Around November of last year, I put together a new computer to replace the aging machine that I had been using daily for the better part of four years at the time. Due to the age of the old system (and the fact that I happened to put it together at just the wrong time so most of the system components were outdated within weeks instead of the usual couple of months) there wasn’t much I could carry over from the old system to the new system. Inside the case, I think one of the hard drives made it. and the case itself (a popular model that got discontinued) also made it over from the old system (which iteslf got moved to a new enclosure, but hasn’t even been turned on since I got this one up and running.)
Besides those components, about the only other things that made it from one system to the other one were the input devices, including a keyboard so old I can’t even recall when I actually bought it. If I recall correctly, this nondescript IBM keyboard originally came from the closeout table at the Totem Lake CompUSA store many years ago (back when the place was still almost worth shopping at every once in a while,) and I think I paid all of $4.88 for it at the time. As you can probably tell from the picture above, the thing has definitely seen better days (I think I’ll go ahead and skip the macro photos, since there might be people out there eating while they’re reading this) and probably should have been replaced ages ago. Then again, a computer keyboard is one of those things that just seems to work up until one day it decides that it doesn’t work anymore. Which brings us to now.
Over the years, this keyboard has probably taken more than its fair share of abuse. At least 90% of what’s on this site has come out of this keyboard (with the rest being mostly from my notebook or the occasional mobile post.) One of the legs on the back of it got broken off several years ago in a fit of (apparently misdirected) rage, meaning I’ve had to use it at a slightly annoying angle for some time now. Nonetheless, everything continued to work correctly right up until yesterday, when the keyboard decided it wasn’t going to allow me to type the “>” key when I happened to need to close out some HTML tags. This, of course, just won’t do, and further investigation revealed that the F5-F8 keys had also been recently rendered non-functional, which is something that probably wasn’t a big deal, but proved moderately annoying when I couldn’t use F5 to constantly refresh my Blog stats refresh various websites, needing instead to go over to the mouse and actually click a button on the toolbar. Even before this happened, I had been thinking for some time that I was going to need to get a new keyboard somewhere along the line, if for no other reason than the fact that my old one was getting just a tad disreputable. Knowing a thing or two about hanging onto old and decrepit stuff long beyond the point where I should have gotten rid of it, I never bothered to actually purchase a replacement until the old one finally broke.
For most people, the question of which keyboard to use with their computer is generally an afterthought, As long as they can press the buttons and have letters come out, there’s no reason to get any fancier than that. Other people have a preference for the so-called ergonomic keyboards that split the key layout into two halves. I’m definitely not one of those people. Over the years I’ve gradually gotten to the point where I can use an ergo keyboard if it’s what I have available, but I still prefer the standard carpal-tunnel inducing layout for my day-to-day usage. I suspect that if you did a survey, most of the PC users out there would still be using the pack-in keyboard that came with their computer, without the fact that there are other keyboards out there ever occurring to them. With that in mind, a trip to Fry’s down in Renton reveals a shockingly large selection of keyboards on offer, enough to fill up almost half an aisle in fact.
Based on my prior experience I could probably just grab the cheapest 104-key keyboard I could find on the shelf and call it good, but especially at a place like Fry’s that’s chock full of no-name merchandise from occasionally questionable sources, I’m not so sure that’s such a great idea. On the other hand they also have plenty of brand name keyboards here ranging from relatively cheap to horrendously expensive (anyone mind explaining who in their right mind would actually pay nearly $300 for a keyboard and mouse?) and plenty of different ones to chose from. Since it’s been a while since I really went shopping for a keyboard (as you might have been able to guess) I thought I’d share a few observations from the keyboard aisle.
The first thing that I noticed as I worked my way down the aisle is that a significant majority of the different models on offer here were wireless. Based on this fact I’d have to guess that these are probably fairly popular choices these days, but I just don’t see the point of getting a wireless keyboard here. For one thing, here in my office my keyboard is pretty much never going to be leaving my desk, which means that about the only thing a wireless keyboard is going to do for me is make it so I have to change batteries every so often. For another thing, unless people’s systems happen to have built-in Bluetooth support (my notebook does, but my desktop system doesn’t) these wireless keyboards are going to require a separate adapter, which means that it won’t remove any wires from the snake pit found under the typical desk.
Another problem with a lot of the wireless keyboards out there (and a fair number of the wired ones in fact) is the fact that many still bear the dreaded F-lock key, a misguided fad in keyboard design which fortunately seems to be in the process of fading into a well-deserved oblivion. For those of you fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with this, on keyboards with this key (Microsoft and Logitech seem to be the main offenders here,) the F1-F12 keys at the top of the keyboard were assigned different functions such as undo, copy, paste and other things like this. In theory this could be useful, but in practice, these functions overrode the use of the F keys for their normal functions unless the F-lock key was activated on the keyboard, basically doing more harm than good most of the time. For quite a while, these keyboards were set up for the F-lock to be disabled whenever the system was started up, so the user would have to turn it on manually to use their F-keys normally. Eventually the keyboards were redesigned to allow the F-lock state to persist when the system was turned off, but the general consensus among power users is that the F-lock keys are pretty much evil. Still, they continue to be used on a number of keyboards, none of which I have any intention of ever buying.
Moving down the row past the wireless keyboards, I finally reached the wired keyboards at the other end. Of course there’s been some innovation here as well, mostly in terms of gratuitous bells and whistles. It seems that aside from the standard issue no-name keyboards, most of the wired keyboards these days are considered to be “gamer” keyboards. Aside from a few models with outlandish First-Person Shooter oriented key layouts and on-board displays (just in case you need to look up your character’s agility stat during the .2 seconds you’re looking away from the screen during the raid,) the main thing that seems to make a keyboard a “gamer” keyboard is the presence of gratuitous backlighting. Given the fact that I tend on occasion to be easily distracted by bright shiny objects and that I managed to get a decent price on it, I eventually ended up with the Logtiech G11 keyboard, as seen above. All things considered there probably wasn’t any real need for me to get a keyboard that glows ominously blue, but the key feel on this one seems decent compared to some of the other models I looked at, and I got a decent price (at least compared to what it’s sold for elsewhere) on it as well. Besides, my computer already glows ominously blue, so why not have the keyboard match? I suspect that even having a so-called “gamer” keyboard probably won’t do a blasted thing to make me suck any less at gaming, but at least it looks like it could, right? Either way, I figure I should be good for another half decade or so in the keyboard department.
In the meantime, this keyboard seems like it will probably take a bit of getting used to, since the keys seem just a bit smaller than my old one. There might be a few extra typos scattered in my posts for a bit, but probably nothing I can’t sneakily edit out and pretend never happened. Now if you’ll excuse me I just need to go figure out some sneaky way to get rid of that old keyboard before the Hazmat team shows up…