Traditionnal succesor of IBM Model M - Unicomp Customizer 104 keyboard.

(한글 리뷰는 [모델 M의 정통 후계자, Unicomp Customizer 104]를 참고해 주십시오)

When the 1970's, the most important subject of keyboard was how to reproduce feeling of the type writer. Most peoples were familiar with high height keystroke and laud tactile sound. So, computer keyboard was needed to make this feeling.??Because of it, the early days' keyboards adopt mechanical switch. It was not choice but essentiality.

Yet IBM submitted parent application which was named to 'Buckling spring torsional snap actuator'. Most mechanical switches acquire repulsive power to compress spring with vertical direction. But IBM's actuator could make smellier feeling of typewriter with using buckling effect.

Combination of buckling spring actuator and capacitive switch was used to The IBM PC or PC/AT's keyboard in the early pc stage. Then actuator of keyboard was changed to the membrane switch. And Buckling spring keyboard of the IBM was most brilliant from 1987 to the early 1990's.

Unfortunately, IBM met serious financial difficulties and they divided printer and keyboard division as Lexmark. The day after Lexmark take the whole responsibility of the producing keyboard. But In the 1996, Lexmark selled keyboard division to the Unicomp.

With those reasons, Buckling spring keyboard was disappeared with IBM logo. But It does not mean bucking keyboard is gone. Because Unicomp keep producing buckling keyboard. Now we introduce buckling keyboard of the unicomp - Customizer 104 Korean layout keyboard.

Product spec
Product NameCustomizer 104 (Korean)
Product Price79$InterfacePS/2
Size 492 x 210 x 45 (mm) Weight 2.3 kg
Key Number104키Key SwitchMembrane Switch
Key ActuatorBuckling SpringKeycap ShapeCylindrical
Keycap printingSublimation printingSide LayoutStep sculpture 1

Unicomp Customizer 104 is packaged in plain brown box. I want to see more colorful packages which is correspond to the product price - 79$

But internal packaging condition is a different to the appearance of package. It is quite a solid. Because thick Styrofoam protect both side and back side of the keyboard. I can see Customizer104 keyboard and manual after tear off tape of the internal package.

- Appearance

It's a perfect Model M keyboard. No more explanation is need.
I compare IBM's 1391401 (produced in the 1993) and Customizer 104 keyboard. Most parts like an appearance and size, weight are the same.??Differences are Unicomp does not have speaker hole of the keyboard's back side and IBM logo. And Customizer 104 has their unique label in the LED position.

Specialty of Customizer 104 is its big size and weight. Like an Apple Extended I or Cherry G80-3000 Series can not be competitor to the Customizer104. But As a big ize, Customzer can not load into common keyboard tray.

In design part, I can feel subtle contrast of keyboard's rectilinear frame and curved line of keyboard side. And unicomp logo in the LED position is so far so good. But I think text to the LED is rather than icon of customizer 104 keyboard.

Above frame and below frame are assembled with hexagonal screw perfectly. I can not see any niche in the case assemble. PS/2 cable exists in the upper and right ide of keyboard. Also like an above picture, you can see height control slider in the below frame.??Appearance and structure of the keyboard are same to the original IBM Model M keyboard.

In the label of keyboard's backside, I can check model name and country of keyboard maker. It's really amazing. It is made in United states and Also product name is printed to the 'Mode M' definitely. Why Unicomp does not emphasis on product name - Model M? I don't know what the truth is. But I think it ay be caused by contract relations to the IBM or Lexmark.

I think customizer 104 is master piece of itself to conqueror of the keyboard market 20 years ago not a recent keyboard.

- Keycap and layout

Side layout of the keyboard is step sculpture type 1 and shape of the keycap is Cylindrical. It seems to be a same like 131401 of IBM Model M but I will find some differences. First of all 1391401 use multi-keycap but Unicomp uses single keycap. And some of 1391401 use 2 color layouts but Unicomp select one color.

But there is no differences except parts what I comment. Keycap layout is printed in sublimation printing very clearly. And Editing key, cursor key, special use gray keycap. (Uniquely backspace use a white keycap). Surface of keycap is treated as prominence and depression to feel sleek and clean feeling.

Key layout is based on English104 layout. Windows key and start menu key is added, use a right side Alt and Control key is used to toggle Chinese/Korean. Sans-Serif style Korean layout is printed very well that is comparable to the English ayout. In the IBM M 1391401 model shows ink spread mark but I can not find
nothings in Unicomp.

- Characteristic of Key Switch and KeyCap

Unicom’s customizer 104 uses a membrane switch as key switch and buckling spring actuator. (Refer the column of the to know the detail explanation of buckling spring actuator). Key pitch is 3.8mm and It seems to have a quite heavy key touch feeling. Because pressure of Tactile Free Position of the Customizer 104 is 72g. Unicomp assert it guarantee 25 million keystrokes in their product sheet.

Big size keys like a Shift or Space which is supported by metal stabilizer.

Pressure changing graph of the buckling spring keyboard (It is extracted from ‘Gunin’ Site in the Japan)

Most estimable merit of buckling spring actuator is special key touch like a typewriter.

Above graph is included in IBM’s parent application. When key is pressed, pressure and repulsion power drop dramatically. It is very hard to find this changing of pressure in the mechanical type keyboard.

Owing to buckling spring actuator, people feel that key is pressed instantaneously. When spring is curved and a pestle touch the switch, ‘Chakkang-Chakkang’ sound is audible. These cool key touch feeling and input sound suggest typewriter.

I can enjoy special key touching and tactile sound of the Customizer 104. Actuator is so fresh to support and spring back keyboard. In fact, key pressure of 72g is not a light weight to touch keyboard in the view point of number analysis.??But a reality is different. Even it’s lighter than mechanical type linear key switch. Even more Customizer 104 shows freshness which is can not show in the IBM Model M 1391401. Definitely difference between 10 years old boy and newbie is quite a big and wide. It’s really interesting experience to satisfy ears and fingers. Only demerit of Cusomizer 104, it will be a laud sound maker in the office. : )

- Conclusion

Although I can not find IBM logo in the Unicomp Customizer 104 keyboard, It is a legitimate successor of IBM original MODEL M without a doubt. From design to key feeling, It’s perfect same model.

Model M is not a rare item to acquire. You can buy it about 50~60$ in the eBay. But price of unicomp is about 79$(Korean layout). You may pay about 100$~110$ When shipping fee is added to original price. But Unicomp Customizer has a merit to overcome price gap. It’s a wholly new product.

It’s 10 years over to finish IBM’s model M making. Please think over Korean old saying “Through 10 years, all things are changed.” It is certain to use a keyboard during 10 years, key feeling is decreased. Even Model M guaranty long life, there is no exception. In fact, we rental IBM 1319401 Model M keyboard, but this key feeling is so-so.

Unicomp customizer 104 can shows fresh key feeling and new condition. Is it really virtue of customizer 104? If you check price to quality, Customizer 104 have a competitive power to the Cherry keyboard or Topre real force (high priced keyboard to support capacitive keyboard). If you like a fresh tactile sound and clear key feeling, Unicomp customizer 104 will be a best selection.

(Translated by kant / Originally written by DJ.HAN)

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