Mechanical Keyboard Meetup

I attended the Mechanical Keyboard Meetup at the Vintage Computer Festival Southeast (VCFSE) in Roswell Georgia. I have attended the VCF a couple of times in the past and it has always been interesting.

Getting to see and touch computer from my childhood and before is a lot of fun, and even better, many of them are in working order and available to play with. Typing on a Commodore 64 brought back a lot of good memories. Typing on the Atari 400 chiclet keyboard, not so much.

The Mechanical Keyboard Meetup was held in a corner of the room with over 100 keyboards on display. It was a great opportunity to see and touch boards from so many manufacturers and custom one-of-a-kind builds. But the environment was so loud that I was not comfortable trying to talk with people, so overall it was not very satisfying.

There are upcoming plans for another Meetup in October, hopefully it will be someplace that isn’t so crowded and loud.

Tex Yoda II Mechanical Keyboard with Trackpoint

my office desk

My office desk with the Tex Yoda 2

I cannot say enough good things about the Tex Yoda 2. I am totally in love with it.

Price

Let’s start with how ridiculously expensive it is, actually let’s not and just say that it is more expensive than most would pay for a really nice keyboard and mouse. You can get an RGB Pok3r and a Logitech G502 for a lot less than the Yoda 2, and you probably should. But once I touched the Yoda 2 and did some typing on it I fell in love, and you can’t put a price on true love.

TrackPoint

The other thing that may be a drawback to some users is the trackpoint mouse pointer in the middle of the keyboard. It is the same technology that is used on laptop keyboard with the trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard, but it is more fragile because of the long stem it has to use to get the eraser above the keys. Back in the day I used a lot of laptops with a trackpoint and loved them, probably because trackpads really sucked back then.

On the Yoda 2 the trackpoint does feel fragile and in reading around the internet, a lot of people have had problems with it breaking. I have also read complaints about mouse drift, but that is normal for this technology and you should expect it. It drifts a lot less than the old ThinkPads, so I am happy with it. If you really don’t like the trackpoint, you can not put a tip on it or remove it entirely.

Switches

I got the Tex Yoda 2 with Cherry Black switches and no backlighting. I also got some fancy GMK keycaps that made the luxurious keyboard even more sensual. The sound the combination of the heavy flat aluminum plate, smooth Cherry MX Black switched, and thick GMK double-shot ABS keycaps create a sound that makes me forget how much money I spent on this thing and just luxuriate in its soothing sounds.

Connector

I also love that it uses a USB-C connector instead of those janky old USB Mini or Micro connectors. The connection is solid, and the choice of cables is plentiful.

Programming

Programing the keyboard is super easy, there is a configurator that lets you program each and every key, up to three function layers, and macros. From the configurator you export a file that gets copied to the keyboard and you are done. The fear of owners though is that the configurator website will disappear at some point and we will no longer be able to program our keyboards. Hopefully Tex will open source the tool soon.

The only think I really used the configurator for is to make caps-lock key a Function 1 key which make the WASD keys easier to use as arrow keys for me. Oh, I also moved around the ALT and Windows keys for better use on Macs. It was all super easy to do, but not as easy as with the Pok3r.

Conclusion

I love this keyboard so much that I am now saving up to buy another one so I can have one at home and one at work.

A Visit to Mechanical Keyboards dot com

The entrance to a store

The storefront for Mechanical Keyboards in Fairview Tennessee

After ordering the Pok3r from Mechanical Keyboards I realized that they were located just outside of Nashville Tennessee, like a 4-hour drive from me, so when I got the chance to take a day off I headed out.

Arriving at their storefront at 9:30 am on Monday morning I was greeted by Lee who spent a lot of time with me showing me a lot of different keyboards and answering my questions, and boy did I have a lot of questions.

First off, I asked to touch a lot of different switches. Having tried Cherry Brown, Blue, and Silver and deciding that I don’t like clicky or mushy tactile switches I focused on linear switches while also trying a couple tactile switches. After a lot of fondling I decided I wanted my next keyboard to be a Cherry Black, original or clone. They are very similar to the silver or red, but with a stronger spring.

Counters with keyboards on top

Lots of keyboards to try out!

I am still very interested in the NovelKeys x Kailh BOX Heavy Switches in Burnt Orange, but there are currently no keyboards available with those switches. At some point I may give them a try in a kit or use a couple to replace existing switches in a keyboard.

With the switch selected it was time to try different keyboards. My main interest right now are 60% and smaller keyboards, there are not a ton of different keyboards that fit that description, and even fewer places where you can actually touch them.

Vortex Pok3r

This is the keyboard I already have, I have a Limited Edition version with Silver Switches

KBParadise V60

This is a nice keyboard, but the case is made of plastic making it very light. If you are looking for a smallish keyboard to travel with, the V60 is worth a look. Also, the V60 comes with a lot of switches that are harder to find in 60% boards, like ALPS, Matias, and Fukka.

Mistel Barocco

A 60% split keyboard, very interesting. It doesn’t just split a little, it is two separate pieces with a cord connecting them together. Very interesting, but not my thing.

Tex Yoda II

WOW! WOW! WOW! This is the one I chose to buy, it really blew me away. Review coming soon.

I appreciate the hospitality shown to me by the guys at Mechanical Keyboards, Lee did a great job helping me find exactly what I was looking for. He also let me know that if I wasn’t totally happy with the Pok3r that I bought a couple of weeks ago that I had 30 days to return it and get something different.

I decided to take him up on that offer and when I got home sent the Pok3r back with a plan to replace it with the same keyboard with black switches instead of silver.

If you are looking for a place to check out a lot of different keyboard before you buy, Mechanical Keyboards is the place. And if you are looking to buy a keyboard or accessories, MechanicalKeyboard.com is a great place to buy from.

Vortex POK3R Black Limited Edition RGB LED

Vortex Pok3r

After using the Cooler Master Ten-Key-Less (TKL) keyboards for a while, I decided to take it to the next level, and the POK3R really is something completely different. The Limited Edition RGB LED Black Pok3r keyboard is a great 60% keyboard with almost of all the features a mechanical keyboard enthusiast would want.

I didn’t really like the Cherry MX Blue or Brown switches very much. The clicky noise of the blues overwhelms my senses and makes me nervous, the clicky-ness does help hide the mushiness of the tactile bump. The tactile-ness of the browns feels very mushy to me, I would prefer the tactile bump to be really short and sharp. With all that in mind I wanted to go with a linear switch and see how that felt.

Cherry makes many options in linear switches with red and black being the most common. Black switches have been around for a very long time, they go all the way back to 1984. But I was looking for something different, so I decided to get a new keyboard with one of newest switches, the Speed Silver which are like the reds but actuate at 1.2mm of travel instead of the red’s 2.0mm and only travel 3.4mm compared to 4.0mm in the red. On paper that sounded really great to me, it sounds really fast.

With the switches chosen I researched keyboards that I could get with them. Vortex keyboards came up a lot in my research, the Poker, Racer, Vibe, and Core all seem to be pretty popular boards. The Pok3r is a 60% board which means that it does include dedicated function keys, arrow keys, or a ten-key number pad. It is quite a bit narrower than a full-sized or even a TKL board which means more desk space for a mouse.

I bought the Pok3r Limited Edition RGB version in a black case with Cherry MX Speed Silver switches. It also came with double-shot PBT keycaps that let the RGB light shine through very brightly. To say that I loved this keyboard is an understatement. It weighs a ton (3.06 lbs) and the rubber pads on the bottom of it hold it in place while pounding away on the keys.

The speed silver switches really are fast, in real-world use the shorter travel and actuation distance makes a difference. In fact, it makes such a difference that my error rate on TypeRacer.com shot way up, even a week of regular practicing could not overcome all the mistyped keys. For gaming this keyboard and switch combination would be amazing!

But I don’t game on a PC so much anymore, I am more about the typing. So the search for the perfect keyboard continues.

The Pok3r is an amazing keyboard, the programming options are almost endless, the double-shot PBT keycaps are really nice, the weight of the Limited Edition version is wonderful, and there is a wide selection of switches available. I recommend it to anyone looking to get into a 60% keyboard.

p.s.
The photo is from MechanicalKeyboards.com

Mechanical Keyboard Switch Choices

PLANCK Keyboard Frame full of different switches

There are an overwhelming number of different switches for mechanical keyboards available. Linear, tactile, clicky, buckling spring, vintage, and each in a wide range of spring weights and crispness.

From Novel Keys I ordered a 25 slot switch tester with a selection of Cherry MX, MOD, Gateron, and Zealio switches along with a Kailh Sample Pack of another 27 switches. Then from Thingiverse I printed out a PLANCK keyboard frame with room for 48 switches. Now I have a switch tester that I can take around and really get a feel for a wide range of the current switches available.

What have I learned from playing with all of these switches? Mainly that many of them are very similar. As in, there are 12 tactile switches that I cannot feel any appreciable difference with. But that is actually good news. It is common for sellers to be out of certain brands and certain switches, but now that I know they are so similar it should be easier to find a comparable switch.

What do I like?

I like the Cherry and Kailh Silver Linear “Fast” switches, they are super sensitive and I my error rate is high with these than with brown or blue switches, but as I get used to them I am getting faster and more accurate.

I have not gotten to try the following switches on a keyboard yet, but hope to soon.

  • 67g Zealios tactile for the sharp and crisp break
  • Kailh Burnt Orange tactile because the bump is at the very top, really want this one for a space bar
  • NovelKeys x Kailh BOX Thick Clicks for the ridiculously loud click, it would make a wonderfully annoying backspace key

What don’t I like?

I don’t like clicky switches so much, my Cherry MX Blue keyboard I am typing this on is driving me nuts. I will be selling or trading it soon. And I don’t like heavy linear switches with the exception of a spacebar and maybe the home keys.

What are my plans?

I put a lot of thought into building a keyboard from scratch, but after pricing the parts it doesn’t make a lot of sense. So my plan right now is to buy a pre-built keyboard with Cherry Silver switches then swap out the switches spacebar, home keys, and maybe a couple others with something more exotic.

Mechanical Keyboards

If you read my review of the 2016 MacBook Pro you know how much I dislike the keyboard on it. Along with that I have been reading Norman Chan on Tested.com, co-workers, gaming sites, and “computer experts” talking mechanical keyboards and how wonderful they are, my interest was piqued.

My goal for a keyboard is for it to be comfortable and to give a reliable amount of feedback for my not-so-fast touch typing. I don’t need it for “gaming” or a crazy amount of n-key rollover. Just something solid, reliable, and comfortable. I would have loved to build a keyboard kit with all the soldering and programming that entails, but I have other things I would rather be doing. So I spent months shopping and comparing every mechanical keyboard I could lay my hands on.

I eventual bought a Corsair K-something-or-other. I quickly figured out that the keyboard required software installed on the computer to work. That is a no-go for me as they keyboard will be moved from Mac to Windows to Linux and I want it to work the same way no matter what it is plugged into. I researched a bunch more keyboards and found that most of the popular ones require software, usually only available for Windows, to do more than act as a basic keyboard.

Then I took another look at the Cooler Master series of keyboards, turns out all of its features are programmed and stored directly on the keyboard. That means your settings and macros are stored and usable even when you switch the computer it is plugged into, exactly what I was after.

Cooler Master MasterKeys keyboards come in many variations, no back-light, white or blue back-light, RGB back-light, also Cherry MX switches in Blue, Brown, Red.

I chose a Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S, with RGB back-lighting, Cherry MX Blue switches, in a TenKeyless (TKL) design for home use and for the office I chose the exact same keyboard but with Brown switches.

Size

I generally like full-sized keyboards with number pads, but at work I have been using an Apple Bluetooth keyboard for the last 7 years or so and have gotten used to it. When I went looking for a mechanical keyboard I discovered there are 3 typical sizes.

  • Full-Sized – This is the usual keyboard with the number pad
  • TenKeyLess (TKL) – Everything is where it would be on a full-sized keyboard but with the number pad cut-off
  • Compact – A lot like a laptop keyboard with no number keys and the arrow keys are usually below the left-hand shift key
  • Gaming – Usually a keyboard similar to a full-sized one, but with additional macro and media keys knobs and switches

I chose a TKL size as I don’t really feel the need for the number pad and I like the extra space it leaves on my desk. Having that extra space for the mouse is great.

Switches

For my home computer I wanted to go all in with the clicky-clicky of Cherry MX Blue switches, but for the office I went with the Brown switches which do not make the click sound. I then did a blind, or rather deaf, test and determined that the Blue and Brown switches in the Cooler Master keyboard are exactly the same with the exception of the click.

With both keyboards I tend to “bottom-out” the keys, which adds a lot more noise to my typing. I have found the solution to be some inexpensive O-ring switch dampeners that have made typing quieter with the added feature of shortening the throw of the keys.

RGB Backlighting

I need back-lighting so that I can see the keys in darker environments, I don’t really need the RGB and the fancy features that come with it, but I do get a kick out of having the keys light up bright purple when I touch them. Fun, but not necessary.

Ergonomics

Wow, these keyboards are tall! I find it impossible to type on them without a wrist rest. I like the Glorious Gaming Wrist Pad in Full Size. I tried the TKL version, but found it to small as my wrists, especially the left one, sits outside the width of the keyboard. The firmness and height of the wrist rest is exactly what I needed. Ergonomically a keyboard should tilt slightly down and away from you and not up and toward you where your wrist are bent stressing out and leading to carpal-tunnel issues. With my old keyboard I was able to attach supports to the front of the keyboard lifting it, the Cooler Master keyboard is so tall that I don’t think lifting the front would be a very good solution.

At some point I may build a mechanical keyboard from a kit just so that I will have more control over the angle and height it.

Keycaps

I bought some fun keycaps to replace the “Cooler Master” OS specific keys and the escape key with Portal characters. Love them!

Other Options

You can build from a kit, you can build from parts sourced from all over the world, you can buy a ready-made keyboard like I did and customize it with different keycaps. You can get a keyboard like the Planck that has fewer keys but may be faster for a dedicated typer after a transition period. You can even get keyboards that are just a grid of keys for assigning macros to, and not just for gaming, you could create macros to type things for you that are typed often.

Rating

I really like the Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro S RGB keyboards, both the Blue and Brown switches are exactly what I was looking for.