Unicomp New Model M review

The original coveted mechanical keyboard, the IBM Model M is available again under the Unicomp brand, complete with buckling spring switches.

Unicomp Model M on white background

Our Verdict

82%

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

For the best part of 30 years, the IBM 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 unrivaled 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 marvelous click with every input. In contrast to Cherry MX Blues, for example, the click here feels more purposeful and analog. 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 customization 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.

Unicomp New Model M pros and cons

Pros

  • Brilliant build quality
  • Super-clicky buckling springs
  • High-quality keycaps
  • Incredible typing experience

Cons

  • Rather heavy
  • No extra features
  • Noisy keys aren’t for everyone

Unicomp New Model M specs

The Unicomp New Model M specs list is:

  • 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

Unicomp New Model M price

Price: Expect to pay $125 (£129).

Unicomp New Model M review conclusion

The Unicomp New Model M is a truly marvelous keyboard. It retains the now-vintage charm of the original IBM Model M designs, as well as the unrivaled 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 customization here, but if you’re looking for a superb typing keyboard that will last until doomsday, and you’re happy to splash out $125 for it, this is the keyboard for you.