New Interlocking Spring Keyboards Recreate IBM’s Iconic Model F for Modern PCs – Ars Technica

Zoom in / Pricing for the F Labs Classic Style F104 Model F Keyboard starts at $420.

IBM’s Model F keyboards are highly prized among keyboard enthusiasts. The introduction of interlocking spring switches on a capacitive printed circuit board (PCB) in the early 1980s, they are considered the grandfather of mechanical switches. Despite their stature, F-type keyboards were no longer around by the next decade and, due to outdated technologies, had become very rare and could be difficult to use with a modern computer. Aimed at vintage keyboard enthusiasts who don’t want to deal with lengthy searches, repairs, or modifications, Model F Labs has recreated IBM’s Model F keyboards with modern OS support, and has recently introduced the iconic spring switches to the classic full-size keyboard. , as well as some unique form factors.

torsion springs

With the tactile warp of an internal spring and the click of a fin on a capacitive PCB, the switches in IBM’s Model F keyboards inspired today’s mechanical switches. Popular in banks, it replaced IBM’s radial-spring keyboards with a less expensive design that was also slimmer. Early F-model keyboards had keycaps of the same size, and the keycaps were also removable for customization.

By 1985, IBM was making Model M keyboards, which are also popular with keyboard collectors today, with keys featuring a coil-over-membrane spring and lower manufacturing costs.

However, the keys in Model M keyboards are generally heavier than those in Model F keyboards. They are also considered more repairable, according to Model F Labs, which say they “can be taken apart piece by piece and reassembled with just one pair.” of pliers and a screwdriver”, and that “the upper inner assembly is designed with steel tabs that slide into the lower inner assembly” with ease.

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An F Labs model showing the torsion spring in their keyboards.
Zoom in / An F Labs model showing the torsion spring in their keyboards.

And while the Model F and Model M (the darling of today’s American keyboard layouts) have their place in keyboard history, the older Model F is hard to find (a group of ex-IBM and Lexmark employees even brought the Model M back under Unicom brand).

like log Put it, “The OG of IBM’s clicky keyboards is the Model F, but since they’re now over 40 years old, they’re even rarer.” [than Model M keyboards]. And there is worse news. If you can find one, that is [80286-based IBM] The PC / AT keyboard uses a 5-pin DIN connector, which only requires a passive adapter to convert to PS / 2 format.

“the original [IBM Personal Computer] And [IBM Personal Computer XT] The keyboard uses the same connector, but a different protocol, “recording continues.” If you can find a keyboard from the early 80’s around the time that [80286-based IBM PC/AT] It was so widespread that if you’re lucky there will be a slider underneath that allows you to choose PC mode or AT mode. “

The F model of the future

Since 2017, Model F Labs has been recreating Model F keyboards with a group of dedicated keyboard enthusiasts. The work entailed creating CAD files, working with PCB and product designers, developing a capacitive controller, and becoming familiar with various keyboard materials. Designed to work with personal devices barely imaginable in the ’80s, the company says its keyboards work with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS, connected via a detachable USB-A cable. Because of its small manufacturing runs, Model F Labs says it doesn’t know how long each keyboard will stay in stock.

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As of April 1, the Model F claimed to have sold more than $2,454,000 worth of keyboards, and on Friday, it announced new designs. Compared to the original Model F Labs reconstructions, the lower digitizer panel F62 Kishaver And F77The new models feature more modern layouts and designs and offer more specialized form factors.

First, there Classic F104 Model F And its smaller version Very compact F104 Model F. With a full-size design and the option to choose classic or vibrant body colors – such as red and blue – it looks surprisingly versatile. Unlike true Model F keyboards with a plastic body, F Labs recreational models (painted or powder coated) use aluminum enclosures. That should give the keyboards a vintage heft, but the Model F Labs website doesn’t provide weight or dimensions for the new keyboards. The company also uses sublimation-dye PBT keycaps that are created using newly made injection molding.

“The layouts and cases of these regular/full-size Model F boards are modeled after later-production Model M keyboards and their more standardized/modern layouts, but with the same Model F internals and XT-quality keycaps as with the Project F62. / The original F77, “Model F Labs” advertisement Announcing new consoles.
F Labs model (which also sells Spring Consoles Beam), also plays with layouts that have become popular since the Model M days, with the keyless design in Classic style And Ultra-micro FSSK plus 50 keys Macro board several, and a Split keyboard design. While these designs won’t appeal to all types of users, they do bring the kind of versatility to Model F-like keyboards that you won’t find by searching electronics donation boxes or eBay. And they’re revamping torsion-spring wrenches in an unexpected way decades after the Model F’s demise.

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“Much of the design follows in the footsteps of the old Model F keyboards, although they are not exact replicas of the Bank 4704 or any other old keyboard,” Model F Labs website He says. “The firmware and hardware components are completely current and do not use IBM chips or firmware.”

Model F Labs claims to have been the first to use IBM’s winding spring patents, the latest of which has expired in 2003to build a new keyboard “from all-new parts”.

If the Model M is more your style, Model F Labs announced on March 31 that it’s working on three designs inspired by the Model M, including a split and orthogonal keyboard.

The keyboards are supposed to be programmable (when online) using the open source QMK firmware. Programming of new keyboards may not run smoothly, according to Model F Labs, which said that “every key functionality in every layer cannot be guaranteed on every recent version of supported operating systems,” though the company said it hasn’t encountered any issues so far. now .

You can check out the write and disassemble test of the new Model F simulator below:

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