.

It also means that each key switch can have its own “core” — an 8-bit timer that is always counting up to 255. The key can only change its state when the timer reads 255. This acts as a rather clever debounce mechanism.

If all that’s not enough, [Portland.HODL] built an operating system called NyanOS written in C to avoid any performance-reducing overhead. Oh, and it has an opt-in Bitcoin miner.

We’ve seen a lot of keyboards, the fast ones are fast because of the input side — they are chording keyboards that take combinations to type, rather than using one key (or so) per character. The Characorder is so fast that it was banned from competition.

Solenoid Keyboard Sounds Very Much Like A Typewriter

Mechanical keyboards are muchly adored things. For many of us, they take us back to that loud clickity-clack that was so common before consumer keyboards went to membrane switches. For others, it’s just for the pure joy of the finger-powered symphony. The solenoid edition of the Red Herring keyboard from [Ming-Gih Lam] understands the beauty of this sound intimately. It can be nearly silent if you so desire, or it can clack away with the best of them (via Hackster.io).

It all comes down to the switches used in the design. [Lam] selected the Silent Alpacas from Durock, noted for their quiet operation, particularly when lubricated. You get just a faint slide-and-click noise from the keyboard under regular use.

The joy of the solenoid edition is in, you guessed it, the solenoid. It fires away with every keypress when enabled, creating a sound more akin to a real typewriter than any mechanical keyboard we’ve ever heard. Click-clack fans will love it, while those with sensitive ears will scream at any cube neighbours that dare to buy one and switch it on.

Files are available on Github for the curious. We’ve seen some other great keyboards over the years, like this nifty split-board design. Video after the break.

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Taking Mechanical Keyboard Sounds To The Next Level

When it comes to mechanical keyboards, there’s no end to the amount of customization that can be done. The size and layout of the keyboard is the first thing to figure out, and then switches, keycaps, and then a bunch of other customizations inside the keyboard like the mounting plate and whether or not to add foam strips and other sound- and vibration-deadening features. Of course some prefer to go the other direction with it as well, omitting the foam and installing keys with a more noticeable click, and still others go even further than that by building a separate machine to make their keyboard activity as disruptive as it could possibly be.

This started as a joke among [ac2ev] and some coworkers, who were already teasing about the distinct sound of the mechanical keyboard. This machine, based on a Teensy microcontroller, sits between any USB keyboard and its host computer, intercepting keystrokes and using a small solenoid to tap on a block of wood every time a keystroke is detected. There’s also a bell inside that rings when the enter key is pressed, similar to the return carriage notification for typewriters, and as an additional touch an audio amplifier with attached speaker plays the Mario power-up sound whenever the caps lock key is pressed.

[ac2ev] notes that this could be pushed to the extreme by running a much larger solenoid powered by mains electricity, but since this was more of a proof-of-concept demonstration for some coworkers the smaller solenoid was used instead. The source code for the build can be found on the project’s GitHub page and there’s also a video of this machine in action here as well. Be careful with noisy mechanical keyboards, though, as the sounds the keys produce can sometimes be decoded to determine what the user is typing.

A Faulty Keyboard From A Single LED

When the chance arrived to buy a mechanical keyboard for not a lot, naturally, [Hales] jumped at it. Then it started having odd intermittent problems with some keys appearing stuck, which led to a teardown and some fault finding. The culprit was a white LED — but why this was the case is a fascinating story.

Stripping it down there didn’t seem to be an obvious culprit, but eventually, the trail led to a lack of diodes in the matrix. This keyboard had an extremely clever yet rather cursed design in which it used LEDs as both illumination and as a diode in the keyboard matrix circuit, and the faulty LED had a reverse breakdown condition that could be triggered under certain operational conditions.

More unexpectedly, it would sometimes hold on to its reverse breakdown state even after power off. Just when you think you understand a component’s properties, there’s always room for surprise. And we can safely say we’ve learned something about the design of cheaper keyboards in reading the account. It’s clear that when it comes to ‘boards, it’s best to take no chances.

Custom Keyboard Built For Diablo 3 Action

Custom mechanical keyboards are a great way to show off your passion and skill for electronics and design. They’re also perfect when you need to optimize your setup for a certain game or piece of software. [Pakequis] did just that with his Bad Thing of the Edge mechanical keyboard build.

[Pakequis] occasionally plays Diablo 3 on a tiny 7-inch laptop, which as you might expect, doesn’t have a keyboard conducive to gaming. Thus, he designed a mechanical keyboard with a series of important actions mapped to keys for the left hand. Naturally, that was an opportunity to have fun with the keycaps, which all feature graphics for their relevant in-game functions. The prototype was built with surplus keys from an old PTZ camera controller, but the final version runs Cherry MX switches. There are also a set of RGB LEDs with a variety of fun effects. The whole thing is run by a Raspberry Pi Pico, which is perfectly suited for building custom USB HID devices.

Hackers build custom keyboards for all kinds of reasons, like ergonomics, style, or just sheer absurdist fun.

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Retro-Inspired Computer Case Hosts Mechanical Keyboard

During the time in the 1980s when the personal computer was gaining steam as a household fixture, plenty of models shipped with the keyboard built in to the machine itself. This helped reduce costs, lower the physical footprint of the device, and arguably improved aesthetics. But as technology progressed, this type of design fell by the wayside as computers became more modular and configurable. That’s not to say there aren’t any benefits to building a computer like this, though. [jit] is here to show off this Amiga-inspired computer with its own modern built-in mechanical keyboard.

Like the Raspberry Pi 400 which is built into its own case, modern computers like this are extremely portable, relatively simple, and space-efficient. But [jit] did not like the uninspired design of the Pi so he was looking to make some improvements. Starting with the keyboard, it boasts a 60% size board with mechanical keys which are backlit by LEDs. Inside the machine is a Odroid XU4 which has a little bit more power (and is often easier to find) than a comparable Raspberry Pi. The case is 3D printed and includes ventilation and support for the addition of various cooling fans, I/O ports, status LEDs, and switches for the computer inside.

Additionally, some modification of the Odroid itself was needed in order to move the various switches to the case, and the build also includes a somewhat customized power supply internally as well. It’s a well-rounded build that captures the spirit of the old computer cases, but takes advantage of a lot of modern technology at the same time. If you want to go all-out with a build like this, though, take a look at this retro-inspired case (with keyboard included) that manages to get most of a Framework laptop inside.

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It’s Never Too Late To Upgrade Your ZX81 Keyboard

Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX81 was a phenomenal sales success as one of the cheapest machines available in the early 1980s, but even its most fervent admirers will admit that it suffered heavily from the Sinclair economy drive. In particular that membrane keyboard was notorious for its lack of feedback, and a popular upgrade back in the day was a replacement keyboard. Now we can bring you what might be the ultimate in ZX replacement keyboards, in the form of [Brian Swetland]’s mechanical ZX81 keyboard.

The familiar 40-key layout is all there, using Cherry MX key switches and a beautiful set of custom-printed keycaps. There’s little more to a ZX keyboard than the matrix wiring, and in this case it’s all incorporated on a PCB. None of these techniques were readily available to individuals back in the ’80s, so a large piece of perfboard, key switches from an old terminal keyboard, and Letraset would have had to suffice.

We have to admit liking this project a lot, in fact we’re even tempted by a set of these keycaps for a regular keyboard just for old time’s sake. If you’re interested in the ZX81 then take a look at how we used one to help us through the pandemic.