This post is not about security or philosophy, which I usually like to write about. If you want to read a post like that I suggest you read my post about password managers. This entry is about hardware, especially the one I use to write these lines. Recently while being abroad I noticed that the quality of my interaction with technology is influenced heavily by my keyboard. For three weeks I only had a rubber dome keyboard at my disposal. These are usually the cheap keyboards you get everywhere. Laptop computers also have them because the can be made with a very low height profile. Unfortunately, I feel like they are also the worst keyboard to type on. The feeling when you press a button is just terrible to me.
Therefore, I decided to get myself a fine mechanical keyboard that I will be able to travel with. Working as a researcher and staying abroad for some time to visit other laboratories requires me to travel. I decided to not compromise on my typing experience though. I have been looking at the mechanical keyboard subreddit for some time and I was jealous of all the nice keyboards shown there. While most of these keyboards are quite colorful, I am used to a completely blank and black keyboard. I very much appreciate this aesthetic and I wanted to continue to have a similar one. I also knew that I want a smaller keyboard without a number block and stripped to its bare minimum. Nonetheless, I use the arrow keys quite heavily so dedicated arrow keys are a must. After looking around and researching keyboard profiles I found that there are not too many options. I settled on a GK64.
GK64 mechanical keyboard
The GK64 has basically all the necessary properties I wanted. It features even some nice things like RGB LEDs and hot-swappable switches. I decided that this might be nice to have down the line. Unfortunately, the default case for the keyboard is, at least in my opinion, quite ugly. Therefore I decided to try out to assemble it myself. Fortunately for myself, this turned out a lot easier than I thought.
The keyboard was delivered in five parts. The case, the PCB, the mounting plate, the switches and stabilizers and finally the key caps. First I opened all the parts, inspected them and decided to start building. I checked on how to mount the switches on the plate on YouTube. After I knew how to do it, I mounted the stabilizers. Next I put in some switches in the corners of the mounting plate and also put them into the hot-swap sockets on the PCB.
Then, I continued to plug in all the switches. Unfortunately, I pushed two of them into the PCB while they were not correctly aligned. I only found that out after the complete assembly. As you can see I decided on the linear Cherry MX Reds. I did not know the switches’ feeling beforehand but it turned out that I love them.
I had to stop my build for a few days to wait for the key caps. Once they arrived I stuck them onto the switches. They are beautiful!
Apart from the custom printed key caps which are ABS, I got PBT key caps. The material is stronger and I think it also feels nicer. Once everything was in order I plugged in the keyboard. The keyboard has a few pre-programmed lighting modes. So I decided to play with them. To my surprise I found that the lighting key does not work. After I started to be a little unhappy that something is wrong, I systematically checked the keys. Two keys were not functional. My first guess was that I broke the board while assembling it. Fortunately, this did not happen. I pulled off the two key switches that were not working and saw that their connectors were bent. While sticking them in I must have misaligned them. I took some tweezers and bent them back in place. Then, I cautiously stuck them back on the board.
Let There Be Light
All the keys worked! What happiness! I played around with the function layers, lighting and so on. It turns out that I do not like light that is constantly on. Therefore, I enabled a mode which lights up the keys I press with a random color and slowly fades out. Now I feel like I am writing on star dust or there is a mini aurora going on inside my keyboard.
Although this keyboard does not have an integrated USB hub it fits my needs very well. Therefore, I decided to sell my old keyboard. The only thing I will adapt in the future is the mounting plate. The silver of the aluminum does not fit well with the overall black aesthetic I aimed for. In the future I will search for the same plate in pure black. The only other thing I also need is a travel bag. Because this will be my daily supporter everywhere I go I need to be able to transport it safely.
It turns out building your own keyboard can be super easy. The next level would be soldering. Maybe if this keyboard breaks I will go down that route. All I can say thus far is that I really love linear switches, building a keyboard is surprisingly easy and maaaaan do PBT key caps feel good.
Update – 28-06-2019: See this post for the keyboard’s best friend – a traveling pouch!
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