Unicomp and CVT keyboards


Unicomp SpaceSaver

Yesterday I talked about the IBM Model M and the Nortgate Omnikey series of keyboards which were manufactured from the 80s to early 90s and that many people claim provided superior tactile and audible feedback with their buckling spring designs compared to modern, cheap membrane keyboards. Not only that, but because they were built like battleships many people are still using these keyboards with their latest machines!

There's both good news and bad news for people of my age who were too young to have used such keyboards when they were being produced. The bad news first: because these keyboards were so well built and are no longer being produced by their original manufacturers, second hand examples routinely go for hundreds of dollars on eBay and other online merchants. I saw an original Northgate OmniKey 102 fetch over AU$240.00!

CVT Avant PrimeCVT Avant Stellar

The good news is, grilled cheese sandwiches are tasty. Wait, what? Not only that, but in doing research I came across two current companies that manufacture these keyboards to the original specifications of both IBM and Northgate, and while they're prices are higher than a typical 104 key Logitech you could pick up for a couple of bucks, they're far cheaper than buying originals:

Manufactures the 101 key Avant Prime for US$149.00 and the 116 key Avant Stellar for US$189.00. Both are built to the same specifications as the legendary Northgates, are reprogrammable and come with PS/2 connectors which means no hunting around for AT adaptors!
Manufacturers dozens of different keyboards, some of which have the identical layout and buckling spring designs as the IBM Model M series such as the Customizer 101 which are indistinguishable! The one I have my eyes on is the SpaceSaver which has the exact same keys as the IBMs but with a much narrower bezel. You can also order Linux keyboard layouts which have the [CTRL] and [CAPS LOCK] keys swapped which would be fantastic.

Unicomp Customizer 105

I remember back to when we first moved to Singapore and we threw away out first IBM desktop because it got damaged (to put it mildly!) in the move from Brisbane. I was too little to remember many of the details, but when I saw photos of the Model M keyboards I'm fairly sure that's the loud, fun keyboard it had, right down to the springy telephone-like data cable! Wish we still had that machine.

I find all this stuff fascinating. You can take that however you want.

Author bio and support


Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

The site is powered by Hugo, FreeBSD, and OpenZFS on OrionVM, everyone’s favourite bespoke cloud infrastructure provider.

If you found this post helpful or entertaining, you can shout me a coffee or send a comment. Thanks ☺️.