What Are Your IBM Model F Preferences? (XT vs AT vs 122...)

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Hypersphere

14 May 2014, 19:34

Among IBM Model F keyboards, e.g., XT, AT, and 122-key terminal keyboards, which is your favorite (or what do you like and dislike about each board)?

My own keyboard progression: IBM Model M 101 --> IBM Model M SSK --> Various Cherry mx boards --> Leopold FC660C --> HHKB Pro 2 --> IBM XT --> IBM Model M 122-key --> IBM AT.

Favorite form factor / layout = 60% / HHKB Pro 2
Favorite switch = IBM capacitive buckling spring

I unpacked my IBM AT today, and having used an IBM XT for a few weeks, I was mildly disappointed in the AT. The case of the AT does not feel as solid as that of the XT, and the right shift and enter keys stick unless struck in the center. The sticking seems to be due to not having the wire stabilizers aligned properly. I alleviated this straightaway on the right shift by installing a Model M right shift (after putting a stabilizer insert in the left-hand barrel).

An advantage of the AT is that a special converter is not required to connect it to a modern computer. All that is needed is an AT to PS/2 adapter and a PS/2 to USB converter. On the other hand, although it is possible to do an ANSI and spacebar mod on the AT to yield a layout like that of a Model M, this requires separating the plates and moving some spring-hammer assemblies, and the spacebar mod involves doing some surgery on the barrel plate. In contrast, I did a pseudo-HHKB/Mac layout on my XT via software and swapping some keycaps -- it was not necessary to move any springs to do this. Moreover, the XT layout makes it easy to add Fn keys to the right of each shift key and to have modifiers immediately adjacent to the spacebar.

I have also noticed that my AT is prone to stuttering; perhaps this will be alleviated by taking it apart, doing a thorough cleaning, and possibly replacing the foam layer between the plates. Perhaps I just got lucky with my XT, but it has not exhibited any stuttering.

Thus far, I have not had an opportunity to test an IBM Model F 122-key keyboard, and given that I would prefer not to go larger than an XT or AT, I will probably restrict my Model F choices to these smaller boards. It would be great to have a Kishsaver, but my chances of finding one that I could afford are quite slim.

Finally, XT keyboards are more plentiful and cheaper than AT boards.

Overall, among Model F boards I have tried, I would give first place to the XT. However, I would be interested in how other Deskthorians would rate their different Model F keyboards.
Last edited by Hypersphere on 15 May 2014, 01:26, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

14 May 2014, 19:48

I'm yet to try a 122 key Model F as well, but I know the layout well from my 122 key M. I've used ATs, and own an XT and a Kishsaver… as you may have heard!

XTs are a little nicer than ATs in my experience, too. I think Webwit also chimed in to say the same on this topic, previously. An XT in good shape is one hell of a board, if you can live with a 10 unit space bar! Not everyone can. My XT was also my first buckling spring of any variety, so I'm quite attached to it.

I'm going to have to go with the Kishsaver as the pick of the bunch. Although mine is currently in a huff, until I conquer the rebellious ribbon cable and get Xwhatsit's controller up and running. I'll be back at that tonight!

User avatar
vivalarevolución
formerly prdlm2009

14 May 2014, 20:00

My preference goes to the Model F 122 key, because I have every command at my fingertips. It has so many keys that I do not have functions for all of them! I use the F keys on the left to switch between layouts, have an extra GUI, ESC, and Caps lock (I use the Caps Lock for Control).

And nothing, absolutely nothing, has felt as solid as the F122, with the curved metal back plate, metal bottom, and metal barrel plate. Perhaps my opinion of solidness would be swayed if I got my hands on a beam spring...

I have a kishsaver, but I have yet to get it up and running as I am distracted by other ventures at the moment. Perhaps I will like that more, but embedded navigation keys have never been my preference, with all the navigating that I do.

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Muirium
µ

14 May 2014, 20:02

Metal barrel plate!?

User avatar
vivalarevolución
formerly prdlm2009

14 May 2014, 20:13

Yea, on the Model F 122, the plate the holds the springs and barrels is steel, I believe.

User avatar
Hypersphere

14 May 2014, 20:24

prdlm2009 wrote:Yea, on the Model F 122, the plate the holds the springs and barrels is steel, I believe.
I thought the same was true of the XT. I haven't taken the AT apart yet to look at the barrel plate.

User avatar
Hypersphere

14 May 2014, 20:53

One thing that surprised me about the AT was its use of stabilizer wires instead of the much simpler stabilizer barrels as used in the XT before it and the Model M that followed. Fortunately, it is possible to put a stabilizer insert into the barrel adjacent to the actuator and use Model M keys in these positions.

As soon as I can find the time, I look forward to taking the board apart to do some additional modifications. I think I will install a spring in the 1.5x slot directly above the Enter key and use this for Backspace. In addition, I hope to install a short Left Shift and put a Fn key directly to its right. This assumes that there are actuation points below each barrel. If so, this mod would only require the installation of two additional spring-hammer assemblies.

Remaining changes would just involve remapping and swapping keycaps. At this time, I do not plan to do the surgery for installing a Model M spacebar and two additional modifiers. Instead, I will live with the long spacebar and change F9, F10, Alt, Space, Caps, Ins, Del to Ctrl, Opt, Command, Space, Command, Opt, Ctrl.

However, it would be nice to have a Fn key on the right; perhaps I could sacrifice the Right Command for a Fn key. Of course, the perfect spot would be to the right of a shorter Right Shift, but given the AT layout, this would entail having a 1x Right Shift and a 1.75x Fn key to its right. Suggestions welcome for other configurations!

User avatar
E TwentyNine

14 May 2014, 22:34

rjrich wrote:One thing that surprised me about the AT was its use of stabilizer wires instead of the much simpler stabilizer barrels as used in the XT before it and the Model M that followed. Fortunately, it is possible to put a stabilizer insert into the barrel adjacent to the actuator and use Model M keys in these positions.
The XT doesn't have stabilizer barrels. There are no unused barrels, so no place for insert stabilizers. The spacebar setup is similar to the other F's with the wire and side towers.

The first Model M's used stabilizer wires as well. Insert stabilizers didn't come until later.

I know some people like the 122 battleships, but the AT is the best F for me (even better than the Kish) once modded to a tenkeyless layout.

User avatar
Hypersphere

14 May 2014, 23:00

E TwentyNine wrote:
rjrich wrote:One thing that surprised me about the AT was its use of stabilizer wires instead of the much simpler stabilizer barrels as used in the XT before it and the Model M that followed. Fortunately, it is possible to put a stabilizer insert into the barrel adjacent to the actuator and use Model M keys in these positions.
The XT doesn't have stabilizer barrels. There are no unused barrels, so no place for insert stabilizers. The spacebar setup is similar to the other F's with the wire and side towers.

The first Model M's used stabilizer wires as well. Insert stabilizers didn't come until later.

I know some people like the 122 battleships, but the AT is the best F for me (even better than the Kish) once modded to a tenkeyless layout.
I stand corrected! I shouldn't write posts when sleep-deprived. Yes, indeed, I am back to typing on my XT, and it certainly has no stabilizer barrels! Thanks for pointing out my error.

I was also not aware that the early Model M used stabilizer wires.

As for preference, after using the AT for a while, I am glad to be back to the XT. The XT is far from perfect -- in particular, although I like my pseudo-HHKB/Mac layout, I would prefer to have a return key wider than 1x and not have the right bracket key sitting in isolation where the former return key was. However, overall I prefer my XT because of its steel-brick solidity and ease of modification (no disassembly required -- merely remapping via software and swapping out some keys).

1391401

15 May 2014, 04:01

My keyboard ownership progression is as follows:

IBM Model M --> XT Model F --> AT Model F --> 122-key Model F

What I like about the Model M is the layout and build quality, however I always felt the actuation force was a bit too high for my taste.

I'd been hearing such good things about the key feel of Capacitive Buckling Springs that I wanted to try them, and I have to say I really fell in love with them when I tried the XT for the first time. The actuation force and crisp key feel of the XT felt right. The deal breaker for me was the layout and space bar. I couldn't deal with the odd right Shift placement or having the number pad right next to the rest of the layout in one giant cluster. I much prefer a separate cluster for dedicated arrow keys. I also like both, ALT and CTRL keys. Further, I just couldn't hang with the serious actuation force the space bar demanded.

I like the AT's layout much better. The number pad is separated from the rest of the layout and the space bar on the AT I own has a lower actuation force. That said, I couldn't get used to the lack of ALT and CTRL keys on either side of the space bar, and I missed the Model M's dedicated arrow keys.

It's only recently that I was able to acquire a 122-key terminal Model F. With a bit of programming and swapping of keys from one of my Model M's, I believe this is as close as anyone's going to get to the Model M's layout in a Capacitive switch. It meets my demand for dedicated arrow keys, the Model M's ALT and CTRL key configuration, and a space bar with lower actuation force.

In some ways, the F-122's layout is superior to the Model M's, in my opinion. For starters, there's not one but two sets of extra (programmable) function keys. Thus, in addition to the standard function keys, I now have function keys assigned for the Windows key, My Computer, Chrome, e-mail, etc. I like the fact that the keys are programmed at the hardware (converter) level to boot.

That said, I would prefer an ANSI left Shift and Enter key. There's a tutorial that shows how to modify them, however I'm not brave enough to go to the extent that the mod requires. For me, it's a minor quibble, though.

The F-122 is dauntingly huge and without a doubt the sturdiest keyboard I've ever used. While the size might be a drawback for some, I actually prefer it. It doesn't leave me wanting for functionality. Almost every function I could ever want in a keyboard is at my fingertips.

So, my preference is the 122-key variant, hands down.

User avatar
E TwentyNine

15 May 2014, 04:26

1391401 wrote: I like the AT's layout much better. The number pad is separated from the rest of the layout and the space bar on the AT I own has a lower actuation force. That said, I couldn't get used to the lack of ALT and CTRL keys on either side of the space bar, and I missed the Model M's dedicated arrow keys.
So did I.
1391401 wrote: It's only recently that I was able to acquire a 122-key terminal Model F. With a bit of programming and swapping of keys from one of my Model M's, I believe this is as close as anyone's going to get to the Model M's layout in a Capacitive switch. It meets my demand for dedicated arrow keys, the Model M's ALT and CTRL key configuration, and a space bar with lower actuation force.
I'm going to have to beg to differ on that point. As I missed the dedicated navigation cluster and the ALTs, I came up with this:

Image ( Build here: http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=52379 )

I'm not missing F10-F12. My first layout had them but I didn't like the keys near the nav cluster: Image

With my current layout I have the right ctrl key mapped to a function layer so the numerics map over to Fn but I cannot recall the last time I had to use them. Also the nav cluster is mapped to prtscr and some multimedia controls. Still have to look into case alternatives or an insert around the empty area in the nav cluster. Purely cosmetic at this point.

I firmly believe anyone with an AT should perform this mod.

If an F space unsaver ever became available for a reasonable price I might be interested to see how that would work out.

1391401

15 May 2014, 07:27

E TwentyNine wrote: I'm going to have to beg to differ on that point. As I missed the dedicated navigation cluster and the ALTs, I came up with this:

Image ( Build here: http://geekhack.org/index.php?topic=52379 )
I love the color scheme. I think this mod brings the AT closer to a Space Saver design, in my opinion. I didn't mention it, but I actually do use the number pad and prefer having both, dedicated arrow keys separate from the number pad(a la the Model M). In that regard, I think the F-122's more robust layout is more consistent with the M.

User avatar
E TwentyNine

15 May 2014, 15:12

1391401 wrote: I love the color scheme. I think this mod brings the AT closer to a Space Saver design, in my opinion. I didn't mention it, but I actually do use the number pad and prefer having both, dedicated arrow keys separate from the number pad(a la the Model M). In that regard, I think the F-122's more robust layout is more consistent with the M.
Yep, you're right. My mind just immediately goes to SSK when I think "best M layout".

User avatar
Hypersphere

15 May 2014, 15:33

1391401 wrote: <snip>
So, my preference is the 122-key variant, hands down.
When declaring keyboard winners, the term "hands down" certainly seems appropriate!

User avatar
Hypersphere

15 May 2014, 15:53

1391401 wrote: <snip>
That said, I couldn't get used to the lack of ALT and CTRL keys on either side of the space bar, and I missed the Model M's dedicated arrow keys.
Here is how I have reconfigured my XT:
xt140422r.jpg
xt140422r.jpg (869.79 KiB) Viewed 3686 times
xt140422l1.jpg
xt140422l1.jpg (867.72 KiB) Viewed 3686 times
It's not pretty -- it looks like my keyboard is in need of a good orthodontist. However, it turns out to be quite functional. Red = Control; Dark Blue = Option (Alt). This layout gives me all three modifiers on each side of the spacebar, plus a Fn key on each side of the keyboard.

The blank key above the 1x Green Return (Enter) is Backspace (Back Delete). Thus, the layout emulates that of the HHKB. NumLock toggles arrow keys vs numbers on the NumPad, and Fn activates the HHKB cursor diamond, [ / ; ' . Scroll Lock = Power, and pressing both Shifts = Caps Lock. This layout was inspired by Muirium.

It might seem like a jumble on the right side of the board, but it works quite well. Initially, I thought I would miss having a wide Return key, but the 1x Return sits just where I would expect it to be.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

15 May 2014, 18:18

I haven't as much as pulled a cap from my XT, I must admit. It's that rare keyboard that just works for me the way it is, as all my fiddling takes place in software. Mine is entirely stock to look at, but extensively remapped. Its numpad – stolen for navigation on the main layer – is so useful it almost turned me to them. The XT's right hand side could use an island or two, but once you know it, everything has a ready place.

quantalume

15 May 2014, 18:25

1391401 wrote:That said, I would prefer an ANSI left Shift and Enter key. There's a tutorial that shows how to modify them, however I'm not brave enough to go to the extent that the mod requires. For me, it's a minor quibble, though.
If you type on it long enough, you may find that you actually prefer the default 122-key configuration. If you find yourself continually hitting the "< >" instead of the left shift, then remap it to shift. What this then allows you to do is use the other key as a function-layer activation key. I use this function layer to pick up navigation keys that I can access without moving my right-hand. This makes editing very efficient, yet I've still got the dedicated navigation cluster for when I'm just browsing a document or web site.


Also, I'm not convinced that disassembly is necessary to convert to an ANSI left shift. It might be possible to modify a Model M stabilizer sleeve in such a way that it holds the flip plate in an up position while still guiding the stabilizer post. I'd try this, except that you would still need to yank the spring, which I'm hesitant to do due to it's irreplaceable status.

User avatar
vivalarevolución
formerly prdlm2009

15 May 2014, 18:29

Cool! You should see how user "wcass" reconfigured his XT. It looks almost like an AT! However, I do not know if he has posted any pictures on any of the forums of his reconfigured XT. He brought it to Keycon 2013, and I may have taken pictures and posted them on my Google Plus. Here is the album:

https://plus.google.com/photos/10901697 ... 3716207793

User avatar
E TwentyNine

15 May 2014, 18:38

quantalume wrote: Also, I'm not convinced that disassembly is necessary to convert to an ANSI left shift. It might be possible to modify a Model M stabilizer sleeve in such a way that it holds the flip plate in an up position while still guiding the stabilizer post. I'd try this, except that you would still need to yank the spring, which I'm hesitant to do due to it's irreplaceable status.
The spring is easily replaceable. Look up the chopstick mod.

Without disassembling, pull the spring, take a standard insert stabilizer and cut off the bottom portion so it doesn't hit the pivot plate, put it in the barrel. Take an ANSI shift and put it in there. If the peg on the shift still bottoms out, pull it and trim the peg slightly.

User avatar
E TwentyNine

15 May 2014, 18:40

prdlm2009 wrote:Cool! You should see how user "wcass" reconfigured his XT. It looks almost like an AT! However, I do not know if he has posted any pictures on any of the forums of his reconfigured XT. He brought it to Keycon 2013, and I may have taken pictures and posted them on my Google Plus. Here is the album:

https://plus.google.com/photos/10901697 ... 3716207793
Is it in those pics? I didn't see an XT...

User avatar
Hypersphere

15 May 2014, 18:41

Muirium wrote:I haven't as much as pulled a cap from my XT, I must admit. It's that rare keyboard that just works for me the way it is, as all my fiddling takes place in software. Mine is entirely stock to look at, but extensively remapped. Its numpad – stolen for navigation on the main layer – is so useful it almost turned me to them. The XT's right hand side could use an island or two, but once you know it, everything has a ready place.
But Mu, how could you not alter your XT? After all, it does not have the best of all possible layouts, which as we all know, is that of the HHKB! ;)

User avatar
Hypersphere

15 May 2014, 18:44

E TwentyNine wrote:
quantalume wrote: Also, I'm not convinced that disassembly is necessary to convert to an ANSI left shift. It might be possible to modify a Model M stabilizer sleeve in such a way that it holds the flip plate in an up position while still guiding the stabilizer post. I'd try this, except that you would still need to yank the spring, which I'm hesitant to do due to it's irreplaceable status.
The spring is easily replaceable. Look up the chopstick mod.

Without disassembling, pull the spring, take a standard insert stabilizer and cut off the bottom portion so it doesn't hit the pivot plate, put it in the barrel. Take an ANSI shift and put it in there. If the peg on the shift still bottoms out, pull it and trim the peg slightly.
Does the truncated ANSI shift setup work as smoothly as one with a full-length insert and/or shift peg?

quantalume

15 May 2014, 18:50

E TwentyNine wrote: The spring is easily replaceable. Look up the chopstick mod.
What I meant was that you can't buy new Model F springs like you can for the Model M. If you damaged the spring while removing it and later wanted to put it back in, you'd have to steal one from another board.

quantalume

15 May 2014, 18:55

rjrich wrote: Does the truncated ANSI shift setup work as smoothly as one with a full-length insert and/or shift peg?
I don't see why it wouldn't. The bottom portion of the peg is tapered and doesn't really contact the sleeve.

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E TwentyNine

15 May 2014, 18:57

quantalume wrote:
E TwentyNine wrote: The spring is easily replaceable. Look up the chopstick mod.
What I meant was that you can't buy new Model F springs like you can for the Model M. If you damaged the spring while removing it and later wanted to put it back in, you'd have to steal one from another board.
You can put an M spring in an F.

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Muirium
µ

15 May 2014, 19:03

Yes, I have done exactly this on my Kishsaver, using a chopped matchstick. The key sounds a little higher pitched, but works effectively.

quantalume

15 May 2014, 19:25

That's good to know. At first glance the F's springs had seemed a little longer and thinner. Now excuse me while I go butcher one of my Model Fs...

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Muirium
µ

15 May 2014, 19:33

F springs are made from thicker, duller grey looking, wire. If you pluck one, it resonates lower than an M. The same is true when installed in the keyboard. Length is similar enough still to work. And width is good too.

1391401

15 May 2014, 19:49

quantalume wrote:
1391401 wrote:That said, I would prefer an ANSI left Shift and Enter key. There's a tutorial that shows how to modify them, however I'm not brave enough to go to the extent that the mod requires. For me, it's a minor quibble, though.
If you type on it long enough, you may find that you actually prefer the default 122-key configuration. If you find yourself continually hitting the "< >" instead of the left shift, then remap it to shift.
Overall, I think the default configuration is fairly usable as is, though I've remapped several keys to more closely conform to the Model M's layout, the key beside left Shift ("\" on a 6110347) being one of them.

1391401

15 May 2014, 19:55

I originally considered pulling the spring from the key beside left Shift in order to fit it with a Shift key from a Model M, but I haven't mustered up the courage to actually do it.

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