History is the very foundation of our existence and development. It is axiomatic that we cannot be where we are right now if no events led to our existence. The same goes for mechanical keyboards as it is only species of a keyboard – an important peripheral in a computer. Indeed, we need to pay respect and acknowledge the history behind what brought about the keyboards we use and enjoy in today’s time.
Unicomp is a keyboard manufacturer that specializes in recreating the look and feel of the legendary IBM Model M. They are also the only company that still produces buckling spring switches. With how unique their keyboards are in terms of today’s market’s standards, their keyboards are considered to be must-haves in any mechanical keyboard collection.
And when it comes to historical keyboards, no keyboard is more iconic as the IBM Model M. The Model M is the first keyboard to introduce a standardized layout that has since then been used in all keyboard-related products. The IBM Model M is also considered to be the progenitor of today’s mechanical keyboard switches.
However, the Model M was discontinued in the mid-90s due to the industry’s shift to membrane keyboards. Many missed the satisfying typing feel of the Model M, which is why Unicomp brought the Model M back to life. Today, they are the only brand that is capable and authorized to bring the magic of the Model M to the modern age,
In this article, we will be learning more about Unicomp’s keyboard offering. We will learn how the company came to be and how they acquired the rights to the Model M. We will also be exploring their keyboard lineup. And lastly, we will help users determine if Unicomp’s keyboards are right for their intended use case.
Unicomp Brand History
Unicomp comes from America and, as previously mentioned, is the only remaining producer of buckling spring keyboards similar to what IBM originally produced. Neil Musykens and several engineers founded the brand by acquiring the keyboard division of Lexmark – the pioneer behind buckling spring switches.
Lexmark originally had a 5-year contract for the production of buckling spring keyboards with IBM, which upon its expiration, did not renew. The latter opted to transition to rubber dome keyboards that are significantly cheaper to manufacture than the ones owned by Lexmark.
Since then, IBM shipped their computers with rubber-dome keyboards instead of the buckling spring keyboards of Lexmark. This tragedy left Lexmark to sell its keyboard decision to the founder of an ex-engineer of IBM, Neil Muskyens, which later on gave birth to Unicomp.
Unicomp’s Keyboard Lineup
Unicomp’s keyboard lineup mostly focuses on redesigns and a modernized approach to the classic IBM Model M keyboard. They employ the same design elements such as the bulky case design, vintage-inspired keycap design, and buckling spring key switch technology found on the original Model M keyboards but also add newer innovations such as USB and PS/2 connectivity and macOS support.
In many ways, Unicomp is more of a niche brand that serves enthusiasts who are looking for a specific switch type. They are similar to brands such as HHKB (Happy Hacking Keyboard) and Realforce who exclusively use Topre switches.
The following keyboards are Unicomp’s most popular models:
The Model M and the Mini M
Unicomp Model M and Mini M Highlights:
- 104-key full layout keyboard / 87-key TKL layout keyboard (Mini M)
- Available in several languages
- Two colorways (Black w/ gray, and Black, white & gray)
- Authentic Buckling Spring Switches
- USB / PS/2 Connectivity
The Unicomp Model M and Mini M are faithful reproductions of the original IBM Model M. Both models have the same design aesthetic and typing feel found on the original models. However, several components such as the plastic material on the case and keycaps have been updated to today’s standards.
USB and PS/2 have also been added to make these keyboards readily usable without needing to purchase a compatible adapter. Aside from these modern changes, the typing feel and the buckling spring switches used have been preserved from the original model. This allows the user to experience the grandfather of mechanical keyboards without needing to hunt for a vintage IBM Model M from the late 80s to mid 90s.
The Unicomp Mini M is based on the IBM Model M Space Saving Keyboard (SSK). It is basically a TKL version of the Unicomp Model M, meaning it does not have the Numpad. It is a more ergonomically designed keyboard that allows users to position their mouse and keyboard closer to each other. And as the name of the original model suggested, the Mini M is made to conserve more space.
Both Unicomp models have been widely praised by enthusiasts due to how well they emulate the look and feel of the original IBM Model M keyboards. These two keyboards are perfect for those who want to experience the sound and feel of buckling spring keyboard switches.
Ultra Classic and Spacesaver M (macOS)
Unicomp Ultra Classic and Spacesaver M Highlights:
- USB Connectivity
- Same specs as the Model M and Mini M
- More Compact Form Factor
- macOS specific layout (Spacesaver M)
The Unicomp Ultra Classic is a modernized approach to the Model M. It sports the same high-quality build and authentic typing feel with the buckling spring switches but is offered in a smaller footprint. Unicomp states that the Ultra Classic eliminates about 20% of plastic and is lighter by around 1/2 pounds from the original Model M.
These changes essentially allow the Ultra Classic to fit in more desk setups since it is less bulky. It also allows users to easily transport their keyboards should they wish to use them in other computer setups. Its new aesthetics also eliminate the Model M’s vintage looks making the Ultra Classic the closest thing to a modern-looking buckling spring-equipped keyboard.
The Ultra Classic is also available in a macOS-specific layout. This model is called the Spacesaver M and as all the features found on the Unicomp Ultra Classic.
Why Buy Unicomp Keyboards?
The main selling point of Unicomp’s keyboards is how well they recreate the IBM Model. The Model M is, of course, beloved by many enthusiasts. Some even believe that it is the best keyboard created.
Of course, the Model M has long been discontinued and no other keyboard manufacturer utilizes buckling spring switches. Almost all of today’s manufacturers have shifted to membrane keyboards and mechanical switches. This is why Unicomp pretty much has no competition when it comes to vintage-style buckling spring-equipped keyboards.
For those who are looking for the legendary typing feel and typing sound of the IBM Model M, Unicomp’s keyboards should be an easy purchase. And the fact that all Unicomp keyboards have updated specifications to meet the needs of today’s users just makes the deal even sweeter.
Why Look for Alternatives?
Unicomp keyboards certainly deserve a place in any keyboard enthusiast’s collection. However, for those who are looking to buy only one keyboard, these modern Model M keyboards may not be the most ideal option. The reason is that these modern Model M keyboards also share some of the issues found on the original models.
For instance, the Unicomp Model M is not the most ideal option for gaming. The buckling spring switches are quite heavy and are not optimized for gaming. They also lack NKRO, which is essential for competitive gaming titles.
For productivity tasks, Unicomp’s keyboards lack functionality such as programmability. They will also inevitably lack the ability to record macros. Of course, these are all part of the charm. However, these are features that some users will consider to be dealbreakers.
And lastly, the world has shifted towards custom mechanical keyboards. For Unicomp keyboards, there is nothing custom about these keyboards. The keyboard that you will be getting at your doorstep is how the keyboard is meant to be designed.
And for their target audience, this is perfectly fine. However, enthusiasts who wish to tinker around with their keyboards may not be satisfied with this.
For those who are interested in learning more about custom keyboards, we highly recommend checking out our dedicated article. KBDFans is also a great place to start with readily available custom keyboards.
Where to Buy Unicomp Keyboards?
Unicomp keyboards can be directly purchased from the brand’s official website.
Unicomp Keyboard Warranty
Unicomp offers a 1-year limited warranty on their mechanical keyboards. Check out Unicomp’s website to learn more.
Stephen is the head content creator of Keyboardsexpert. His mechanical keyboard journey began in 2014 when he got his Razer Blackwidow. Since then, he has been fascinated with all things mechanical keyboard-related. He later discovered the custom keyboard hobby and fell in love with the vast customization options. He is currently searching for his endgame and is very excited to share his journey and educate other keyboard enthusiasts.