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gk64 – typing happiness while on the go

16/12/2018 - Posted in do-it-yourself , hardware , private Posted by:

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reading time: 4 minutes

This post is not about security or philosophy, which I usually like to write about. If you want to read a post like that I suggest you read my post about password managers. This entry is about hardware, especially the one I use to write these lines. Recently while being abroad I noticed that the quality of my interaction with technology is influenced heavily by my keyboard. For three weeks I only had a rubber dome keyboard at my disposal. These are usually the cheap keyboards you get everywhere. Laptop computers also have them because the can be made with a very low height profile. Unfortunately, I feel like they are also the worst keyboard to type on. The feeling when you press a button is just terrible to me. 

Therefore, I decided to get myself a fine mechanical keyboard that I will be able to travel with. Working as a researcher and staying abroad for some time to visit other laboratories requires me to travel. I decided to not compromise on my typing experience though. I have been looking at the mechanical keyboard subreddit for some time and I was jealous of all the nice keyboards shown there. While most of these keyboards are quite colorful, I am used to a completely blank and black keyboard. I very much appreciate this aesthetic and I wanted to continue to have a similar one. I also knew that I want a smaller keyboard without a number block and stripped to its bare minimum. Nonetheless, I use the arrow keys quite heavily so dedicated arrow keys are a must. After looking around and researching keyboard profiles I found that there are not too many options. I settled on a GK64.

GK64 mechanical keyboard

The GK64 has basically all the necessary properties I wanted. It features even some nice things like RGB LEDs and hot-swappable switches. I decided that this might be nice to have down the line. Unfortunately, the default case for the keyboard is, at least in my opinion, quite ugly. Therefore I decided to try out to assemble it myself. Fortunately for myself, this turned out a lot easier than I thought.

Keyboard PCB (top), Mounting Plate (bottom) and Switches+Stabilizers (right)

The keyboard was delivered in five parts. The case, the PCB, the mounting plate, the switches and stabilizers and finally the key caps. First I opened all the parts, inspected them and decided to start building. I checked on how to mount the switches on the plate on YouTube. After I knew how to do it, I mounted the stabilizers. Next I put in some switches in the corners of the mounting plate and also put them into the hot-swap sockets on the PCB. 

PCB, plate, stabilizers and some witches mounted.

Then, I continued to plug in all the switches. Unfortunately, I pushed two of them into the PCB while they were not correctly aligned. I only found that out after the complete assembly. As you can see I decided on the linear Cherry MX Reds. I did not know the switches’ feeling beforehand but it turned out that I love them. 

Fully equipped keyboard

Key Caps

I had to stop my build for a few days to wait for the key caps. Once they arrived I stuck them onto the switches. They are beautiful! 

The fully assembled keyboard with my custom printed key caps.

Apart from the custom printed key caps which are ABS, I got PBT key caps. The material is stronger and I think it also feels nicer. Once everything was in order I plugged in the keyboard. The keyboard has a few pre-programmed lighting modes. So I decided to play with them. To my surprise I found that the lighting key does not work. After I started to be a little unhappy that something is wrong, I systematically checked the keys. Two keys were not functional. My first guess was that I broke the board while assembling it. Fortunately, this did not happen. I pulled off the two key switches that were not working and saw that their connectors were bent. While sticking them in I must have misaligned them. I took some tweezers and bent them back in place. Then, I cautiously stuck them back on the board. 

Let There Be Light

All the keys worked! What happiness! I played around with the function layers, lighting and so on. It turns out that I do not like light that is constantly on. Therefore, I enabled a mode which lights up the keys I press with a random color and slowly fades out. Now I feel like I am writing on star dust or there is a mini aurora going on inside my keyboard.

Keyboard with a rainbow lighting mode. The lights just traverse from right to left indefinitely

Although this keyboard does not have an integrated USB hub it fits my needs very well. Therefore, I decided to sell my old keyboard. The only  thing I will adapt in the future is the mounting plate. The silver of the aluminum does not fit well with the overall black aesthetic I aimed for. In the future I will search for the same plate in pure black. The only other thing I also need is a travel bag. Because this will be my daily supporter everywhere I go I need to be able to transport it safely. 

Conclusion

It turns out building your own keyboard can be super easy. The next level would be soldering. Maybe if this keyboard breaks I will go down that route. All I can say thus far is that I really love linear switches, building a keyboard is surprisingly easy and maaaaan do PBT key caps feel good.

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