Keyboard Builders' Digest
Save 10% at Momokai! Code: KBDNEWS

Issue 115 / Week 9 / 2023

This is a hand-picked selection of last week's content from a keyboard enthusiast's perspective. Posts that may teach you something, make you think and contribute to the common knowledge of the DIY builder community.

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Contents

Editorial

Behind the Scenes of Issue 115

Update on the status of the newsletter, deinfluencing, new shops, 100+ discounts reached, K:02, Philips investigation, meetups, etc.

Hey y'all,

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Welcome back for another edition of Keyboard Builders' Digest (this time Issue #115), a weekly temporarily fortnightly roundup of this DIY keyboard focused newsletter and blog from Tamas Dovenyi – that's me. If you are new to this, you can read how this started out and what this is all about nowadays. If you like what you see, subscribe to the newsletter (free) and donate some bucks to keep this otherwise free and ad-free project alive.

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Newsletter update

Ask and it shall be given. I got a good offer from Buttondown (thanks Justin!) which is reasonable and nothing near MailChimp's $500-840 annual fee I had to pay. So I'll probably move all the MailChimp subscribers to Buttondown.

However, not now, so today's newsletter will be sent only to the Buttondown subscribers.

I know, there would be at least two cheaper alternatives I'm aware of (thanks for the idea, Caleb!), but I like the Markdown-support of Buttondown. And my calculations suggest that there would be only about $40-50 difference (per year) between BD and a popular self-hosted alternative, which would require a lot of hacking and tweaking on my side. Anyway, this latter may be the long-term solution, but for now I'll stay with BD.

On another note, there are 155 unconfirmed newsletter subscribers right now. The emails seem real, legit and valid, no typos whatsoever, so some of you simply may have missed the confirmation email, probably still sitting in your spam folder. Just saying.

Weekly deinfluencing chunk of wisdom

The latest trend, polluting r/mk, successor of monkeytype screenshots of just a few years ago: Mystery switches. Facepalm. Are you serious, people? You don't even know what you get, but it's cheap. I don't get it.

Vendor database

New shops and updates to the database of keyboard vendors:

  • Pulling Keys (Detroit) added, and Heather was kind enough to offer you a 10% discount (code: KBDNEWS).
  • Cables Hero added (France), and Pierre offered you a 5% discount.
  • Mechi Cables added (Canada).
  • Gamer Gift (NL).
  • New Idobao discount! 5% off with the KBDNEWS code. (For first buyers and smaller purchases the NEWIDOBAO code with a fix $10 off may work better.)

100 discount codes

Cables Hero's 5% off was the 100th coupon (in a close fight with IDOBAO). Yeah, it's quite incredible, but there are now 100 shops offering various discounts if you use the KBDNEWS coupon code.

It's crazy, that's about every fifth store I know of. More than 20% of all the vendors in the database.

I can't really recall how all this started out. Many stores who'd like to be included in the database nowadays contact me with the coupon code already set up. In all other cases I make them aware of this option and this apparently is paying off on the long run. I even helped some shops to set up such a function in their store engine. ;)

What has ABBA & Billy Joel got to do with keyboards?

Well, these past days I've been listening to The Visitors, the eighth studio album of the legendary Swedish pop group ABBA, and now I can't get this freaking tune out of my head:

I usually prefer something much heavier with distorted guitars, double bass drum pedals, odd timings etc. So why ABBA this time? The answer is in this article on my elusive Philips keyboard.

This was quite an adventure, read the whole story while listening to ABBA. ;)

And now it seems I can contribute a photo to Marcin Wichary's upcoming book, Shift Happens. There are so many weird keycaps on this keyboard, but Marcin liked the pretty unique Return key the best.

Yeah, and thanks for identifying the mysterious ETB key:

Ergohaven K:02

Big thanks to Evgeny for sending me one of their K:02s. I tried to stress test it for more than a week to be able to provide an honest review.

Pic:

Btw, I had a really good time with this split. As I write it in the K:02 review, it took me some days to reproduce my pretty unique logical layout and also to get used to the pinky stagger, but in the end I was very pleased with this nice prebuilt.

Meetup database

Lots of meetups in the recent two weeks. I know, the new fortnightly pace of my issues makes it pretty hard to keep people informed on upcoming ones. I'll try to get back to weekly issues.

Other than these, I'll have to come up with a solution for recurring events like the monthly meetings in Orlando, Berlin or the Tiny Little Tech Shop meetups in Jacksonville. Keep them in mind if you live close to these places.

As always, this meetup database is both a calendar and an archive so feel free to send me upcoming events or even ones from the recent past to make this collection as comprehensive as possible.

Donors

  • New donors: Kurt Plubell (aka kurplop, who made the Planet 6 back in 2016), Richard Dawe, Stove24. Thanks everyone!
  • And two new recurring donors: Thanks James McCleese and Benjamin Bell!

As I write it in my year-end summary, maintaining this site takes a lot of energy and time. (According to the Reddit Recap stats that's 100 hours per month on Reddit only.) If you'd like and can afford to help, here is the donation form.

And many thanks to everyone who supported this project in any of its development stages.

Developments

  • I had a chat with MoErgo's Stephen on various topics, one of them was the difficulty of getting "real" visitor stats. As a side note, he suggested a collection of the most popular articles on kbd.news so people can find the most interesting/trending posts at a given time. I tried to address both issues/tasks, and well, a quick and dirty "trending posts" page is already live. I'm playing with caching and improving performance. And will refine the UX, but other than that, the eminent readers who got to this point of this week's editorial can try it out. ;)
  • Updates to handling sold out events in the meetup database

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That's all for today. Thanks for checking by.

Cheers, Tamás


Projects

Lütt un Lütt

A cute split ortholinear keyboard by weteor: Lütt un Lütt.

The Lütt un Lütt is a small 3x5+2 split ortho, a full Bluetooth keyboard with support for an encoder and running from 2032 coin cells. The latest open-source project by weteor – after various keyboards like his 3w6, Tipper-TF, and SPC EVDR, Brk Out, Froggr, DigDug of the Orthocade family.

Specs

  • full BLE, powered by coin cells (CR2032)
  • low-profile choc v1, hotswap sockets
  • encoder
  • case files are supplied (stl, dxf, as well as the freecad files)
  • ZMK (with dongle support)

I am using a spare Xiao BLE as a dongle, so i can use both halves as peripherals to maximize on battery capacity – weteor.

As for the name, 'Lütt un Lütt' is from a northern German dialect called 'Plattdeutsch' and means "small and small" – which is something you can order in bars in Northern Germany, "getting you a small beer and a schnapps (normally Korn)".

Resources


Appa keyboard

Calebe94's Appa is an ortho keyboard supporting Alps switches.

E. Calebe aka Calebe94 shared his Appa, an ortholinear keyboard inspired by the Plaid and Gherkin Apls 1.1, and sporting White Alps switches plus an Arduino Pro Mini (ATMega328p) as devboard/microcontroller.

I wanted to create a keyboard to use some of the electronic components I already have. That's why I've used USB-B instead of USB-C connector, and that's why the keyboard is so tall, but I'm happy with the results since this is my first mechanical keyboard ever – Calebe94.

Specs

  • 4x12 ortholinear layout
  • through-hole components only
  • Atmega328p (Arduino PRO Mini) with VUSB on QMK firmware
  • White ALPS switches
  • layered acrylic case

Resources


DOLCHpad

DOLCHpad is a 10-key handwired macropad, shared and SLA-printed by sohke.

It cost 16 dollars excluding shipping. It requires 10x 1N4148, 12x 3*3mm circular magnet, 1x RP2040 Zero, 10x MX switches, 10x 1u keycaps, and wires. You can print it with other materials than black resin, but then you'll have to paint it – Upbeat-Guitar.

Resources

STLs on thingiverse, and the author posted on the design and build process on his blog (in Korean):


Ellipsis Split V2

The Ellipsis Split V2 by Cameron Sun features a near-standard layout but with thumb clusters.

After his Ellipsis (2018) and Ellipsis Split (2020) Cameron Sun published the second iteration of his split version: Ellipsis Split V2.

This is my third custom build – the previous two were very similar layouts – cameron_sun.

Cameron went for a more minimalist design this time to cut down on costs.

The layout is intentionally almost identical to a standard keyboard.

Pic:

The toggles on the left half of the keyboard switch between Mac/Windows layouts and enable/disable “space mode” – binding all thumb cluster keys to spacebar. This, according to the designer, is useful for playing games with default keybinds or for strangers who can use the keyboard this way without much confusion.

Resources


Trackball Reviung41

Idank's low-pro Reviung41 with trackball is open-source and also available at Holykeebs.

Idank keeps equipping well-known and popular layouts with Pimoroni trackballs. After the trackball Corne here is the trackball Reviung41.

More trackball fun, this time a "split non-split". I've been faithful to my Cornes for years, but this is starting to grow on me, especially when traveling since it's so easy to carry – idankk.

The Reviung41 keyboard has a 41-key layout featuring 6x3 halves with 5 additional thumb keys. Idank's design is a low profile variation with a Pimoroni trackball.

Specs

  • 41x choc switches
  • integrated Pimoroni trackball
  • USB C Pro Micro

Original design by gtips, low profile variation by cyril279.

Resources


Shortstack

Jason Hazel's shortstack is an ultrathin split ortho with Kailh X switches.

Jason Hazel aka quirk is back with another open-source keyboard featuring Kailh's X switches: shortstack. After the columnarly staggered split Dust and the single-piece ortho Crepe, this one is a split ortho.

shortstack, yet another simple board using the Kailh X Switches. Nothing exciting, just a thin split ortho – quirk.

Specs

  • 48 keys, 6x4 ortho halves
  • Kailh X switches
  • Pro Micro footprint
  • TRRS

After all his projects involving Kailh's ultra-low switches, Jason has to be one of the most experienced member of the community in this field, so his opinion may come in handy for those contemplating on investing in these quite expensive switches:

I've installed about 120 of them without a single failure. Pretty sure QA has gotten better since Deshipu was playing with them.

I love the way they feel, just wish they were lighter. I can't use them for extended periods of time so most things I've designed using them end up being used more as a macropad than keyboard.

Resources

As announced in KBD#114, Jason launched an online store offering these PCBs. Check out Hazel's Garage and don't forget the KBDNEWS coupon code (5% off)!


Atreyu Rev2 MX

Jesus Climent shared the MX version of his Atreyu Rev2.

The low-pro version of the Atreyu V2 was released two months ago, but the files of this MX variant were published just now by designer Jesus Climent:

Better late than never. My Atreyu Rev2 with MX spacing – jcliment.

Specs

Rev2 of the Atreyu keyboard comes with some new features:

  • New MCU options: Pro Micro (no encoders), Elite-C, Elite-Pi, Puchi, Frood (all the functionality, i.e., OLED, encoders, all keys), Nice!Nano v2 (wireless with all the functionality).
  • OLED pins for a 32x128 screen over the MCU
  • Space for a battery, with power kill switch and pins for soldering the battery to the PCB, currently for a 500mAh
  • Different versions of the PCB will be released for different battery sizes.
  • 5 underglow LEDs (SK6812Mini-E slots) as status indicators.

Resources


Chordie updated

The chording keyboard you shouldn't be scared of, Chordie by kbjunky, has been updated.

If you can remember kbjunkys Chordie, a chording keyboard based off gBoard's Ginny, it was first featured in 2021 (KBD#41). The author has been using it ever since and shared an updated version recently.

Changes

Changes compared to the original one:

  • compact design
  • easier to build
  • OpenSCAD generator to get the best fitting Chordie for you
  • lots of improvements to the chording engine
  • well designed and tested layout/chord set
  • now supports both Choc/MX switches
  • IR sensors
  • one more key/side

IR is used for tasks when holding chords for too long would be tiring. Like for doom scrolling.

Instead of holding two keys you can hover your hand over the sensor to activate scrolling with ball. But they can be programmed to anything – kbjunky.

Resources


Dactyl ManuBall

DrGarbinsky finished the next iteration of the Dactyl ManuBall.

The Dactyl ManuBall is built around a Teensy 4.0 controller. DrGarbinsky's keyboard has 76 keys (MX) and features 34mm balls.

This is the second generation of the Dactyl ManuBall. It builds on v1 with upgraded track balls using optical tracking – DrGarbinsky.

Resources


Wizergo

Wizergo by 70rch – A handwired ergo split keyboard with keywell, encoders and GX16 aviator connectors between the halves.

After his monoblock Torch0, terryorchard aka 70rch published a true split: the 36-key Wizergo is a handwired, 3D-printed board with keywell and some extras:

My third hand-wired keyboard design and build: split ergonomic 36-key + two encoder layout with GX16 4-pin aviator connector between halves – terryorchard.

Specs

  • 36 MX keys (5x3+3 layout)
  • Elite-Pi controller (RP2040)
  • handwired, 16 Gauge copper wire
  • GX16 4-pin aviator connectors
  • EC11 encoders

Pic:

Timelaps

Resources


Review

Ergohaven K:02 review

The K:02 is a prebuilt split keyboard designed and sold by Ergohaven. Wired, 58 keys, hotswap with OLED displays.

The K:02 is the current flagship model of Ergohaven. After their Velvet and Remnant (two boards with keywell), the K:02 is a split with flat plates. Actually, it seems like the flattened variant of the Remnant.

The name simply indicates it's the second prebuilt keyboard offered by Ergohaven:

We came up with a bunch of cool names for the keyboard, but at the end we weren't able to agree upon any. So I decided to just name the keyboard K:02, which literally means Keyboard 2, our second keyboard release (Velvet doesn't count since it's a DIY kit and not full release from us) and the K:02 is just a fancy spelling of it :) – Evgeny.

Yep, this is a prebuilt split keyboard, working out of the box. When designing it, Ergohaven had two types of users in mind:

  • Obviously, newcomers to the ergo space who wanted to try a split keyboard for the first time.
  • Secondly, people who used keyboards similar to the Lily58/Sofle but wanted more advanced features available from QMK firmware, thanks to the more powerful controller.

We made it possible to include almost every advanced feature that is available in QMK. And with the support of Vial graphical interface it is easy to customize the keyboard to your liking without knowing anything about programming – Evgeny.

Specs

  • 58 keys, MX, hotswap
  • Pi Pico
  • TRRS cable between the halves (will be USB-C in V2)
  • USB-C
  • QMK/VIAL
  • OLED displays
  • Per-key RGB
  • Magnetic tenting feet

Resources

Review

TLDR; The K:02 by Ergohaven is a decent prebuilt split keyboard, ready to rock right out of the box. It's affordable, hotswap, comes in a 3D printed case with magnetic tenting feet, and it won't disappoint you even if you're into OLED displays and RGB.

Disclaimer

Two things before we start with this review:

  • Ergohaven's Evgeny offered me this keyboard for free. (I paid VAT/customs/custom handling fee.)
  • Yeah, this comes from Russia. Before buying, consider if that's in accordance with your world view. (If this helps, I had an interview with Evgeny last year.)

Obviously, my experience may not represent a normal purchase, but I guess it has to be pretty close to it.

Content

The small package, which took 15 days to arrive, concealed the split keyboard itself with keyswitches mounted (no keycaps), two cables (more on this later), magnetic tenting feet and an Ergohaven logo (not a sticker). Plus the inflated bubble thing preventing these parts from moving around during travel.

Pic:

No keycap/switch puller, which is totally fine if you already sit on a heap of these tools. However, it would come in handy for somebody new to the mechanical keyboard hobby. (I was told it will be included once they find a proper supplier.)

Pic:

I'd like to highlight the small box the K:02 comes in. It's barely larger than the footprint of a single keyboard half (17x15x7cm), and it's perfect for transport. (Because of the flat TRRS cable you can pack up your rig without even disconnecting the halves.)

Design, build quality

You get a good old split with slight columnar stagger. It's a decent, proven split keyboard design, nothing revolutionary or experimental.

Pic: My Keytok Morse caps with Cyrillic sublegends seemed the obvious choice

My Keytok Morse caps with Cyrillic sublegends seemed the obvious choice

Build quality: Although I'm not into 3D printing, so I can't judge the quality of the print, it looks fine for my untrained eyes. Black PLA, chamfered edges with minor imperfections in some concave corners – that's part of the game I guess. You can see the printing lines, but the case (top and bottom part) snaps well together, no creaking.

Pic:

Pic: Miniature of an ancient Greek stadium

Miniature of an ancient Greek stadium

You can only see these small imperfections on close inspection, they didn't bother me at all.

The left half rocked a little, at least on hard surfaces. You could probably adjust the bumpons, but I simply ignored it. And a deskmat solves the rocking as well. Or the tenting feet.

One thing I was expecting is a too light plastic case which I would accidentally toss around on my desk. That's not the case at all, the K:02 sits very stable and doesn't move around unless you want to.

Pic:

The tiny OLED displays sit quite deep and somewhat funnily in the center of the relatively vast flat area of the top housing – with plenty of bevel around them.

Physical layout, form factor

6x4 halves – so full number row –, plus 5 "thumb keys"(?). Well, three thumb keys + 2 keys in the bottom row I'd say. I wouldn't call these inner two ones "thumb keys" since you had to curl your thumb very unnaturally to reach them. They are probably meant to be used with your middle and ring fingers, but they are quite far away from the home row. I tried to ignore them.

58 is much more keys than I'm used to, but more keys can't hurt, right? Or can they? While the number row came in handy for some functions I usually hide on a layer, I found that the extra two keys of the "thumb cluster" are often in the way, and they may cause misfires and typos. At least for me.

After four years spent on my own layout, I'm quite picky when it comes to the pinky stagger.

Pic: Azimuth vs K:02 pinky stagger ;)

Azimuth vs K:02 pinky stagger ;)

The K:02 comes with a very conservative columnar staggering, which falls short of my preference which some of you may call an extreme pinky stagger (No, it's the proper way of doing it! :D). The funny thing is, the K:02's offset of the pinky column is exactly 1U less than I'd prefer, so I could program and use it that way: with my logical layout shifted by one row on the pinky part.

Programmability

The K:02 works right out of the box, at least if you type in English. This was a pleasant experience after many handwired boards and kits. No need to solder and flash anything. ;)

It's VIAL compatible, so it's quite easy and self-explanatory to adapt the layout to your needs.

[…]the RPi Pico controllers grant users the ability to flash the keyboard without any additional software, just by dragging and dropping uf2 files to the internal storage. So basically all our users can download the newest pre-compiled firmware from us and update their keyboard to get the latest features from QMK firmware – Ergohaven.

I tried this for the sake of the test, reflashing both halves, and it works flawlessly. It seems the uf2 package is regularly updated with new features and fixes here.

Pic: Vial is great – 0123 on the home row

Vial is great – 0123 on the home row

There are some presets for various languages, but I'd recommend to play with your own layout. (Beware of another rabbit hole though! I warned you.)

It took me some time to reproduce my pretty elaborated layout, probably hours, but that has nothing to do with this particular keyboard, rather than the fact I type in various languages which are hardly compatible with each other. Not to mention the symbol layer when changing languages…

Keycap compatibility

Since the K:02 has 58 keys, all 1U caps, it may be pretty challenging to populate the board with sculpted ortho sets like e.g. my MT3 sets from Drop, but also the OEM set I used for the majority of the test (two-part "OEM" Morse with Cyrillic sublegends I received from Keytok). At least with proper caps in the outer columns and the 10 "thumb keys". (Again, it all depends on if you consider these thumb keys at all.)

Ergohaven recommends blank uniform caps. An obvious choice for touch typers, but if you – like me – are not too enthusiastic about uniform XDA/DSA on a flat plate (blank is fine though), then you may need a full 100% keycap set for this layout. And you may still struggle to come up with a proper combination for the bottom/thumb rows.

Switch

Let me not pretend I'm a switch pundit routinely recognizing recolors in blind tests by their sheer sound, of course with 100% accuracy. ;)

If you are a switch collector/hoarder, you can get the K:02 as a barebone kit. For others there are some basic switches on offer (Gateron Brown Pro 2, Black or Yellow Pro 2). I got the Gateron Yellow Pros which are OK. I daily drive Momoka Frogs (54cN) but the Gat Yellows (50cN) somehow felt a bit heavy for me (maybe because of the different caps?), and maybe more wobble than usual.

No panic though. Since the K:02 is hotswappable, I could easily test my Frogs, some clicky switches laying around, and also the linear Kailh This is Plastic which came with the Mojo 84.

Pic: Hotswap

Hotswap

For the switch replacement, I would have preferred to disassemble the board to be able to support the hotswap sockets, preventing lifting the traces. The two-part housing of the K:02 is simply snapped together, very tightly, there are no screws at all, but with a little work (take care of your nails…) you can take them apart. However, it seems this is not recommended, and the K:02 was apparently not meant to be disassembled by the user.

Anyway, after opening up the housing there were some pointy and precariously looking cold-solder joins on the backside (maybe I was too cautious after my Philips PM 4422 disassembly) so I ended up not supporting the sockets. Anyway, I had no problem with replacing the switches.

Tenting

The fixed angle magnetic tenting feet (about 15°) snap firmly into their place. My first impression was how fundamentally they alter the overall sound – in a positive way.

Pic: Tenting feet are awesome if the fixed angle fits your needs

Tenting feet are awesome if the fixed angle fits your needs

I use monoblock splits most of the time and I've never felt that the lack of tenting would cause me any discomfort. Regardless, I tried the K:02 with tenting for you: it's very stable, doesn't rock, flip or tip over.

The magnetic feet work well, you can mount them in a fraction of a second. It's a great solution if the fixed tenting angle fits your needs.

Tenting takes some getting used to, especially repositioning your right hand and finding the home keys after a keyboard-mouse change. But after adjusting the arm supports of my chair, typing this way was very natural. Still, I think I can live without tenting. I'm still changing between tented and flat modes to observe myself while typing. Anyway, it's good to know there are tenting legs if you'd need them, e.g. when having problems with forearm pronation.

RGB

Per-key LEDs, if you are into them. I had to remind myself to put back the RGB functions for the sake of this test after I've overwritten them in VIAL with more useful stuff.

Do I need elaborate on this? The LEDs work like you'd expect, with lots of preset modes.

Pic: RGB

RGB

OLED displays

In general, I'm not entirely sure what the real purpose of displays on keyboards would be.

These particular OLED displays on the K:02 are so tiny that I can barely read the text on them – when I'm looking at them from the natural angle and distance while sitting at my desk. But even if they would be larger, I wouldn't stare at my keyboard while typing, and I don't need any feedback on which layer I am on.

Pic: OLEDs

OLEDs

If you do, then good for you: there are displays on both halves. On the left (or master) one you can see the mode (Win/Mac), active layer and state of Caps Lock. On the right (slave) one bongo cat types in a rather weird vertical position, and your real-time WPM is indicated as well.

(Plugging the USB-C cable into the particular half makes it automatically the master.)

The displays go to sleep after 60 secs of inactivity.

Sound

As you'd expect from a 3D printed case, the sound is quite hollow – until you use the tenting feet. Using the feet make the sound more pleasant, however, I couldn't describe how exactly.

[Sound test coming soon…]

K:02 V2

Yep, version two is already around the corner with an updated PCB, e.g. type-C connectors between the halves (instead of the TRRS of V1), and also white case.

Pic: K:02 V2 in white

K:02 V2 in white

Conclusion

I took the K:02 to my office and have been using it for almost a week now. This very article has been written entirely on it, just like numerous emails and a lot of code.

Just like any new keyboard and layout, the K:02 requires some time of getting used to, but if you're looking for a prebuilt split which is easy to set up, I can really recommend it.

What I love about the K:02:

  • Works out of the box.
  • Easy to set up and to adapt the layout to your needs (VIAL).
  • Can be packed up and carried around in its original box…
  • …thanks, among other things, to the flat cable with L-connectors.
  • Hotswap: easily replaceable switches.

What I didn't like:

  • That pesky 4th thumb key was in the way all the time, at least in the first few days of usage. Even if I set it to transparent without any function, it is disturbing when hit accidentally.
  • Too conservative pinky stagger for my taste.
  • Manual soldering – may be inconsistent.

Where to buy?

It's available from $150 at ergohaven:

Tips & Tricks

Pi5 case with cover

The angled ortho Pi5 keyboard by ihihbs has no a MCU cover and a case.

Luke Schutt aka ihihbs has updated the repo of his Pi5, a unibody split 38-key keyboard featured in KBD#104, adding a 3D-printed case and an MCU cover.

From the original post I liked the idea of adding a cover, so I've designed that and a case too – ihihbs.

Resources


History

Philips PMDS / PM 4422 keyboard

I've done my research (including ABBA and Billy Joel) while cleaning a gorgeous 1982 Philips keyboard belonging to a PM 4422 computer.

Let's set the tone for this rather long and media-heavy post with The Visitors by ABBA (1982). Hit play, continue reading, and you'll see in a minute why.

Background

This weekend I was cleaning a recently acquired Philips keyboard. I bought it the very second I spotted it on a local classified site, without knowing anything about this particular model. With apparent sings of pre-1984, pre-standard design it seemed unique and rare enough to fit into my collection:

Pic: Photo of the original listing

Photo of the original listing

It came without the terminal/computer, still, it was thrilling to disassemble and clean this relic while doing my research and watch the story unfold.

Research

Neither the sticker on the back (Philips NC 8700 817) nor the PCB (KB 817/01 - overwritten to 02 with a sharpie) provided any usable clue on the keyboard, at least nothing Google would appreciate.

Pic: Sticker on the back (Philips NC 8700)

Sticker on the back (Philips NC 8700)

Pic: On the silk screen: KB 817/01 overwritten by hand to 817/02

On the silk screen: KB 817/01 overwritten by hand to 817/02

In my desperation I searched for "Philips terminal keyboard" and, after endless scrolling, I came across some keyboards with a distinctively '70/'80 vibe and colorway, similar to that of my unknown Philips (PX-1000Cr, Philips P2000T).

And then there was this photo showing the same unmistakably weird layout with amber accents:

Pic: Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

DutchAudioClassics.nl has a handful of write-ups on early CD mastering and production with some archive images. One step closer to the solution, but not there yet.

My keyboard is beige, while the housing of the otherwise identical keyboard in the photos is dark brown/grey. But a black and white photo features the white/light beige version:

Pic: Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

My keyboard, in either brown or white housing, is in all those photos, unfortunately, without any usable reference to the computer.

Pic: Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

Source: DutchAudioClassics.nl

By the way, that's why ABBA. The Visitors, the eighth studio album of the legendary Swedish pop group, was the first one released on CD (outside of Japan). The Compact Disk, a revolutionary new technology co-developed by Philips and Sony was introduced in 1979 as a prototype, but Philips had a hard time to put the concept and technology into mass production until 1982, when the first CDs finally hit the market:

The Visitors was one of the first records ever to be digitally recorded and mixed, as well as one of the earliest in history to be pressed on the CD format in 1982 (in terms of commercial release dates, it was predated by the Japanese release of Billy Joel's 52nd Street.) (source)

The CD mastering of these early albums in 1982, along with ABBA's, was done on Philips' rig called LHH 0400 CD-Master Recording System – the one in the photos above. And according to a sticker on the PCB, the Philips keyboard I held in my hands was manufactured in the same year.

Hm. Of course it would be too good to be true that I somehow managed to lay my hands on such a historic relic. At this point of my research it seemed more likely that Philips repurposed one of their contemporary computers available at that time, maybe a more generic workstation, for the LHH 0400.

A diagram in the LHH 0400 brochure marks the computer as LHH 0403 (no results), and the photos are too low-res to read the text above the screen. But Google Image Search saved the day by spitting out this Italian ad:

Pic:

(source)

So the computer in question is the Philips PMDS or Philips Microcontroller Development System. (In some other sources Philips Microprocessor Development System.)

This is the name of the framework, the whole ecosystem of various development tools I guess, the particular hardware in question is the PM 4421 (and PM 4422).

Pic: PMDS ecosystem.

PMDS ecosystem.

Strangely, being aware of at least three promising keywords (LHH 0400, PMDS, PM 4421/22), I still couldn't find much usable info on this piece of hardware, especially the keyboard. Nothing on deskthority, only a few BW photos in a German brochure:

Pic: PMDS I (PM 4421) – Note the dark housing.

PMDS I (PM 4421) – Note the dark housing.

As the name implies, the PMDS was a microprocessor development system – a system with the purpose of developing, programming testing, debugging, etc. microcontrollers. That's why in the photo above, you can see the adapters on offer for various processor families.

Earlier MDSs by Philips (PM 4400) were introduced in 1979, the same year the CD technology was announced. Basic price in Europe started at 14,000 GBP (Electronics & Power, 1979).

Pic: PMDS I, 1980

PMDS I, 1980

Being a microprocessor development system, not a home computer, explains the relative scarcity of both the hardware and the online resources covering it. Regardless, we are closing in:

Pic: PMDS II (PM 4422) – with white housing.

PMDS II (PM 4422) – with white housing.

This second photo shows the Philips PMDS II, an extended version with pretty much the same functionality (you could upgrade the I to II) but e.g. with multi-user support, more periphery options, etc.

Based on these photos it seems my keyboard (beige housing) belonged to a PMDS II…

Pic: My Philips PMDS II keyboard in all its glory

My Philips PMDS II keyboard in all its glory

… however, not for long, because another PMDS II ad lists it with another, much more meh, keyboard:

Pic: PMDS PM 4422 ad (source: retrocomputingforum.com)

PMDS PM 4422 ad (source: retrocomputingforum.com)

In Issue 10 of the RetroMagazine World, Alberto Apostolo has a short article entitled Philips Microprocessor Development System PDMS II listing some specs:

PMDS II specifications

  • CPU: Motorola 68000 (ref. Electronics & Power, p.6652, Oct, 1982)
  • RAM: 256 Kb (up to 1Mb)
  • Storage: 1 or 2 5.25" floppy disk drives, 1 Winchester HD of 5Mb or 21Mb (expandable with another HD up to 147Mb)
  • OS: UNIX (Bell Laboratories version)

Keycaps

But let's get back to the present and take a closer look at this gorgeous keyboard.

Both the layout and the keycaps are extraordinary:

Pic:

The keycap profile is unique, uniform, doubleshot in three colors (similar to the Philips P2000s):

Pic: CAP – the ultimate keycap legend

CAP – the ultimate keycap legend

Pic:

Pic:

Huge stepped ETB (2x3->6u!), TAB (4u!) and "-" keys. All with a single stem, no dummy stems or stabilizers.

According to Marcin Wichary, "ETB" may refer to the End-of-Transmission-Block character.

Pic:

Pic:

Lots of indicator LEDs with stylish cap-like housing.

Pic:

Pic:

Switches

The switches are mushy and scratchy, just like you'd expect, I didn't want to desolder them so can't tell you the exact switch type. Stems similar to my Honeywell.

Pic:

Sorry, I'm definitely not going to desolder the switches, they are evil. As if they'd be designed specifically to drain your blood. And I have to say they are pretty effective in achieving that goal:

Pic:

Connector

Finally, some shots of the connector:

Pic: The connector before cleaning

The connector before cleaning

Pic: Inside the housing.

Inside the housing.

Pic: After cleaning.

After cleaning. "FCT MÜNCHEN SER 25 P/S"

More photos

More photos on imgur. Soon…

Resources


Inspiration

Kit Adam upgrade

As reported by BoyU, the popular LEGO-compatible Adam ecosystem is growing. Upgrade, new color and parts, including wrist rests.

It’s been a quarter since KBDcraft announced the Adam kit, and the design has been updated with new add-ons.

My original post on this LEGO-compatible kit is still popular, just like the product itself:

The video and the audience’s reaction have proven people love the idea – BoyU.

And the idea was a 60% custom mechanical keyboard with a brick-built case, gasket mount, QMK and unlimited upgrade potential.

With High-quality parts, Adam embodies a revolutionary minecraft-style retro aesthetic into any setup – KBDcraft.

I would highlight the affordability as well. The barebone kit goes for $60 (the full kit is $100), and BoyU offered you a 5% discount (don't forget the KBDNEWS discount code at checkout).

Behind the first keyboard design, a new model has been developed for nearly a year now. According to the designer, it is not easy to create new things, even the smallest one. Verifying the concept and technical feasibility takes time, so it's unlikely it will be finished in the first quarter.

Pic: Kit Adam with wrist rest

Kit Adam with wrist rest

However, this doesn't mean that KBDcraft has been doing nothing during the time, they've listened to a lot of feedback, addressed some issues with the Adam kit and developed some upgrade parts for it.

News

  • Kit Adam Grey with the promise of releasing additional colors regularly
  • rubber feet (improved placement and stability)
  • sound pad (improved sound quality, core security and some weight added)
  • upgraded stabilizer (improved quality for long keys)
  • Wrist rest (Lego style of course)

Pic: Adam sound pad add-on

Adam sound pad add-on

Pic: Adam wrist rest upgrade

Adam wrist rest upgrade

Resources


That was Issue #115. Thanks for stopping by.

This issue was made possible by the donations of:
splitkb.com, MoErgo Glove80, Aiksplace, @keebio, MKUltra, Upgrade Keyboards, @kaleid1990, Sean Grady, Cyboard, cdc, KEEBD, Jacob Mikesell, ghsear.ch, u/motfalcon, Bob Cotton, kiyejoco, FFKeebs, Richard Sutherland, @therick0996, littlemer-the-second, Joel Simpson, Christian Lo, Lev Popov, Christian Mladenov, Jason Hazel, Spencer Blackwood, Yuan Liu, Daniel Nikolov, u/eighty58five, Caleb Rand, Skyler Thuss, kurplop, Mats Faugli, Davidjohn Gerena, Arto Olli, Fabian Suceveanu, anonymous, Hating TheFruit, Richard Dawe, James McCleese, Benjamin Bell, Stove24, Matthias Goffette

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