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IBM Model M Keyboard Review

Tested using Methodology v1.3.1
Reviewed Mar 26, 2020 at 10:27 am
Latest change: Test bench update Nov 29, 2023 at 09:32 am
IBM Model M Picture
6.0
Gaming
6.9
Office
0.9
Mobile/Tablet
7.3
Programming
0.5
Entertainment / HTPC
6.3
Raw Performance

The IBM Model M was once an outstanding keyboard, but technology has greatly improved and modern keyboards offer more features, like RGB backlighting or programmable keys. This vintage keyboard still offers an outstanding typing experience with unique buckling spring switches. These are different from typical mechanical switches used on modern keyboards, but they're still considered mechanical because of the mechanism used to actuate the key. If you're feeling nostalgic and just need a basic typing keyboard, it gets the job done.

Our Verdict

6.0 Gaming

The IBM Model M isn't designed to be a gaming keyboard. There are no macro keys, no backlighting, and the keys have a high pre-travel distance.

Pros
  • Outstanding typing experience.
  • Amazing build quality.
Cons
  • No extra features.
  • Loud for office environment.
6.9 Office

The IBM Model M is a good office keyboard. The typing quality is outstanding, as the buckling spring switches offer a unique typing experience. Unfortunately, it does get loud, especially for an office environment. However, it has acceptable ergonomics and it's comfortable to type on.

Pros
  • Outstanding typing experience.
  • Amazing build quality.
Cons
  • No extra features.
  • Loud for office environment.
0.9 Mobile/Tablet

The IBM Model M can't be used wirelessly.

7.3 Programming

The Model M is unremarkable for programming. It offers an outstanding typing experience and it's comfortable to type on. However, it doesn't have any macro keys or backlighting, and there's no dedicated software.

Pros
  • Outstanding typing experience.
  • Amazing build quality.
Cons
  • No extra features.
  • Loud for office environment.
0.5 Entertainment / HTPC

Pros
  • Outstanding typing experience.
  • Amazing build quality.
Cons
  • No extra features.
  • Loud for office environment.
6.3 Raw Performance

Pros
  • Outstanding typing experience.
  • Amazing build quality.
Cons
  • No extra features.
  • Loud for office environment.
  • 6.0 Gaming
  • 6.9 Office
  • 0.9 Mobile/Tablet
  • 7.3 Programming
  • 0.5 Entertainment / HTPC
  • 6.3 Raw Performance
  1. Updated Nov 29, 2023: We've concerted this review to Test Bench 1.3.1, which adds a new estimated PCB latency test to the Single-Key Latency section and a new Analog test to the Switches section of this review. You can see the full changelog here.
  2. Updated Oct 30, 2023: We've converted this review to Test Bench 1.3, which overhauls how key input is evaluated. We've added new tests for Single Key Latency, Multi Key Latency, Data Transmission, and Chord Split. We've also introduced a new Raw Performance usage and adjusted how the Gaming and Office usage scores are calculated. You can see the full changelog here.
  3. Updated Jun 21, 2023: We've converted this review to Test Bench 1.2. This update introduces new Backlight Features and Backlight Clarity test boxes. We've also added a new Switches test box, added additional test comparisons to our Hardware Customizability test box that we introduced with our last Test Bench. For an in-depth look at our changes, you can see our full changelog here.
  4. Updated May 26, 2023: We've converted this review to Test Bench 1.1. This update adds several new tests addressing Hardware Customization, Macro Keys And Programming, and Wireless Mobile Compatibility. We've also added new objective evaluations to the Typing Noise test, and we've simplified several tests and removed several others that were no longer relevant. For an in-depth look at all our changes, you can see our full changelog here.
  5. Updated Apr 30, 2021: Converted to Test Bench 1.0.
  6. Updated Mar 26, 2020: Review published.
  7. Updated Mar 23, 2020: Early access published.
  8. Updated Mar 19, 2020: The product has arrived in our lab, and our testers will start evaluating it soon.
  9. Updated Mar 13, 2020: We've purchased the product and are waiting for it to arrive in our lab.
  10. Updated Feb 29, 2020: The product has won our suggestion poll, so we'll buy and test it soon.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

IBM produced many different variants of this keyboard throughout the years, with different keyboard layouts and colors, and each variant had a different Part Number (P/N). Our unit was P/N 1391401, which was manufactured in January 1993, and you can see the label here

Compared To Other Keyboards

The Model M revolutionized keyboards with its layout and it set the tone for how keyboards would be designed throughout the years. However, modern keyboards also have many extra features, like backlighting, wireless connectivity, and media keys, so it's hard to compare this keyboard against those. In terms of typing quality, the Model M is still better than many keyboards today. 

We also reviewed the IBM PS/2 Mouse, which doesn't compare well to modern mice and unlike the IBM keyboard, it can't really be used today. Also see our recommendations for the best keyboards, the best keyboards for writers, and the best ergonomic keyboards.

Dygma Raise

The Dygma Raise is a much better keyboard than the IBM Model M. Comparing these two is proof of just how far technology has evolved. The Dygma is a split keyboard and you can customize every key with up to 10 layers of customization. It has individually-lit keys and there are LED lights underneath it that give it an underglow. The typing quality between the two keyboards is the same, but the Model M is full-sized, so it has more keys, such as a number pad.

Vortex Race 3

The Vortex Race 3 is much better than the IBM Model M. It has a better build quality, each key is macro programmable, and you can save up to four layers of customization directly to the keyboard's on-board memory. However, the Model M offers a better typing experience and it's more comfortable to type on.

SteelSeries Apex Pro

The SteelSeries Apex Pro is much better than the IBM Model M. You can change the keys' pre-travel distance, it has customizable RGB lighting, all keys are macro programmable, and it has an included wrist rest. On the other hand, the IBM still has a much better typing experience.

Corsair K95 RGB PLATINUM XT

The Corsair K95 RGB PLATINUM XT is significantly better than the IBM Model M. Each key is individually lit, all keys are macro programmable, and the comfortable wrist rest gives it better ergonomics. Meanwhile, the IBM has a better typing quality and it's fully compatible with Linux computers, while the Corsair is only partially compatible.

Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Dimensions
Size
Full-size (100%)
Height
1.9" (4.9 cm)
Width 19.3" (48.9 cm)
Depth
8.2" (20.8 cm)
Depth With Wrist Rest
N/A
Weight
4.48 lbs (2.030 kg)

It's a fairly large keyboard that takes up a good amount of space on a desk, and it's also very heavy.

8.5
Design
Build Quality
Keycap Material PBT

Amazing build quality. It's entirely made out of plastic but it's very solid and doesn't feel like it would break if dropped. The keycaps are two separate keycaps, as seen in the photo above, and you can replace the top one in case the lettering fades off. The keys are very stable, but the space bar has a bit of wobble to it.

6.0
Design
Ergonomics
Curved/Angled
No
Split Keyboard
No
Key Alignment
Staggered
Minimum Incline
Medium Incline
N/A
Maximum Incline
Home Row Height
30.5 mm (1.2")

This keyboard has acceptable ergonomics. It has one incline setting and no wrist rest, but the entire shape of the keyboard is slightly sloped inwards, as seen in the photo above, making it comfortable to type on.

0
Design
Hardware Customizability
Replaceable Cherry Stabilizers
No
Stabilizer Fixation
Non-Customizable Design
Spacebar Stabilizer Size
Non-Customizable Design
Size Of Right Mod Keys
Non-Standard
Hot-Swappable Switches
No
Switch Stem Shape
Non-Customizable Design
Switch PCB Socket
Non-Customizable Design
North-Facing Cherry MX Interference
Non-Customizable Design
0
Design
Backlight Features
Backlighting No
RGB
No
Per-Key Backlighting
No
Effects
No
Software Controllable
No

There's no backlighting on this keyboard.

0
Design
Backlight Clarity
Design
Cable & Connector
Connectivity Wired
Detachable
Yes (Wired Only Keyboard)
Length 8.7 ft (2.6 m)
Connector (Keyboard side)
SDL

The cable is coiled and when stretched out can reach over 11.8ft (3.6m). It's an SDL to PS/2 cable, so you will need a USB adapter if your computer doesn't have a PS/2 connector.

0
Design
Wireless Versatility
Bluetooth
No
Bluetooth Multi-Device Pairing
No
Proprietary Receiver
No
Battery Type
No Batteries

This keyboard can't be used wirelessly.

0
Design
Macro Keys And Programming
Dedicated Macro Keys Count 0
Onboard Macro Programming
No
Macro Programming With Software
No
Design
Extra Features
Media Keys
No Media Keys
Trackpad / Trackball No
Scroll Wheel
No
Control Knob
No
USB Passthrough
No
Numpad Yes
Windows Key Lock
No
Lock Indicator Caps, Scroll & Num lock

There are no extra features on this keyboard. It doesn't have a Windows key, so naturally, it doesn't have a Windows Key Lock.

Design
In The Box

  • IBM Model M keyboard
  • SDL to PS/2 cable

Typing Experience
9.0
Typing Experience
Typing Quality
Key Spacing
19.0 mm (0.748")

Outstanding typing quality. The buckling spring switches offer a unique typing experience with great feedback, and because the keys have good spacing and such high pre-travel distance, it helps reduce typos by quite a bit. It can get a bit tiring typing on it because of the high actuation force, but the profile of the keyboard helps reduce strain.

3.7
Typing Experience
Typing Noise
Average Loudness
58.8 dBA
High Pitch Clicks
Yes

Due to the clicky switches, this keyboard is loud to type on and might bother people around you.

Typing Experience
Switches
Switch Name
IBM Buckling Spring
Switch Type
Buckling-spring
Feel
Clicky
Analog
No
Typing Experience
Keystrokes
Operating Force
70 gf
Actuation Force
50 gf
Pre-Travel
2.5 mm
Total Travel
3.6 mm

The Model M uses buckling spring switches, which have a clicky feel to them. They're slightly different from tactile mechanical switches since they don't have a bump before reaching the actuation point, but they still give tactile feedback.

Although these are technically different from typical mechanical switches used on modern keyboards, they're still considered mechanical. They use mechanical components to complete the circuit for actuation.

Performance
7.3
Performance
Single-Key Latency
Best Connection
17.2 ms
Best Connection Std Dev ±3.4 ms
Wired
17.2 ms
Receiver
N/A
Bluetooth
N/A
PCB (Estimated)
N/A
7.1
Performance
Multi-Key Latency
Connection Evaluated Wired
Key Press
16.8 ms
Key Release
24.6 ms
5.4
Performance
Data Transmission
Connection Evaluated Wired
USB Polling Rate
1,000 Hz
Effective Update Rate
125 Hz
N-Key Rollover (NKRO)
No
Multiple Keys Per USB Report
No
3.9
Performance
Chord Split
4 Chord Split Delay
23.9 ms
8 Chord Split Delay
N/A
Software and Operating System
Software and Operating System
Configuration Software
Software Name No Software
Software Windows Compatible
No
Software macOS Compatible
No
Onboard Memory
No
Profiles
No Profile

There's no dedicated software for this keyboard.

10
Software and Operating System
Computer Compatibility
Windows
Fully Compatible
macOS
Fully Compatible
Linux (Ubuntu 22)
Fully Compatible
Media Key Compatibility
Not Compatible

All default keys work on Windows and Linux. On macOS, the Scroll Lock and Pause/Break keys adjust the screen brightness if you're using an Apple display. The Print Screen key also acts as an F13 key, and the Insert key does nothing.

0
Software and Operating System
Wireless Mobile Compatibility
Android
Not Compatible
iOS
Not Compatible
iPadOS
Not Compatible
Media Key Compatibility
Not Compatible