Omni Key/102


In August of 2014 when my keyboard endeavors were just starting, a good friend sent me one of the holy grail keyboards- a Northgate Computer Systems Omni Key/102 with blue Alps keyswitches.  My quest was almost finished before it started!


It is of course a wonderful keyboard to type on, albeit maybe not quite as crisp or delightful as the Leading Edge DC-2014.  I’m quite certain the keyswitches in this keyboard saw a lot more use than the DC-2014, and the keycaps aren’t quite as nice (somewhat slick/smooth).  The yellowing doesn’t lend much to its attractiveness, but that’s secondary.

I don’t know who the vendor code of #111 was.


It was certainly time to pull it apart, give it a cleaning, and put it in the normal rotation.  The function keys are a bit funky to get used to, but that’s part of the charm.


Weighs in at 4lb 1oz (without the cable).


Thank you again, Erik!




Behold!  A story of discovery, adventure, greed and passion!

Back in August 2015 when I acquired a batch of keyboards from an old building, one of the reasons I picked up the entire lot was because I saw a Leading Edge DC-2014.  I pulled a keycap and saw a blue Alps keyswitch staring back at me, and knew then that if I wanted to, I could recoup a good portion of the money I’d spent on the whole collection.  It helped to convince me to carry through with the purchase.

Three problems I could see with the board, and why I thought I’d never use it personally.  One was that it was a strange layout.  Two was that it was an XT-protocol keyboard, so I would need a converter if I ever did want to use it on a modern computer.  Three was that the connector had been snipped!  Long ago, probably by the previous owner (now deceased).  Hard to believe there was a point in time that the connector was worth more to someone than the keyboard.


The keyboard sat among others I hadn’t gotten around to refurbishing until March 2016, when I saw this on eBay:


That’s right, $475.  Now, before I go further, I will state that the auction didn’t actually go through.  Some jackass was “trolling” the prices up, for whatever reason.  But at the time, myself and others were doing a double-take and thinking … “huh?”  Had blue Alps hit some kind of “critical mass” so to speak?  Was the craze for them going through the roof?  Some people never did believe it.  Others, including myself, weren’t so sure.

My line of thinking at the time was that I wasn’t going to use the keyboard anyway, so I might as well give it a quick surface cleaning and post it on eBay to recoup my investment for the lot of keyboards it came in.  So I did just that- if I recall, the same day I saw the other auction go for $475.  That was a Thursday.


Starting bid was $100, and there was almost immediately a bid for $102.  People on Deskthority and Geekhack caught wind of it, and re-posted pictures from the eBay post, indicating how it looked to be in much better condition than the one that sold for $475.  However, the missing connector had some scratching their heads.

The weekend came.  I kept walking by the keyboard, which was sitting on the desk I do hobby electronics work on.  As I would walk by, I couldn’t resist typing something quickly on it, or just pressing a few keys to hear the glorious Alps click.

This is not my first experience with blue Alps.  I have an Omni Key/102 with blue Alps in it, however this board feels slightly different.  I haven’t been able to put my finger on it exactly; perhaps it’s the keycap construction.  Something very subtle going on.

On Saturday, doubt about selling the keyboard had crawled into my head.

Click, click, click.  It was luring me with its sound, its feel.

This is where it gets stupid.

On Sunday morning, I ended the auction.

At the time I yanked the auction, I was still under the impression that it was worth $475.  My “passion” (?) for the keyboard had outweighed my greed.  Not only that, but in committing to keeping the keyboard, I actually had to spend more in order to get a converter that would enable it to even work!

This morning I soldered a connector back on and gave it the cleaning it deserved.  I was quite pleased with how clean it was to begin with.  These are pre-cleaning pictures.

It is a decision that I’m comfortable and happy with, particularly now that I’ve learned about the artificial price inflation of the other eBay auction.  I was almost a sucker.

As for the layout, I don’t have near the mental block that I used to with it.  I probably still wouldn’t use it for programming work, because I really depend on a standard layout to be efficient.  But for regular typing (like this), I have no problems with it whatsoever.  The initiation to working satisfactorily with non-standard layouts was from Frieda, my IBM Model F.  After typing on that, I’d lost the apprehension I once had for layout weirdness.

Looks to be from January 26th, 1987?  1989?  It weighs 3lb, 4.6oz without the weight of the cord (weight without the cord since it is now quite a bit longer).



In some respects, this keyboard was a tool to help me learn a thing or two about myself.  My wife would probably state that those lessons involved hoarding and poor money decisions.  I would have to rather state that I learned more about passion trumping financial gain.


A joy to type on.


EDIT: 12/30/2017  There are a few things I need to clarify regarding the converter used with this keyboard.  Before I did the proper research, I just assumed that I could use the Orihalcon-style Soarer’s converter (off eBay), so I bought one.  Well, that worked – kind of.  It only worked when connected to an older computer with an actual 5-pin AT-style DIN connector.  And then not even all the time.  It could take several tries to get it to work and it was essentially random.  As it turned out, after I did some more research on that converter, I learned that the pin for the reset line is not connected, as almost no keyboards use that line.  Well, that explains that.  Frankly I’m surprised it ever worked.

Months ago  I’d read on Deskthority about how to use a Pro Micro microcontroller board, programmed with a special variant of Soarer’s firmware that enabled use of the reset line in order to support something like the DC-2014.  Figuring I had all the connectors I needed, I ordered a Pro Micro from China.  Naturally it took a couple of weeks to get here.  Then, when cutting the wires to an old PS/2 to AT keyboard adapter to use for the operation, I discovered that there was … no wire for the reset line.  So, I ordered some female DIN connectors from China and waited a couple of weeks for them to arrive.  They arrived, and I soldered up the connector to the Pro Micro.  But then only to realize that I couldn’t use the old male DIN connector from the plug I’d soldered onto the keyboard because there was … no wire for the reset line.  So, I ordered some male DIN connectors from China and waited a couple of weeks, then stared at them sitting on my desk for another couple of weeks.

Until this morning!  I finally got the gumption to get the male DIN connector soldered to the DC-2014.  I plugged it into the Pro Micro and plugged that into my USB port and … worked like a charm, first try!  Couldn’t be happier, as I can finally really use this gem of a keyboard that has just been sitting in a box for a couple of years.


Soldered on a snazzy new connector from China

I haven’t spent any time working on a proper case for the Pro Micro board, so for now it’s clumsily lying atop the keyboard.  I’ll get to it… some day.



It was worth the wait.

A Zenith ZKB-2, at long last.


I’ve been hunting for one of these keyboards for almost exactly one year (as a matter of fact, it was one year ago today that I put out a request on Geekhack for one- to which I got zero responses).  I’d heard such good things about the smoothness of its key switches, which are Alps SKCL green – a linear switch that was purportedly as smooth as butter.  I had to try them.

Finally, one showed up on eBay from Portland, Oregon.  I’d posted a message to the seller asking if the key switch sliders were yellow or green, and that was last Friday.  He finally responded on Monday: “Green.”  Within seconds I purchased it, as he was a high-rated seller with a lot of sales behind him.


It has a number of blemishes and warts, but overall I am very satisfied with it.  It has a unique feel and sound, and is another “dream board” to type on.  It was produced in October 1987 and weighs almost exactly 5 pounds with the cord.

Tonight, on a Friday night, I put off all social engagements or even the hint of social engagements so I could do a rudimentary clean-up job and actually use this thing after waiting for so long for one.  I was going to disassemble it fully, but couldn’t figure out how the back plate separated from the case!  All six screws were removed, but something was causing a hangup, and considering that the plastic is very brittle, I didn’t want to take any chances in screwing something up.  So, that tare-down and accompanying photo-documentation will have to wait (sorry, Daniel!).


A great video review from Chyros here (consequently a board I almost ended up with, but am glad he ended up with it because I like his reviews!).


This is a bittersweet moment in a way, because I feel that this was the last keyboard I really “had” to have.  I do not think my enthusiasm for keyboards is diminishing (that should be obvious in the next post), but I think my “problem” of acquiring them is finally subsiding.

Not my fastest speed, but OK for the first test with this board – it was a blast to test drive it on  It just felt “right.”



Before Christmas I saw that released their MK2016, available with Cherry blue, red, or brown keyswitches.  I instantly fell in love with the keycap color scheme, and already knew that I liked the light, crisp snap of Cherry MX blues.  I needed a new keyboard like a hole in the head, so I let things slide until after the holiday hoopla to see if I was still head over heals for it.  I was!


The blue is admittedly a bit lighter than I’d prefer, but when it’s in my darker office, it’s quite attractive (these pictures are illuminated with cloud-obscured sun next to a window).


I named this one Mavor, after the guy that was the inspiration for my keyboard problem (Jon Mavor, programmer that worked on the games Total Annihilation, Supreme Commander, and Planetary Annihilation).  Although, he owned a Unicomp and his father worked for IBM, so perhaps it would have been more fitting for me to name my Model M after him, but this is more of a tip of the hat to his programming abilities than his keyboard!

This is actually a Ducky keyboard (Tiawan), as evidenced by the quacking logos on the menu keys.  From the first time I typed on it, I was impressed by its quality.  It types fast due to the lightness of the Cherry blues, which I really like.  Thick PBT keycaps through and through, including the space bar.


Includes optional white F, J, and ESC keys, plus blank menu keys, as shown below.  This picture was taken with my “real” camera and not the camera off my cell phone, and I tinkered with the manual exposure setting until the light looked a lot closer to the real thing in my office (with window blind closed).  In all of the other photos below (cell phone), the auto-exposure made it appear too light.


Illuminated Num Lock, Esc, WASD, and the function  keys can be made to illuminate according to the current repeat delay and rate; something I didn’t find particularly useful.  The illumination options can be cycled with Fn+F10, so you can turn off WASD, Esc, and function keys.

The other reason I wanted a full-size Cherry board was so I could eventually start a small keycap collection.  I’ve seen some pretty attractively-colored keys on Massdrop and elsewhere, and never had a board to use them on (the Das keyboard I use for work has Cherry MX blues also, but it has non-standard key spacing).

Also came with a wire keycap puller, which was a nice addition.


The keyboard really is a dream to type on and I have zero regrets about the purchase.  It’s quite rare for me to purchase a brand new keyboard, so it’s going to take a while to sink in.

Mavor weighs 2lb 10.7oz (1211g).



Back in October, I’d read on Deskthority about a guy that found an old Kaypro mechanical keyboard manufactured by Oki, in his grandmother’s basement.  He fixed it up and described it in enough detail to make me very curious about the spring mechanisms, which are called Oki Tactile Gourd Spring.  Naturally I had to get one and try it out myself.

My initial impression was not favorable, but honestly I didn’t give it enough of a chance until recently.  I slipped it ahead of some other keyboards in the fix-up/cleaning queue, and am quite enjoying it.

This is an Oki HMB-35957U-22, manufactured in February 1990.  The key feel is certainly different than anything else I’ve experienced.  The activation force appears to be about 50g (nickel method), so it is rather light.  This is a clicky keyboard, and the click is unlike any other keyboard I’ve experienced so far.  It is not an extremely crisp, distinct click such as you would find from an IBM model M or F, but rather a slight ping.  The ping does seem to be more pronounced on lesser-used keys (the arrow cluster in particular), so I have the impression that this keyboard has seen quite a bit of use.

Before realizing that I should have taken the front bezel off before the keycaps, I was faced with a hoard of loose springs facing me.  Not trusting myself to not do something stupid, I had to give myself a reminder.


Quite an interesting mechanism; a spring against a membrane.



The keycaps are slightly different in shape and feel to any of my other keyboards, and the lightness of the switches makes this unique and fun.

It’s now in the rotation.




I’d posted about this keyboard before, but finally I’ve given this poor ol’ thing the attention it has been needing for ages.

Coming in at 3lb, 14.4oz, this RT-101+ keyboard made in Thailand sports black tactile Space Invader switches.  It has that same quality that can be expected from Hi-Tek RT-101+ boards.

It is nice to finally have it cleaned up and in my rotation.  Took me long enough – it has been tagging along for the ride for nearly 20 years.  When I got it, it was quite filthy, and of course it didn’t clean itself.

As I posted previously, I never really cared much for it, mostly due to the stiffness of the switches.  I’m going to get used to them.



Focus Pocus

One of the takeaways from my Time Capsule find was a Focus Electronics FK-5001 – in pristine condition.

This is a photo of it post-cleanup, but amazingly enough there was hardly any dust/dirt/other under the keys.  It was so clean as a matter of fact that I didn’t even bother taking it apart.


Here is a shot of the plate pre-cleanup.  I couldn’t believe how clean it was for its age (it’s from the early 90’s).  Note the fancy Wordperfect 5.1 function key template.


This was not only my introduction to Alps white keyswitches, but to yellows.  The white are clicky, the yellows (for CAPS lock, Scroll lock, and Num lock) are linear.  The yellows buttery smooth, and the whites are very pleasant to type on.  Not quite as crisp and punctuated as Alps blues, but satisfying nonetheless.


This guy comes with a calculator built-in to the keyboard!  Works perfectly.  Some people have indicated to me that the calculators were finicky and failed often, so I guess I got lucky.


It was rather nice not having to fight through seven layers of grime to enjoy this keyboard.

Unfortunately this is another that is sensitive to hot-plugging, so I can’t plug this into a running system and expect it to operate; it has to be booted with the machine.