Back to Basics: The IBM Model M Space Saving Keyboard

Back to Basics: The IBM Model M Space Saving Keyboard

My Model M For the past year and a half I have been buying mechanical keyboards based on the Cherry MX Keyswitch. My favorite model so far has been the one based on the MX Green switch, which is has both tactile and audible feedback mated to a stronger-than-usual spring. On a whim, though, I plugged my old 1998 IBM Model M keyboard, widely considered the king of clicky keyboards, and found that I still preferred it. The reason I had replaced it with the MX switch-based keyboards is because the Model M requires a old-style plug called a PS/2 connector. This connector has all but disappeared from computers built after 2004 or so, and even the specialized computer motherboards I buy have problems with their PS/2 ports. USB keyboards are more reliable on current systems.

Today, though, I plugged the Model M back in using a PS/2 to USB adapter cable from ID Innovations, a company that specializes in point-of-sale equipment. Apparently older versions of type of gear (barcode scanners) used the PS/2 standard as well, and they need the additional chip smarts do correct keyboard emulation to USB. And it appears to work really well (for me so far), without the weird reset problems when the keyboard stops working. And you can’t just plug/unplug the PS/2 connector to make it work again; I find that shutting-off then rebooting the computer is necessary on my systems.

I have to say…the Cherry MX-based keyboards, for all the improved feedback of their mechanical switch design, is a distant second in terms of solidity and feel. I am lucky enough to have a couple rarer IBM Space Saving keyboards, which do not have the right-side numeric keypad. This makes it possible to use the mouse closer to the keyboard, reducing arm strain quite significantly. Here’s a video of me showing how loud the keyboard is compared to others; I can’t use the keyboard when I’m on a conference call or even sitting too close to someone with sensitive ears, but man…it feels wonderful.

13 Comments

  1. Bo Jordan 5 years ago

    I actually have a few of these, and at least one of them is still “new” in packaging. I love the feel, but over the years I’ve moved to quieter, weaker-sprung keyboards. The WASD CODE 87-key with Cherry MX Brown is my current favorite, though I also have one with MX Clears.

    Interesting how the Cherrys simply can’t get the wonderful feel of a proper buckling-spring keyboard, and even more interesting that the number of people in the world who know/care about the difference in buckling-spring vs. other mechanical switches is probably in the single digits.

  2. Daniel Ferrer 5 years ago

    what is the name of the “PS/2 to USB connector from a company that specializes in point-of-sale instruments” in order to find it?

    Thanks

  3. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    Bo: Ooo, let’s talk shop! I have the CODE with MX Clears (kind of liked it) and also the Happy Hacker Tenkeyless in MX Browns. My Filco Majestouch has MX Blues, which I like a little better, but of all of them I prefer the Coolermaster CMStorm in MX Greens. You know what the biggest issue I have is right now? It’s that the keycap lettering wears off way too fast. I should post pictures.

    Daniel: I just updated the article to include the information, sorry for leaving that out. It’s a “multi-mode USB adapter” from ID Innovations. I bought mine from Ebay from a buyer who didn’t say what the manufacturer of his item was, but from the pictures I was pretty sure it was the ID Innovations one. Now I see them for sale at a reasonable price at TechKeys for $12 as of this writing.

  4. Bo Jordan 5 years ago

    @Dave, I also have a Coolermaster 87-key, though mine had MX Browns it has the keycap print on the front edge, not the top. Hence, haven’t had wear problems with it. :) I like its stealthy look, though the font is a little cheesy.

    The WASD caps seem quality, so you could order a set for your Coolermaster. Though, if you have plenty of cash to blow just get a CODE with Greens ;)

    Ok, I’m going to have to do a write-up on these…

  5. Ah, I can’t live without my number pad. Right now, I’m kicked out of my cube due to renovations and am living with my tiny-ass laptop. It’s thin but I miss the number pad! My home laptop is a wide screen with the number pad and it’s fantastic. I guess it all depends on what you’re using the system for though. If you’re not crunching many numbers, it’s definitely not a necessity.

  6. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    Chris: That makes sense! I mostly am typing documents, so I don’t usually use a numpad. What I don’t like about numpads on laptops is that they shift the center of typing to the left relative to the screen, and it drives me BONKERS. I do have some USB numpads for when I do need one, and a compact keyboard (A Logitech K360) with a numpad. If I start doing more 3D work, the numpad is nice for the extra view control.

  7. KTJ 5 years ago

    Hey Dave, as a fellow keyboard aficionado, allow me to recommend the Unicomp Endurapro (http://www.pckeyboard.com/).

    I have two of these, one for home and one for the office. I have a few IBM Model M’s too, and while I love them, I’m rather precious about using them because I don’t want them to wear out (they’re collector’s items!). Unicomp bought all of the buckling spring designs and is the only company (that I know of) that is still making them, and they have modern tech too (like USB). If you have a chance, try them out!

  8. Author
    Dave Seah 5 years ago

    KTJ: I love those guys! I keep checking back to see whether they are making a tenkeyless model (no numpad), because the ergonomics of that are important to me and my shoulder. I see they make a spacesaver, but it’s a full keyboard. As I’m using my Model M Space Saving Keyboard more, I am just in love with it again. I should email them and ask if they have plans to make a numpadless version. Now you have me thinking about wearing out my precious keyboard (I actually have two more in storage, though).

  9. Gary L. Gehman 4 years ago

    I have a Model M space saver keyboard. Note that there is a silk-screened numberpad overlaid onto the main keys (7-9; J-semicolon; m-slash). For some reason, my keyboard is stuck in an alt mode where these numbers are typing instead of the default values for the keys. I believe there’s some key combination to switch the numberpad overlay on and off, but I can’t find it documented anywhere. Can you provide any help?

  10. Gary L. Gehman 4 years ago

    I just answered my own question by visiting Clickykeyboards.com: “You can still switch to numeric keypad mode by using the key combination of “SHIFT” + “NUM LK/SCR LK” keys (between print screen and pause keys.)” Back to normal mode.

  11. Author
    Dave Seah 4 years ago

    Gary: Awesome that you got it working! The NumLock is one of those things that get me too, particularly when cold-starting the system and it defaults “on”. Sometimes your PC’s BIOS settings can set the default NumLock status, but it’s not longer working for me (probably because I’m using a PS/2 to USB adapter now). On other keyboards the NumLock and CapsLock keys have an LED indicating it’s on, but on this particular keyboard you are left to guessing.

  12. Paul 4 years ago

    From my understanding the “problems” with PS/2 are pretty straightforward: the Model M eats a LOT of power compared to a modern keyboard. There seems to be an extra “surge” that occurs on a hotplug as opposed to starting from a cold boot. Perhaps it’s pulling one of the rails low enough that the mobo freaks and resets, whereas it might expect that as normal during the POST process.

    I had the same issues with PS/2->USB adapters, a hotplug would trip a reboot. I’ve had better luck with directly plugging into motherboards, but I can certainly believe they would suffer the same issue.

  13. John Michael de Jesus 4 years ago

    I’ve been looking for this locally here in Philippines. But Im very unlucky about it.

    Contacted IT schools, government offices, old companies, friends, neighbors and even junk shops but didnt get any luck. I cant afford purchasing online due to its cost and shipping. Plus, they are already modded that skyrocketed the price.

    If some of you not already using it, I hope I can purchase it at a cheap price.

    Im a keyboard enthusiast that really wanted to have the grand father of all mechanical keyboard.

    Thank you.