Mechanical keyboards: Pulsar PCMK
Mechanical keyboards – the big fat rabbit hole you can disappear … I started using mechanical keyboards about a year ago, with a Drevo Blademaster Pro (review coming up), but recently got a Pulsar PCML TKL keyboard in a build-it-yourself order.
The Drevo Blademaster Pro I am using is great, but doesn’t allow changing switches at all. So I was contemplating getting a mechanical keyboard that allows for arbitrary switches. My biggest problem here is that I am used to the Japanese JIS layout – which gives you a lot more keys which come in extremely handy in Emacs or when typing various languages. Fortunately, APlusX – a Korean company – manufactures a lot of gear under the Pulsar name, and supports also JIS layout. In addition, they have a great web site to customize your keyboard (layout, color, switch, keycaps) and send you a build-yourself kit for a very reasonable prize – at least in Japan.
So I got my first keyboard to put together myself …. how was I nervous getting all the stuff out! Despite being a DIY keyboard, it is very easy (and they offer also pre-assembly options, too!). You don’t need to solder the PCB or similar, the steps are more or less: (i) put in the switches, and (ii) add the key caps. I started with the first, putting the switches (I went with Kailh Box Brown tactile ones) into the PCB board …
Well, that was easy … at least I thought until I started testing the keys and realized that about 20 of them didn’t work!! Pulling out the switches again I saw that I twisted a pin on each of them. One by one I straightened the pins and reinserted them very carefully. Lesson learned! At the end all the switches were on the board and reacted to key presses.
Next step was adding the key caps. Again, those are not really special key caps, but simply style and sufficient for me. Of course I messed up 0 and O (which have different heights) and at first were confused about different arrow options etc, but since plugging in and pulling out key caps is very easy, at the end all the caps were in place.
With the final keyboard assembled (see top photo), I connected it to my Linux system and started typing around. And first of all, the typing experience was nice. The Kailh Box Brown switches have a bit stronger actuation point then the switches I have in the Blademaster Pro (which are Cherry MX Brown ones), but above all the sound is a bit deeper and “thumbier”, which really gives a nice feeling.
The keyboard also allows changing the RGB lightening via the keyboard (color, pattern, speed, brightness etc). There is a configuration software for macros etc, unfortunately it only works on Windows (and I couldn’t get it to work with Wine, either), a sour point … One more negative point is that the LED backlight doesn’t have a timeout, that is, it stays on all the time. The Drevo I have turns off after a configured number of seconds, and turns completely black – something I really like and miss on the Pulsar.
Another difference to the Blademaster is connectivity: While the Blademaster offers cable, bluetooth, and wireless (with dongle), the Pulsar only offers cable (USB-C). Not a real deal-breaker for me, since I use it at my desktop and really don’t need wireless/bluetooth capabilities, but still.
I have been using the Pulsar now for a few days without even touching the Drevo (besides comparing typing sounds and actuation points), and really like the Pulsar. I think it is hard to get a fully configurable and changeable mechanical keyboard for a similar prize.
There is one last thing that I really really miss – an ergonomic mechanical keyboard. Of course there are some, like the ErgoDox EZ or the Kinesis Advantage 2, but they don’t offer JIS layout (and are very expensive). Then there is the Truly Ergonomic CLEAVE keyboard, which is really great, but quite expensive. I guess I have to dive down the rabbit hole even more and make my own PCB and ergonomic keyboard!
hehehe, I see, another Emacs addict? 😉
I took a RK61 keyboard, but it is too compact, it’s designed for gamers and not for pc-writers.
I don’t seem to find mechanical keyboards suitable at all. They feel a step back to me and I don’t find them confortable at all. To me, the Logitech MX Keys is the modern keyboard done right, excellent to type with its slim profile and short key travel. Much better than any others mechanical or not. Have you tried it?
MX Keys? That sounds very much like mechanical switches … the MX are *the* prototype of mechanical switches. So it really depends on what “touch feeling” you want (linear, tactile, …).
Believe me, nothing mechanical about it, and nothing related to the original Cherry MX key mechanical switches:
Looks nice, but I would need to try it first.
Hi Norbert, I’ve been using a Dell AT102W (buckling ALPS) for almost 8 years now and love it. But I find your point about JIS layout and emacs very intriguing. I have a doom-inspired config where, in addition to a leader, I also use a mode-specific leader. I think the JIS layout would be ideal for these keybindings so I’m gonna have a look at what JIS keyboards are offered in Europe. Hopefully they won’t have the Japanese symbols on them as I can’t read Japanese 😀
Also, I’m wondering whether you’ve tried linear switches for typing. I find the idea very intriguing as I am a touch typist, but almost all the reviews I can find are by gamers and not people who use the keyboards to type (a lot, I mean). I have a feeling that I will enjoy linear actuation way more than tactile switches (clicky switches seem too noisy to me, even in the videos).
Also, if a (non-Norbert) keyboard enthusiast who has something to say/advice comes across this, please feel free to comment. With the corporate takeover/destruction of the internet, small individual-run nooks and forums are all but dead.