ALPS switches have been considered by enthusiasts to be one of the rarest type key switches. They are not as popular as mechanical switches, membrane switches, and even Topre switches. In fact, they can only be seen in vintage keyboards that were produced before the rise of membrane keyboards in the 1990s.
ALPS switches are one of the first compact model keyboard switches. It was manufactured by the company ALPS Electric Co in the year of 1983. The ALPS switch has undergone a lot of changes and redesigns in its time. However, The production of the main variants of the ALPS switch was stopped in 1996.
In this article, we will be diving deeper into ALPS switches. We will be discussing what they are and their origins. We will also be comparing them to several switches which are still being produced today and help users decide if hunting down and collecting these rare switches is worth it.
What are ALPS Switches?
ALPS switches have been one of the earliest firm or compact model keyboard switches. It was initially unveiled to the public in the year 1983. The first ALPS switches were manufactured by the company ALPS Electric Co. which was situated in Tokyo, Japan.
The ALPS switch has a variety of switch types. It has linear, tactile, clicky, alternate action, and double-action switch types. The alps switch also features a metal contact sense method which means that inside the switch, two pieces of metal are clasped together to produce the current.
The first or older generation of ALPS switches was commonly referred to as complicated ALPS. The way the complicated alps functions are; first, the user clicks the key, then the square peg is pushed into the square hole and into the slider, the slider then glides across the spring, which then pushes the Y leaf, the Y leaf then pushes the little white tab, then the white tab pushes the springy metal flap across the space separated by a clear plastic, which then makes the electrical contact. Very complicated, isn’t it?
The next generation of the ALPS switch was much simpler than that of the complicated alps. It was commonly referred to as simplified ALPS. Simplified Alps functions using a spring-and-leaf device that comes in a variety of clicky, tactile, and linear designs.
ALPS switches are no longer manufactured, although copies or clones that are comparable to ALPS switches are available. Even though certain switches are referred to as ALPS clones, they are not the same as genuine ALPS switches. Prime examples of ALPS switch clones are the ones that the company Matias produces.
ALPS Switches vs. Capacitive Switches (Topre Switches)
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According to some users, the complicated alps, also known as ALPS SKCL/SKCM, have a rare and exceptional way of bringing about actuation and tactility. Some users also claim that the alps switch emits an excellent sound, the sound that the alps switch emits was described to be muffled, deep, and low-pitched.
A lot of the users also claim that the ALPS Switch gives a crisp and neat snap whenever they use it. Due to the halted production of the ALPS Switch, the price of the switch may also vary, some of them may be cheap, and some may be more expensive than others due to their great condition and rarity. According to some users, the orange alps switch is much easier to find in online shops than the brown and blue alps switch.
The topre or capacitive switches, on the other hand, have a tactile bump, but it does not give tactile feedback. Just like the ALPS Switch, the topre or capacitive switch also emits a low and muted sound. Topre switch keyboard users claim that the topre switch feels quick, satisfying, and clear-cut to use. The Topre switch keyboard is also considered to be expensive among the community, unlike the alps switch in which some of them are considered to be very cheap, although some of the alps switches are considered to be expensive due to its rarity. Topre switches are also easy to find in the market, unlike the original ALPS Switch.
ALPS Switches vs. Mechanical Switches
The Alps switches and the mechanical switches have some features that are the same and different from one another. Both the alps switch and the mechanical switch have a linear, tactile, and clicky switch. Both of the switches are considered to be good for typing, but it still depends on the user’s preference.
Some of the users of the ALPS switch claim that the force curve of the Alps switch feels intricate and clear. Some users also claim that it has a more distinguished tactile event. They also consider the actuation force of the Alps switches to be high. Some users also claim that since alps switches actuate towards the top, they feel that is more sensible. Just as previously stated, the alps switch also emits muffled and low-pitched sounds.
Users of mechanical switches, on the other hand, rave about how light the actuation force is. The mechanical switch is stated to have a delightful tactile sensation, and the typing experience is particularly praised. The sound emitted by a mechanical switch varies based on the type of switch utilized.
What Keyboards Use ALPS Switches?
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Even though the production of ALPS Switches has already been halted or stopped, there are still some keyboards that use the modernized Alps switch. Here are some of the keyboards that use the ALPS switches. Do take note that these are just SOME of the keyboards that use ALPS. Some of the products listed may still be available in stores, and some may have already stopped production.
It is considered to be a typical full-sized keyboard. It was produced by ALPS Electric and Silitek for the company Dell. The DellAT-101W and keyboards belonging to the same series have a typical ISO and ANSI layout. The common key switches that are used in this keyboard are ALPS SKCM Salmon, ALPS SKCM black, and rubber domes. It also has a plate-mounted switch mount.
Apple Extended Keyboard
Is said to be the first full-sized keyboard from Apple. The Apple extended keyboard was manufactured by ALPS Electric. It has a 105-key Macintosh layout and an ADB interface. The key switches used in these types of keyboards are ALPS SKCM Orange, ALPS SKCM Salmon, and ALPS SKCL Lock. The Apple Extended Keyboard was also produced from the year 1987 to 1990.
Apple Extended Keyboard II
The apple extended keyboard II also known as AEKII, was the descendant of the Apple extended keyboard. The Apple extended keyboard II has a 108-key (ANSI) and 109-key (ISO) Macintosh layout. Just like its forerunner, the Apple extended keyboard II has an ADB interface and a plate mount switch mount. The key switches used in this keyboard are ALPS SKCM Salmon, ALPS SKCM Cream Damped, Mitsumi Standard Mechanical, and ALPS White Damped. The Apple extended keyboard II was manufactured by ALPS Electric and Mitsumi. These keyboards were produced from 1990 to 1995.
The Focus FK-5001 was the crown jewel and flagship of the focus keyboards. The function keys of this keyboard are organized into groups of threes and not fours. It also has an innate calculator and clock. Its layout is a custom extended ANSI and ISO. The key switches used in this keyboard are ALPS SKCM White, ALPS SKCL Yellow, and Futaba Lock. It has an XT/AT switchable interface and a plate mount switch mount. The Focus FK-5001 was introduced by the company Focus Electronic in the year 1990
Are ALPS Switches Still Used Today?
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In this time and age, the ALPS switches have already stopped production; however, there are some companies that still manufacture ALPS-like switches. One of the prominent companies that make “clones” of the ALPS switch is Matias.
The company Matias has been able to produce great quality ALPS clones or copies. According to some keyboard enthusiasts, The ALPS clones made by the company Matias are the only clones that are considered to be valuable and rewarding to use. The ALPS keyboards are also found in some Asian forums or retail, but these are oftentimes considered to be low quality and not valuable.
Some huge companies like Filco and Ducky also produce an ALPS clone, but they also stop production to focus on more profitable projects and products. To sum it up, the original or genuine ALPS switches are still present today, but they can be considered as dated and not advisable for some, but if the user prefers a vintage feel for his or her keyboard, then there is no harm in trying it.
Is It Worth Purchasing Vintage ALPS Keyboards?
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The answer to this question can be very subjective. Purchasing or using a vintage ALPS keyboard can be worthwhile if you are someone that likes to collect vintage keyboards or someone that casually uses keyboards just to type. On the other hand, if the user likes to play competitive games, then other types of keyboards may better suit your style.
The problem with purchasing a vintage ALPS keyboard is that the original ALPS keyboard has already stopped in production, which means that there is no warranty for your purchase. The user can also choose to customize the vintage Alps keyboard. The alps switch is not prone to desoldering, which makes it good for customization.
There are a lot of new and high-quality keyboards in the market that can satisfy the needs of different users, but the thing that those keyboards can’t encapsulate is the timeless beauty and vintage aesthetics of the vintage alps keyboards, so if you are a person that has acquired a taste for vintage aesthetics or someone that values nostalgia then go ahead and purchase an ALPS keyboard.
To conclude this article, the alps switch has been one of the earliest compact keyboards. It has undergone a lot of changes and redesigns to try and appeal to the consumers, but ultimately, the manufacturers decided to stop its production. The original Alps switches still exist, but it is considered to be rare or hard to find, they can still be found on online shops like eBay and others, but most of the time they can be found in somebody else’s garage.
Clones or copies of the ALPS switch have been made, like the ones the company Matias produces. Those switches do have a lot of similarities with the alps switch, but they also differ in a lot of things. Some users do dislike the ALPS switch, but there are also users that like the vintage aesthetic and the feel of the alps switch. Whether the alps switch is worthwhile or not still depends on the user’s preference.
The KBE team is dedicated to sharing our knowledge and creating useful resources about computer keyboards. This article was written as a team collaboration, combining our knowledge and years of experience using, building and modding keyboards. Meet the team here.