It’s not hard these days to get your hands on a mechanical keyboard that lights up like a Christmas tree. Gaming keyboards have added a ton of new features over the years and come with a huge variety of switches. But as far as Epic founder and CEO Tim Sweeney is concerned, some things don’t need improving – and one of those, he’s said, is the IBM Model M.
The Model M keyboard first showed up in 1984, a year that Sweeney calls “peak keyboard.” The buckling-spring design IBM used for the Model M produced a sound that’s at least as distinctive as the board’s rugged plastic exterior: it’s the sound hackers make in every movie as they’re busy breaking into a bank’s mainframe, like the sound of the ship’s computers in Alien. The switches feel hefty and stiff as you type on them, as anyone who grew up in the 1980s will recall.
The Model M was designed specifically with tactile feedback in mind, giving users more of a feel for what they were doing. That seems to have worked for Sweeney, who says he used one to write both the first Unreal Engine and his game ZZT, which he produced for Potomac Computer Systems in 1991.
“The code just types out better with these keys,” he tweeted.
So I busted out my IBM PC keyboard model M. I wrote ZZT and Unreal Engine 1 on this thing. With apologies to Moore's Law, I gotta say – 1984 was peak keyboard. The code just types out better with these keys. pic.twitter.com/3j0V3eujqt
— Tim Sweeney (@TimSweeneyEpic) April 4, 2020
The Model M is apt to stick out like a sore thumb with most gaming setups these days – the off-white and grey colour scheme and chubby enclosed design take up a lot of space, and don’t really match the neon-on-black aesthetic most peripherals use now. They’re heavy, too – largely thanks to a backplate made of solid steel.
However, the Model M is still in production: Unicomp now makes them with USB connections, and even offers a few customisation options if you decide to buy. If you’re looking for something a bit newer, have a look at our guide to the best gaming keyboards of 2020.