Unicomp New Model M

Also applies to Unicomp New Model M for Mac

Unicomp New Model M
Unicomp New Model M[ASK]

The Unicomp New Model M (aka, "New M") is a full-size keyboard within the IBM Model M keyboard family and is effectively Unicomp's current flagship keyboard. It was released in March 2020, beating to market its tenkeyless counterpart - the Unicomp Mini Model M - that was technically announced first. Whilst the New Model M doesn't feature any updated electronics such as a membrane assembly improved in a similar way to the Mini Model M's, the New Model M also has new case tooling and tweaked styling. Both are the first truly new buckling spring Model M keyboard designs since 1995 when IBM introduced the fourth-generation Model M Enhanced Keyboard with an "overnumpad" controller card, representing a shift upwards in quality compared to past Unicomp keyboards from the last 10-15 years. The New Model M is intended to supplement and perhaps eventually completely replace the existing Unicomp Classic, Ultra Classic and SpaceSaver M keyboards.

Contents

Summary

Marketing names Unicomp New Model M (PC compatible), Unicomp New Model M for Mac (macOS compatible)
OEM(s) Unicomp
Designation M
Family Model M
First appeared 23rd March 2020 (added to Unicomp's website)[1][1]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2020-09-23 capture).

29th March 2020 (official announcement)[2][2]
Unicomp - 2020-03-29 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-10-28].

1st September 2023 (Mac version)[3][3]
Unicomp - 2023-09-01 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-05].
Switches IBM buckling spring (membrane variant)
Keycaps Dye-sublimated PBT
Case dimensions 47.6cm x 18.8cm x 5.0cm (18.74" x 7.4" x 1.97")
Case material PC + ABS
Case colour(s) Raven black
Weight 1.67kg (~3.69lbs)[4][4]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-09-30].
Layout Full-size: 104 (ANSI) or 105 (ISO) key (default) or 103 (ANSI) or 104 (ISO) key (Tsangan-style "large spacebar")
Connectivity AT via PS/2 cable or HID via USB cable
Predecessor Unicomp SpaceSaver/Ultra Classic family

History

Whilst demand, rumours and mockups of the Unicomp New Model M's tenkeyless sibling - the Mini Model M - had been known for years prior to either keyboard's launch, the New Model M's launch was relatively unexpected. However, the first indication of the New Model M's arrival may be as early as 2018. In a Form 10-K annual report filed by Unicomp's parent company (Visual Display Corporation), it was mentioned during their fiscal year 2018, Unicomp were "developing a new line" of keyboards[5][5]
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - Visual Display Corporation's Form 10-K for February 28, 2018 [accessed 2023-11-05].
and that may refer to the New Model M and Mini Model M collectively. The New Model M ultimately debuted on their website by 23rd March 2020[1][1]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2020-09-23 capture).
and was officially announced on their Facebook page on 29th March 2020[2][2]
Unicomp - 2020-03-29 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-10-28].
.

On 15th April 2022, Unicomp announced they were suspending new orders for New Model Ms (and many other products) due to the grounding of a container ship carrying vital parts in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland and Virginia[6][6]
Unicomp - 2022-04-15 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-03-02].
. The parts were recovered by 13th May 2022[7][7]
Unicomp - 2022-05-13 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-05].
.

By 8th July 2022, Unicomp announced they were experiencing a shortage of their choice of microcontroller from Cypress for their USB keyboard controller cards. Whilst this affected all their USB keyboards, only the Mini Model M was immediately withdrawn due to it[8][8]
Unicomp - Unicomp, Inc. [accessed 2023-04-17]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2022-07-08 capture).
. During this time, Unicomp developed new Raspberry Pi Pico based controller cards for all its USB keyboards. The Mini M returned to sale on 16th April 2023 with its new controller card[9][9]
Unicomp - 2023-04-16 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-04-17].
(codename Mike Smith/Justify), but as early as 26th March 2023, it was known Unicomp had started shipping a new controller card (codename Aristides) for all its other USB keyboards including the New Model M. This new controller card opened the door for reprogrammability since it can be reflashed with QMK or Vial-QMK firmware[10][10]
/u/_pandrew @ Reddit - A new era of reprogrammable OEM controllers on Unicomp keyboards is beginning. Exciting! [accessed 2023-11-05].
.

On 1st September 2023, Unicomp released a macOS-orientated counterpart called the Unicomp New Model M for Mac[3][3]
Unicomp - 2023-09-01 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-05].
.

Pricing

All inflation adjustments were made with US Inflation Calculator.

Date Notes Original price 2023 price
2020-09-23 PC compatible, launch price $104 USD[1][1]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2020-09-23 capture).
~$124 USD
2023-09-01 macOS compatible, launch price $149 USD[11][11]
Unicomp - New Model M for Mac [accessed 2023-11-05]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2023-11-05 capture), photos used under fair dealing.
Current price unchanged
2023-10-28 PC compatible, updated price $125 USD[12][12]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2023-10-28 capture).
Current price unchanged

Design

Key-switches

More information: IBM buckling spring#IBM membrane-type

The New Model M retains the classic IBM buckling spring over membrane clicky key-switches from many past Model Ms. Such a switch is comprised of a coil spring, a rocker (also known as a flipper or hammer) and the membrane circuitry underneath - pressing down on a buckling spring key causes the coil spring to compress and eventually buckle, which then rocks the flipper attached to the bottom of the spring thus actuating the key's specific contact point on the membrane assembly[14][14]
IBM - Rocking switch actuator for a low force membrane contact switch [accessed 2021-06-17].
. The mechanism rocks the membrane assembly before it's fully buckled (bottomed out), allowing for part-way actuation. Key travel is 3.8mm[15][15]
Unicomp - The Customizer Keyboard [accessed 2022-10-04]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2000-06-14 capture).
.

Key-matrix

The New Model M inherits the membrane assembly used for Unicomp EnduraPro, Ultra Classic, and SpaceSaver M keyboards since at least 2013 when Unicomp introduced their current style of bottom row keycaps[16][16]
Unicomp - Unicomp Product News - Revised 104-key Layout [accessed 2022-02-20].
. It has a 16-column, 8-row key-matrix like most 101-105 key Model Ms. Being a membrane-based keyboard, the New Model M is limited to 2-key rollover. Its key-matrix has the following configuration:

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 A B C D E F
0 Esc Pause F3 F1 Insert 3 4 5 F5 F7 F9 F11 Print Scrn Right Scroll Lk
1 Tab Delete Pg Dn E T U Backspace - Down End Home R GUI Caps Lk
2 1 Backspace Hidden Num Lk Pg Up Spacebar Hidden I R Y = 9 0 Num * Num / Up L GUI
3 Q L Shift Num 9 2 K F H [ O ; Num 8 Num 7 L Ctrl
4 A Num 6 W L Alt D G J ANSI \ ] ' Num 5 Num 4 R Shift Hidden Num + Hidden
5 Z R Shift Num . X , B M Enter . P Num 0 Num 1 Num 0 Hidden R Ctrl
6 ISO \ Num 3 S R Alt C V N Left L / Num 2 Num + ISO # Num Enter Hidden
7 ANSI ~ Num - F2 F4 8 5 7 F6 F8 F10 F12 R Menu Space Enter

Key names based on UK English ISO layout and US English ANSI layout nomenclature - "Hidden" keys are those underneath multi-unit keys of ANSI and/or ISO keyboards

Outer case

The New Model M is stylistically a blend of two keyboards. It retains the overall aesthetic of a classic Model M such as the IBM Enhanced Keyboard/Unicomp Classic, sporting a familiar wedge shape, raised section commonly used to hold items such as pens or pencils and a groove surrounding the perimeter of the keys and LED lock-lights. This is a stark contrast to its Ultra Classic/SpaceSaver M predecessor, which instead was based on the unique IBM Japanese Keyboard/TrackPoint II (model 5576-C01). However despite being a full-size keyboard, it actually takes its side profile from the IBM Space Saving Keyboard rather than previous classic-styled full-size Model Ms. This was done likely so that the keyboard matches its other 'new-generation' keyboard, the Unicomp Minri Model M. Notably, the space between the top of the raised section to the keyboard's back wall is reduced compared to IBM Enhanced Keyboards and Unicomp Classics. This side profile was also used by the IBM PS/2 50-key Function Keyboard and IBM Screen Reader Keypad.

The cover set is made from a polycarbonate (PC) and acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) copolymer. The top cover piece part number is 18U0474. The cover set is typically closed with 7/32" (~5.5mm) flanged hex-head screws, though Unicomp has been known to use other types of screws variably.

Internal assembly

Unicomp retained the same basic curved inner assembly design for the New Model M as most previous buckling spring Model M keyboards. The assembly is comprised of four layers; the barrel plate and actuators, the membrane blanket, the membrane assembly, and the backplate.

  1. The barrel plate sits top facing and is used to guide the individual switch components (the buckling spring actuators) to their correct position above the membrane assembly's contact points. The barrel plate design has a degree of redundancy in the number of barrels available, allowing for a 'one size fits all' design for ANSI and ISO layout keyboards. The barrel plate has a part number of 13U0114 and is made of polycarbonate (PC).
  2. The membrane blanket (casually known as a "[rubber] mat") is a latex sheet used to dampen the stress the buckling springs exert on the membrane assembly. A Unicomp employee posting on the /r/ModelM Discord has stated that a Model M without the blanket is unlikely to reach the rated 25 million key-presses lifetime[17][17]
    troyfletcher#5223 - Discord Message #252446027745853442 on IBM keyboards | /r/ModelM & F [accessed 2023-02-21].
    .
  3. The membrane assembly is a part of the key-switch system used as the circuitry to be actuated by the buckling springs and facilitates a 16x8 matrix.
  4. The backplate provides rigidity and a curvature for all the other layers to follow.

The assembly is held together by many plastic rivets designed to provide the tension needed for the buckling springs to operate properly. Unfortunately, these rivets are the single largest flaw in the Model M design as they can weaken and break with age. Such an issue can be permanently solved with a bolt or screw mod.

Keycaps

The New Model M's keycaps are based on IBM's famed PBT dye-sublimated keycaps. Whilst the font and available colours now differ from the classic IBM keycaps, the core properties remain the same. Versus the most common keycap material, ABS[18][18]
WASD Keyboards - Mechanical Keyboard Guide [accessed 2022-07-01].
, PBT is more durable, does not degrade/yellow with age, UV or heat exposure, and will keep its texture for longer without shining[19][19]
Switch And Click - ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? [accessed 2021-09-09].
. Dye-sublimation is also a very durable text printing method that sinks dye material into the keycap's plastic itself, meaning there is nothing to quickly wear off as would be the case with pad-printing or silk screening. This means these keycaps can remain in good condition for a long time. Unicomp presently doesn't supply the classic two-piece keycap design (where the keycap existed as a separate stem and keytop) as its standard offering, thus New Model M keycaps are almost always the single-piece type.

Controller

As the New Model M uses the same membrane assembly as many previous Unicomp full-size keyboards, the controller cards used are also the same. Technically being a fourth-generation Model M, the controller cards are pressure-fitted to the membrane assembly and mounted on the top-right corner of the keyboard assembly. One PS/2 and two USB controller card variants are known.

PS/2

New Model Ms with PS/2 use the unnamed same controller as PS/2 Unicomp Classic and Ultra Classic keyboards.

"Ruffian" variant (USB)

The original USB controller card was internally called "Ruffian", named after a '70s Kentucky racehorse[20][20]
Wikipedia - Ruffian (horse) [accessed 2023-06-18].
. It was Unicomp's primary pressure-fit USB controller card for all their 101+ key keyboards until early 2023. At least in its late version 7 form, Ruffian used a Cypress CY8C24493-24 programmable embedded system-on-chip. This chip wasn't easily reflashable with custom firmware. This chip has been discontinued[21][21]
Radionics Ltd. - Cypress Semiconductor CY8C24493-24LTXI, CMOS System-On-Chip for USB, 48-Pin QFN [accessed 2023-02-21].
, which prompted Unicomp to retire Ruffian and replace it with Aristides. Any USB New Model Ms made and sold before around March 2023 will use this controller card.

"Aristides" variant (USB)

To replace Ruffian, Unicomp designed "Aristides". It was named after the racehorse that won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875[22][22]
Wikipedia - Aristides (horse) [accessed 2023-06-18].
. Functionally, Aristides is a HAT to an off-the-shelf Raspberry Pi Pico microcontroller unit. The Raspberry Pi Pico is easily programmable, which has opened the door for open-source firmware such as QMK-Vial to be ported to it and enable user remapping and macro creation.

Flip-out feet

The New Model M's flip-out feet style is the same as the IBM Space Saving Keyboard's and Unicomp Mini Model M's. It resembles a shortened Type III 122-key Model M foot and appears more robust than the Enhanced Keyboard/Unicomp Classic style feet.

Branding

New Model Ms can have a Unicomp logo across their lock-light LED overlay. Sometimes, the keyboard can be bought with an overlay that has no branding. The overlay size is the same as many previous Model Ms designs, so it can be replaced with another overlay bought from Unicomp or self-made provided said overlay is designed for the centred LED alignment typical for fourth-generation Model Ms.

Layout

The New Model M reuses Unicomp's current 10X-key layouts they introduced in 2013. They're an evolution of the IBM Enhanced layout, and for the most part respect it, though Unicomp has added GUI-centric keys. Unicomp offers two ways for how the GUI keys are delivered - "long spacebar" with 1 super (usually, Windows) key and 1 context menu key and "short spacebar" with 2 super keys and 1 context menu key. The "long spacebar" layout is typically referred to as "103-style" by Unicomp and "Tsangan-style" by enthusiasts and is the same as the Enhanced layout but the 1-unit spaces once separating both pairs of Ctrl and Alt keys have been filled in. The "short spacebar" layout adds the same as "long spacebar" but also adds the second (1.25-unit) super key to the spacebar's right and at the spacebar's expense.

As with Enhanced layouts, the New Model M physical layouts are generally in ANSI or ISO styles depending on region and/or language. ANSI (named after the American National Standards Institute) is typical for US English, Korean, Thai, non-bilingual Canadian and sometimes Danish keyboards, whereas ISO (named after the International Organization for Standardization) is typical for most European, Middle Eastern and African (EMEA), South American and bilingual Canadian keyboards. For Japanese keyboards, the typical JIS (named after Japanese Industrial Standards) bottom row is not implemented due to a lack of moulds for JIS' smaller spacebar, thus Unicomp uses a variation of the "short spacebar" bottom row to support Japanese-centric keys at the expense of GUI keys. Due to the above, the following layout configurations are known:

New Model M for Mac

The New Model M for Mac uses its own distinct physical and functional layout suited for use with the Apple macOS operating system. At present, only a US English based keyboard is officially available. The physical layout is derived from the 104-key ANSI 'short spacebar' layout but with an extra key gained by splitting the upper vertical 2-unit key normally found on the numeric keypad's rightmost column into two distinct keys. The functional layout is also based on the typical US English layout but the modifiers have been replaced with macOS' Control (^), Option/Alt (⌥) and Command (⌘) keys. The function key row was also extended to 15 keys and most of them have symbols for media functions. To access such secondary functions, a dedicated function key is also present in the bottom row.

Connectivity

The New Model M has a permanently attached cable terminating in either a Type-A USB or a 5-pin Mini-DIN PS/2 plug. The cable is approximately 6 feet (~1.83 metres) long[1][1]
Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2020-09-23 capture).
.

Part number list

7 part numbers have been found in the ASK Keyboard Part Number Database. If you believe a relevant part number is missing, you can help improve this list by requesting a submission for it to be added.

Gallery

Further reading & resources

Internal

External (forum threads)

External (Reddit posts)

External (reviews)

Sources

ASK. Admiral Shark's Keyboards original content. License/note: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

  1. Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2020-09-23 capture).
  2. Unicomp - 2020-03-29 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-10-28].
  3. Unicomp - 2023-09-01 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-05].
  4. Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-09-30].
  5. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission - Visual Display Corporation's Form 10-K for February 28, 2018 [accessed 2023-11-05].
  6. Unicomp - 2022-04-15 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-03-02].
  7. Unicomp - 2022-05-13 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-05].
  8. Unicomp - Unicomp, Inc. [accessed 2023-04-17]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2022-07-08 capture).
  9. Unicomp - 2023-04-16 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-04-17].
  10. /u/_pandrew @ Reddit - A new era of reprogrammable OEM controllers on Unicomp keyboards is beginning. Exciting! [accessed 2023-11-05].
  11. Unicomp - New Model M for Mac [accessed 2023-11-05]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2023-11-05 capture), photos used under fair dealing.
  12. Unicomp - New Model M [accessed 2023-10-28]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2023-10-28 capture).
  13. Shaddim - File:Bucklingspring-animation-300ms.gif [accessed 2021-09-09]. License/note: CC-BY-2.0.
  14. IBM - Rocking switch actuator for a low force membrane contact switch [accessed 2021-06-17].
  15. Unicomp - The Customizer Keyboard [accessed 2022-10-04]. License/note: retrieved via Wayback Machine (2000-06-14 capture).
  16. Unicomp - Unicomp Product News - Revised 104-key Layout [accessed 2022-02-20].
  17. troyfletcher#5223 - Discord Message #252446027745853442 on IBM keyboards | /r/ModelM & F [accessed 2023-02-21].
  18. WASD Keyboards - Mechanical Keyboard Guide [accessed 2022-07-01].
  19. Switch And Click - ABS vs PBT Keycaps: What’s the Difference? [accessed 2021-09-09].
  20. Wikipedia - Ruffian (horse) [accessed 2023-06-18].
  21. Radionics Ltd. - Cypress Semiconductor CY8C24493-24LTXI, CMOS System-On-Chip for USB, 48-Pin QFN [accessed 2023-02-21].
  22. Wikipedia - Aristides (horse) [accessed 2023-06-18].
  23. Unicomp - 2023-07-28 Facebook Post [accessed 2023-11-10]. License/note: photo used under fair dealing.

Recent updates

2023-11-15 Revisions for Unicomp New Model M wiki page have been published - Fixed word error in "Design" -> "Outer case"