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New models of IBM Model F keyboard Mark II incoming

New layouts for the original 'clickier than the Model M' keyboard

What's even harder-core than the IBM Model M? The Model F, the keyboard that launched alongside the IBM PC in 1981. After a 2017 relaunch, new models with the original layout are here.

The project, which back in 2017 relaunched a modern keyboard inspired by a compact space-saver version of IBM's classic Model F, is launching its second generation of brand-new premium input devices, and this time, various layouts will be available.

If you care about keyboards, then you know about the IBM Model M. Several Reg hacks have them and treasure the things, this particular vulture included: this article is being typed on a Model M which turned 32 exactly two weeks ago. The Model M first appeared with the IBM 3161 terminal in 1985.

The thing is, though, that 1985 was some four years after the launch of the IBM PC, and a year after the PC/AT. They didn't come with Model M keyboards, because the Model M hadn't been invented yet. The PC launched with with Model F keyboard. The PC had the first version, with strange single-key-sized keycaps even on double or triple-width keys. The 80286-based IBM PC/AT came with a revised version, with extra-large keycaps for Ctrl, Shift, Enter and so on.

The IBM Model M is now highly collectible – this vulture knows well, because he has collected several, mostly by saving them when they were being thrown away in the 1990s. There are specialist vendors supplying refurbished IBM originals, as well as modern reproductions, made to the original design with original tooling, but modernized with USB interfaces, extra Windows keys and so on. If you want a New Model M, you can have one for $104. A restored original will set you back $195.

Even so, the sought-after Model M was the cut-down, economy version, made for the rapidly expanding PC market, and most people first saw them attached to the shiny new IBM PS/2 range in 1987. The OG of IBM clicky keyboards is the Model F, but as they are now over 40 years old, they're even more scarce. And there's worse news. If you can find one, the PC/AT keyboard uses a 5-pin DIN connector, which only requires a passive adaptor to convert to PS/2 format. (And who doesn't have a couple of those in their spares box?) The original PC and PC/XT keyboard uses the same connector, but a different protocol. If you can find an early 1980s keyboard from around the time that the '286 was becoming widespread, if you're even luckier, it will have a slider switch underneath allowing you to choose PC or AT mode. Even the Reg FOSS desk doesn't have one of those adaptors.

Enter the New Model F Keyboards project. "Ellipse" launched it in 2017 and attracted over $300,000 worth of orders, even at $399 each.

Aside from the not-inconsiderable price, what put the author off was the layout. Space-saving and reduced-footprint keyboards are very popular among serious keyboard collectors, and the project chose two space-saver layouts from IBM's 4704 terminal, dubbed the Kishsaver after the collector who described it. The F77 layout has a numeric keypad, but no function keys; the even smaller F62 layout omits the keypad, or as the cool kids call it, it's a TKL layout, which we are informed stands for tenkeyless, presumably because it has 15 fewer keys.

Which is why the FOSS desk's bank account would tremble in fear if it were not an inanimate table in a database somewhere, because the Model F project has announced a new range, including full-size and compact 104-key layouts… and most appealing to this large and heavy-handed vulture, a replica of the 122-key IBM Battleship, one of which we've been hunting for over a decade. The project occasionally has refurbished original IBM units. Now, though, a brand-new one is a $420 option.

If that isn't exclusive enough, your correspondent also working on a model with beam springs, the mechanism from 1970s IBM business products. The first model of the brand new beam spring units is a mere $579.

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These are exciting but expensive times to be a keyboard connoisseur. ®

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