New Keyboard, Who This?

2023-06-22 - Louis-Philippe Véronneau

Edit: I learnt the hard way that although "regular" MX-style switches are all compatible, low-profile ones are not. This means that the Cherry low-profile switches that came with this board don't have the same pin layout as the Gateron low-profile switches I was planing to use. I did hack the Gateron switches for a temporary fix, but eventually ended up replacing them with TTC KS32 low-profile blue switches, as Cherry does not offer clicky low-profile switches.

My old Thinkpad X220 has been slowly dying1 and as much as it makes me sad, it is also showing its age in terms of computational power. As such, I've pre-ordered a Framework 13 (the AMD version) and plan to retire my X220 when I get it.

One thing I will miss from that laptop is the keyboard. At work, I dock it (on the amazing Thinkpad dock), which lets me use the keyboard while working on a larger monitor.

I could probably replicate this setup with the Framework, but I'm not a fan of trackpads. So I built a keyboard. A nice one. One with a trackpoint.

The bare board in its box

If you follow Debian Planet, you may have seen the Tex Shinobi when Jonathan Dowland featured it on his blog back in January. It is a Tenkeyless board (saving me precious space at work) and is everything you would want from a old-school Thinkpad keyboard replacement.

Since I had no previous experience with "Cherry MX"-style keyboard switches2, I decided to go full-bore and buy the "DIY" model that came unpopulated.

A 35 switch tester board

To know what model of switches I wanted, I bought a nice switch tester and played with it for a few days. After having thoroughly annoyed my SO (turns out 35 different switches on a little board is an incredible fidget toy), I decided to go with the Gateron Aliaz 70g. They are silent tactile switches, similar to the classic Cherry MX Browns, but with a much nicer sound profile and a much stronger actuation force (55g VS 70g). The end result is somewhat "stiff" keyboard that has a nice "THOCC", while still being relatively silent: perfect for a shared office.

The keyboard with the switches, but no keycaps

The only thing left to do on this keyboard is to replace the three soldered switches that came pre-installed for the mouse buttons. They are Cherry MX Red low-profile switches and are genuinely terrible3. I will be swapping them for Gateron KS-33 low-profile Blue switches when I get the ones I ordered online.

My assembled Tex Shinobi

Overall, I am very satisfied with this keyboard and I look forward using it daily when schools starts again in September.

  1. The power button sometimes does not work at all (for minutes?) and the laptop has been shutting down randomly (not a heat issue) more and more often... 

  2. I am blessed with an IBM M keyboard at home and am in love with those clicky, very loud buckling springs. 

  3. Not only are they linear switches (weird choice for mouse buttons), but they are very inconsistent. All three switches feel different and make different sounds.