Zwei Keyboarden

I've accidentally become some sort of Internet authority on clicky IBM-type keyboards. So I've been receiving a pitter-patter of e-mails about the latest products from Das Keyboard.

Das Keyboard originally sprang to nerd-fame with their first, eponymous model, which was notable for what it lacked rather than what it had:

There was nothing printed on the keys.

Personally, I think that's goofy. I don't have to look at the keys when I'm typing, but that doesn't mean I can always remember which key has % and which has ^, especially after the second martini.

I suppose an un-marked keyboard could be of some value as a training aid, and it certainly does have a unique aesthetic appeal. But if you haven't memorised all of the keys, including the used-once-in-a-blue-moon symbols, then to avoid having to just guess when you need to type something unusual on your blank 'board, you'll have to hang a picture of a normal keyboard on the wall.

(I can, by the way, type something in the order of 80 words per minute, which makes a very impressive 900-odd clicks per minute when I'm using a buckling-spring keyboard that makes two clicks per keystroke. I brought my own keyboard to work back when I worked for the Dark Lord Murdoch, and enjoyed an entirely unjustified reputation for doing exactly what I was supposed to do.)

The original Das Keyboard didn't have much to commend it besides its slick appearance, because it was a rebadged Keytronic membrane 'board. It was about as good-feeling as a membrane keyboard can be, but it cost well over twice as much as the printed keyboard it was based on.

Then they made the Das Keyboard II, which was a proper clicky keyboard with discrete keyswitches. Except they didn't really "make" it; I think the II was another rebadge job, this time based on the Ione Scorpius M10. Which, once again, was cheaper than the Das Keyboard version.

Time marches on, and Das Keyboard now have two mechanically-identical keyboards. The first is the "Ultimate"...

Das Keyboard Ultimate

...which is another blank 'board, and the second is called the "Professional"...

Das Keyboard Professional

...which - gasp! - has normal printed keys.

(This reminds me of the Penguin caffeinated-mint company, and their "decaffeinated" mints.)

I'd be happy to review a Das Keyboard Professional, but the last time I dealt with Das Keyboard they were apparently playing she-loves-me, she-loves-me-not, in a variant called we'll-tell-Dan-we're-sending-him-a-keyboard-for-review, no-we-won't, yes-we-will...

This lengthy process ended on "no-we-won't".

I don't think they're actually trying to hide anything - reviews of the new models have been very positive. The only real question is whether, aesthetics aside, you can get something just as good for less money.

It seems that the Ultimate and Professional actually are the first Das Keyboards that you can't buy under another name. If they are still rebadge jobs, I can't find the original models this time. The new 'boards have Cherry keyswitches, so I suspect they're being made by Cherry. But nothing in the Cherry keyboard lineup looks like the new Das Keyboards; there's a "smart card keyboard" that looks a little like them (it has the same projection in the top right corner, which is where the smart-card reader lives), but the key layout is different.

The new Das Keyboards aren't cheap. They list for $US130 in the States, but they're about as big and heavy as an IBM buckling-spring keyboard, so you probably don't want to buy them from overseas. Here in Australia, you can get them from Aus PC Market for $AU198 delivered to anywhere in the country; Australian shoppers who'd like to order the unprinted Ultimate can click here do so, while the printed Professional is here.

The current exchange rate actually makes the keyboards a little cheaper than the US price; as I write this, 198 Australian dollars is only about 122 US dollars, and the Aussie price includes delivery. And any clicky keyboard is likely to last a long time, so a couple of hundred bucks isn't really that much to spend.

(Note that currency exchange rates are unusually variable at the moment, thanks to the financiapocalypse currently sweeping the world. If you're reading this only a month or two after I wrote it, don't be surprised if exchange rates are vastly different.)

There are indeed, however, other clicky-keyboard options.

A few years ago, almost nobody was making clicky keyboards any more, but there's been a resurgence lately. Keyboard connoisseurs are used to fossicking through new-old-stock dealers, used 'boards on eBay from sellers of variable honesty, and of course Unicomp. But there are now a few other companies making keyswitch keyboards.

The most impressive "reborn" keyboards on the market today, if you ask me, are CVT's Avant Prime and Avant Stellar. They sell for $US149 and $US189 respectively, but that's because you can remap almost every single key, and also bind macros to arbitrary keys. Actually doing this is less than totally straightforward, because the CVT 'boards are clones of the old Northgate OmniKeys, and work the same way.

There's also Deck, who made the little keyboard I reviewed a while ago. They have a full-sized IBM-layout 'board called the "Legend", but it's $US149 ex shipping. (The little "Deck 82", like the one I reviewed, is $US99.) All of the Deck 'boards have LED backlighting, though, which really is quite fun.

(On the subject of mini-keyboards: If you're looking for a small decent-feeling non-clicky membrane keyboard, you could also check out the "Happy Hacking Keyboard", which has been available in several different models, even including a blank-keytop version. The only one available now is the $US69 "Lite 2", though.)

There's also Ione (or iOne, or whatever they want to be called), the makers of the Scorpius keyboard that was rebadged as the Das Keyboard II. They're still making the Scorpius M10 It has no fancy features at all, but can be had for fifty US bucks, which is hard to beat.

As I write this, there are three Amazon reviewers complaining about Scorpius keyboards with lousy build quality, but other reviewers specifically mentioned how well the keyboard was made, so I'm not sure what's going on there. Nobody seems to sell the M10 here in Australia, so I don't anticipate getting one to play with any time soon.

SteelSeries have two non-clicky discrete-keyswitch keyboards. That's what you want if you're after good tactile feedback - which lets you type faster and with less effort - but don't want a 'board that makes a racket. Their SteelSeries 6G lists for 99.99 Euros (about $US125, as I write this) plus shipping, and their SteelSeries 7G is 129.99 Euros. The main difference between the two is that the 7G has audio connectors and controls and apparently lets you press every key at once without any being lost, while the 6G has a more normal eight-keys-at-once buffer, and comes with a bunch of grey keytops that you can swap in to make important keys stand out.

There's also the Gigabyte GK-K8000, which is a bit unsightly but has Cherry keyswitches, a bunch of extra programmable keys, and onboard USB audio. It apparently lists for $US113, but doesn't actually seem to have quite made it to the shelves yet.

Mac users might like to check out the Matias Tactile Pro, which resurrects the old Apple Alps-keyswitch keyboards. The Tactile Pro version 2 sells for $US149.95, plus at least $US20 shipping.

If I were shopping for a clicky keyboard right now, my first stop would be eBay, to see if someone within inexpensive-shipping-distance of me had a decent-looking buckling-spring IBM 'board, or maybe something with the classic Alps keyswitches. If you're in the USA, you're very likely to be able to find a buckling-spring or discrete-keyswitch keyboard with many years of service left in it for less than fifty bucks including delivery. and Unicomp are excellent options for US shoppers, too.

If you're somewhere like Australia, though, you'll probably be waiting a while for your saved eBay search to turn up any options, and shipping prices for battleship keyboards from overseas will be painful.

Now that keyswitch keyboards are normal retail items again, you might as well just get yourself something like the Das Keyboard Professional. It won't cost you any more, you'll get a local warranty, and you'll probably be delighted.

36 Responses to “Zwei Keyboarden”

  1. Jax184 Says:

    You Could spend $120 on a keyboard with no printing on it...
    Or you could do what I do, which is buy a used keyboard for $2 at Free Geek and type on it until all the letters wear off. I got my current one 4 months ago and have already lost A, N and the texture on ERT UIOP. Now I'll admit this doesn't get me the nice buckling springs, but it does leave me $120 to buy a new video card with, or a pair of awesome headphones.

    Free Geek Vancouver (Where I volunteer) has real buckling spring model Ms, btw, for around $25, but I get the impression nothing short of a nuclear bomb could wipe the letters off one of those.

  2. Changes Says:

    Keyboard connoisseur’s

    The impossible has happened: Daniel Rutter has misused an apostrophe. Repent your sins, armageddon is coming!

    [I was concentrating on spelling "connoisseur" right; I have a photographic memory for ALMOST all spelling, but that one just won't stick. Now let us never speak of this again. -Dan]

    As for the keyboards, I can't understand how so many people write on rectangular wrist-straining ones without discomfort. I don't think I have particularly weak wrists, but whenever I'm not typing on my split board I feel the unnatural position of the hands makes them hurt.
    I'd love it if someone made a split clicky board. I'm aware of the one you reviewed, but I haven't been able to find one around here.

    And, of course, I would pay ridiculous amounts of money for a Maltron with clicky switches. Actually I might get one even without them, if nothing else to see the face of other people who found themselves having to use my computer...

  3. Matt-S Says:

    Blank keyboard, whatever, you could achieve the same thing with 5 minutes and a bottle of paint, or a marker pen in fact. How about a keyboard in Latin, and made out of slate. I'd buy that.

  4. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Now my rubber-domed Cherry makes me a bit sad.

    [Man, if I had a penny for every time I'd heard someone say that... -Dan]

  5. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    Jax - Just pull off all the keycaps!

    [For newbies: Model-M-type keyboards have two-part keycaps, with a printed outer shell that clips onto a plain plastic inner shell. Removing the outer shells is easy, but it'll make the keys a little harder to hit - Alt and Ctrl, for instance, will turn into little keys. And some specialised keys like Enter and Shift are single pieces of plastic that you can't do this to. -Dan]

  6. rickmccl Says:

    My boss overpaid for one of those clickotrons. I call it the "FU I'm Typing" keyboard. He's pretty insensitive in general. I guess I've sat next to him for WAY to many years.

  7. Keris Says:

    I actually have a Scorpius M10. It's pretty damn solid and has stood up to over a year of me pounding on it. The build quality issues some people report smells to me like there was a bad batch, didn't get tested, and got shipped. Oh well.

    Also, I could never understand the draw of the Das boards. Lacking key markings and being more expensive than other clicky boards.

    But, until the resent rash of them, they were one of the few people shipping USB clickies. I think they're also now one of only three USB clickies that have USB hubs in them (the other two being the Mac Alps ones). These little details only really matter to some, though.

  8. PG Says:

    Are there any capacitive PC keyboards still out there, in production? My good old BTC-5339 of 1989 vintage (yes, it has capacitive keyswitches with rubber domes providing return force, and it's quite clicky, with rather long key travel) seems to be good enough for another ten or twenty years, but it would be nice to have a backup :-)
    By the way, twenty years of reasonably heavy daily use (say, about 10 kilobytes of text a day, plus some navigation, plus games) means that on average each key was pressed about 10000*365*20/101 = 722772 times. I expect the "most popular" keys (arrows, home row, space/enter) could have easily reached 10, 20, or even 50 millions of hits each without any problems.

  9. PG Says:

    Oh, BTW, BTC-5339 does the "press all keys at once" trick, of course - it was _very_ important back at the time of DOS games that allowed two players at the same time...

  10. Darien Says:

    I note with some amusement that that Gigabyte board has in its feature list 'Anti-ghosting capability for up to “N” keys.'

    I'll be the first to admit that I may just be a complete fool, and that may well have some technical meaning that's gone past me for the time being, but I'm inclined to think it's a WTF.

    [I think they just meant to say that the keyboard is ghosting-proof. There are two ways a keyboard can screw up if you press lots of keys; it can fail to register some of them, or it can register "ghost" keys in addition to the ones you're pressing, because you're connecting so many addressing lines together. If they said "N-key anti-ghosting" it'd make more sense - that means you can press as many keys as you like and never get any ghosts. It doesn't, however, mean that all of the keys you pressed will actually register. -Dan]

  11. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    "Man, if I had a penny for every time I’d heard someone say that…"

    Thanks for making my day, Dan!

  12. Darien Says:

    So you see? It's a good thing I'm so willing to admit that I'm a fool, since it turns out I probably am. ;-)

  13. Ziggyinc Says:

    Ever since first discovering Dan through one of his Clicky keyboard reviews I've been using a black Unicomp 122 key.
    I work the night shift, and I frequently used to come in to work and find my KB missing, only to find it in the server room. I lock it up at night now.

  14. Ziggyinc Says:

    Er my night, everyone else's Day even.

  15. Stuart Says:

    "I’ve accidentally become some sort of Internet authority" ...

    You've got selective technology OCD.

  16. phrantic Says:

    Changes: Perhaps he had one of those Scarfe's over his eyes? :P

    I wish I still had my model M. I found a way to kill them. Use them daily for 14 years, then spill lemonade on the keys.

  17. Changes Says:

    I suspect the lemonade was far more responsible for your M's demise than the fourteen-year daily use...

  18. Red October Says:

    Yes, liquid is the way to do in a Model M. I had a little relaxation fountain on the desk, which decided to go out in a blaze of glory, and spill water into not only the model M, but the DECWriter 5100 as well, necessitating not only a new vintage keyboard, but a new vintage laser printer as well... The HP LH 4 doesn't quite have the characther the DECWriter did, but the Model MII with trackball makes up for it.

  19. Red October Says:

    Er, um, I meant to type "LJ 4" for LaserJet 4, but somehow got "LH 4". Oops.

  20. OverlordXenu Says:

    I have a Das Professional and I love it.

  21. j Says:

    How about a keyboard in Latin, and made out of slate. I’d buy that.

    You could probably talk to this guy:

    I bet he'd do it too.
    Of course, you'd have to part with anything from 2-5 grand for the privelege.

  22. j Says:

    Did you mean: privilege

    Yes. Yes I did.

    I wish the only words I'd forget how to spell were cool one of French origin like some people :-/

  23. Tom Says:

    I also live downunder (NZ), and have managed to find 7 Model Ms on trademe (our version of ebay); 5 normal model Ms, a model M2 and a GB layout board whose number I forget. I also could have got one of the old school AT ones (apparently even clickier and still work on modern PCs) but decided that learning another layout was a bit silly and passed on it. A couple of the boards are missing keys but I've got 5 good ones for ~$100NZ (~$55US) total by waiting for them to pop up online.

  24. Ziggyinc Says:

    I'm the typo bane of blog posts :)

  25. dvgb Says:

    Actually, most of the Happy Hacking keyboards are still available from

    I got the Lite 2 from them a few months ago but they've also got the Pro with or without blank keytops. Of course the price is a mind boggling US$314.15 (100 pi dollars!) but the Lite is a more sane US$80 or so. I've found the Lite has one of the better actions for a membrane keyboard that I've used, but I do get irritated by some of the quirks to the key layout.

  26. Paradroid Says: apparently have the GK-K8000 in stock... I was somewhat interested until i saw the price

  27. FuzzyPlushroom Says:

    100 pi dollars!

    For suitably small roundings-down of "nine".

  28. Red October Says:

    It looks interesting. The price... well it could be dealt with. But then I saw. It has windows keys. Nein! Nein! Nein! Senno Ekto Gamat! Does Microsoft pay off keyboard mfgrs. to put those damnable things on their boards? Next on the menu is a black Unicomp Emulator. I always lusted after those mega-extended terminal keyboards, with the oodles of function keys. Does anyone have one? Are the extra keys useful on the PC?

  29. Aenn Says:

    The Steel Series 7G is obviously for gamers. The revelation of mechanic-switch keyboards allowing a lot of simultaneous keypresses is very, very tempting. You're going to make gamers crave them.
    The Das Keyboard (tautology here, ja) could be useful as a donor for international key layouts. There're key stickers for various key layouts.

  30. Jonadab Says:

    > I don’t have to look at the keys when I’m typing,
    > but that doesn’t mean I can always remember which
    > key has % and which has ^,

    That being the case, perhaps you are not part of the target market for the blank-tops keyboard. Programmers, as a general rule, can touch-type any character on the keyboard without thinking about it, because every character on the keyboard is used with fair regularity in most programming languages. For programmers, there *are* no "used-once-in-a-blue-moon symbols". This is especially true if you program in more than one language. For instance, I hardly ever use backticks in Perl, but they're useful in shell scripts and at the command line. I hardly ever use the ampersand in Perl code (in the code itself), but it shows up in strings _embedded_ in the Perl code, especially in web programming where you've got HTML and, therefore, entities.

    Incidentally, I have an Avant Stellar, which is several years old now, and it's great. I have it remapped so that the left ctrl and right shift keys are on home positions, so I don't have to constantly hyperextend my pinkies to reach them all the time. This took a little getting used to at first, but these days I go back and forth between the custom layout at home and the standard layout at work without even thinking about it. The different keyboards *feel* different physically, so the layout switch is just automatic.

    The one improvement I'd like is to get rid of the redundant extra keys that were added between the 80-key XT layout and the 101-key AT layout, and slide the cursor/numeric keypad back over into that space where it's easier to reach, and closer to the main body of the keyboard layout. The keypad layout is better than the layout of the added keys, because on the keypad you can hold your hand in one position and easily reach all of the cursor-control keys as needed. The extra space between the arrows and the other keys on the 101-key layout make this more difficult. The one advantage of the new keys is that you can use them with numlock on, but the last time I turned numlock on (on purpose), I was *using* an 80-key XT keyboard. (As a programmer, I touch-type the numbers on the top row and never thought anything about this, certainly never figured it was unusual, until about the third time I left numlock off on a shared computer at work and a normal user came asking me why they couldn't type numbers anymore...)

  31. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Programmers, as a general rule, can touch-type any character on the keyboard without thinking about it

    Well, they SHOULD be able to do that; Jeff Atwood had an excellent post about this the other day.

    I suspect that you'd be annoyed even if you were an all-standard-symbols touch-typist who switched to an unmarked keyboard, though, unless that keyboard perfectly matched the layout of your previous one. If you've got a Model M and switch to a Das Keyboard Ultimate then I think everything will be in exactly the same place (plus or minus Windows keys), but if you were previously on an L-shaped-enter-key 'board and switch to a small-enter-key keyboard like the current Das models, you'll be tripping up every time you need to type a pipe or a backslash.

    Could be worse, of course :-).

  32. bmorey Says:

    I''ve experienced keyboards with no letters. It occured in the international departure lounge at Melbourne airport. I thought I'd kill 30 minutes with the $2 internet facility. Rushed to next available seat, put $2 in the slot and looked at the keyboard. Damn - 90% of the letters rubbed off.

  33. Red October Says:

    I paid an exorbitant amount of money for a Saitek Gamer's Keyboard, once upon a time, when such was hot shit. The leters wore off of it quite quickly indeed. The entire center of it is minus its letters. Replacing them with Ptouch labels was not ideal. Those quickly loosened and made typing uncomfortable. I was surprised given the reputation for quality that Saitek had at the time. But I have now come beyond the point of buying keyboards in stores as they are all rubber dome type, and speaking as someone who learned to use a computer on terminals, and to type on pre-PC computers, I strike rubber dome keys quite hard indeed as I need the positive response. Remeber when keyboards went "Ka-TING-tung" with every keypress? The VT-100. The WYSE VT-220 knockoff. The Apple ][e (the reason I use the tenkey, not the numbers. One of my co-workers uses the numbers, and I asked him. He learned on a plain ][, which lacked the tenkey.

  34. KS Says:

    The other Happy Hacking keyboards are most definitely still available, but for some reason the "Professional 2" models are only sold in Japan. The "Pro" and "Pro 2" use capacitive switches with individual springs for each key, and feel totally unlike, and far better, than a membrane keyboard.

    I managed to buy the "Pro 2" model earlier this year when the Aussie dollar was at its height, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. It makes me *want* to type on it - which is a very useful property when one is trying to write a thesis!

  35. martin-english Says:

    phrantic said
    I wish I still had my model M. I found a way to kill them. Use them daily for 14 years, then spill lemonade on the keys.

    Red October said:
    Yes, liquid is the way to do in a Model M. I had a little relaxation fountain on the desk, which decided to go out in a blaze of glory, and spill water into not only the model M,

    Most keyboards are washable (in a dishwasher, even), but the thing that makes Model Ms so good (the number of moving parts...) makes it a bugger to pull apart for washing. However, there are some (circa 2004) instructions about cleaning Model Ms here -->

  36. DarthShrine Says:

    Just saw this in the recent Atomic, and I'd like to say that first, there's a growing keyboard community over at where everybody would know everything about all the keyboards mentioned here, and more.
    Secondly, I have a Das Keyboard, Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2 and an IBM Model M, and while being a bit of an expensive trio, they're all *much* better to type on than your standard el cheapo board. In fact, it's more to the point where I really dislike typing on other keyboards. The Das is an alright board, but there are a few issues (bad construction, n-key issues) that make it not really worth the money. The Model M is a must-have for anybody. And the HHKB is an amazing keyboard if you can get your hands on it (and convince your wallet to let you)

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