•  Filed under nerd

Most out-of-the box keyboards (the one that came with your crummy Dell, or was built into your laptop) are pretty terrible. Mushy-feeling, cheaply constructed, and quiet. Most laptop keyboards are bad because they have to be lightweight. Desktop keyboards are terrible because they have to be cheap. This is the world we live in.

I'm not super picky about my computer keyboards, but I definitely have some preferences. I like my keys to have a certain amount of travel (the up and down distance when you depress a key and release) and I like them to feel solid (no mushiness or wobble).

I use a laptop as my primary computer. I tolerate the built-in keyboard when I'm out and about, but I always have an external keyboard for use when I am desk-bound.

I learned to type on fully-mechanical keyboards -- the Apple II and early Macintoshes -- and have always had an affinity for their ancient keyswitches. Sadly, these fully-mechanical keyboards aren't standard issue anymore. They are heavy (too heavy for laptops) and much more expensive than some of the non-mechanical keys. Lots of people still prefer mechanical keyboards (gamers and writers) and there is a cottage industry built up around buiding them. Check out the mechanical keyboard reddit -- some of these are quite striking and beautiful (for a keyboard.)

I've been interested in getting a mechanical keyboard for a while -- specifically an old Apple mechanical keyboard. So a few weeks ago, I picked up an old Apple Extended Keyboard II on eBay.

It's 25 years old, super-heavy, and a thing of beauty.

Buying a keyboard of this vintage means that I cannot connect it to my computer out of the box. These keyboards use the Apple Desktop Bus connector, not USB. So I was going to need an adapter.

My choices were to buy a new adapter from Amazon (around $80 currently) or build my own. I opted for the latter. Building your own electronics is part of the fun, right? It was time to channel my inner Woz.

Using some instructions and software found here I set about buying the parts I would need.

  • Teensy 2.0 USB development board
  • S-Video 4 Pins Mini DIN Female Socket
  • 1k ohm 1/4 watt resistor
  • some short, solid-core copper wires

Most of the people who go this route seem to solder the Teeny board directly to the inner circuitry of the keyboard. I instead connected it to a cheap s-video connector (mechanically the same as an ADB port) so that I wouldn't risk messing up my board.

I won't walk you through this step by step, but for about $20 worth of parts and about an hour of construction and programming, I ended up with this:

Now, I'm happily clicking away on a very old, but very cool piece of hardware.

Did I mention that it's loud? So gloriously loud and clicky. Check out this audio of me typing.