Custom PC

REVIEW: Unicomp New Model M

By Reece Bithrey. Posted

For the best part of 30 years, IBM’s Model M keyboard that was bundled with the company’s PCs from 1985 to 1997 has been revered among computing veterans for its incredible typing experience and build quality. Now, 25 years on, Unicomp has released a new version of the famed Model M, bringing vaguely modern creature comforts such as illuminated lock lights and Windows keys.

Of course, this isn’t a keyboard for the gamers in the audience; it’s chiefly designed for typists and those wanting to relive the days of typing with that distinctive, firm click. Its design is remarkably classic looking, opting for a black outer casing that offers plenty of heft.

Inside, you’ll find a rather heavy piece of curved steel, which was also found in the original Model Ms in order to offer unrivalled structural rigidity, although it does mean the keyboard weighs a hefty 1.6kg.

In contrast to the older IBM Model Ms, there are a few key differences. Chief among them is the connector on the end of the fixed cable – these new ones can connect via USB as well as PS/2. Those older keyboards also usually only came in beige, whereas these new ones can also come in black. You could get a black Model M back then if you wanted the optional Trackpoint mouse feature (known as a Model M13), but they were otherwise beige or industrial grey. Of course, you also get a blue Unicomp logo as opposed to the older IBM labels.

The fundamental motivation for buying a Model M hasn’t changed since 1985 though – the buckling spring switches. On a basic level, the press of a key causes a spring underneath the keycap to buckle, with the sideways movement tilting the metal contacts together. This offers an arguably truer mechanical typing experience (compared with a typewriter, say) than the typical switches found in usual mechanical keyboards.

In action, they’re some of the most satisfying and tactile key switches to use, offering a defined and marvellous click with every input. In contrast to Cherry MX Blues, for example, the click here feels more purposeful and analogue. Fans of more linear switches will miss out here, and also those who want quiet actuation – the New Model M’s buckling springs are rather loud, especially if you’re touch-typing quickly.

The keycaps here are a two-tone grey and white PBT dye-sublimated set, which mirrors the original Model Ms for quality, with practically permanent legends on the keycaps. The only difference between the ones on the Unicomp New Model M and some original IBM variants is that the older ones came in two pieces as opposed to one.

While there aren’t any of the usual flashy extras you see with gaming keyboards, such as RGB lighting and media keys, Unicomp does offer some customisation options. You can buy some custom keycaps directly from the website that were commissioned exclusively for the Geekhack forum, as well as some that feature a custom print of the Linux mascot, Tux the penguin.

Conclusion

The Unicomp New Model M is a truly marvellous keyboard. It retains the now-vintage charm of the original IBM Model M designs, as well as the unrivalled feeling of buckling spring switches that, while heavy, feel amazing under your fingers. They can be rather noisy, and you won’t find too much customisation here, but if you’re looking for a superb typing keyboard that will last until doomsday, and you’re happy to splash out £129 for it, this is the keyboard for you.

Verdict

An incredible combination of marvellous build quality, vintage flourishes and the best switches around today, this is a proper typist’s keyboard.

Price
£129 inc VAT

Scores
PERFORMANCE 24/25 | FEATURES 18/25 | VALUE 20/25 | DESIGN 20/25 | OVERALL 82%

Belt buckles
+Brilliant build quality
+Super-clicky buckling springs
+High-quality keycaps
+Incredible typing experience

Ian Buckells
-Rather heavy
-No extra features
-Noisy keys aren’t for everyone

SPEC
Dimensions (mm) 455 x 180 x 50 (W x D x H)
Weight 1.6kg
Format Full size – 103/104 keys
Connections USB Type-A / PS/2
Switch type Buckling spring
Switch life 25 million+ key stroke
Backlighting None
Extras None

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