Old School is Back

Make some noise!

Old car enthusiasts have the Model T. Keyboard enthusiasts have the Model F. It's big, it's clunky, and best of all, it's loud! The IBM Model F keyboard was the flagship keyboard in its day, back in the 1980s. Many old school computer enthusiasts still miss it and its signature clicking sound. But, as Eric Limer of Popular Mechanics explains, the Model F is making a comeback, sort of, thanks to Joe Strandberg and his Model F Keyboards project.

According to Limer, as a result of Joe Strandberg's project,he is making an authentic retro version of the old keyboard available to today's consumers.The basic premise of keyboards is simple - keys act like electrical switches. Pressing the key causes it to make contact and complete the circuit, sending a signal to the computer to display the appropriate character. Most current keyboards use membrane technology, which uses plastic keys that overlay a thin layer of rubber. However, the keys of mechanical keyboards, like the Model F, each have an individual switch, which accounts for the signature "click". The Model F differs from modern mechanical keyboards because it uses a buckling spring, a feature the newer mechanical keyboards have been unable to replicate successfully. Strandberg has taken a different approach - rather than trying to update modern keyboards, he has chosen to reproduce the original item. In its heyday, the Model F sold for $600. Strandberg is making his keyboard available for $325 base cost. If you want to add some customization, the price will go up accordingly. While this may not appeal to the average computer user, Strandberg already has pre-orders for more than 500 of the retro keyboards.

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Discussion Questions/Activities 
  1. The Model F keyboard definitely falls into the "everything old is new again" category. What do students think about this retro keyboard? Chances are good that a majority of students don't even have a desktop computer. Ask them about their input methods and preferences. 
  2. Divide the class into small groups and ask each group to research a specific type of keyboard. Groups may choose to report on keyboards with different letter layouts, ergonomic keyboards, gaming keyboards, etc. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this keyboard? What differentiates it from other types? How much does it sell for? Each group should create a brief presentation about the keyboard style they selected and share this information with the class.
  3. As an individual project, ask students to research other types of input devices and pick one device to thoroughly investigate. Students might choose an older, legacy style or a new, cutting edge example. Students should write a brief summary of their findings.

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