If you used computers in the 1980s or the early 1990s, you might be acquainted with IBM’s famous keyboard, the Model M. The Model M used buckling spring switches, which are clicky. We’re talking really clicky–far clickier than MX Blues, today’s mainstream clicky switch. Just watch and listen:
Buckling spring switches literally operate using a spring that buckles. As a key is depressed, the spring beneath it slowly compresses until it buckles to the side, registering a keypress and producing the clicky sound for which the Model M is famous.
IBM tapered off production of the Model M in the 1990s, passing the rights along to Lexmark, who eventually sold them to a Kentucky-based company called Unicomp. Unicomp continues to make Model M copies to this day, which are sold at a surprisingly low price–as little as $79.00 for some models.
Buckling springs are sometimes called a “niche within a niche within a niche.” Although IBM’s patent for the buckling spring switch has long since expired, no competitors have stepped up to challenge Unicomp. In fact, one 2012 news article reported that Unicomp receives only 20 to 30 orders per day.
Despite the diminished popularity of buckling spring keyboards, they remain great products. IBM put an incredible amount of R&D into Model M-era keyboards, and they are truly a pleasure to type on. In fact, vintage units are readily available on eBay, often for less than new Unicomp models. They were built like tanks, and most of them are still going strong to this day.
Why would you consider a buckling spring keyboard over a clicky Cherry MX keyboard?
- You want a keyboard that was designed for typists from the ground up.
- You want to get a great quality keyboard at a very reasonable price. (<$50 for used Model Ms)
- You appreciate history and like the idea of using a vintage switch.
- You love dat clack 🙂
On the other hand, Model Ms are huge, loud, weighty, and have very heavy keystrokes. If you go for an original IBM model, you’ll have to use a PS2 to USB adapter. Buckling spring keyboards do not offer the keycap customization options of Cherry MX and are not compatible with Cherry MX keycaps. They’re also not popular for gaming due to their high actuation force.
Overall, if you just want one mechanical keyboard and you’re not completely committed to the idea of using a buckling spring keyboard, you should probably stick to a Cherry MX board. But if you want the original mechanical experience, buckling spring is it.