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The IBM Model F, First Made in 1981, Is Still the King of All Keyboards

The sight and sound of this '80s era keyboard will send you hurtling decades into the past.

ibm keyboard
Henry Phillips

Whether you remember the 1980s Model F keyboard or not, the sight and sound of one will send you hurtling decades into the past.

Built by IBM, the all-metal Model F is so hefty and substantial, you might mistake it for a piece of furniture. The sound of one in action — fingers thudding like thunder, the switches plinking like rain on a tin roof — is a mechanical cloudburst. It’s as loud as a thunderstorm, too, which is why you might only use one at home with the door closed. But that satisfying buckle of each stroke makes it hard to stop.

Modern laptop keyboards are convenient, but they're also a mere means to an end.

Vintage Model Fs can be found on eBay for as low as $100 and reach three or four times that much as the condition improves. To use one on a computer 30 years its junior requires aftermarket retrofits; some devoted enthusiasts have even reconstructed a supply chain to produce modernized models in extremely limited quantities. Naturally, those aren’t cheap, either.

Compared to today's sleek and streamlined laptop keyboards, the Model F is bulky, expensive and an all-around pain in the ass. But for hardcore typists, that friction is a key component of the appeal. Modern laptop keyboards are convenient, but they're also a mere means to an end. A gadget with as much soul as the Model F, on the other hand, demands a bigger body to contain it all.

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