Test driving the Mechboard 64

All the new hardware on display at 2017’s World of Commodore convention in Toronto impressed me. There’s so much passion going toward innovating around thirty-something year old computers, especially when it comes to replacement parts. One piece that’s been missing, though, is the keyboard. Lots of us have piles of 64s, and many of them have at least one broken key stem. We may actually have all the keys, but no way to mount them and restore keyboards to their former glory.

I left World of Commodore with the germ of an idea to get a 3D printer and start cranking out replacements for Commodore’s original keyboards using Cherry microswitches. There were various thought experiments around building something that would stand up to my vigorous typing and my two year old son banging on the keys. And just when I was about ready to order a 3D printer, Lau Brix announced that his hobby project to build a C64 keyboard with modern mechanical keyboard switches like the Cherry MX series!┬áRather than spend the money myself, I reached out to Lau and offered the cash I planned to invest in the project, which he treated as a pre-order on two Mechboard 64 keyboards. They arrived this week, and I’m seriously impressed.

Mechboard 64 with one key mounted. Bowl in the foreground with C64 keys soaking in soapy water.

The keyboard’s frame is anodized aluminum, stronger than any 3D print I had planned and beautiful to look at. My boards came with Gateron Yellow switches and 3D printed adapters for the original C64 keys. Stabilizer bars on the Return key and space bar keep two of the most important keys working smoothly.

I did an unboxing live on Facebook, and two nights later I got the chance to assemble it using a spare Commodore 64C keyboard from my closet (giving the keys a bath first!).

I’ve never been able to type fast on the Commodore 64’s mushy keys, but this new keyboard enables me to reach the same speeds I can on a modern PC. The Yellow switches sound and feel great and, unlike the original, this space bar registers every touch.

The Mechboard 64 is built to be compatible with all models of the Commodore 64, including the 64 Reloaded series of replacement motherboards. Because it relies on +5VDC on the keyboard connector, it won’t work with a Keyrah USB keyboard adapter, but Lau will soon post instructions to void your warranty and modify your Keyrah for Mechboard 64 support.

I’ve long been a fan of laptop-style keyboards, and use an Apple bluetooth keyboard daily for work. But, the Mechboard 64 has me thinking of going back to a mechanical keyboard for my work PC as well. It feels wonderful to type on and the sounds of each keystroke satisfy me.