Linux laptop biz System76 makes its first foray into the mechanical keyboard world with dinky, hackable Launch

Unlocked firmware and some intriguing design choices – but the price is high

With an air of inevitability, System76 - the maker of laptops for Linux users - has produced its first mechanical keyboard. It looks great but cheap it is not.

Dubbed the Launch Configurable Keyboard (LCK), the company's foray into this space is true to form, touting firmware that's completely unlocked and hackable. Predictably, there's some degree of integration with the company's homespun distro POP_OS!, with updates deployable through the firmware settings tool.

System76 wasn't the first company to support user-hackable firmware on a mechanical keyboard. Ergodox has long published its QMK-based code on GitHub, allowing anyone with a level of C competency to make changes.

So too does OLKB (designer of the open-source Planck and Preonic keyboards), Clueboard, and G Heavy Industries, to name just a few.

But LCK is the first to promise a degree of tight system-level integration, making it somewhat unusual. The company has also said it will have a companion app for other Linux distros, macOS, and Windows.

And then we arrive upon the layout. System76 has opted to use a compact TKL layout. For anyone unfamiliar with keyboard parlance, TKL essentially means there's no number pad, allowing it to occupy a fraction of the size of normal full-size keyboards.

Lots of vendors have adopted this design, like the delightfully esoteric Happy Hacking keyboard. But System76 has added a few extra layout quirks.

On the bottom row, System76 has placed two buttons that allow users to switch between keyboard mappings with the press of a button. So users could, for example, switch between DVORAK and QWERTY key bindings without having to change any OS-level settings. Layouts are stored directly on the keyboard's internal memory, meaning it should work irrespective of what computer is being used.

The company has also split the space bar into two buttons. The argument behind this was that people typically use the same thumb to whack the space key. By dividing the space bar into two distinct buttons, punters can remap the surplus to something they'll actually use.

There's also RGB backlighting (which flashes "U-N-L-O-C-K-E-D" while the keyboard's firmware updates), a 10GB USB hub with two USB-A and USB-C 3.1 ports apiece, and a set of additional keycaps.

System76 has also said the board will come with a choice between "clicky" Kailh Box Jade or quieter Box Royal switches.

But it's not cheap. The Launch Configurable Keyboard has a retail price of $285, which is at the higher end for a mechanical keyboard. For context, this writer spent £130 on a Unicomp Model M remake. A Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional2 retails at roughly £185 on Amazon.

But LCK is also not the most expensive on the market. Maltron's ergonomic keyboards retail for as much as £435. Some Drop keyboards are in the same ballpark as the System76 Launch Configurable Keyboard too.

We've asked System76 for a review unit. If they oblige, we'll let you know how it holds up, and whether it's worth the money. ®

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