Author Topic: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic  (Read 696 times)

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Offline mattlach

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May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« on: Fri, 04 January 2019, 17:19:33 »
Hey all,

I am a long time lover of buckling spring switches.   I used Model M's for ages and loved them.  I'm now using two different Unicomps and I'm not as trilled.   Between the poor build quality and sticky keys with age, I think I am ready to try something new.

And to give me more motivation, my big heavy microphone that sits on top of my left speaker when not in use, fell and cracked the case of my Unicomp Classic.   The keyboard is still fully functional, just a bit ugly.

While I love buckling springs, and feel like every other switch I've tried feels disappointing by comparison, I don't want to go Unicomp again, and I don't want a decades old design.

I really wish Unicomp would take some initiative, get their quality control together, and build a modernized buckling spring keyboard, with a sleek modern industrial design, good build quality, backlighting, NKRO, etc. etc. but that doesn't seem likely any time soon.

So It's time to try something else.   I'm thinking a simple black design, with white backlighting.  (I have no need or desire for RGB Frag Harder Disco lighting, but it would be nice to be able to see the keyboard in the dark)   I'm looking for a full 104 key board. None of this tenkeyless, or 60% stuff.

I like my switches heavy and clicky, so I'm thinking my best bet is Cherry MX Greens.  I have a key tester, and while the green is tied for the clickiest and heaviest switch, I still don't feel it is clicky or heavy enough, but I guess it's the best I'm going to get.

Some options I have been considering thus far:


Ducky One 2 Black with White Backlighting and MX Green Switches:

I recently got my Fiance a Ducky One 2 with MX Browns.  I was very impressed with the build quality (not so much with the switches, but you can get them with a wide variety of switches, so that's not an issue).  I looked at a black version of this keyboard, but I didn't quite like the white duo tone.  I wish it were all black.


Ducky One Black with White Backlighting and MX Green Switches:

I like the looks of this keyboard better, without the racy duo tone case colors, but I don't know how the first gen One stacks up with the One 2, if I am going to be equally impressed with the build quality.


MK Night Typist

I really like the looks of this keyboard, and reviews seem to suggest it is nice to type on, but it is tough to tell without trying it yourself.    Switch offerings are limited to only Blue, Brown and Silent Red though, which is a bummer.  If this came with Greens or Whites I might order it.


Are there any other good ones I should be adding to my list?   I'm open to any suggestions!

Much appreciated!
« Last Edit: Fri, 04 January 2019, 18:02:27 by mattlach »

Offline Sup

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #1 on: Sat, 05 January 2019, 15:13:05 »
If you like Buckling spring you could look at the old Model M Keyboards It does have the modern layout but it misses the Windows key. But it's build like a super tank and higher quality then the Unicomp model M.
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Offline Gajible

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #2 on: Sat, 05 January 2019, 16:29:02 »
If you're dead-set on that Buckling Spring feeling, nothing Cherry or even Alps can offer even comes close, in my opinion.

Ditch Unicomp, the quality leaves something to be desired anyways, and get a nice bolt-modded Model M!

Offline Kavik

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #3 on: Sat, 05 January 2019, 23:26:42 »
The next best thing to Buckling Springs is BOX Navies, or possibly Speed Navies (I haven't tried them, but I think they're basically the same with higher actuation and no BOX stem). You will have to solder/swap your own switches to use these though. It sounds as if you want something OEM.

Kailh BOX Whites are available on some OEM boards. They are like BOX Navies, but they are lighter and have a slightly different click sound. MechanicalKeyboards.com's house brand 104 has a BOX Whites switch option (https://mechanicalkeyboards.com/shop/index.php?l=product_detail&p=3526). I don't have experience with this keyboard. I thought there were other OEM 104 key keyboards with this switch option, but I can't find any others at the moment. I think Kailh itself released one, but IIRC it was a limited edition.

Or yeah, a vintage Model M possibly with a bolt mod would be another option; they're way better quality. You'd just have to live without windows keys and the menu key.

MX Blues and MX Greens (or derivatives thereof) will probably be disappointing coming from Buckling Springs. After using good clicky switches, they just feel rattly.

Online pr0ximity

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #4 on: Sun, 06 January 2019, 05:31:41 »
It's a shame you're not into old designs. I think a Model F XT would blow your mind.

Offline ander

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #5 on: Sun, 06 January 2019, 23:30:06 »
I am a long time lover of buckling spring switches. I used Model M's for ages and loved them.  I'm now using two different Unicomps and I'm not as trilled. Between the poor build quality and sticky keys with age, I think I am ready to try something new... While I love buckling springs, and feel like every other switch I've tried feels disappointing by comparison... I really wish Unicomp would take some initiative, get their quality control together, and build a modernized buckling spring keyboard...

I hear what you're saying, dude—but I think we should clarify a few things about Unicomp.

In the mid-'90s, IBM decided to switch entirely over to cheap, Asia-produced dome keyboards. Since they were by far Lexmark's biggest BS customer, Lexmark figured there was no point keeping their Lexington, KY BS-board factory open.

Rather than let the curtain come down on the greatest keyboard ever, some Lexmark employees scraped together some dough and bought the factory.

They realized that if they continued building Model M's as heavily-made as IBM's and Lexmark's, they'd have to charge so much for them that they'd sell only a small number of them. So they redesigned it to be less costly to make—and these differences in build quality, look and sound are no doubt most obvious to us KB geeks.

However, considering that original M's cost $300 or more in '80s and '90s dollars, it's something of a miracle Unicomp produced a real BS keyboard, with a respectably sturdy build, for under $100 in 2010's dollars!

And while we agree Unicomps aren't quite the "tanks" prior M's are, I actually like the differences, because it makes typing on them a different—and to me, equally enjoyable—experience. I don't think any BS collection is complete without at least one.

I understand your feelings about "decades-old designs", too. But you must consider that creating an entirely new, "modern" case design to accommodate BS's, and tooling up for it, would cost untold thousands of bucks—the kind of dough a small, specialized, labour-of-love company like Unicomp can't justify spending. I think they've done an amazing job doing what they have.

Technically, they have make some updates, too:

• The compact Ultra Classic:





• Windows keys (which are found on only, like, one or two other MK's)

• USB connectivity (while still making PS/2's available)

BTW, I don't know why your keys are sticking. I've had several Unicomps for years, and have never encountered a sticky key. It's usually quite an easy fix, though: Just remove the key stem and cap, dip a Q-Tip in some plastic-friendly lube, and run it around the inside of the barrel. (Have you tried it?)

I can also confirm what others have said: There's nothing like BS's. They're the baseline for mechanical switches. Other switch-makers have devoted considerable resources to trying to emulate them. (I also agree, MX Greens seem to be the closest anyone has gotten.)

So if you hope to replace BSs with other switches, just to have boards that look newer, I think you'll be disappointed.

Don't get me wrong—there are many other switches I like, e.g.:
  • Topre (and Korean Topre clones, e.g. GTune)
  • MX Green, Blue, White
  • Alps SKCM Blue, White
  • Some flavours of Kailh Box
But the ultimate reason I like them is that they make me appreciate BS's even more when I return to them. When something's that good, you don't want to take it for granted.

It's probably not what you want to hear, but my best suggestion is that you either:
  • Find an unused, old-stock IBM or Lexmark Model M (and they are out there, though you'll pay a premium for them of course); or
  • Buy a used vintage M and restore it—which, assuming it hasn't been utterly trashed, is usually just a matter of cleaning it, and sometimes replacing a few broken-off plastic rivets with small machine screws.
If you decide on the latter, there are lots of good tips here on cleaning and "screw-modding" (or "bolt-modding") BS boards. If you're like me, you'll even enjoy the project, and you'll really enjoy having a vintage BS board that looks and feels practically as good as when it came off the assembly line.

And if you're worried what people will think about it, who cares? I always have BS-doubters try actually typing on them. That usually wins them over. If it doesn't, they're usually peeps I wouldn't care about hanging out with anyway.  :?)
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Offline mattlach

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #6 on: Wed, 09 January 2019, 19:53:16 »
If you're dead-set on that Buckling Spring feeling, nothing Cherry or even Alps can offer even comes close, in my opinion.

Ditch Unicomp, the quality leaves something to be desired anyways, and get a nice bolt-modded Model M!

Oh, thanks.  I am aware.   I used to use old school Model M's for many years, including this black Model M13, which I stopped using as I kept wearing through the pad printed black keys.  When Unicomp told me they were no longer going to make them, and I had ordered the last set is when I cleaned it up, installed the new keycaps, and put it away in storage and took the picture below.  I don't want to wear out something that rare.



Before the black M13, I had this one for a few years:



I won it on ebay for $29 back before they were cool, and the prices went up.  When I got the black model M13, I brought this one to work (I had my own office at the time, so noise wasn't a concern) but we had a leak in the roof and it got soaked.  I tried cleaning it up again, but I could never bring it back to life. :(

After I put away the M13 I ordered a couple of Unicomps.   They have been OK, just nothing to write home about.

If you're dead-set on that Buckling Spring feeling, nothing Cherry or even Alps can offer even comes close, in my opinion.

Ditch Unicomp, the quality leaves something to be desired anyways, and get a nice bolt-modded Model M!

Oh I know.  Nothing else is quite the same, and I feel like switching to something else WILL be a downgrade, but probably one I can live with in exchange for some more modern features and design.

I recently bought my fiance a White case / White LED Ducky One 2 with Cherry Browns, and I was VERY impressed with the build quality and fit and finish.  The Unicomps are heftier, but the fit and finish of that Ducky blows them away.


The next best thing to Buckling Springs is BOX Navies, or possibly Speed Navies (I haven't tried them, but I think they're basically the same with higher actuation and no BOX stem). You will have to solder/swap your own switches to use these though. It sounds as if you want something OEM.

Kailh BOX Whites are available on some OEM boards. They are like BOX Navies, but they are lighter and have a slightly different click sound. MechanicalKeyboards.com's house brand 104 has a BOX Whites switch option (https://mechanicalkeyboards.com/shop/index.php?l=product_detail&p=3526). I don't have experience with this keyboard. I thought there were other OEM 104 key keyboards with this switch option, but I can't find any others at the moment. I think Kailh itself released one, but IIRC it was a limited edition.

Or yeah, a vintage Model M possibly with a bolt mod would be another option; they're way better quality. You'd just have to live without windows keys and the menu key.

MX Blues and MX Greens (or derivatives thereof) will probably be disappointing coming from Buckling Springs. After using good clicky switches, they just feel rattly.

That is good to know, but I'd probably shoot myself in the face before desoldering and resoldering - what - 104 switches.   I've never had the best fine motor skills.  I can solder, but it aint pretty, as evidenced by the back of this board I made a while back:



It's a shame you're not into old designs. I think a Model F XT would blow your mind.

After a long 30+ years as a computer geek, I am so completely and utterly tired of the communist beige/grey computer color schemes of yore.  Absolutely nothing could make me go back.  Not even the fabled Model F switch I've heard so many good things about.



I hear what you're saying, dude—but I think we should clarify a few things about Unicomp.

In the mid-'90s, IBM decided to switch entirely over to cheap, Asia-produced dome keyboards. Since they were by far Lexmark's biggest BS customer, Lexmark figured there was no point keeping their Lexington, KY BS-board factory open.

Rather than let the curtain come down on the greatest keyboard ever, some Lexmark employees scraped together some dough and bought the factory.

They realized that if they continued building Model M's as heavily-made as IBM's and Lexmark's, they'd have to charge so much for them that they'd sell only a small number of them. So they redesigned it to be less costly to make—and these differences in build quality, look and sound are no doubt most obvious to us KB geeks.

However, considering that original M's cost $300 or more in '80s and '90s dollars, it's something of a miracle Unicomp produced a real BS keyboard, with a respectably sturdy build, for under $100 in 2010's dollars!

And while we agree Unicomps aren't quite the "tanks" prior M's are, I actually like the differences, because it makes typing on them a different—and to me, equally enjoyable—experience. I don't think any BS collection is complete without at least one.

I understand your feelings about "decades-old designs", too. But you must consider that creating an entirely new, "modern" case design to accommodate BS's, and tooling up for it, would cost untold thousands of bucks—the kind of dough a small, specialized, labour-of-love company like Unicomp can't justify spending. I think they've done an amazing job doing what they have.

I had heard this story before, but I didn't realize just how small they were.  You are right, it would cost thousands to tool up for a redesign, but these days with the LED happy kiddos and their "gaming" designs, the market is huge.  I think there is a great sales pitch here to combine the best of yesterday (the switches) with the best of ttoday (modern industrial design)

The thing is, sure, the Unicomps do not double as home defense weapons, like my Model M's used to, but that's not their onyl problem.  The fit and finish is absolutely horrid. With big uneven seams and terrible alignment.  It loosk like something someone cobbled together from spare parts in their garage, rather than a professionally manufactured product.


Technically, they have make some updates, too:

• The compact Ultra Classic:


Show Image



• Windows keys (which are found on only, like, one or two other MK's)

• USB connectivity (while still making PS/2's available)

I know, and I understand this.  The windows keys are welcome (that's how we all launch programs these days right?  windows key followed by typing the name into the search box, not th eold school hunting and pecking through the start menu with the mouse)

The USB is good to have too.  I definitely don't miss using the USB PS2 adapter ever since motherboard manaufacturers stopped putting PS2 ports on motherboards.

That said, the USB solution is pretty bad.   Very slow initialization.   Its actually really difficult to get into the BIOS on most computers, because the USB doesn't initialize until after the splash screen is gone :p   Sometimes it initializes faster, so I ahve to reboot many times, and mash on the DEL key as fast as I can, and hope I get lucky and it initializes in time :p



BTW, I don't know why your keys are sticking. I've had several Unicomps for years, and have never encountered a sticky key. It's usually quite an easy fix, though: Just remove the key stem and cap, dip a Q-Tip in some plastic-friendly lube, and run it around the inside of the barrel. (Have you tried it?)

No, I ahve not tried any lube.   Any recommendations on what to use?  Silicon oil?   I have cleaned it with isopropyl alcohol (I figured dust may have gotten in there or something) but that didn't help.


I can also confirm what others have said: There's nothing like BS's. They're the baseline for mechanical switches. Other switch-makers have devoted considerable resources to trying to emulate them. (I also agree, MX Greens seem to be the closest anyone has gotten.)

So if you hope to replace BSs with other switches, just to have boards that look newer, I think you'll be disappointed.

Don't get me wrong—there are many other switches I like, e.g.:
  • Topre (and Korean Topre clones, e.g. GTune)
  • MX Green, Blue, White
  • Alps SKCM Blue, White
  • Some flavours of Kailh Box
But the ultimate reason I like them is that they make me appreciate BS's even more when I return to them. When something's that good, you don't want to take it for granted.

It's probably not what you want to hear, but my best suggestion is that you either:
  • Find an unused, old-stock IBM or Lexmark Model M (and they are out there, though you'll pay a premium for them of course); or
  • Buy a used vintage M and restore it—which, assuming it hasn't been utterly trashed, is usually just a matter of cleaning it, and sometimes replacing a few broken-off plastic rivets with small machine screws.
If you decide on the latter, there are lots of good tips here on cleaning and "screw-modding" (or "bolt-modding") BS boards. If you're like me, you'll even enjoy the project, and you'll really enjoy having a vintage BS board that looks and feels practically as good as when it came off the assembly line.

And if you're worried what people will think about it, who cares? I always have BS-doubters try actually typing on them. That usually wins them over. If it doesn't, they're usually peeps I wouldn't care about hanging out with anyway.  :?)


Hmm.  Choices choices....

At work we all sit in open office environments.  I hate the rubber dome keyboard I have there, but a noisy mechanical keyboard wouldn't fly as it would disturb everyone else.  (That's why they originally came up with the "QuietKey" models, right? :P )

I might wind up getting a quiet tactile version of the Ducky One 2 and installing dampening o-rings in it for work.   Even if I don't like it, ANYTHING will be better than the rubber dome I have there.    Then after using it day to day, I'll likely decide if I can live with something like that at home instead of my lovely buckling springs!

That actually sounds like a plan...

Offline jamster

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Re: May Be Time to Retire the Unicomp Classic
« Reply #7 on: Thu, 10 January 2019, 01:52:44 »
I started off on BS as a kid, still have a couple of Model Ms, and I love them.

Personally, I cannot stand most MX switches, including Greens. The lack of "buckle" and the continuous ramp-up in force as you move past the actuation point and closer to bottom out is something I could never get used to. I would prefer to use a membrane board before MX Green. So before you jump that direction, make sure that you really can live with the keys (and a switch tester isn't enough, you really need to be banging away on a full board for a good while).

Oddly enough, the thing that feels closest to BS for me is my Topre 55. It's not as snappy, it's nowhere near as loud, but the "buckle" is there, and that's what I enjoy. I haven't tried any of the new stuff that's come out in the past couple of years, so can't comment on newer switch versions.
Current: Realforce 87u 55, KUL-ES87 Ergo Clear 65, RC930-87 55, 1986 IBM Model M, 198? IBM Model M UK.

Previous: Raptor K1 1800 Zealio 65, Northgate Omnikey 101, IBM Thinkpad USB (old style).