To say the IBM Model M keyboard has a cult following is an understatement. Although it fell out of favor for a time, it’s made a comeback in recent years. Mechanical keyboards as a whole have also made a comeback in recent years. Cherry MX Blue switches are popular because some say they have a clicky IBM like feel. So let’s take a look at the IBM Model M vs Cherry MX Blue.
Which IBM Model M?
You’ll either know exactly what I mean or think I’m being incredibly picky, but not all IBM Model Ms are the same. Early IBM Model M keyboards, generally the ones with a metal or a dark gray logo, have a heavier feel than the later ones that have a blue logo on them. I’m not sure if IBM changed the switch to lower costs over time or if the tooling simply wore out and that caused them to feel lighter. But I own examples of both and I can tell a difference. I could tell a difference when they were still new, for that matter. So it’s not age. Having used the ones from the late 1980s, the blue logo ones didn’t feel right when I first encountered them in the early ’90s.
The later ones aren’t bad, mind you. But if the Model F is a 10, the early Model M is a 9, and a blue Model M is more like an eight.
What about the Cherry MX Blue?
I’ve heard vintage computing YouTubers speculate about whether vintage mechanical keyboards they encounter are clones of a Model M. Let’s get one thing straight. There is no perfect clone of a Model M. There were vintage boards that came close, but none of them were exact.
And the modern Cherry MX Blue keyboards definitely fall into that category. They’re fairly close, and they’re not bad to type on. I own one, and I like it. I got a tenkeyless MX Blue for far less than a similar form factor Model M would have cost me. So I don’t complain.
And it does have clicky tactile feedback and a sound that isn’t far off from that IBM experience.
Modern amenities of the Cherry MX Blue
A modern Cherry board has convenience too. It has all the modern keys that a Model M doesn’t have, like the Windows key. Yes, I can hit CTRL-ESC to bring up the menu. But I use the Windows-R shortcut a lot and I can’t do that with CTRL-ESC.
It’s USB native, so it plugs into systems that don’t have PS2 ports. And they are a lot easier to buy. I can’t get one absolutely anywhere, but any place that has a fairly good selection of computer gear probably carries a Cherry MX Blue keyboard these days. I can’t necessarily get one at Target, but I can get one at Best Buy. The IBM boards are collectibles these days, with corresponding high prices and scarcity.
Cherry MX Blue vs IBM Model M
This is entirely subjective, but if you weren’t after the opinion of someone who’s been using these for decades, you wouldn’t have read this far. How good is a Cherry MX Blue compared to a classic IBM Model M?
Honestly, if a ’90s blue logo Model M is an 8 of 10, I think the feel of a Cherry MX Blue is no worse than a 7.5. It’s not quite up there with those IBM boards, but it’s also a lot cheaper.
The other thing you have to consider is not just the feel of the key switches, but also the layout. And I do think a Cherry board makes up some of that ground because it has the modern amenities that we want. IBM boards admittedly feel a bit old-fashioned.
If I could design my own keyboard, I would want elements from several boards. I would want a modern layout, but I would want switches from the IBM Model F. The Model F was extremely nice to type on, except its layout got a bit weird sometimes. The Model M had a much better layout, and if you’re running a modern operating system, the Windows key is definitely helpful. The secondary functions on the function keys can also be extremely helpful.
The whole point of having a nice keyboard is not having to use the mouse as much, so the functionality on a new board is very nice.
So I don’t want to sound like I’m giving backhanded compliments to a Cherry MX Blue. Since I got a Cherry MX Blue, I use it more than I use my Model M’s.
What about Unicomp?
I might consider a Unicomp board, since they have the old IBM tooling and they have modernized the layout to a degree. So it would give you something comparable to a ’90s Model M with a modern layout. But then again, a Cherry MX Blue that I can get down the street from me gives a similar experience. And you can try the Cherry MX Blue out in the store. You can’t do the same with a Unicomp.
And I definitely do recommend trying out a mechanical keyboard before you buy it if at all possible. Keyboards are very subjective, and if you’re going to pay a lot of money for one, you want to make sure you’re going to like it. The advantage of buying local is that you can try it out in the store first, buy it, and if you decide after a few days or weeks that you don’t like it, you have the option to return it without mailing it back or anything. You can just go back to the store.
I understand there are heavier switches out there than the Cherry MX Blue, but the Cherry MX Blue is something you can find and buy easily, without getting into the do-it-yourself rabbit hole.
If you want a high quality keyboard, you want to be able to buy one at a store reasonably close to you, and not deal with weird niches, the Cherry MX Blue is an outstanding choice. It’s not quite the vintage IBM experience, but it is pretty close, and at a price it won’t break the bank. You can get a Cherry MX Blue for less than a Model M cost in the ’90s, and that’s even without factoring in inflation. If I could have bought one locally in the ’90s, I would have been a huge fan.