My Favorite Non-Mechanical: Compaq KB-3923

Posted: October 24, 2017 in keyboarding
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I work in the IT industry. I have to take care of over 500 desktop computers at any given time, if not more. Everything about the equipment that large organizations use on a day to day is based upon hitting a price point. The cheapest one that’ll get the job done, most specifically. The mice and keyboards? Five dollar parts that are made to beat up and throw away. Not great. Not even all the way to good. Firmly mediocre.

Now and then, though, you’ll find a mass market product that somehow does just a little better, lasts a little longer. Maybe, just maybe, it’s good enough that is survives a few extra generations after the other stuff goes to the great trash heap of history. This here Compaq keyboard is one of those.

Here’s the story. 

One day, I needed a keyboard when I was fixing a PC in a computer lab setting. “We’ve got this one,” the lab attendant told me. “No one knows where it came from.”

I found in my paws a really beaten-up old PS/2 keyboard that didn’t appear to be something that the organization had ever used. Ever. I flipped it over, and yep, it wasn’t one of ours. It had somehow been brought over from the Transit Authority. Probably after having been sold at auction to some oddball who forgets keyboards around town. No one knows.

In any case, there are a few specific things that PS/2 keyboards do really well. One of those is to interrupt an auto-login command that’s hard coded into the registry of a PC. USBs can do it, too, but the timing is very exacting, and it doesn’t always work like you’d hope. Thus, even in the age that spurns these older connections, we keep a few around, just in case. Most PCs don’t have the right connection for them now, so their era is quickly fading, but hey, this story starts probably six years ago. Yes. This ‘board was old and tired and beaten to a pulp six freaking years ago. Shrug.

I plugged the keyboard in and did the thing I was there to do. Taking care of business, as they say. I thought to myself, “Ima keep this sumbitch,” or something to that effect. I needn’t have worried that anyone would try to steal the old thing away from me, as it appeared to have been in close proximity to bench grinder. Like, touching it. And it was dirty and gross. But I liked the way it typed, and I kept it.

All these years later, and all these hours I’ve spent thinking about the dynamics of typing, and what really works, and this remains the best rubber dome keyboard I’ve used. The old HP I thought was good, back in my age of innocence? This blows it out of the water. It can’t quite claim to be as good as a Topre keyboard, but those things are not, to my mind, in the same category at all. Not a standard rubber dome by the longest stretch.

Even after all these years (this thing probably dates from the 90’s), the Compaq still has light, even, and communicative typing feel, with some level of tactility and predictable return force. A perfectly useful typing tool. Probably a bit better than some of the less useful mechanical switch types (such as the Cherry Black, which is far better for gaming than typing).

Now, you may look at the picture and think I’m overstating the state of mankiness that the keyboard evinced when I picked it up. Know that, during a recent cleaning jag, I fully disinfected and scrubbed the old Compaq. It’s currently the best it can possibly look. The key caps actually came out really well, and outside of the actual physical damage, the case is all right.

Now, other than the quality typing feel, there’s nothing whatsoever to commend the Compaq. It isn’t built heavily. It doesn’t have any luxury features. It probably came with a workstation in its day. Not even a server. I’ve had plenty of experience with Compaq server keyboards of that era, and they’re a different model.

So, a score for the ordinary average guys of the keyboard world, the best of the Standard Joes.

 

Cheers, and Happy Typing!

 

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