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Mechanical Keyboards

Lately I’ve been in the mood for a change in my keyboard situation. When I first started coding I had one of the original mechanical keyboards from one of my family’s first computer, an old Leading Edge. At some point I switched to the original Microsoft Natural keyboard and have been using variations of it (Natural, Keyboard Pro, Multimedia, 4000) since.

I change my mouse every year or two switching between trackballs and mice. But I’ve been using my Microsoft 4000 keyboard a long time and have been on the hunt for a new keyboard.

I’d like:

  • ergo - I do enjoy the ‘split’ keyboards
  • backlight - I sit in the dark a lot and my eyes aren’t what they used to be
  • mechanical keys - with the recent popularity again of mechanical keys I’ve been itching to try them again
  • affordable - I enjoy using the same keyboard on both my work and home computers so I can easily move between them. Cost = x2.
  • extra keys - For use with AutoHotkey macros (this would be a bonus)
  • OS independent - Windows (work), Linux (home)

Finding all these in one keyboard is difficult.

Some of the keyboards I considered: is the most promising contender for what I am looking for. I’ve actually been patiently waiting since 2012 for them to develop something when I first read this great post on keyboards.

Unfortunately they are a startup and taking their time with R&D so outside a few prototypes they don’t have a product. (Hurry up guys! :))

It turns out there isn’t an ’ergo’ keyboard that meets all my needs. I then decided to look at ’normal’ keyboards where there are literally hundreds of choices, and I again narrowed it down to a few:

  • Logitech gaming keyboards - backlit, mechanical keys and extra function keys
  • Das Keyboard - no backlight
  • Code Keyboard - Jeff Atwood’s attempt at the perfect keyboard
  • WASD Keyboards - they make the CODE keyboard

There are a ton of ‘gaming’ keyboards in this arena and I really didn’t want something garish made for a 14 year old on my desk. That eliminated the Logitechs and many others.

I also had to decide on a key type. With mechanical switches there are several different types of keys you can buy - they are sorted by color so you have ‘red’ switches which gamers like, ‘brown’ switches which are quieter and a host of choices in between.

Then you have layouts as well. Do I want (need) a number pad? The benefit of not having one is you can move you mouse closer to your keyboard. There are also layouts which do away with the arrow and navigation keys entirely.

In the end I went with two choices, both of which are backlit:

  • CODE Keyboard 87 key with ‘Clear’ switches
  • Cooler Master Quickfire Rapid I with ‘Blue’ switches

I received the Cooler Master first. The blue switches are LOUD. Very reminiscent of the old IBM’s. My daughter’s bedroom is next to my office and she even commented how loud they were.

I liked the keys and the backlighting is nice but there are a few things I don’t like:

  • Key font is something out of Star Trek. Difficult to read and unpleasant to look at.
  • USB port on the back is not recessed and there are no cord channels. To make matters worse they send you a right angle plug which leaves the cord right in the way of you mouse. I have no idea what they were thinking.

I received the CODE keyboard next…

  • The ‘clear’ switches are much quieter. You still get the ‘click’ but it’s not obnoxious.
  • They provide a recessed USB port and wire channels to route the cable left/right/straight.
  • They use a nice standard font for the keys.

On the lack of a number pad… I’ve been swapping the keyboards between my home and work computer. At home I rarely use the number pad and find it very nice to have my mouse right next to my keyboard. At work though I occasionally find myself missing the number pad. Not often but if I need to enter in a sting of numbers it’s a bit of a chore to do it without a pad. Still undecided on that one. I could always buy a dedicated number pad if it became an issue.

Currently I’m leaning toward the CODE. Much quieter, the font is much nicer and overall it just seems very well thought out. They are both similarly priced.

Someone (maybe my wife :)) commented I was crazy to spend this much money on a keyboard. I’m a programmer. I spend ALL DAY typing so I consider it a tool. If I’m a carpenter, plumber or mechanic I’m going to spend hundreds of dollars on tools to do my job more easily and efficiently. Why wouldn’t I do the same if I’m a programmer?

What keyboard / mouse combo are you using? Have you evaluated your tools lately?

I’ll post a follow-up in a few months and will also be keeping an eye on I’m really looking forward to what they are going to come up with and how affordable it will be.

Update: Mechanical Keyboard Follow-up