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Good Stuff: Affordable 19″ Rack Mount Keyboard Drawer

In the past at work we haven’t used rack mount keyboard drawers because all the models we could find were over $200.  Instead, we designed our own that mounts on top of a rack mount PC.  This design works fine, but it requires modifying the computer case.

Since we’re making some changes, I took another look, and finally found an affordable 19″ 1U (1.75″) keyboard drawer: the Penn Elcom EX6301B, which is available from Newark/Element14 here for about $80.

Actually, it’s not keyboard drawer: Penn Elcom calls it a laptop drawer.  But it will work fine as a keyboard drawer as long as you are using a compact, slim keyboard such as the Adesso AKB-410UB.  A standard keyboard is way too wide; my beloved Cooler Master Quickfire tk is narrow enough, but it’s too tall.

I’d also highly recommend using a keyboard with integrated track pad or trackball (the AKB-410UB has a track pad).  With a narrow enough keyboard, you might be able to tuck a low profile mouse into the space, but you’d probably want a mouse pad, too, so you’re not running the mouse over the drawer’s mesh surface.

Penn Elcom doesn’t provide a lot of information (just some very basic dimensions), so we ordered a drawer to see if it would work — and decided it would.  The build quality appears good, too.


May 30, 2015   No Comments

What Happened To Ergonomics?

I can remember back in the 1990’s when ergonomics was a big deal.  Companies were pushing ergonomic chairs, ergonomic monitors (adjustable, etc), ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic mice, ergonomic mice alternatives (such as trackballs) and so on.

You can still find ergonomic equipment, but it’s definitely not “hot”, and a lot of it (like Kensington and Logitech trackballs) looks like it hasn’t been updated from the 1990’s…

I think it’s the smart phone and tablet revolution: they’re what’s hot, and, just like in the dot-bomb bubble, everything was “on the web”, now everything is supposed to be mobile or in “the cloud”, whether it makes sense or not.

Yes, tablets and phones have their place, and I own both, but they’re not very ergonomic for any kind of extended use if you’re creating content.  Normal, cheap keyboards are crappy enough, but they’re great compared to typing on glass.

I value my long term comfort and health, and I like to create, so ergonomics still matter to me.  I’ve started a major C# programming project; I find having two 24″ monitors really boosts my productivity.  I can’t imagine trying to do this project on a tablet (ugh!) or phone (yuck!!!!).

My Unicomp keyboard is much better than average, but I’ve ordered a mechanical keyboard.  After I’ve used it for a while, I’ll post a review.

February 25, 2013   No Comments

Colored Cherry Keys

Blue, White, and Black Cherrys

Blue, White, and Black Cherrys

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning on getting a keyboard with mechanical Cherry keys.  I had a challenge: how to figure out color to get?  For example, the Leopard keyboard is available with Brown, Blue, Black, Red, Clear, or White keys.  (The Cherry color refers to the stem color, as you can see above, which indicates the feel of the key.)

Since I don’t feel like ordering and returning a whole bunch of keyboards, I added the readily available colors to my most recent connector order; Mouser and Digikey sell the individual switches for $1.00-$1.50.

Even without a key cap, I can tell my order of preference:

  1. It’s Blue for me.  I really love the feel of the blue button; it has a great tactile break-over feel, with a satisfying but not too loud click.
  2. The White is OK; it has some break-over, and is quieter than the blue.
  3. I’ll pass on the Black for typing; it has a linear response, and just feels “blah” for typing.

So now I’m comfortable with a choice of Cherry Blues, for less than the cost of returning a keyboard.

Update 7/2/2012: when I wrote this, I couldn’t find the Cherry key switch guide.  Apparently, it’s gone, but has some good info on mechanical keyboards, including the various flavors of Cherry switches.

May 31, 2012   No Comments

Compact (Tenkeyless) Keyboards

My Current Keyboard Setup

My Current Keyboard Setup

As I’ve written before, I find compact keyboards to be more comfortable than normal full size keyboards.  Compact keyboards are also called Tenkeyless keyboards since they do not have the numeric keypad on the right.

I currently have four compact keyboards:

  1. My original, a Lenovo Ultranav scissors switch keyboard with trackpad and trackpoint.
  2. An IBM SpaceSaver M4-1 keyboard with trackpoint.  It was made by Lexmark and has rubber dome key switches.
  3. Two Unicomp Model M Mighty Mouse keyboards and two Unicomp keypads.  These keyboards have rubber dome key switches.

The IBM and Unicomp keyboards are quite similar; for example, I can use the Unicomp keypad with the SpaceSaver keyboard.

My current work setup (shown above) is a Unicomp keyboard and keypad with my Kensington Orbit trackball in the middle.    I like having the keypad for heavy number entry; I like the keypad being out of the way since I don’t use it often.

The SpaceSave and Model M keyboards have a different feel than the UltraNav; they’re more crisp and clicky.  I like both styles (especially the Lenovo keyboard on my laptop), and both are much better than the typical, mushy keyboard.

Sometime I do want to try a mechanical keyboard, probably something with Cherry MX Blue keys such as a Leopard.  I find illuminated keyboards interesting; I’m pretty sure I’d want a tenkeyless one with Cherry MX Blues (unlike the Deck 82 which only comes with Cherry MX Blacks)

Although Unicomp doesn’t make a tenkeyless buckling spring keyboard, I’d still like to try a buckling spring keyboard (probably the EnduraPro).

The best resource on great keyboards is, of course,; for example, check out their mechanical keyboard guide.


January 24, 2012   5 Comments

Notes On Fixing Rubber Dome Keyboards

I recently fixed some older compact computer keyboards: two Unicomp Mighty Mouse M keyboards with separate numeric keypads and a IBM/Lexmark SpaceSaver.  One keyboard had some keys that didn’t work at all, and the others had a couple that didn’t respond reliably.

All three keyboards are pretty similar.  They use a collapsing rubber dome to press together contacts laid out on two sheets of plastic separated by a plastic spacer.

I’m not going to give detailed steps, since other keyboards are probably a bit different, but here are my notes:

  • I used Aqua’s Key Test which I found via to test each key so I knew where to look for problems.  It’s very hard to test all the keys using a normal program like Notepad.
  • I highly recommend taking plenty of pictures at each stage.  OK, I didn’t, but I had two other keyboards I could look at when putting everything  back together.
  • I used CaiKote 44 to repair broken traces and re-coat unreliable contacts.  I paid ~$6 for the 1.0g jar at Fry’s.  It worked well, although it’s hard to apply precisely, especially using the included applicators, and worked best with a long time to dry (I let it dry for a day before re-testing the keyboard).  The jar looks small, but it does last: I was able to fix up all my keyboards, and a friend fixed a musical keyboard, without running out.
  • I took all key caps off.  I think there’s a chance you could get the keyboard apart with the keys still on, but in any case, I needed to see how I could take everything apart and I wanted to clean the keyboar

Was it worth it?  Yes, because I like the size and feel of these keyboards, and you can’t buy either model today.


December 4, 2011   No Comments

Mouse Alternatives

A while ago, I did way too much mousing (setting up vision jobs with Cognex Insight) and ended up with significant shoulder strain.  I’ve been better since (but not back to normal), partly by watching how much mousing around I do.

Recently, I decided it was time for another approach, and bought a Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring.  Overall, it’s working pretty well; I’ve been using it for less than a  week, and my arm and shoulder definitely feel better.  The scroll ring works pretty well (I’d say better than a typical mouse wheel).  The ball is pretty big (about 1.5″), and is very smooth.

I also went to a smaller keyboard; I think part of the problem may have been extending my arm too far to get to the mouse.  When I use the narrower keyboard, I don’t have to extend as far.  I was able to scrounge up an old PS/2 mini-keyboard with trackpad.  The keyboard is OK, with a usable layout, but the trackpad is pretty bad (it doesn’t feel good, and it takes a lot of motion to get across my monitor).  Also, I’ve been adjusting my chair height to find the best position.

I’ve used mini keyboards with trackballs in the past, and haven’t been happy with them, because they had mechanical mini-trackballs that took a lot of motion to get anywhere, picked up lint like crazy, and basically were a pain to use.  In the future, I might try a mini keyboard with trackpad if I can test it first (some trackpads are decent), the old Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard (with pointer stick and trackpad) or the new Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard (with pointer stick only, but more affordable price).

I looked at some Logitech trackballs; I went with the Kensington because the ball seemed substantially larger, I liked the the scroll ring, and I’ve tried some Logitech trackballs in the past and wasn’t impressed (I do like their mice).  I wouldn’t mind having a larger ball and more buttons, but I’m not willing to pay for a Kensington Ultimate (~$90) or CH Products with 2.25″ ball (~$230; I’ve used CH Products joysticks in the past — they are really nice).

August 5, 2010   2 Comments