I have attempted to gather and define a lot of the jargon and lingo that we keyboard enthusiasts throw around in conversation. Just be warned that the meaning of some non-standard terms can be up for debate and thus I have tried my best to take an objective stance on such offenders.
"Black-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their industrial and black-coloured consumer keyboards, especially from the early to late-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid black oval with a raised white or silver IBM logo aligned in the centre.
"Black-square" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their industrial computers and keyboards, especially from the early to mid-1980s. Typically, these come in the form of a solid black square with a white IBM logo aligned at the top.
"Blue-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the early to late-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid grey oval with a blue IBM logo aligned in the centre.
"Grey-oval" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the mid-1980s to the early-1990s. Typically, these come in the form of a stadium-like solid grey oval with a black or very dark grey IBM logo aligned in the centre.
"Silver-square" refers to a style of IBM logo found on their business and personal computers and keyboards, especially from the early to mid-1980s. Typically, these come in the form of a solid silver square with a black IBM logo aligned at the top and optionally followed with additional text stating the computer or keyboard's host name or model number.
A matrix is a form of circuitry arrangement useful for negating the need for having separate circuits for each key on a keyboard. Instead, keys placed on a matrix are given an intersection between two traces known as rows and columns, and the keyboard's logic board polls them to see if any combinations are made. A matrix can be formed with an array of wires, printed on a PCB, or written on a membrane.
"Mechanical keyboard" is a phrase used to describe a high-end computer keyboard. For most people, a keyboard that is "mechanical" describes a device that does not employ rubber domes over membrane switch designs and is capable of part-way actuation. However, the definition is not standardised nor does a community consensus exist. As such, most definitions stipulated have pros and cons and usage of the term should ideally be avoided.
n-key rollover (NKRO) describes a keyboard design that supports complete simultaneous pressing of all keys together without no dropped keystrokes. This feature is considered particularly desirable in gaming circles since it guarantees that the keyboard itself will not be a limit when using extensive key combinations.
Part-way actuation describes when a keyboard switch closes (and thus registers a key as being pressed) before the key bottoms out. This is considered a positive feature to have by many enthusiasts.
Two-key rollover (2KRO) describes a keyboard design that only guarantees a minimum of two simultaneous pressed keys together without dropped keystrokes. In practice, many keyboards that are limited to two-key rollover will, in fact, handle more key combinations in use, but there will be some instances of this limit on the keyboard.
Shielded data link
The shielded data link (SDL) is a type of electric connector designed by AMP, resembling a flattened RJ-45/Ethernet connector. In keyboard circles, shielded data link connectors are known for being the modular connection type IBM used for most of its desktop PC Model M keyboards before the Lexmark era. A variant of this was also used on IBM (and later Toshiba) Model M POS keyboards.
60% describes a small form-factor keyboard that omits the numeric keypad, navigation keys, and function keys. Also sometimes referred to as a "60%-er", such keyboards are the smallest available that do not compromise on keys within the alphanumeric block but often rely on function layers to reintroduce the functionality from lost keys. The Model F-based 1982 IBM Model 200 Alphameric Keyboard is an example of an early 60% keyboard design as we now know it, with the MX-based GK61 and Topre-based HHKB Pro keyboards being examples of popular modern 60% designs.
"Battlecruiser" or "battle cruiser" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard larger than a full-sized 101 to 105 key keyboard but slightly smaller than a "battleship" keyboard, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block. A large number of non-IBM battlecruisers also feature an expanded navigation cluster.
"Battleship" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard larger than a full-sized 101 to 105 key keyboard, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block.
Full-size or 100% describes a keyboard that is complete with an alphanumeric block, numeric keypad, navigation keys, and function keys. Typical modern full-sized keyboards prescribe to the Enhanced layout, which results in 101 or 104 total keys for ANSI and 102 or 105 total keys for ISO. Historically, full-sized could also describe a keyboard using the 83-key XT or 84-key AT layouts. The quintessential full-sized keyboard is the IBM Enhanced Keyboard (the standard Model M), which was largely responsible for cementing the standard that is still so today.
Short-hand for small form-factor, a term that describes keyboards that are smaller than full-size such as 60% and tenkeyless.
Tenkeyless (TKL) describes a small form-factor keyboard that is similar to a full-sized keyboard but omits the numeric keypad. This is usually done for reducing the overall footprint of the keyboard without sacrificing function or navigation keys, although it has become popular in gaming circles since it allows the user to bring the keyboard and mouse closer together. In specific, "tenkey" refers to the number 0 to 9 keys. The Model M-based 1987 IBM Space Saving Keyboards (SSK) is perhaps the most well known and first popular example of a tenkeyless keyboard.
"Unsaver" is an enthusiast term that describes a keyboard similar to "battleship" and "battlecruiser" keyboards but omitting the numeric keypad, typically featuring a 10-key function key block to the left of the alphanumeric block as well as one or two rows of function keys on top of the alphanumeric block. The term is almost exclusively used to describe the 104-key IBM Model F terminal keyboard for the IBM 3290 and 5080 systems.
Named after the American National Standards Institute, the ANSI keyboard layout is primarily used in the United States of America, the Netherlands and by many East Asian countries' English only-purposed keyboards. The two physical differences that differentiate ANSI from ISO are the longer left shift key and the rearrangement of the return/enter key from a vertically-massive to a horizontally-massive key.
The AT layout refers to the key arrangement of Model F-based IBM 5170 Personal Computer AT Keyboard of 1984 that was briefly a de facto standard for PC keyboards in the mid-1980s. The AT's layout is a rework of the XT's layout that eliminated many of the stepped keys, switched to a "big-ass" return/enter key, and introduced a separation between the alphanumeric and numeric keypad sections. PC clone manufacturers and other companies briefly adopted the layout, but it was quickly overshadowed by the arrival of the Enhanced layout the following year. The AT name is derived from the IBM 5170 Personal Computer AT to retrospectively distinguish it from the XT layout.
The Enhanced layout refers to the key arrangements that are de facto standard on current PC keyboards. It was developed throughout time via many iterations of IBM and DEC terminal keyboards and was cemented by the Model M-based IBM Enhanced Keyboard of 1985. Following the widespread success of the IBM Personal System/2 family of systems and adoption by my PC clone manufacturers, the Enhanced Keyboard's 101-key ANSI and 102-key ISO layouts both became the standard that most full-size or tenkeyless keys use today albeit with the inclusion of Windows/GUI and menu keys that bring the full-size key count up to 104 and 105 keys for ANSI and ISO respectively.
Erase-Eaze is a keyboard feature where the spacebar is split and one side of the spacebar can function as a backspace key. Legally, Erase-Eaze is a trademark of Keyboard Advancements, Inc, however, many companies including Lexmark used the name on their designs. Lexmark-branded Model M5-2s and Model M13s could have Erase-Eaze as an option when ordering, and specifically, the Model M15 had Erase-Eaze as an inherent feature. Whilst never officially supported, all standard Model Ms and Model M122s have the barrels necessary to allow this feature to modded onto the keyboard with some minor hardware or software remap.
Named after the International Organisation for Standardisation, the ISO keyboard layout is primarily used in Europe and the Middle East. The two physical differences that differentiate ISO from ANSI are the splitting of the left shift key and the rearrangement of the return/enter key from a horizontally-massive to a vertically-massive key. Typically, the right Alt key is also labelled as "Alt Graph" (Alt Gr).
Named after the Japanese Industrial Standards, the JIS keyboard layout is the Japanese's unique multilingual layout. There are several similarities and differences compared to ANSI or ISO; for the latter, JIS utilises an ANSI-like long left shift and an ISO-like vertically-massive return/enter key. However, 4 or 5 extra keys (compared to ISO and ANSI respectively) can be found from the splitting of the backspace, right shift and spacebar keys to support additional Japanese characters and language input keys for muhenkan (left of spacebar), henkan (1st right of spacebar) and katakana/hiragana/rōmaji (2nd right of spacebar).
A numeric keypad is a bank of keys usually found on the right side of a full-sized keyboard, featuring keys for inputting numbers and basic operator symbols. Typically found in a 17-key flavour, you get keys for numbers 0 to 9, a decimal key, keys for four operators (/, *, - and +), a num lock toggle key, and an enter key. Variants with more keys exist too, with the 18-key variant that adds a backspace key at the expense of making one of the larger keys smaller being a common upgrade. Numeric keypads can also exist as either a part of a keyboard or a separate device useful for laptop usage. When num lock is disengaged, the numbers and decimal keys become a navigation cluster represented by the secondary legends on the keycaps. Other names for a numeric keypad include 'number pad', 'numpad', or 'ten-keypad' (meaning 0 to 9).
The XT layout refers to the key arrangement of Model F-based IBM 5150/5160 Personal Computer Keyboard of 1981 that was once a de facto standard for PC keyboards in the early 1980s. The XT's layout was developed from arrangement found on the Model B-based IBM 5251/5252 and Model F-based IBM 5322/5324 System/23 Datamaster keyboards but relegended for PC usage. Early PC clones such as 1983's Compaq Portable adopted the layout, propelling it as a standard for a short period of time. XT is specifically known for its high number of stepped keycaps, vertical but thin enter key, and no separation between the alphanumeric and numeric keypad sections. The XT name is derived from the IBM 5160 Personal Computer XT to retrospectively distinguish it from the AT layout.
Centinewton (cN) is an SI unit of force equal to one-hundredth of a newton (0.01N). A single newton is defined as force that accelerates an object with the mass of one kilogram one meter per second each second. The centinewton is a popular unit of measurement commonly used in the keyboard space for actuation force readings - for example, IBM's membrane buckling springs actuation force range can be expressed as 64-69cN. Compared to the other popular unit for actuation force gram-force (gf), 1cN is equal to 1.02gf.
Gram-force (gf) is a metric unit of force. A single gram-force is equal to the mass of one gram multiplied by the standard acceleration due to gravity on Earth. The gram-force is a popular unit of measurement commonly used in the keyboard space for actuation force readings - for example, IBM's membrane buckling springs actuation force range can be expressed as 65-70gf. Some people may simplify the unit as simple grams (g). Compared to the other popular unit for actuation force centinewtons (cN), 1gf is equal to 0.98cN.
The I-Point was a non-isometric computer cursor pointing stick implementation found solely on the IBM Wireless Infrared Keyboard from 2000. In contrast to the more famous TrackPoint, the I-Point acted similarly to a typical game console controller's analogue joystick input.
The Optical TrackPoint was an isometric computer cursor pointing stick introduced by Lenovo in 2011. Designed as an alternative to the current TrackPoint IV strain gauge pointing stick, the optical TrackPoint was exclusively designed for two of Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet PC keyboard attachments that were too slim to feature a tradition TrackPoint; the 2011 Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Keyboard Folio Case and the 2013 Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 Bluetooth Keyboard with Stand. Being an optical device like a typical desktop mouse, a great deal of swiping is required to move the cursor with the Optical TrackPoint. They can also be easily distinguished by the black circle in the middle of the usual red nub.
A pointing stick (also called a "nub") in keyboard context describes a cursor pointing device integrated near or on a keyboard assembly as an alternative to trackball or trackpad mice. Typically using an isometric strain gauge or movable force-sensitive resistor technology, pointing sticks most often come in the form of a small 'joystick' located in between the "G", "H", and "B" keys - a location chosen for quick and ergonomic access. The most famous pointing sticks are the IBM/Lenovo TrackPoint series. Other advantages of pointing sticks include their inherent space-saving, their resistance to the dirt or sweat conditions of your hands, and they are always reliable when wearing gloves. Their major drawback is that they could get in the way of typing for those who do not type in the recommended touch-typing method (ie, hands not crossing between the two sides of the "B" key).
The original 1991 TrackPoint was the market name for the trackball and mouse combo addition for the IBM Personal System/2 L40SX laptop. The name TrackPoint was later and more famously used for the strain gauge-based pointing stick devices integrated on numerous IBM (later Lenovo) ThinkPad laptops and keyboards and several Model M keyboard variants. The non-revision TrackPoint branding was later reused for the integrated red trackball on the IBM ThinkPad 220 micro-subnotebook computer in 1993.
TrackPoint II, III and IV
The TrackPoint II is an isometric computer cursor pointing stick introduced by IBM in 1992. Operating via the use of a strain gauge, the TrackPoint II was the first non-moving pointing stick available for laptops and was popularised by the ThinkPad family of computers. The TrackPoint III revision was issued in 1994, adding a negative inertia feature that causes the cursor to react faster when it is pushed to the design. The current TrackPoint IV revision was introduced in 1997, adding an optional middle-button scroll and press-to-select feature to the design. Lenovo has continued to produce TrackPoint IV devices since purchasing IBM's personal computer division in 2005. Both IBM and Lenovo TrackPoints have iconically used a red protective/grip cover as a cap.
Buckling springs (B/S) are keyboard switches that characteristically buckle in a certain direction when pressed. The term most often describes IBM's famous buckling springs switches designed by Richard Hunter Harris.
Quiet Touch (Q/T) is the market name of IBM's, Lexmark's and currently Unicomp's rubber dome over membrane keyboard switch, used primarily as a quiet alternative to membrane buckling springs in Model M keyboards. IBM and Lexmark era keyboards using Quiet Touch were almost always branded as being "with Quiet Touch" in the keyboard's name - for example, the IBM Enhanced Keyboard with Quiet Touch.
Rubber domes are keyboard switches that comprise of collapsible rubber domes laid on top of a sensing circuit.
Capacitive sensing (often shortened to capsense) is a form of contact mechanism that uses the capacitance-distance property of capacitors to register when key presses occur. The capacitive contacts under the keys are known to have a long lifetime and the complete switches have an inherent n-key rollover, however, capacitive designs are expensive to manufacture. Common implementations include IBM's beam spring and capacitive buckling spring switches, and numerous foam and foil switches.
A force-sensitive resistor (FSR) is a device used in force measurement whose resistance changes as a form of stress is applied. The Unicomp Pointing Stick makes use of a force-sensitive resistor to flag the direction and speed for the host computer's cursor as the user applies pressure to move the stick.
Membranes are a form of circuitry used as part of a keyboard switch system as the contact mechanism. They take the form of plastic sheets filled with traces that are designed to be pushed together to complete a circuit, thus requiring a mechanism on top to provide any meaningful auditory and/or tactile feedback. For keyboards, typically rubber domes are paired with membranes to give them tactility. However, more complex mechanisms can also be used with membranes as is the case with Model Ms' buckling springs. Historically, membranes were also once used as the keyboard's sole input mechanism as was the case with the Sinclair ZX81 (UK)/Timex ZX-81(US) early home computers' integrated keyboards.
A strain gauge is a type of device used in force measurement that works by measuring the force applied (the strain) on the sensor as its surface material deforms. The TrackPoint II/III/IV pointing stick used by IBM and currently Lenovo makes use of a strain gauge to flag the direction and speed for the host computer's cursor as the user applies pressure to the stick.