The Atomic Ortholinear Keyboard From the side

What is an ortholinear keyboard?

Well ortholinear is an almost made up word meaning straight and straight. This becomes instantly apparent when comparing an ortholinear keyboard with a standard keyboard you might be more familiar with. The rows are straight and in line with each other. Matrix is also used similarly to describe this type of layout.

The true ortholinear keyboards were really started by Jack Humbert. Although other similar keyboards such as the type matrix exist. They are still not really the same. The first one made was the Planck, a 12x4 grid keyboard. This not only introduced the ortholinear design to many people but also introduced keyboard deflation and the uses that come from both of these aspects.

The other concept I think core to the ortholinear keyboard and more so the planck, is the use of different layers on the keyboard’s firmware. This is not a new idea Fn layers are quite prevalent on most keyboards particularly laptop keyboards. But the planck utilises this in a way that has not really been done before. This is both a product of the design and a reason for the design. The ortholinear arrangement allows for uniformity in key spacing and shape. This therefore makes it great for reprogramming as you will not encounter any hardware differences for layouts. It is a better canvas for customisation simply because of this change. What this opens up is the possibility of your 48 key keyboard being 100 + key keyboard, all through virtual layers and keymaps. This is my favourite concept of the ortholinear keyboard. If this interests you I think you would be interested to hear the creator Jack Humbert talk about why the planck is the planck, and why he believes in its existence. Listening to him talk about the idea is the whole reason I wanted to try out the planck. You can listen to all of this on the board makers podcast.

This is a small example of the near unlimited possibilities you could create with a planck. <img class=”centered” src=”/assets/atomic/planckortholinearconcept.svg” alt=”Example of an extended keyboard layout shown by a planck.”title=”Example of an extended keyboard layout shown by a planck.”> Taken from the OLKB Maker Faire Posters

Think about extended layers as just another place on the keyboard. But this way your hands don’t move, your virtual keyboard moves into position for your hands.

I have spent a lot of time talking about the planck but part one of this series is about the Atomic. This is the slightly larger brother of the planck with 75 keys with the grid layout. You could say it is not wholly inline with the ortholinear concept as it is larger than the planck, but I think it serves a useful purpose. For many the size of the planck is off putting. The Atomic is a middle ground which is useful to introduce the user to the concepts that could be further used on a smaller keyboard.

I purchased the atomic out of fear for the smaller 40% size of the planck. This was also one of the prototype PCB’s. But they are still available here

The Atomic

Assembling the atomic

Since I bought the atomic PCB a little less assembly is required. For this part I just recorded the process in a timelapse. For the planck build I will include a little more instruction.
I spend some time at the beginning clipping the stabs which is something that does not have to be done. But I have not been particularly impressed with cherry stabs either way. Clipping just makes them a little better.

Throughout the build process I could not really make up my mind on what my final layout would be. This is the greatest thing about ortholinear keyboards but also the worst. With infinite opportunity it can often be tricky to decide. What’s best for you may also come apparent through a lot of testing until you find a layout that works well for you.

This indecision did lead to some changes along the way. In general I like the HHKB layout. I don’t like bottom left and right corners and have never employed the use of my palms for those modifiers. For this reason I was happy to leave them out. But in the end this is not what the PCB was meant for. It has support for a number of layout variants but I felt with the plate and case the same way it just appeared incomplete.

The finished Atomic. This is the PCB just with the simple sandwich style case. With the PCB mounted switches the PCB and the case, this feels incredibly solid. I would say it is the perfect mounting of Gateron Switches. Back view of the Atomic keyboard Front View of the Atomic

The Possibilities and/or Benefits of the Ortholinear Layout

Profile view of the atomic

One of the other main ethics behind ortholinear keyboards is the viability they have in terms of functionality. I am referring here to the many layers you can utilise to make the most efficient layout that works for you. I do not require a lot from my keyboards. I like the freedom that comes with full programmability but this is always for small changes.

My layout is currently quite simple. I have colemak as the default layer with a key to switch to qwerty for anyone that wants to try it out and does not type colemak. Since I went with the full grid physical layout, I make use of the bottom row much more than on a traditional keyboard. You can see from the diagram that I have a bit of unused space. RoastPotatoes' Atomic Layout

What is it like to use an atomic?

This quickly became one of my favourite programmable keyboards. Having more functions on the bottom row seems like a much better use of space than a traditional 6u or larger spacebar. This small change means I don’t have to move my hands from the home row positions much at all. The downside to this is the fact that I have to type on other keyboards in my life. Whenever I start using another keyboard I will always be thumbing space for backspace.

I have a simple Fn layer for F keys and arrow keys. Other extended function keys such as pgup and pgdn easily fit without needing additional layers.
One specific function I have is a gaming layer which just puts space on the left. With this I am quite happy. Since I have not employed the use of the NUM pad on anything else I have used before I don’t think of this as a necessary layer.

Going into the Atomic I was typing on the HHKB and the corsair strafe. Both of these are completely different from the Atomic but I was very comfortable on the HHKB’s 60% layout. So the atomic in my mind was going to better build upon the HHKB layout which I really liked. I play the occasional game, do a lot of typing and browse the internet. I think the atomic is good for all these uses. In the past I have said that I think a good keyboard can really be used for anything and that is more true than ever with the atomic. There is nothing I can think of that I don’t like about the atomic. The firmware is modified TMK which I am completely fine with and I like the ortholinear layout. For someone looking to assemble their own 60% that is a little different, this is the perfect option.

I am still interested in the planck because it is quite far removed from what I know. With a 60% I am very comfortable with minimal Fn layers, but the planck will require some adapting too.


Typed on The Ultimate Hacking Keyboard

Ace Switches, Bamboo Cases and Mahogany Keycaps

Bamboo Keyboard CAse This is all coming from one person /u/Dashwoodlll on reddit. What started as a IC for wooden cases, turned into something that seems to be a complete package.

More photos of the ace keyboard.

Here is a short summary of what to expect.

  • Mahogany Keys are a possibility
  • Custom Logo
  • Backlights
  • Durable Switches
  • Waterproof
  • 104, 87 and 61 key setups

Source

There is not a huge amount of information, but a new switch type may bring some interest. Ace switches

The idea of wooden switch plates is another good idea. But the lack of wooden switch plates is likely due to their practicality. Getting wood thin enough to function as a switch plate and still retain durability is not too easy. It is possible that the Ace switches make this easier in some way.

More photos of the prototypes.

UK Cherry Liquidation

With the news that Cherry UK is no more, the last remaining UK stock is being sold over on Deskthority. Some interesting stuff such as the mug sold very quickly. But it is an entire lot featuring boards, pcb’s keycaps and cables. Now the entire lot is being sold to make the liquidation easier. Currently it looks like it might go to 7bit who is probably quite a good person for this stuff to go to. It will then likely be sold off when it is 7bit’s hands. One product of interest is the cherry pin’s, which I have never seen before.

New DIY Cable Stock at 1UP Keyboards

1up keyboards custom DIY cables These are kits to make your own cable with a nice amount of customisation. This includes mini, micro and right angled connectors.
The current solid colours are:

  • Red
  • Blue
  • Gray
  • White
  • Black
  • Neon Green

Multi-colours:

  • Black/Blue
  • Black/Red
  • Black/Silver

Available Here

New Keyboard from Gigabyte

K83 Keyboard by gigabyte This is a new full-size mechanical keyboard from Gigabyte available in red and blue Cherry switches. The Force K86 doesn’t come with any particular flashy features, but the design is of interest.
They were going for a “minimalist” look with this and I think this does actually look quite nice. Nothing affronts my eyes with this design. I think the minimal branding of “Gigabyte” looks ok and the blue indicator lights are particularly complimentary to the overall look.

New 68 Key Keyboard

Similar to the Leopold FC660C/M the Apko K680 has two additional switches. This is not hugely interesting but I always think another layout makes at least one more person happy.

According to Zeal this is a rebranded Tai-Hao OEM keyboard.


Typed on the Atomic

This is a review for the Corsair Strafe with Cherry MX Brown switches. This is the regular one not the silent variant. In the UK it retails for around £99 in the UK and around $99 in the US. This is a review unit sent to me by Corsair.

Unboxing

Mechanical Keyboard Strafe Box Strafe Box Open Additional Box Photos
Nothing too fancy about this unboxing. It was a nice cardboard box and the keyboard was wrapped in plastic. You also get your keycaps and keypuller vacuum packed.

Vacuum packed mechanical keybord keycaps

What’s in the box?

  • Keyboard
  • Manual
  • Additional Keycaps + Keypuller

Look and Design

right control key of the corsair strafe From a gaming keyboard standpoint this is one of the more low key designs. This is something I think is quite important as you will often seen a gaming keyboard that just seems illogical in its design choices. The body is black plastic and has a red visible switch plate. The switch plate is not fully visible but hidden under the plastic top case. This creates a nice effect with the red backlight. Around the edges this is most obvious around the corners and the arrow keys.

With the red plate and the red backlight this is a red themed keyboard. The red light does look nice but it is a bit of a tired colour scheme. The red does go nicely with the red plate but the light casts some odd looking shadows on the front of the F row keys.
F row keys of the corsair strafe

The top of the case has a textured surface which helps avoid fingerprints and anything sticking to the top. However, this ends around the sides where you have a mirror finish and a light bar. The light bar is quite bright, this is because they have a dedicated LED just for the light bar. You can also see that the case tapers towards the front, which results in an odd curved front. Side of the mechanical keybord corsair strafe Despite this sounding like a bad idea, I think this looks quite nice on this keyboard. The mirror finish on the side is a strange decision but not all that pertinent to anything. It is unlikely you will see your keyboard from that side. The effect of the light bar around the edge is quite nice as anything that is immediately around your Strafe will be slightly illuminated with red. Overall I still don’t see the need for this line, but it is there.

corsair sails logo At the top left there is the Corsair sails logo, and on the right you have your LED indicators and two buttons for backlight control and a strange windows looking button. Corsair strafe brightness button Below these buttons you have a line that runs across the top of the board. It is almost a pencil holder, but it is just a little too small to be of any use. I think the purpose of this is just to split off the top where you have the logo and additional buttons. If you think about it without the line, it might look like a G80-3000 where you have quite a large bezel at the top. For the Strafe I think the line looks OK. But I think if the keyboard ended at the line you would have a cleaner looking keyboard without having to make use of additional space for no reason.

This is one of the nicer looking ‘gaming’ keyboards and despite some questionable design choices I do think this is a nice looking keyboard.

You will notice the legends are top centred which generally works apart from nothing lines up. This is most noticeable on the left side. This is some of ISO’s doing but this happens with centre aligned legends.

tip centred legends

Build

the corsair strafe As I mentioned before the case is all plastic, but you do have a metal switch plate. The plastic case does make this keyboard feel quite light which you wouldn’t expect looking at it. From using this keyboard I don’t think it has lost anything from not having a metal case and the plastic works absolutely fine. Despite it being plastic it is overall very sturdy. On the underside it has two feet that splay out to the edges of sides of the keyboard. The design of the case is not too slanted and is one of the flatter designs I have seen. Having a flat keyboard and then the feet for tilting it seems like a good idea. That is almost in place on this board. There is also rubber feet in all 4 corners so it really doesn’t move on my desk. That said it certainly is a lighter keyboard so you can move it with a bit of intent.

It comes with Cherry MX Browns which are 45g tactile switches these are of course tried and tested in the mechanical keyboard world so there is nothing to fault there. The visible switch plate is something that stands out on this keyboard and I think is quite nice. I don’t remember seeing an arrangement quite like this it is most definitely tailored so you see a bit more of the red. Typing on it is a nice experience. There is no ping and the switches aren’t moving anywhere. The two buttons in the top right feel quite nice but they are not Cherry switches. They are mounted in the upside down position so the LED is on the top.

One aspect I as surprised about when unboxing this keyboard was the mammoth cable. It is the thickest cable I have seen on a keyboard. This is likely because it is both for USB pass through and connection of the keyboard. It is a thick cable with very chunky ends.

corsair strafe cable

It is not detachable which would have been good with such a great cable, but I don’t see it breaking off any time soon. With the option of USB pass through this keyboard has two USB connections. This is where I have an issue. The cables splay out in opposite directions. You have to force them to be parallel to each other as they are trying to go the opposite way. When plugging this in I have two USB ports right next to each other but I have to rotate the cable to get them both in. This will only really bother you if you are using the USB pass through as you will need both plugged in. You also have no routing options for this cable, just straight out the back. With a cable as thick as this it can be hard to bend if you have small desk space with limited space directly behind the keyboard.

Features

This is not the most feature driven keyboard there is. But there is not always additional features needed for a keyboard to be good. To start with the Strafe has full 104 key rollover.

USB Pass through

USB pass through does as you expect. You move a USB ports functionality from your computer to your keyboard. Whether this is useful, is up to you. You don’t have to use it so this is a harmless feature. The USB port on the keyboard is located just to the right of the cable.

CUE

The Strafe does have a lot of features that are not really enabled on the board. Additional features are found in the CUE which is a piece of software that is used in conjunction with this keyboard. It allows you to customise macros and the function of buttons and FN combinations on your board. Using this software on Windows I found it to be quite comprehensive and it does give you a lot of options. One advantage I found was the ability to customise the windows lock to include alt. Small changes like this are good in the hands of the individual user, as everyone likes their layout the way they like it. This was something that was annoying about the MX 6.0. The CUE is an extensive piece of software and can get very confusing. I did not know what I was doing half the time. This could use some work, but if you want to change something about your keyboard you can through this software. The bad thing about relying on external software for these additional features, is the fact that it is sort of useless without it.

Linux Support

This leads into my next point which is Linux support. There really is none. To start with, when booting into my Arch installation it adds 30 seconds. Initially this is something I thought might be solved by upgrading the boards firmware. But I did that through CUE on Windows and it did nothing to improve the situation. The two additional buttons in the top right also have different functions in Linux. They stop your keyboard from working. If you try to adjust the backlight brightness or use the win-lock you will have to replug your keyboard and wait the 30 seconds before you can use it again. One feature that is universal is the media keys, but these are hard to get wrong. I’m not sure whether I can complain here as Mac and Linux support is not listed on its specifications.

FPS and MOBA Keycaps

FPS and MOBA keycaps are additional keycaps that are bundled with this keyboard. It is something that makes a stock keyboard stand out. I think the most interesting thing about these keycaps is the construction. The top grey part clips onto the black main part. They are like customisable doubleshots. I don’t play any MOBA’s so I did not put the MOBA caps to good use. But I did make sure to test the WASD caps. I played Dirty Bomb and Mad Max. Two things stand out about these keycaps. They are curved and they feel like sandpaper. The legend seems to be the source of the horrible texture, but it really takes over the feel of the whole cap. These keycaps are for gaming situations, so not meant for typing. But as this is a keyboard I think it is reasonably to expect you might have to type something in a gaming situation.

keycaps

The curved nature of these keycaps makes it feel a little off. It really threw me off when typing even a small amount. The texture really kills these caps. Having an addon pack with just different coloured caps would have been fine. But I did not enjoy using these at all.

The other alternative cap it comes with is the textured spacebar. Unlike the rest of the special caps, the spacebar feels great. This is actually a nice addition to the keyboard.

Type Test

Conclusion

Quite innocuous really. I found this to be a very nice keyboard to type on and use. It just falls short as it has no additional features that give it much merit. CUE is impressive but complicated to use. If you are looking to use it you might have to spend a lot of time figuring out what you can do and how you can do it. As a stock mechanical keyboard that is used for gaming, I think you could do a lot worse. No Linux support and lacklustre attempt at interesting keycaps just make it seem less impressive. Overall I have enjoyed using this keyboard for typing and gaming. I did not miss the WASD or MOBA caps. I think the whole ‘gaming’ keyboard is a misnomer and it is a little redundant to have a ‘gaming’ keyboard. Without the additional features I still enjoyed using it. The major issue I had was the Linux support. If someone is looking to get into mechanical keyboards and wants to come in from a gaming angle. I think this would be a good option.


Typed on The Corsair Strafe