Comfort Keyboard? More like passing interest turned obssession!

Mehridian

05 Sep 2019, 02:10

Hello All!

New to Deskthority. It's Storytime!

(If you don't want the story scroll down to the TL:DR)

About 2 months ago, my wife and I went to the Goodwill Bins, which is where unsorted stuff goes and sells by the pound(!!!). IMy Wife asked me if this keyboard was any good?

http://www.comfortkeyboard.com/keyboards_comfort.html

I was shocked to say the least, I had never seen a keyboard so unique or so darn heavy. So I bought it, and thus began my search.

It didn't come with any connection cable. It has 2 female connections per section which are RJ11 sized and 6P6C. My first try was the reddit community /MechanicalKeyboards, I didn't get any direction there, (except for today which directed me here!).

Next step was to contact the manufacturer, I have left 6 messages there with no call back. Interesting side point, I think they have an actual Tape Cassette Answering Machine! Next up, I tried contacting an affiliate Fentek Industries, to see if they had any of the connections lying around. The CS agent told me that she was pretty sure that I was showing her the First Model of the Comfort Keyboard System.

Next up I changed out the Keycaps ... I really had to as the keyboard was missing several of them already. I then gently disassembled the 10-key section to see what I was dealing with. Rubber Domes ... Not wonderful but nice... From a Geekhack thread I seem to remember a 35g push?(not sure really.)

Then I got a wild hair and bought what I thought was the right cable.



That didn't work. So I let the project sit for a week or 2 to see if my reddit post would yield any results. It didn't. Then, I decided to give the Soarer's Conversion a shot. I am out of my league here. I missed something in translation and am not even sure if I connected it properly.

Now we come to Today. I had some free time and I decided to do a deep dive into the Interwebs to find something ... anything, that could help me revive this Two Decade Old Relic.
See Pics Below:
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-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-TL:DR-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I am trying to revive this keyboard and I believe it will work. I have a Teensy 2.0 (as pictured above) but I am not sure I have the pinout right on the connection on the keyboard. Can anyone give this noob journeyman direction?

Thank you kindly for your time.

Findecanor

05 Sep 2019, 03:38

Welcome!

I looked up that there were keyboards both for PC (PS/2), Mac (Apple Deskop Bus) and with USB.
The PCB you show has a date code from 1993 printed on it, so we can rule out USB.
If there was a "Command ⌘" key, then it should talk Apple Desktop Bus, and if not, then it should talk PS/2.

Let me make a guess about how this keyboard could be constructed:

I think that the 6-wire cable has:
* Two wires for power
* Two wires for interconnect between parts.
* Two wires for Clock and Data. (PS/2 or ADB)

One of the parts should contain the keyboard's microcontroller, whereas the other parts each has only a "I/O expander" of some sort. I found it likely that the numpad section would have it, but ..
The microcontroller is likely the largest chip and it is likely to also have a clock crystal and support circuitry.
I couldn't find any info on what that Zilog chip is and I can't see if that metal component is a crystal...

The microcontroller should have the only circuitry connected to the Data and Clock lines — and on the other two parts, those lines should be only passed-through between its two ports.
That way, once you have a working cable you would be able to connect it to either part and it would work, as long as there are connecting that part to the part which has the microcontroller (directly or through the third part).

To move forward from this hypothesis: identify the power lines (VCC and GND). Power traces are often thicker on the board, and GND is often connected to a ground plane that covers unused areas.
Also, GND pins often have square pads around holes in a PCB, whereas other have round (but not all circuit boards follow that rule)
You could also google the parts numbers on the IC's to find their pinout, and see which pins are connected where.
Then find (if and) which lines are only passing through the two parts, where the microcontroller is not on: which should be the (PS/2 or ADB) Clock and Data lines.

Figuring out which of those lines are Clock and Data might be more difficult ... but both should use logic levels so I think that it should be safe to use trial-and-error here.
(One of my first mechanical keyboards needed a modular cable for PS/2, and I got the two logic lines wrong the first time and it did not blow up... )
Modular cable plugs are cheap, widely available and can be spliced with a flat screwdriver. :)

User avatar
kbdfr
The Tiproman

05 Sep 2019, 08:23

Welcome!
Mehridian wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 02:10
[…] Can anyone give this noob journeyman direction?
No doubt about that :D
Unsurprisingly Findecanor was already here to help, and while I fail to understand even a quarter of the technical stuff you both posted,
allow me to link a video by our distinguished member Chyros, hoping it will also help:

User avatar
Chyros

05 Sep 2019, 10:08

Haha, yes, I remember this keyboard very well! xD Boy, this board was really wasted on someone with a typing form as bad as mine xD .

User avatar
Muirium
µ

05 Sep 2019, 10:12

Fin is quite right. Step 1 is figure out what protocol the keyboard speaks.

If it has Command keys (look at the original caps: Command is beside the spacebar, often both sides) then it’s going to be ADB. ADB is an oddball, Soarer’s doesn’t speak it, you’d need TMK. ADB doesn’t have separate Data and Clock lines, as it does something cunning (invented by Woz himself) to combine the two, and use the freed up line for daisy-chaining extra peripherals instead.

This keyboard will be one single device, whether ADB, PS/2 or even Sun; so don’t worry about that. The separate key modules all combine to one controller (I bet it’s in the QWERTY / alpha block) which is where you need to start.

Edit: Actually, looking at the split alpha block, I can’t even guess where the master lies. Every block, even the numpad, has two connectors. This thing could be more cunning than usual for a split ergo.

Mehridian

05 Sep 2019, 17:01

kbdfr wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 08:23
Welcome!
Mehridian wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 02:10
[…] Can anyone give this noob journeyman direction?
No doubt about that :D
Unsurprisingly Findecanor was already here to help, and while I fail to understand even a quarter of the technical stuff you both posted,
allow me to link a video by our distinguished member Chyros, hoping it will also help:
I actually, have previously watched this video and found the review extremely funny and enjoyable, as well as informative. Thanks!

Mehridian

05 Sep 2019, 17:15

Muirium wrote:
05 Sep 2019, 10:12
Fin is quite right. Step 1 is figure out what protocol the keyboard speaks.

If it has Command keys (look at the original caps: Command is beside the spacebar, often both sides) then it’s going to be ADB. ADB is an oddball, Soarer’s doesn’t speak it, you’d need TMK. ADB doesn’t have separate Data and Clock lines, as it does something cunning (invented by Woz himself) to combine the two, and use the freed up line for daisy-chaining extra peripherals instead.
It Does have command keys, these can be reprogrammed on the board. Dang... well least I have the teensy for another project somewhere down the road.
This keyboard will be one single device, whether ADB, PS/2 or even Sun; so don’t worry about that. The separate key modules all combine to one controller (I bet it’s in the QWERTY / alpha block) which is where you need to start.
Edit: Actually, looking at the split alpha block, I can’t even guess where the master lies. Every block, even the numpad, has two connectors. This thing could be more cunning than usual for a split ergo.
In researching what I could about the keyboard, each section is movable in order.

[ ASDF ] -- [ HJKL ] -- [ 123 ]

Can also work like :

[ ASDF ] -- [ 123 ] -- [ HJKL ]

or

[ 123 ] -- [ ASDF ] -- [ HJKL ] for a Lefty. (Whom are always in their right mind.)

If you want the full specs on the keyboard I can post the basics:

Key layout: 105 keys, with standard 101 QWERTY layout and special function keys to emulate the Macintosh and other configurations, and activated Special Keyboard Functions
Weight: Three keyboard sections with base plate; 7lb.
Operating Temperatures: 0-50 degrees Celsius
Key Switches: Conductive elastomer rubber designed for 60 million cycles
Key Caps: Molded ABS plastic, double shot injection
Supply Voltage: 5V DC
Nominal Current: less than 150ma
MicroProcessors: Three, type Z8 (8bit)
Memory Storage and Type: 32 kb ROM, 8 kb Flash
Three sections to the keyboard: H 2.5" (65mm) x L 18.25" (464 mm) x D 6.25" (159mm)
Keyboard Enclosure Details: Cycolac ABS plastic; grade KJW


Off topic note ... Looking at the PCB for the Numpad block ... it is beautiful to look at backlit. You can see all the lines of connection .. when I get home I will post a pic, if interested.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

05 Sep 2019, 17:22

Your Teensy will run TMK quite nicely. There’s every hope for this keyboard yet. I’d start with a quick hex file for the ADB converter.

That’s Hasu’s Unimap front end for TMK. You can do quite a lot of customisation with layouts there. Then simply flash the Teensy with the hex file it provides.

Hooking up the Teensy to your keyboard, meanwhile, will still take some detective work.

Mehridian

05 Sep 2019, 19:49

Thank you kindly to all. Great Information!
@Muirium Yes, there will definitely be a lot of that. I spoke with the sales rep at https://www.fentek-ind.com/, who apparently still sell parts to the newer versions of the keyboard. She said she would include me on the email to the manufacturer to try and get the details but .... I am not holding my breath :lol:

I will keep scouring the interwebs and see what I can find.

Mehridian

07 Sep 2019, 01:51

I did make a bit of headway ... My guess is that the Zilog chip embedded on each board is the :

KCPA1001KP DIP/18 8850 ZILOG 8 Z8® Plus Microcontroller IC 8-Bit 10MHz 1KB (1024 x 8) OTP
The reason I believe it to be the right chip or it's successor, is that it is the only reference I could find while searching for "Zilog" "Z8", and "KCPA1001KP"

Zilog was acquired by Littlefuse Inc. in 2017.
The keyboard specs on the Comfort Keyboard systems state that it has 3x Z8 microcontrollers ...

My semi-educated assumption is that the IC send data to eachother and the PC on the same pins. so ... little bit of narrowing the haystack search :-)

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