Author Topic: The long journey of the WhiteFox  (Read 74905 times)

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Offline Matt3o

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The long journey of the WhiteFox
« on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 05:16:12 »


The long journey of the WhiteFox
A 4 years long adventure in search of the perfect 65%

I understand that nobody cares about the back story of the WhiteFox so I've hidden all the unessential parts and you can go straight to the point. For the other two sadists who want to know more about the whole process of building a "commercial" grade keyboard, go ahead, do harm yourselves, read the spoilers. Note: the facts may not be exposed in exact chronological order.

How it all started

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Coding long hours on a flat aluminum Apple keyboard gave me a very nasty sore to my left hand (fn, cmd, alt, ctrl) and brought me to search for alternative keyboards. I believe the first mechanical I bought was a Filco TKL with MX Red. A great board but my hunt for the perfect keyboard was just at the beginning.

All the keyboards I tried missed something, so I decided I had to build one myself. It had to be compact to reduce hand movements but I needed the arrow cluster, so my first (working) custom was born.

First experiments: the Steely and the BrownFox

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At the time I was able to only find a service that could laser cut steel, so why-the-hell-not and made my first layered case out of steel.



I really loved it. If you notice both the right and left hand modifiers are smaller than usual and in fact the number row staggering is not standard (number and wasd rows are aligned).

The keyboard was great but presented various problems. The first: steel is indeed hard. Too hard. Typing for long hours becomes tiring and uncomfortable. Secondly: weird key sizes makes impossible to find keycaps for this beauty.

That also explains how my first group buy started. I needed a keyset I could mix and match in any way I wanted to test as many custom layouts as possible. DSA Retro was designed and it was perfect for prototyping, no row discrimination, a gazillion size options and of course the retro style.

As much as I loved the Steely I needed to get real and the BrownFox saw the light.

I already had the DSA Retro set, so I made a wafer case out of brown acrylic and aluminum. The name came natural: BrownFox.



The keyboard was amazing. Slightly flexible so typing was a pleasure again and with a saner key layout, much easier to find keycaps. It was still not perfect though. The arrow cluster was sometimes hard to find with touch typing and I understood that a small gap between the left arrow and the right control was required.

Also up to this point I always built hand-wired keyboard, while the outside layout was going to get better and better I felt that the inside needed more work.


The Elf-Board

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Trying to perfect the BrownFox and in the effort to cut costs I made the Elf-Board. A keyboard made of Wood, Aluminum and Steel.

This was pure perfection. The gap made reaching the arrows easy as a pie. The layout was pretty standard and finding keycaps was not a problem anymore. The bottom steel plate added the right amount of stability, but the aluminum switch plate kept the keyboard flexible.

I also tried to build a rudimentary home-made PCB.



This was the very first custom keyboard I could say was "the end game"... but we all know there's not such a thing...

Bringing it to the next level

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One thing was clear to me at this point: it's not possible to build a one-of-the-kind custom keyboard at a reasonable price (if you want to keep a decent quality). No matter the materials you use, you end up handing €150 in a custom build (if you are lucky). And anyway the end result will always be "amateurish".

It was time to move to the next level. I started the Group Build prototyping phase, the goal was to join forces to build a quantity keyboard keeping the price down.

Many layouts were discussed, some big:



some small:



More or less at the same time we saw an invasion of mini keyboards (like the JD40), so I decided to put the miniature boards on standby and concentrate again on a slightly bigger board.

So after months of discussions and a 50+ pages thread, the WhiteFox was finally taking shape.

The idea was still to build a sandwich case: two aluminum plates with frosted acrylic in the middle. The BrownFox owes its name to the color of DSA Retro and the middle brown acrylic layer... The name WhiteFox came consequentially.

Shaping the fox

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Probably the best thing that could have happened to the WhiteFox was the collaboration with InputClub. I knew that if Haata was going to get involved the WhifeFox would have turn from amazing to legendary.

The WhiteFox got a PCB a CNC'd case and with the help of MassDrop a Chinese manufacturer (well multiple manufacturers).



I was super excited about it and so I started to ask more :) Anodized aluminum for starter, but also a white PCB and cone feet, countersunk screws, ...



The manufacturer once made by mistake an aluminum middle layer prototype (instead of frosted acrylic) and I was so thrilled about it that I asked a quote right away. Since the middle layer was CNC'd we could have better had the full keyboard tray CNC'd instead of having two layers (the sides and the bottom plate). The quote was actually cheaper than the wafer version, so the whitefox became the silverfox... but we kept the original name anyway.

I'm not going to bore you (more than I already did) with the minutiae of the whole prototyping phase. We switched multiple manufacturers for most of the parts until we found the right ones. I have dozens of samples and prototypes for the case, the plates, the keycaps, the screws, the feet. And in this process MassDrop was crucial and I can't thank Kunal enough for his continued support. If you are a MassDrop hater, you really don't understand how much time, dedication and money these guys put in the projects they like.

Anyway after approx 4 years from my first hand-wired 65% and about 1 year of active prototyping the WhiteFox is finally almost ready for the marketplace!

The WhiteFox

Following a two years discussion and months of active prototyping, I'm proud to finally show you the fruit of our efforts.

Please bear in mind that we are still in Beta-1 phase, I don't have a 100% final WhiteFox yet, but we are very close now and I'm comfortable at showing you some pictures.



Again, the keycaps are not final, the legends are still hand aligned so some shifting is to be expected. The final version will be perfectly aligned. Anyway the keycaps are completely optional, if you have --say-- Granite or Round 5 you are good to go.

The Group buy will include

- Anodized CNC'd aluminum case
- Anodized aluminum switch plate (6 layouts available, see below)
- White PCB with SMD components pre soldered. Comes with default firmware and can be easily updated with a web based visual tool
- Aluminum (+rubber) cone feet
- Screws (of course)
- Costar stabilizers

The above is the bare minimum, if you like you can add any of the following:

- Switches (I'll try to give as many choices as possible). The board is Cherry MX compatible only
- Keycaps, cherry replica dye-sublimated PBT
- Braided gold plated micro-usb white-blue cable
- LEDs (yes, the PCB is backlight ready)

The PCB



In collaboration with I:C, the firmware is a Haata's creature. A PCB has been sent to Hasu, too so hopefully we will also have a TMK version.

SMD components come already soldered, just add switches and LEDs if you want. I'll try to make a full tutorial as soon as I get all the final components.

Customizing your layout is super easy thank to the online configurator. Cross platform, web based. Design your keyboard and download the compiled firmware, ready to be flashed.

The case







High quality CNC aluminum case with a wonderful silver anodized texture. Feet are also made of aluminum.

Supported layouts

The PCB supports a gazillion layouts, including ISO, but we couldn't offer a plate for each of them. Also I excluded a multi-layout plate because the switches are exposed and it would look like ****.

The following are the supported layouts:



#1 Vanilla is the easiest to the eye. It is relatively easy to source custom keycaps if you don't want the stock ones. The only weirdly shaped key is the 1.75 right shift. The 1u modifiers in the bottom row are pretty easy to find. As you can see, there's no gap on the arrow cluster, if you feel you don't need it, this layout is a safe bet.

#2 ISO Same as above, ISO version. Unfortunately we don't have an ISO with the gap in the arrow cluster.

#3 Aria Same as vanilla but with a gap in the arrow cluster. All modifiers are standard sized, you only need a 1.75 right shift. This is the layout I suggest if you don't want the all she-bangs (ie: #5 The True Fox)

#4 Winkeyless If you prefer 7u spacebar and 1.5u modifiers, this is the layout for you

#5 The True Fox This is the real deal. This is the WhiteFox as it is always meant to be. No compromises. Gap on the arrow cluster. 1.75 right shift. 1.5 backspace in lieu of the \| key. I know it might seem too much for some of you, but believe me, this is the result of years of experiments and you should really give it a chance. This is the layout I suggest to anybody.

#6 Jack of all trades This layout has all standard sized keycaps. It is compatible with basically any keycap set on the market.

Keycaps

Keycaps are PBT cherry replica. Thickness is just right. Not too thick (that creates problems with LEDs), not too thin. The texture is very nice and the legends are incredibly sharp.





Shut up and take my money!

The Group Buy will start (hopefully) before Christmas. I'll post more pictures as soon as I get the final revision. I can't yet give you a price tag BUT it will be less than you'd expect from a custom keyboard of this kind. The craftiest of you I bet can hazard an estimate. In the coming days I'll post more details, so stay tuned and subscribe to this topic.

Acknowledgements

Once again, let me stress on the fact that none of this would have even been possible without the continued support of Andrew, Kunal and Wu from MassDrop.

Also a special thank to the guys from the Input Club, especially Jacob and Brandon who patiently agreed to all my nuts-breaking little requests.

And of course all those who participated to the "interest check" and followed the project since the beginning.

Official FAQ
« Last Edit: Mon, 21 December 2015, 13:47:48 by Matt3o »

Offline Hexterdude

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #1 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 05:18:32 »
I'm digging this custom and might make it my first! Is there any info you can give about the leds?

Offline raymogi

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #2 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 05:21:20 »
Damn this thing is sexy. I might not need it, but I want it. Even more so with that limited edition one.
Please feed my addiction.

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #3 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 05:31:28 »
I'm digging this custom and might make it my first! Is there any info you can give about the leds?

backlight will be very simple this time, it's all-or-nothing but you can set the LED brightness (3-4 steps I guess).

Even more so with that limited edition one.

Iknowrite?!

Offline LeandreN

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #4 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 06:39:15 »
Well. I think i have to jump on this. Amazing creation Matt3o.


Offline njbair

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #5 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 08:03:02 »
Looks neat. The Gon-style case is a good look for smaller form factors. And I like all the slightly-larger-than-60% keyboards starting to appear.

Personally, I'm planning to pick up a clueboard instead, since it's a proven layout and already supports TMK natively, and skullydazed has done some awesome work in the Geekhack community lately. But it's nice to know there are more options for folks who just need arrow keys sometimes.

I was surprised to see you mention this will be a group buy, I just assumed it would run on Massdrop instead. I'm sure anything with the name matt3o on it will have no problems hitting MOQ though, even without the Massdrop overhead.

Who knows... maybe if I get some extra Christmas money I'll pick one up!

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Offline bocahgundul

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #6 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 08:07:55 »
Really really nice bro that thing looks good

Offline bubbedi

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #7 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 09:06:01 »
This board looks so amazing.. Excited about the caps you mentioned - alternate layouts like dvorak/colemak will not be supported i presume?  :)

Offline njbair

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #8 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 09:20:37 »
This board looks so amazing.. Excited about the caps you mentioned - alternate layouts like dvorak/colemak will not be supported i presume?  :)
Looks like they're DSA. Since they're flat profile you can swap letters between rows.

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Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #9 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 09:59:17 »
they are cherry replica. unfortunately you can't mix and match them... but you can always get some Granite  :) A new batch is also coming next year.

Offline bubbedi

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #10 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 11:04:02 »
they are cherry replica. unfortunately you can't mix and match them... but you can always get some Granite  :) A new batch is also coming next year.

Yeah, me wanting them cherry replica's with colemak support! :) - Matt3o my generous God, of course I have your delicious Granite already. And your Retro SA for that matter. Huge fanboy. I guess i can live with it having the wrong legends. That grey set you talk about sounds sweet.

Offline vivalarevolución

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #11 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 16:48:04 »
I care about the journey. Thanks.
Wish I had some gif or quote for this space, but I got nothing

Offline byker

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #12 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 16:57:49 »
Looks great matt3o. Thanks for posting the story behind it! I love the layout, especially layout 5, the true fox :)

Offline Mad_Maxx

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #13 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 16:59:07 »
Sick

I wish more people were on the 65% train. Is best layout.

Will definitely be grabbing a couple PCBs

Bad switches is the only thing that I like

Offline katushkin

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #14 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 17:03:17 »
The fox on the PCB is so cute :3
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Offline byker

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #15 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 17:05:13 »
hey matt3o, what about a 1.25x3 + 6.25 + 1.5x2 bottom row, to have no gap?

Offline 1swt2gs

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #16 on: Fri, 27 November 2015, 18:07:26 »
A lycan cap from Bro would fit percently with this setup!
Such artisan, many caps, very keyboard.

Always searching for Bro caps! 

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Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #17 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 00:44:44 »
hey matt3o, what about a 1.25x3 + 6.25 + 1.5x2 bottom row, to have no gap?

the PCB should supports that, but we don't have a plate for it.

Offline gabba-gool

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #18 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 10:15:03 »
I'm typically a vanilla guy but I'm really liking that true fox set up. Will be really interested to see that limited edition board.


Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #19 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 11:09:49 »
another thing, would you be interested in an assembly service? If so, how much would you expect it to be?

Offline stoic-lemon

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #20 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 11:25:40 »
Great to read the story behind this. You've obviously put in a ton of work already. The result looks excellent now, and I wish you the best of luck. I hope I have the privilege of owning one.

Offline pomp_dolla

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #21 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 11:55:00 »
This is it. This is what I've been looking for. Everything from the case to the little fox on the pcb. This is perfect.

I'm really excited for this, definitely picking one up. I love your story and honestly the end result, the WhiteFox, is just beautiful.

Would it be possible to get a pcb signed by you? I don't mind paying a little more for it if so  :thumb:

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #22 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 11:59:38 »
Would it be possible to get a pcb signed by you? I don't mind paying a little more for it if so  :thumb:

LOL! this is a first. I'll see what I can do :)

I'm glad you like it!

thanks,
Matt3o

Offline LeandreN

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #23 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 12:00:35 »
Would it be possible to get a pcb signed by you? I don't mind paying a little more for it if so  :thumb:

LOL! this is a first. I'll see what I can do :)
Would be up for this too!

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #24 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 12:11:16 »
thank you guys, I really appreciate the forum-love :)

It makes things a bit complicated in logistics, but if feasible I'll make it happen

Offline deductivemonkee

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #25 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 12:58:40 »
I should've known it's always a Matt who instagates things, that includes me. You got me into the whole building mechs thing. This new board is so far the coolest!
oh yeah I saw that crazy **** if that doesn't win I'm deleting my account

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Offline ccc24

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #26 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 13:02:44 »
Will the back-lighting show through the aluminum case? Or are there acrylic inserts in the case?
And do you mind telling me what the diameter of the switch mounting hole is on the pcb?

Offline Steezus

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #27 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 13:14:29 »
Glad to see this being finalized, I'll definitely try and grab a kit. :thumb:

Offline KatzenKinder

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #28 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 13:30:41 »
Oh myyy~

Offline mashby

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #29 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 14:51:59 »
As usual matt3o, you completely blow me away with your work. I'm more of a 60% guy, but this design may just convince me otherwise. Holy smokes this is awesome!

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #30 on: Sat, 28 November 2015, 16:35:05 »
Will the back-lighting show through the aluminum case? Or are there acrylic inserts in the case?
And do you mind telling me what the diameter of the switch mounting hole is on the pcb?

the case is closed, backlight is only on the keys.

I'll check the size of the hole, I can't remember right now (but it's as Cherry specs)

As usual matt3o, you completely blow me away with your work. I'm more of a 60% guy, but this design may just convince me otherwise. Holy smokes this is awesome!

thanks :)

Offline VikingKeyboards

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #31 on: Mon, 30 November 2015, 15:06:50 »
Damn. Loving the white and blue look!

A question though, will the limited edition support ISO?
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Offline LeandreN

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #32 on: Mon, 30 November 2015, 15:11:26 »
Damn. Loving the white and blue look!

A question though, will the limited edition support ISO?

Limited edition WhiteFox, available in only one layout (#5 the true fox)

Unfortunately we don't have an ISO with the gap in the arrow cluster.


Seems like it is only going to be available in layout 5, which does not support ISO because of the gap with the arrow cluster.
« Last Edit: Mon, 30 November 2015, 15:15:17 by LeandreN »

Offline VikingKeyboards

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #33 on: Mon, 30 November 2015, 15:14:52 »
Seems like it is only going to be available in layout 5, which does not support ISO because of the gap with the arrow cluster.

That sucks. Oh well, can't wait to see how it's gonna end up looking!
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Offline ddot

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #34 on: Mon, 30 November 2015, 15:28:06 »
First off, this is looking awesome Matt3o!

another thing, would you be interested in an assembly service? If so, how much would you expect it to be?

If I recall correctly, when Massdrop did their August 2013 ErgoDox drop, they offered assembly as an option.  I think it was $20 for everything minus the switches and $50 for everything soldered.  Final case assembly, circuit board installation and switch installation was by the user.

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #35 on: Tue, 01 December 2015, 05:19:08 »
the keyboard is incredibly easy to assemble. The case is an alu tray, just screw the top frame and you are done. Also, all SMD components come pre-soldered so all you need to do is to solder the switches. I don't think (but I could be wrong) MD can sell a fully assembled keyboard because of FCC issues, but I (and maybe others) could help assembling the keyboard for the less tech savvy users.

Regarding the limited edition, it will be likely available in only 1 layout (the true fox) which is an ANSI(-ish) layout.

Offline VikingKeyboards

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #36 on: Tue, 01 December 2015, 05:39:09 »
Regarding the limited edition, it will be likely available in only 1 layout (the true fox) which is an ANSI(-ish) layout.

When can we expect to see a picture of it? From your description it sounds sexy as hell.
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Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #37 on: Tue, 01 December 2015, 07:09:52 »
we are closing up the last few details, I hope to have everything ready in a couple of weeks.

Offline ideus

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #38 on: Tue, 01 December 2015, 07:58:24 »
Awesome job, as it is just Matt3o's standard, congratulations for the well done design.


If I'd use dedicated arrows I'd take it in a snap. Unfortunately I don't anymore.  :-[

Offline potatowire

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #39 on: Tue, 01 December 2015, 21:23:57 »
I don't think (but I could be wrong) MD can sell a fully assembled keyboard because of FCC issues, but I (and maybe others) could help assembling the keyboard for the less tech savvy users.

I'd be willing to help assemble, if you end up needing additional volunteers.

Like your other fans have said here, I'd also like to have a signed PCB, but only if it isn't too much of a pain for you.

Offline FLFisherman

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #40 on: Wed, 02 December 2015, 22:42:24 »
I'm really looking forward to this keyboard. It looks absolutely stunning!

Offline ika

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #41 on: Wed, 02 December 2015, 23:10:15 »
Hnnggg... I had just sworn to move away from 60% boards and only use 75% and higher... and now you pull this out. I can hear my wallet crying already...

Offline jaffers

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #42 on: Wed, 02 December 2015, 23:36:39 »
Funnily enough, I'm the same as ika. Was moving towards 75%... Another 60 wouldn't hurt much, just my wallet. How long will the GB be open for?

Offline romevi

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #43 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 00:15:14 »
10/10 would bang

(again and again and again)

Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #44 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:11:16 »
Funnily enough, I'm the same as ika. Was moving towards 75%... Another 60 wouldn't hurt much, just my wallet. How long will the GB be open for?

Hnnggg... I had just sworn to move away from 60% boards and only use 75% and higher... and now you pull this out. I can hear my wallet crying already...

this is not technically a 60%, more like 65%, so you are good :)

GB hopefully in few days. On monday I should get the latest PCB, if everything's fine we can proceed.

Offline swimmingbird

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #45 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:12:09 »
Any possibility of allowing a 1u win key on the bottom row on the left so then you can fit a 7u spacebar and get rid of that pesky gap?

Offline livingspeedbump

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #46 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:14:04 »
such a clean looking board. very impressed  :thumb:
<- My Collection (so far)

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Offline Matt3o

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #47 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:14:42 »
Any possibility of allowing a 1u win key on the bottom row on the left so then you can fit a 7u spacebar and get rid of that pesky gap?

the PCB supports that, but we are not making the plate for that. there are a couple of layouts that don't include the gap anyway.

Offline romevi

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #48 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:19:12 »
Any possibility of allowing a 1u win key on the bottom row on the left so then you can fit a 7u spacebar and get rid of that pesky gap?

the PCB supports that, but we are not making the plate for that. there are a couple of layouts that don't include the gap anyway.

Do you have a reason for the gap? Is it to easily find the arrow cluster?


Edit:
Never mind. Just read the post. The gap makes perfect sense for touch typing.
« Last Edit: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:32:12 by romevi »

Offline swimmingbird

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Re: The long journey of the WhiteFox
« Reply #49 on: Thu, 03 December 2015, 01:38:42 »
Man I want that limited edition one now