12 Misconceptions about the Model F Keyboard – what initially scares many people away

As mass assembly finishes this week and next week and the factory prepares to palletize the keyboards for the container ship (there is still time to order!), I wanted to write an article to help explain some of the initial hesitations people have had about the Model F before they did some more reading and research and were convinced to become a part of the project. I think that the biggest barrier to increased adoption of the Model F is lack of awareness in the market.

1. Am I sure that this is the best keyboard?

In a word: Yes. The Model F keyboard is widely considered the best computer keyboard for typing. Many consider it to be their end game keyboard after having tried those alternative MX type, primarily plastic keyboards. IBM’s approach to developing the Model F focused on years of R&D to maximize typing performance, efficiency, usability, and comfort, and it went on to be used by millions of people in the 1980s. The Model F was built up to IBM’s engineering standards, not down to a price point. And thanks to modern advances in manufacturing, the Model F reproductions maintain IBM’s exacting standards and materials while costing about 50% less and having modern technology upgrades: an open source GUI controller, configuration software and firmware allowing for native USB and full NKRO.

2. Am I sure this will work with my computers/devices?

Yes, fully functional with Mac, PC, Linux, and even Android. You do not need to install anything. Uses the standard, built in USB keyboard driver.

3. Do Model F Keyboards hold their value?

Yes, and demand for these keyboards has increased in recent years. With prices for used models now closer and closer to the brand new price, for many it is no longer worth the hassle of seeking out and restoring 35 year old circuit boards and metal parts of the original Model F keyboards. Uncertain remaining life expectancy of the originals.

4. The cost is too high:

The original Model F F77 keyboard sold for $925 adjusted for inflation, according to the January 1984 IBM Hardware Price List ($375 in 1984 dollars). New ones are less than half the original cost. Metal construction, extremely tight tolerances (a number of factories today could not meet IBM’s 1980s tolerances and we had to start over on a number of components-keys, springs), high price of zinc. Should last for decades. Replacement electronics (xwhatsit controller) PCB design, firmware and GUI software are all open source so can keep using your Model F even if the electronics fail. Alternative controller design (CommonSense controller by DMA) also proven working (in case chip of the xwhatsit controller is no longer available). The Model F Keyboard is fully and easily disassembled and repairable unlike the Model M and other keyboards.

5. Does it sound exactly like my specific example of Model F:

Variation of Model F sound (I have restored dozens of IBM Model F Keyboards and each one sounds noticeably different from the others), aging/oxidation of metal alloy springs.

6. Too loud:

IBM spent millions of dollars in R&D to design the best keyboard ever.  Key tactile and sound feedback were carefully engineered to improve typing speed and accuracy.  Extended key travel and precise buckling feel and sound upon the moment of actuation are unique to buckling spring keyboards.  However compared to today’s $25 keyboards these are likely less tolerated in today’s open office environments.  There are ways of making it quieter though:  pushing springs all the way down the base of the flipper nub, using a different type of metal alloy for the springs (after researching more than 50 different spring formulations over 2 years, I have a list of quieter spring materials and expect to offer these in limited batches as replacement parts in the future)

7. Too large/heavy, too much bezel, ugly classic case design:

Ultra compact offering was added-smallest possible footprint given the design of the capacitive PCB with traces on the edges. Allows for closer mouse placement for those who prefer it. The original design is a reproduction of IBM’s original design but with a higher quality alloy than IBM used (new ones use Zinc 3 alloy and are a pound heavier than the originals).  IBM designed industrial-quality business machines designed to last for decades.  The IBM 4700 banking system is so well-built that a number of these systems (with their Model F keyboards) are still in use today at community banks with just a handful of branches.

8. The layout is odd, no function keys/some specific key is missing:

The Model F layout is close to the standard 60% or 75% keyboards. These keyboards do have function keys, integrated into first row. Press Fn+1 for F1, etc.  The project’s goal is to reproduce the extremely hard to find 60% and 75% style Model F keyboards.  All of the keys of the large Model F keyboards are available through function layers that are fully customizable with the open source GUI software.  I know that most people buying the brand new Model F keyboards are used to full size keyboards.  It took me a little time to get used to the more efficient layout but being able to own a Brand New Model F keyboard makes it well worth the effort!  Also adding extra keys would make the keyboard similar to the Model M’s on eBay that sell for well below what new production keyboards can possibly sell for.

9. I can just get an original and restore it:

Yes you can do this. Many guides online will walk you through it. I have cleaned and restored many Model F and Model M keyboards over the years and my familiarity with their workings helped lead me to the reproduction project. However used Model F prices have skyrocketed in recent years and do not offer as compelling a discount to the Brand New Model F Keyboards. Those circuit boards on the original Model F keyboards are 35+ years old and they won’t last forever.  The new Model F reproductions are designed to last for decades more. The brand new Model F keyboards are also native USB with NKRO and are fully customizable with function layers, macros, and the option to customize each key and layout.  You can’t do any of that on an original Model F keyboard.  I do hope you consider ordering a Brand New Model F Keyboard before production ends – it is well worth getting used to the more compact layout to be able to use a brand new Model F!  Any questions feel free to contact me directly over email or on the forums.

Example of an original – dirty – Model F typically found on eBay.  You can’t see the gunk in the listing photos as it is hidden under the keys.

10. Case paint chips, key tops wear down over time:

Yes, this is true just like it is with the originals. The PBT used in buckling spring keycaps resists wear significantly better than ABS keycaps. Extra key sets can be ordered if you prefer no wear in a decade or so from now.  Paint also chips during shipping so there may be minor but noticeable imperfections with the paint finish even on a Brand New Model F Keyboard.

11. No drainage channels:

Yes:  a sticky/sugary beverage will wreak havoc. May need Goo Gone and rubbing alcohol to refurbish. A Model F First Aid Kit is available with spare parts for future keyboard repairs (flippers, springs, inside foam, barrels, keyboard bumpers) especially if a part is too sticky to save.

12. This is a limited production run project with no plans for continuous production – future spare parts availability?

Valid point. To counter this I have ordered tens of thousands of spare parts and encourage people to buy extra parts and First Aid Kits of extra parts for future repairs long after production has shut down. New barrels, flippers, springs, and key sets are fully compatible with the IBM originals so extra parts can also be used to fix the originals.

In one minute how would you summarize the benefits/highlights of the Model F reproduction project:

An exact reproduction of the Model F, updated for the modern age
Over $800,000 raised so far. Still some time to get one
The Model F is the best keyboard ever
Best for long-term typing
Excellent build quality and long track record of continued full functionality of the originals
Fully open source electronics and fully customizable through a GUI
Sufficient key travel unlike the latest MacBook pro (!)
Native USB
Removable and replaceable USB cable

Check out this great overview of Model F Keyboards by Chyrosran22 (below):