Mechanical Keyboard Madness

So I delved back into using mechanical keyboards after quite a long hiatus. Back in the early 2000’s I acquired 2 old school IBM Model M keyboards that were likely from the early 90’s. At the time I had no idea there was a difference in keyboard construction, I just knew that these things felt amazing to type on, and contributed to me being a better typist after starting out as a clumsy hunt-and-pecker. One of the keyboards actually had removable keycaps, which I made use of when I made the unfortunate but thankfully short-lived decision to try out the Dvorak layout. Both, however, had the same clicking bliss. I ended up using one at home and one at work (which was a little risky, since everyone in adjoining offices would now be able to hear my typing, and asking themselves just what the hell was I typing so much for in the instant-messenger-paranoid environment that it was.)

But alas, all good things must come to an end. Over the course of a few short years, the Model M keyboards started to malfunction, which usually consisted of them suddenly making the computer beep like crazy as though one of the keys was stuck. It started out as temporary, being remedied by an unplug and reboot, but worsened to the point to where that’s all they did while plugged in.

So, years went by and keyboards to me, for the most part, became an afterthought. I’d mainly use whatever was available in whatever office I was working in. A few times when I was able to order a new one, I opted for the split ergonomic styled ones, which I thought would improve my typing. Unfortunately, I never could find a cheap one that felt as good as those old Model Ms, with all of them suffering from spongy keys to varying degrees.

It wasn’t until recently that I was finally educated as to what made those old IBM Model M keyboards so special- they were mechanical, versus the rubber membrane style of just about all cheap keyboards. I also learned that there were several different brands and styles of the mechanical switches, with different degrees of clickiness. I also noticed that some of my co-workers were using them, and that requesting one to be purchased for me was an option.

Upon learning this, I of course said that I wanted the most clicky ones around, which I understand to be keyboards fitted with the Cherry MX Blue switches. One of the supervisors was concerned about this choice being that it’s an office environment, and others with mechanical keyboards were using ones with Cherry MX Brown switches, which are a bit quieter than the blue variety. However, he also said that he had a mechanical keyboard at home with the blue switches that he would bring in to let me try for a week or so, and see if anyone in nearby cubicles complained. After almost a 2 month wait, he finally brought it in last week, and it’s a Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2013.

And, I must say, it was love at first keystroke. Typing, for the first time in many years, was once again pleasurable instead of cumbersome. It made me want to type more and more. I also pondered the possibility that perhaps the reason I hadn’t participated in blogging and the like in so long was due to shitty keyboards.

After just using the keyboard that one fine day, I felt that I could no longer tolerate the awful keyboard I had been using at home, so I went on eBay that night and sought out a mechanical keyboard for my home at a reasonable price, which was a bit of a tall order since these things generally aren’t cheap. After much searching around, I was surprised to find a Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2014 model. I did some research and found that starting with the 2014 model year, Razer began using their own switches instead of the Cherry MX-branded ones, which they call the Razer Green. I also learned that, while the Razer Greens are supposed to be comparable to the Cherry MX Blues, they are said to be of lower quality. Further making this a risky purchase, was the fact that I was able to get this keyboard at a mere $28 with free shipping, which was amazing considering that these things retailed for over $100, and the average price for used ones was still around $50. It also said that the rubber feet on the bottom were missing, and that the extra programmable function keys on the side of the keyboard did not work, which didn’t bother me since I rarely use any extra keys on a keyboard anyway save for the volume keys. But, I bit the bullet.

To my amazement, the keyboard arrived today, after only ordering it late Friday night from a private seller. I was surprised that not only was it in it’s original box, but the keyboard was in excellent shape for something that’s around 4 years old and potentially used during all that time. I was also surprised to find that not only were the rubber feet intact, but the programmable function keys also worked just fine.  Right away, however, I could tell that the key action isn’t quite as nice as the 2013 model I’m using at work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still miles above any run-of-the-mill or stock membrane keyboard, it just leaves a tad little to be desired to the one at work. The clicking, and the tactile feel of that clicking, isn’t near as prominent. And there’s even a few keys that, while functional, feel “dead” compared to the rest. And the backspace key is pretty awful, and cludgingly loud.

However, I’m certainly not going to throw out the baby with the bathwater- as I said, it’s still miles above any membrane keyboard, and typing this long-ass post out on it was a very nice experience.

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