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Unicomp, Inc.

Notice 2022-04-19:

This wiki page is a work in progress and is subject to vast improvements!

Contents

Background

Unicomp's logo<a class='source-link' href='/wiki?id=unicomp#Sources'><sup>[1]</sup></a>
Unicomp's logo[1]

Unicomp is an American keyboard manufacturing company based in Lexington, Kentucky. It was founded in 1996 by the late Neil Muyskens, a former IBM and Lexmark engineer[2], after Lexmark International decided to exit the keyboard business by April of that year due to the shrinking market for high-quality/high-cost keyboards in the 1990s and IBM's decision not to renew their US-based keyboard production contract with them.

Unicomp picked up the pieces of Lexmark's keyboard businesses, but not before Lexmark had already resold IP and tooling back to IBM and Maxi Switch[3] and a lot of the remainder had been destroyed. Unicomp spent the rest of the 1990s reobtaining some tooling from IBM's other factories such as IBM UK's Greenock plant[4] before debuting a robust lineup of keyboards by the turn of the millennium. Unicomp quickly found footing in the role of manufacturing keyboards for other companies, mainly in the medical, point-of-sale, and terminal emulation sectors where high-quality or legacy-designed keyboards would be needed. However, they maintained a consumer-facing presence and would sell its keyboards, parts of keyboards and customised keycaps to anyone. In 2018, Unicomp was acquired by Video Display Corporation (VDC)[5] although Unicomp's operations seem to remain unaffected.

Today, Unicomp is primarily known for prioritising its direct-to-company operations, and for the previous decade, Unicomp had also struggled with degrading old moulds and keycap legend alignment. Although, this seems to be changing in the 2020s with the dawn of new consumer-orientated models and vast improvements in keycap quality, changes likely fueled by the resurgence in popularity of buckling springs keyboards.

Products

Unicomp's product line has always been largely comprised of continuations of former IBM and Lexmark keyboard productions, although Unicomp has always sold some low-cost third-party options. Starting in 2020, Unicomp has for the first time released new keyboards made from new tooling. During the 2010s, Unicomp became primarily known for producing black keyboards with grey keyboards and has become their signature style of sorts.

Name
Production
Details
Terminal/Terminal Emulator
1998-present
Continuation of 102-key Enhanced and Type III and IV 122-key Model M production for terminal and terminal emulation purposes, often rebranded for another company
Mighty Mouse
1998-2010
Continuation of the Model M4/M4-1 TrackPoint II buckling sleeves keyboards
Classic
2000-present
Previously known as the Customizer, continuation of the IBM Enhanced Keyboard
Classic Trackball
2000-present
Previously known as the On-The-Ball, continuation of the Model M5-2 25mm trackball keyboard
On-The-Stick
2000-2008
Continuation of the Model M13 pointing stick keyboard with Unicomp's own FSR pointing stick instead of TrackPoint II
On-The-Ball Plus
2000-2008
Hybrid design of the Model M5-2 and M13 with both 25mm trackball and FSR pointing stick
EnduraPro
2000-present
Compact FSR pointing stick keyboard, made with repurposed IBM 5576-C01 moulds
Ultra Classic
2007-present
Previously known as the SpaceSaver, variant of the EnduraPro without a pointing stick
SpaceSaver M
2011-present
Variant of the EnduraPro without a pointing stick targeted for Apple Mac users
New Model M
2020-present
Unicomp's first original design intended as a more classically-styled reduced-bezel keyboard compared to the Ultra Classic
Mini Model M
2021-present
TKL version of the New Model M with an upgraded membrane design intended as the long-awaited replacement to the IBM Space Saving Keyboard

Self-branded model gallery

OEM Partners

Affirmative Computer Products

Affirmative Technology Group is a company that designs and supports products for thin clients and terminals. Their Computer Products division specifically targets IBM AS/400, System/3x and 3270 systems[17]. Their core business was originally selling 3270 and 5250 style PC-compatible terminal emulator keyboards, a business they acquired from Better On-line Solutions. They have since moved into providing terminals themselves. One of the selling points of their keyboards is that they're PC compatible yet familiar to terminal operators[18]. Affirmative's keyboards are produced by Unicomp, currently in 104-key and the more famous 122-key flavours, and feature a characteristic lock-light overlay with their company logo. Affirmative is perhaps tied with General Electric as the most well-known company to use Unicomp keyboards.

Better On-line Solutions

Decision Data

Decision Data Computer Corporation was a Pennsylvania, US-based company that produced IBM-style coax and Twinax terminals[20]. The company had a history of producing workstations since at least the early 1980s[21] and in 1999 was acquired by Texas, US-based NLynx Systems Inc.[22], however, as of Q4 2021 their former website (nlynx.com) now redirects to another Texas-based company's website. Around 1998, Unicomp produced P/N A218291 for Decision Data, which was a 5250-layout Type IV 122-key Model M keyboard with Quiet Touch rubber dome switches and an AT-style DIN plug. Today, Twin Data still offers Decision Data/NLynx 122-key keyboards, although it's not clear if they're doing so for their own legacy reasons or officially sanctioned by NLynx (if they still exist).

General Electric

IBM

IBM and Unicomp maintained some sort of relationship for a time as IBM turned to the then-fledgling company for keyboards as they winded down and ended their own Model M production after Lexmark's exit from the keyboard market. At first, the relationship seemed to be Unicomp producing Model M4s for IBM after Key Tronic seemingly stopped producing them around 1998/1999[26]. However, as IBM's in-house buckling springs Model M production ended by the turn of the millennium, IBM turned to Unicomp for producing a limited amount of Model Ms for the next few years. Typically retaining part numbers IBM, Lexmark and Maxi Switch used prior, observed Unicomp-made IBM Model Ms include:

I-O Corporation

I-O Corporation (also stylised as "IO Corp") is a Utah, US-based company that amongst other things produces and OEMs IBM host-printing and host-connecting zero and thin clients[30]. For its keyboards, I-O has been a long-time customer of Unicomp's. Typically, the keyboards I-O rebrands are 5250-layout Type IV 122-key Model M keyboards with Quiet Touch rubber dome switches, and examples as early as 2001[31] and as late as 2012[32] have been observed. Most of I-O's keyboard part numbers seem to have a nomenclature of 58.0XX. As of Q4 2021, I-O still seems to offer these keyboards with its products with "True IBM 122-key 5250-style Keyboard Layout"[33].

Technical terms

On their website and through official communication, Unicomp uses terms for certain Model M parts that may seem unusual to those who are only used to hearing casual lingo. See below for a brief table explaining what such terms mean.

Unicomp term
Enthusiast lingo
Brilliant white
True white keycap colour, as opposed 'off-white' pearl
Cover set
Outer case
Frame
Barrelplate
Pearl
The 'white' of vintage keycaps
Pebble
The 'grey' of vintage keycaps
Pivot plate & spring assembly
Rocker/flipper and spring couples

Services

Along with selling keyboards to consumers and other businesses, Unicomp maintains a substantial offering of servicing and individual parts for sale to support both vintage and modern Model M. All information in this section is correct for Q4 2021.

Repair service

Unicomp offers a three-tier repair service, with each tier covering a different level of repair, modification and brand. Whilst the words don't specifically state these services are just for Model M keyboards, it is understood this service does not extend to Model F keyboards.

A custom repair class is also available for $90[34] (~£66, ~78€). Due to the cost of shipping a keyboard back and forth internationally, this service may only be available in the US.

Replacement parts

Unicomp offers the vast majority of Model M parts individually for use with repairing vintage or modern Model Ms, or possibly for use with your own custom projects.

Custom keycaps

Unicomp is well known for being the main source of brand-new buckling springs keycaps. Like its predecessor Lexmark, Unicomp continues to offer a wide range of dye-sublimated keycaps for consumers that are compatible with both Model F and Model M buckling springs keyboards provided they're of the right unit size and are full-height. Unicomp does not offer XT-style stepped keycaps or any keycaps for Model M1/M2 low-profile buckling springs keyboards. Keycaps can be bought individually with custom character(s) or as a PANIC key, or as a part of the many predefined sets such as:

Unicomp also offers a high degree of customizability beyond the predefined set with additional fees. Generally, they're accepting of requests by email and can work with you to get exactly or close to what you want. As of 2020, however, white-on-black keycaps are out of the question due to high minimum order quantity costs from their suppliers[38].

Further reading & resources

Sources

  1. Unicomp - Unicomp, Inc. [accessed 2021-10-28].
  2. Lexington Herald-Leader - Neil Muyskens Obituary (1956 - 2021) [accessed 2021-10-28].
  3. Plastic News - Lexmark exits keyboards, targets printers: firm to outsource more molding [accessed 2021-10-28].
  4. u/funkmon - I typed on the new Unicomp SSK. *Write-up of visit to Unicomp* [accessed 2021-06-17].
  5. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - FORM 10-K - VIDEO DISPLAY CORPORATION [accessed 2021-10-28].
  6. Unicomp - Terminal Keyboards [accessed 2021-10-28].
  7. Unicomp - Point of Sale [accessed 2021-10-28].
  8. Unicomp - The Mighty Mouse 84 Key [accessed 2021-10-28].
  9. Unicomp - On The Stick [accessed 2021-10-28].
  10. Unicomp - On The Ball Plus 101 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  11. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2019-EEU-105 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  12. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2019-SEP-105 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  13. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2019-SUC-105 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  14. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2020-SSF-104 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  15. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2021-SSK-87 [accessed 2021-10-28].
  16. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2005-BT4-122 [accessed 2021-11-02].
  17. Twin Data - Affirmative - YEStation Thin Client Terminals [accessed 2021-10-29].
  18. Affirmative - About Us [accessed 2021-10-29].
  19. fabs0#4240 - photo used under request.
  20. Twin Data - Keyboards for PCs [accessed https://www.twindata.com/keyboards.htm]. License: 2021-11-02.
  21. seebart - Decision Data Computer Corporation / Maxi Switch KYBD 2185041 [accessed 2021-11-02].
  22. Enterprise Systems Journal - NLynx to Acquire Decision Data [accessed 2021-11-02].
  23. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2013-EGE-101 [accessed 2021-11-02].
  24. SharktasticA - SNKB-M1999-41K-83 [accessed 2021-11-01].
  25. SharktasticA - SNKB-M2004-13U-101 [accessed 2021-11-01].
  26. Sharktastica - Revealed: The Story of the Model M4 family [accessed 2021-11-01].
  27. Ripster - Ripster Keyboards: IBM Model M13 Industrial [accessed 2021-11-01].
  28. SharktasticA - 1394946 (1999, Unicomp) [accessed 2021-11-01]. License: saved from volatile taobao listing.
  29. SharktasticA - 1394167 (2002, Unicomp) [accessed 2021-11-01]. License: saved from volatile eBay listing.
  30. IO Corp - About Us [accessed 2021-11-02].
  31. SharktasticA - 58.003 (2001, Unicomp) [accessed 2021-11-02]. License: saved from volatile eBay listing.
  32. SharktasticA - 58.069 (2012, Unicomp) [accessed 2021-11-02]. License: saved from volatile eBay listing.
  33. IO Corp - Host Connectivity 2677e [accessed 2021-11-02].
  34. Unicomp - Repair Service [accessed 2021-11-03].
  35. Unicomp - Cables [accessed 2021-11-03].
  36. Unicomp - Misc [accessed 2021-11-03].
  37. Unicomp - Buttons [accessed 2021-11-03].
  38. u/funkmon - Unofficial and unplanned Unicomp Q&A on 2020-07-08 [accessed 2021-11-03].