New Keyboard – Part 1: Background

This is the first part of a multi part series that is basically just an excuse for me to type on my new keyboard. The second part can be found here.

The year is 2013. I had just finished my first summer job as an intern for BCSEngineering. And I had some money burning a hole in my pocket. Up until then, my house was an Apple only affair when it came to computers. My father just liked the UNIX OS better than anything the dreaded Microsoft could come up with. This had one down side for me though. I could never really take part in all the cool games coming out. Because of this, I did what many people that ago nowadays do. I built my own PC.

First Computer

After some unfortunate corners cut on the original parts list got replaced and upgraded, my computer solidified into what was cool back then. The case was the monstrous Corsair 750D and all of it’s monolithic glory. I had 2 27″ monitors on my desk that demanded a behemoth of a keyboard to look properly to scale. This was a time before tempered glass, RGB lights on everything, or solid state drives being at all affordable.

I had (and still have) a Razer Naga 2012 as my daily driver mouse. Topping it all off was the glorious Corsair K95 RGB keyboard as my daily driver. Not the new K95 platinum, the OG one with a whopping 18 macro keys on the left side. (For seemingly no reason.) The beast of a keyboard had two USB connectors coming from a massive braided cable. One was for data and power, the other just for power to drive the LEDs. (You don’t need both if using a USB 3.0 port due to the higher current output of the standard).

Minor Upgrades

Unfortunately for my GPA, liver, wallet, and mental health, it is no longer 2013. When going off to college, I retired my 27″ 1080p monitors for a single ultrawide. I got as a graduation present the Samsung CF791, a 1440p 100Hz beauty. This was because the tiny desks at Purdue couldn’t accommodate the distance between the bases of my two monitors. The monstrous K95 filled the desk to the point where I was pretty unable to do any work on paper on my desk without moving things around a lot and uncabling the keyboard.

That summer, I decided to retire my 3570k and get something a little more modern and powerful. This was partially motivated by one of the most frustrating design choices that intel made in the 3000 series chips. They disabled the VT-d functionality on the 3570k and 3770k, The two fastest chips available on my Z77 chipset. Frustratingly, it was enabled on the 3570 and 3770, their lower-clocked and locked-multiplier cousins. I remember reading that the reasoning was that they didn’t want to risk directed virtual IO bugs on an overclocked platform. This was of course utter bullshit. Nearly every SKU other than those two chips in all generations going forward supported those features.

Why did that matter? Because VT-d allows you to pass through PCIe devices to VMs and I had been playing with them a lot just to learn about the industry. At least that was what I told myself so I could treat myself to the most amazing processor ever made. The 8086k anniversary edition of the 8700k. It was the first chip to ever run at 5GHz and I went from 4C/4T to 6C/12T. That chip actually died yesterday and I’m waiting to head back from intel. I’ll be documenting that saga in another post.

New Aesthetics

My Sophomore year, I moved into apartment style dorms at Purdue with a friend from my section and his freshman year roommate. This was great except that the desk was even smaller than before. The 750D took up the entire top shelf of my desk. I decided to remedy this by getting a new, micro-atx board and put it all in the white Corsair 280x RGB case. My computer suddenly went from a monstrous black box with an acrylic panel to a sleek, tiny, white cube made of half tempered glass and their incredible LL120 fans.

With the addition of the white case to my sleek white monitor, the behemoth of a black keyboard started to look more and more out of place. Especially because in all my years of owning it, I’m not sure if I ever used any of the 18 macro keys for anything useful. I’m still not entirely sure what people use them for.

Keyboards and Igniting Money

Somewhere in high school, I discovered massdrop. With it came my very slow foray into high end keyboards. My first major keyboard purchase was the GMK Nautilus keycap set. Of course other than some O rings for my K95 (Cherry Reds have far too long of a travel!) . I liked the blue and yellow theme of them and was eager to put them on my keyboard until I realized something. Those pesky O rings were basically impossible to remove and the 18 macro keys would never be able to be replaced. The Nautilus set also wasn’t shine through and would defeat the point of having such a fancy RGB board. Especially with all my painstakingly created custom lighting profiles.

I think the purchase of this very pretty and expensive keycap set is a great metaphor for the upper end of the keyboard community. This is because they are still in their box, waiting for my to make a board to put them on. My second big purchase was an OLKB Planck that served me well last summer. Had I not soldered Kailh Speed Bronze switches to it, It would have been a perfectly reasonably board. I guess they try to be a clicky switch that isn’t tactile. There is a little metal bar the slaps to the side to make a sound. They’re just the right amount of obnoxious but the ortho layout makes it a tough daily driver.

Settling on New Daily Driver

Picking Parts

Because I had already sunk so much money into keyboards, I figured that dammit I need to eventually get something amazing that I like. This brought me to get one of those massive 72 switch testers with all sorts of different and exotic switches on them. I justified the purchase because I told myself that I’d eventually hand wire it into a macro pad. After receiving it and realizing there was basically no room to put any electronics in, it sits with my GMK Nautilus set in a shrine to keyboard excess.

Luckily, I learned that I had a very favorite switch on the tester: the Zealios 62g. I love the super crisp tactile bump that just feels like a premium switch. They only have two flaws keeping them from greatness. The first is barely a flaw, they are PCB mount switches and I had a plate mount keyboard. This meant snipping was now on my agenda. They also need to be lubed internally to go from good to great. But this is something that I have not taking then plunge to do yet.

New Keyboard

I ordered the barebones ALT from Massdrop sometime in March 2020. A month or so later, I learned that the kit would be delayed in shipping until around July 16th. I had also learned that the switches were mounted upside down and had a problem with certain profiles of keycaps, or something like that. So I decided that if I had to wait until July anyway, I would just cancel the barebones kit and get a fully made board instead. This way I could spend a tad more, and get a great deal on some nice shine through caps and a new fancy switch to put in something else.

I ended up going with the silver case paired with Halo True 60g switches. While waiting for it to ship, I also picked up a set of Zilent V2 62g switches. I was going to go with Zealios but I read that the Zilent were even more tactile. After feeling both, I made a great choice. This began the keyboard waiting game once again. I’ll talk about my experiences with getting the board and putting it together in another post.

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