Introducing myself and 3 Model F XTs

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05 Oct 2018, 23:31


my name is Andreas (Andy) and I'm from Germany. I have been using computer keyboards since 1985, but - surprisingly - never really paid much attention to the type and quality of a keyboard. I just used what was thrown at me or later chose mainly going by the visual design - ending up with the last Apple aluminium usb keyboard. Boy is it pretty, but even I had to admit: the (touch) typing is quite horrible. I wouldn't mind the short key travel or feel, but the level surface of the keys makes hitting the right one without looking such a gamble. Anyway, I continued suffering patiently, because it looks good and goes so well with my Apple LED Cinema Display.
But then a few weeks ago a video by the 8-Bit-Guy was suggested to me on YouTube and I was fascinated by his computer restorations and soon a nostalgic feeling began to rise (especially when old IBM hardware was involved). Continuing watching LGR's channel (unpacking a new old stock IBM AT, for example) I finally landed at Chyrosran's channel and had an epiphany.
Shortly after that I placed on order for a new old stock Model F XT (a bit expensive, but I figured there can't be so many unused keyboard left, so it's now or never). Then I also found a decent looking Model F with German keys on eBay-Kleinanzeigen - including an IBM 5150 with 5151 monitor! Until that got delivered there was still time to order a third Model F from a dealer in Holland for a good price, especially because you safe the time, trouble and costs with shipping and customs.
The Dutch one arrived first and despite being the dirtiest (and oldest: July - September 1984) cleaned up very nicely. It's so satisfying, when every spot that you first thought to be a scratch finally can we wiped away. And is there any better feeling than - at the end - you realize the IBM badge still had the clear sticker on!
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Later the German 5150 arrived and its keyboard (November 1984) was more dusty and a bit less dirty, but in the end it had to swap its German key caps and a few others with the Dutch one, which became my main/best board.

On both keyboards the foam was a bit sticky, but the barrels were sitting tight (at least after adjusting the top left bracket of the barrel plate, which apparently is always oddly bent and in 2 of 3 cases a bit loose) so I left the barrel and back plate assembly intact.

At last (after a good week at the customs office) came the new old stock keyboard from the US.
Compared to the other two this one has a much more modern looking sticker:
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What does that shop date mean: week 52 of 1992 ?

I've heard and read quite a bit about decreasing quality with newer IBM keyboards compared to older ones and it seems the same can even be seen within the Model F XT range:
But first the good things:

- It's nicely clean - just look at that shiny plug:
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- The space bar requires quite a bit less force than on the older ones (close to a Model M, that I picked up at work)!

But then it goes downhill:

- The older cases have a beautiful two tone paint finish, which I think looks fantastic. Compare this with the newer one, which looks and feels just like a coarse matte spray paint from the DIY store:
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- Despite the foam being in perfect condition, the barrels of most of the function keys were quite loose. After adjusting the mentioned oddly bent bracket at the top left, the upper row of function keys was tight but the middle rows were still loose. It seems the barrel plate isn't bent round enough compared to the back plate.

- Some of the keys are quite scratchy and even bind, if not hit perfectly. Over all the keys are quite different from the old ones: (as always left = old, right = new)
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06 Oct 2018, 00:09

Ausgezeichnet! Welcome to DT and the wonderful world of mechanical keyboards!

You have picked up a real beauty, and you have documented everything extremely well, noticing the various differences in quality between model years.

With keyboards, it is often the case that older is better, as long as you can find the older ones in excellent condition.

You have started with one of the best keyboards with respect to sound, feel, and durability. The only potential downside is the layout of the XT. Some find it difficult to use, but others like it. It is also possible to remap using a Teensy and Soarer's converter firmware, and some judicious replacement of keycaps can also help.

Best wishes!

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06 Oct 2018, 00:24

Welcome to DT. Those are some really nice pictures, well taken! Enjoy your first step into this hobby, next you'll look for a Model F with more modern layout :D

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06 Oct 2018, 08:25

Welcome to DT! That's a very interesting set of Fs you have - thanks for documenting the changes so clearly!

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06 Oct 2018, 10:37

The XT was my first mech, too. Here’s how I mapped it in Soarer’s converter for my Mac:


It’s a beautiful feeling board. Mine became my entry point to the two things I still like best: Model Fs as a whole (the AT is a significant step forward in layout, while the Kishsaver is the magnificent ideal) and, thanks to that ideally placed Print Screen key, my training wheels for the HHKB layout which has done me so well in 60% keyboards including the HHKB itself. The cursor diamond is well worth the finger gymnastics.

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06 Oct 2018, 14:25

Thank you for your comments.

@Muirium: Tanks for your templates. Despite my liking for Apple Design (from the "Aluminium era") and owning 11 iPhones and iPads - when it comes to desktops, I'm a faithful Windows user. So after swaping the CapsLock key for AltGr, I'm pretty much good to go. But there will certainly be further fine tuning in the future.
After all, the layout of the "XT" is the main attraction for me. But I will leave that for a later post - I don't want to shock and alienate 90 % of the forum members with my second post. :mrgreen:

Inspired by Chyros I was so bold and recorded a few videos and put them on YouTube, which I've never done before.
The (tongue-in-cheek!!) title of the channel is borrowed from a recent post by vometia on this forum (I hope you don't mind :oops: ).

First a direct comparison between my main floss modded (old) keyboard and the new old stock one:

Then short typing demos of both. What you have to imagine is:
<low-voice>And following is a typing demonstration of me typing on this keyboard.</low-voice> ;)

BTW: You're hearing the first two strophes of "Erlkönig" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

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06 Oct 2018, 17:12

I like the XT layout as well. I've used it as my main board for a year before retiring it to occasional use and it's got a certain charm to it. It's also probably my best feeling/most consistent Model F. All of the keys are smooth (no scratchiness like some of the keys on some of my Fs) and they feel a tad crisper too. Interestingly enough it's probably seen the most use in its lifetime too. All of the keycaps are worn smooth and have a bit of shine to them.

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06 Oct 2018, 18:41

Sehr gut!

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06 Oct 2018, 20:47

The XT and Model M were my first vintage mechs. The XT is still one of my favorites.

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