clickity-clack.

The Apple Bluetooth wireless keyboard that ships with new Macs is very sleek and stylish, but it doesn’t stand up to hard typing. It has minimal key travel, lacks a Delete key, and the tactile feedback is so-so at best. For checking Facebook and writing emails, it’s OK, but folks who have to drum out thousands of words a day need something a little more industrial.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the old IBM Model M, the clicky battleship-grade keyboards from the 1990s. I still have three or four of the old things, and all of them are working. With every passing year, however, it gets more difficult to make them work with modern PCs. Not only do they require PS/2 adapters, but they also draw a lot of power through the USB port, and most PS/2-to-USB adapters will not work with a Model M correctly. Also, using them with a Mac requires remapping of the Control, Alt, and Option keys, which are backwards on a Mac, so that’s a bit of a hassle. {Also, the Model M has the old PC standard Ctrl and Alt keys, whereas the Mac has Control, Option, and Command keys, which means you’re always one modifier key short when you use a Model M with a Mac.)

Until now, I haven’t really come across a good up-to-date replacement for the Model M. I’ve tried a bunch of mechanical keyboards made for gaming, but they’re a bit too bulky and specialized, and not really made with lots of heavy typing in mind. They have lots of superfluous features and usually take up about as much desk space as a family-sized pizza. The ones I found that were less frilly didn’t quite have the right feel to the keys. None of them had a clean design and the satisfying clicky action of the old Model M.

And then I found this one:

WP 20140708 14 39 47 Pro

Typist Nirvana, now in glossy piano black.

That’s the Das Keyboard, specifically the Professional Model S for the Mac. They also make a PC version, and a stealth model with no lettering on the keycaps for you touch-typist show-offs.

Yeah, it’s pretty pricy, but for a writer, it’s the main interface with the PC and by far the hardest-used part of the whole system. It makes no sense to save on this particular part of the machine.

The Das Keyboard has Cherry MX Blue key switches, not the expensive-to-make buckling springs of the original model M, but they have the same sort of satisfying clicky sound and tactile feedback. 

Typing on this thing is an absolute pleasure, it looks good, and it works with any system that has USB ports. There are two USB ports on the side for thumb drives and mouse dongles and such, and it’s refreshingly Spartan in design—no neon lights, rows of Macro keys, volume wheels, or built-in laser projector and weather station. Just a glossy black chassis with the standard key layout, and that’s it. 

It’s not a gaming keyboard, and it has no other frills. (The key caps aren’t even illuminated, which seems to be a standard feature on high-end keyboards these days.) The Cherry MX Blue switches are not quite as noisy as the buckling springs on the Model M, but they still make enough of a racket that you’ll keep your spouse or roommate up if you use the keyboard anywhere near the bedroom. But for hard typing, there’s nothing better on the market right now. Plus, you know, it has a German article in front of “keyboard” which automatically imbues it with Teutonic engineering mojo.

If you type a lot, and you can’t stand the shitty $10 that came with your computer (or the $50 picture-of-a-keyboard they ship with macs these days), do your hands a favor and look into one of these. They’re the closest you’ll get to the old Model M clicky monsters without requiring any adapter voodoo or eBay adventures. The Das Keyboard Professional Model S gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from the Munchkin Wrangler Gear Whore Labs.

17 thoughts on “clickity-clack.

  1. “Why purchase an imitator when you can buy the original “Model M”. We have produced the buckling spring “Click” keyboard for IBM and thousands of discriminating users worldwide for 15 years…. Join the many that have made the switch to a much more accurate data entry alternative.”

    http://www.pckeyboard.com/

  2. I second what Scott K said. I am using my second Unicomp in roughly 8 years (luckily, I ordered 2 back then, because shipping costs to Germany where so high). I definitely belong in the hardcore user category both at work and at home and I’ve killed several Cherry, Apple and no-name keyboards at work, but only one Unicomp at home.

    Of course, they won’t let me use the Unicomp at work, because it is annoying to everyone else in the room. Same during phone conferences or vid chats. But the sound does send a clear message of “leave me alone, I am working”, which might be an advantage.

  3. i rather like my Rosewill. at the time it was half the cost of a Das Keyboard. i think they’re roughly the same price, now.

  4. I own the DAS keyboard (for PC – and yes, I got the model with no lettering) I love the thing to death. If I could use it at work I damn well would. The only problem is if you’re playing a game and using an unfamilar key layout. I often have to go to the home row to identify keys in something unfamilar.

    Beyond that though – it is (as far as I’m concerned) the perfect keyboard. Its made me a better typist and 10keyer too

  5. At work we have a handful of locations that need a keyboard with a pointing device built in, we use Unicomps with trackpoints with some of these. Keyboard feel is about as good as the 1989 Model M I’m typing on now, and I use a Unicomp at work. Unfortunately the Unicomps don’t seem to be nearly as rugged as the originals. Some of the locations at work qualify as harsh environment, but the cheap OEM Dell keyboards are far more reliable in the same places–rough guess we have 90% OEM, but the Unicomps are more than half our keyboard failures–and half of those Unicom claims liquid damage so no warranty, even when an entire shipment built on the same day fails within months.

  6. Marko, OT, but what the heck happened to Mark? He and I jousted a bit but he seemed a genuinely decent sort and I gathered that the two of you had history. Last I remember he had gotten a good gig in CG, but it’s been years since I’ve seen a comment from him. Hope he’s okay?

  7. My 23-year-old Model M is still working nicely on my home box, but the 18-year-old version on my work box was getting cranky, and the box itself was XP and therefore obsolete, so they brought me a Win7 machine and the PC version of Das Keyboard. It’s a different clicky, but it’s a clicky I can live with.

  8. I have only one question: will this make you finish book 3 faster (and maybe give us a few more shorts while you’re at it)? The wait is killing me.

  9. The CODE keyboard is perfection itself. MX Clears (or Greens, if you’re a real Model M snob), backlighting, no silly logos, programmable meta keys so you can make it Mac-, Linux- or Windows-friendly. The only downside is that they are relatively hard to get (I waited 2 months for mine): http://codekeyboards.com