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NMB Intergraph AQ6

This fancy Intergraph AQ6 is just a rubberdome keyboard, but definitely not your usual membrane one. And it's part of gamedev history.

KBD.news
Published September 29, 2023
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This recently bought beast from the mid-'90s goes by various names: NMB Intergraph or ConcertMaster (AQ6-MULTIMZ15 - RT915CTW), and its main feature is the built-in speaker with amplifier. Yep, it's just a rubberdome (with a twist). The reason for buying a membrane keyboard was its backstory and one of its notable users: gamedev demigod John Carmack used this model while making Quake.

Pic:

I don't think John Carmack needs an introduction but you may be too young and games like Quake, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, etc. may not mean much to you. To sum up: John is a legendary programmer and video game engine developer, inventor, and advocate of open-source software – which we especially respect here at kbd.news.

Pic: Intergraph AQ6 in the background.

Intergraph AQ6 in the background.

He pioneered methods like binary space partitioning, light mapping, tangent space bump-mapping, megatexturing, etc. which pretty much defined and shaped what became the FPS genre. (And after leaving game development for rockets and Meta's VR stuff, he is getting into AI now.

Pic: This keyboard was the preferred workhorse of John Carmack back in 1995 when he was developing Quake.

This keyboard was the preferred workhorse of John Carmack back in 1995 when he was developing Quake.

The praise could go on forever, however, he has one serious defect from MK perspective: he's not very keen on his keyboards. Or at least he wasn't in the '90s – a forgivable sin in those dark ages. Anyway, as this video below proves, he used one of these distinctive Intergraph keyboards I've just acquired:

Features (my acquisition)

  • ISO, German layout
  • Built-in speakers, amp and mic.
  • 3.5mm mic input, headset and subwoofer output
  • PS/2 connector
  • the amp/speakers work without PS/2 too – with external 5V power

So I thought this keyboard was a simple membrane one, but removing a cap revealed a twist to its membraneness:

Pic:

This is not really a switch in its strict sense though, rather a mechanism to operate individual domes:

Pic:

That said, I'm not very fond of the overall typing experience. Compared to contemporary mechanical switches, the domes give the keyboard a much rawer tactility.

The caps are okayish, with nice thin legends:

Pic:

The sound system part is fun though: the controls are exactly the same as they were on my (standalone) Genius speakers I used at that time ('90s) to play Doom and Quake.

Pic:

These features with all the input-outputs define not just the overall shape of the Intergraph:

Pic:

Pic:

…but also the cable, which is not your ordinary keyboard cable at all. I guess the barrel jack ensured you could power the board not only via PS/2 but also using external 5V power (+ DIN):

Pic:

Let's get back to John Carmack though. Projects like e.g. Doom/Quake were quite demanding with regards to keyboards:

Our two doom guys where known to destroy keyboards while coding and making pixel art.. the guy from "team 17" (worms series) had a "contest going on with em… many many many boards per week.. (…) Team 17 for example, had the walls decorated with the broken boards of their main coder.. 2-4 a week.. Until a friend got him a cherry industrial keeb… made out of metal – JameyR.

However, John's Intergraph lasted for many years, as I learned from furan's comment when looking for the original box:

Pic: Intergraph Concertmaster original box (by furan)

Intergraph Concertmaster original box (by furan)

When I first saw a photo of John Carmack using this keyboard next to his gigantic 28" 1080p CRT I got machine envy.. I asked on twitter recently and he said he kept the keyboard longer than the Intergraph system it came with – furan.

The Intergraph workstation included the monstrous 28'' CRT as well:

Pic:

This monitor is an elusive Intergraph InterView 28HD96 (identical to the Panasonic TX-8DW71W), a 28" full HD 1080p monitor. Full HD in the mid-90s?! No wonder it cost Carmack $9,995 (just the monitor!). At the exact same time when I was probably playing my first games on 640x480 or 800x600px resolution. Old web devs may remember that even in the early 2000s one of the first questions when starting a new project was if you should optimize websites for 800 or 1024px width… ;)

Enough said, check out some more photos I uploaded to imgur.

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Published on Fri 29th Sep 2023. Featured in KBD #137.


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