What is a PS2 keyboard?

Sometimes you’ll hear references to a PS2 keyboard, or, more properly, a PS/2 keyboard. It’s an old standard, and a fair number of newer computers can’t use them anymore. But what is a PS2 keyboard? And if it was good enough to last so long, why did it go away?

Origins of the PS2 keyboard

What is a PS2 keyboard?
The PS/2 connector (right) is considerably smaller than its predecessor, the AT connector. Electrically, they were compatible. What is a PS2 keyboard? It’s just any keyboard that uses the smaller round connector.

The PS/2 keyboard standard came out in 1987, with the release of IBM’s ill-fated Personal System/2. That’s what PS/2 is short for. It has nothing to do with Sony’s Playstation 2 console. The PS/2 has a reputation for being IBM’s effort to make the PC more proprietary, but not everything about the PS/2 design was nefarious. The PS/2 was a legitimate effort to modernize the PC and make it a bit more versatile. It was the start of VGA graphics, for example. It added a mouse, too. The PS/2 used a different connector from the earlier PCs, but electrically, it was compatible with the PC/AT keyboard standard. It just used a mini-DIN connector that took up less space. The two ports on the back for the keyboard and the mouse took up about the same space as the keyboard connector alone on the AT.

A lot of the changes IBM made with the PS/2 didn’t catch on. But the connectors for the keyboard and mouse caught on fairly quickly. It was an easy way to save some space on the back of the computer, so everyone else copied that pretty quickly.

What is the difference between USB and PS/2?

What is a PS2 keyboard?
This old motherboard has PS/2 ports on the far left, and USB ports directly underneath the network port. The PS/2 keyboard port is purple on this board.

Today, keyboards more commonly use USB than PS/2. The only real problem with PS/2 was the keyboard and mouse connectors looked exactly the same, but they weren’t interchangeable. If you plugged the keyboard into the mouse port and the mouse into the keyboard port, it wouldn’t hurt anything, but neither of them would work, either. That was a bit frustrating. Eventually, computer makers started color-coding the ports to make it easier.

While there were some slight advantages to using USB for the mouse instead of PS/2, there’s no real difference with the keyboards. The USB port is just more versatile.

Prior to USB, computers typically had four different kinds of ports on the back, for attaching various peripherals. Most of them were larger than USB, incompatible with each other, and most of them had some limitations, due to being used for things they were never really designed for. USB was designed to be fast, versatile, and compatible with not just keyboards and mice, but also scanners, printers, storage devices, and anything else you could want.

Today it’s not at all uncommon for a computer to have six or more USB ports, so you can connect a lot more to a computer today than you could in the PS/2 days.

Is there any advantage to PS/2?

The legendary IBM Model M keyboard, which originally shipped with the PS/2, is a really good keyboard. Today’s mechanical keyboards aren’t bad, but if you grew up using IBM Model Ms, they feel nicer than today’s mechanical keyboards.

But outside of that, the only advantage to PS/2 is compatibility with older systems, and maybe price. You can walk into almost any thrift store and find a stack of PS/2 keyboards, priced at $5 each, maybe less. And that keyboard will work with just about any PC from the 90s. It may need an adapter if the computer has an AT keyboard port, but those are still cheap. Most modern USB keyboards won’t work with an older PC, even with an adapter. The backward compatibility just isn’t there anymore.

Does Windows 10 support PS/2 keyboards?

Windows 10 works just fine with PS/2 keyboards. I use PS/2 keyboards with at least two of my Windows 10 systems all the time. I’ve never had any problems with them.

Do PS/2 keyboards require drivers?

Windows 10 doesn’t need any special drivers for a PS/2 keyboard. If your system supports PS/2 connectors, Windows installs the drivers it needs for them when you install the operating system. If you plug a PS/2 keyboard in, Windows may load a driver, but you won’t have to download anything. It will install the driver and work even if you aren’t connected to the Internet, and without asking you for a driver.

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