Unicomp Ultra Classic – First Impressions

March 21, 2015 - General Computing, Hardware

I found this in my draft backlog, dating from November 2013, as can be seen in the permalink. I’ve updated some of the details in the meantime

When it comes to interfacing with a computer, we have in general three interface devices- The keyboard, the mouse, and the monitor. Given their importance in providing information to or from the computer these components could be considered to be some of the more important parts of a complete system; a cheap, awful keyboard, mouse, or monitor can significantly reduce the quality of your experience using an otherwise excellent PC system.

Some time ago, I purchased an Unicomp Ultra Classic Buckling Spring 101 key keyboard. It has been a while since I owned a mechanical keyboard, let alone used one regularly, and my experience told me it was worth the 79$ price tag.

First Impressions

It is very solid and well-built mechanically. The Alt Key keycap had fallen off in transit but I was able to locate it. I connected it up and started to use it… Then it disappeared from the system. Then it reappeared. Then it disappeared again. WTF?

I traced the cause of the issue to the cord going into the keyboard itself. After a while the keyboard became entirely unresponsive- the only way to get it to even be recognized required me to jam the cord into the keyboard’s case with all my strength and hold it upside-down, which is hardly the ideal way to try to then type on it. At least I knew it wasn’t completely fried, though. Annoying to me is the use of faceless nut screws, something for which I have no bit to open. Since it seems it might just be a loose connector inside it would be nice to fix it at the source. That said I don’t think I’m being picky when I say that having paid around $80 for a keyboard sort of has the implicit idea that the keyboard will actually work. (Ironically, while typing that sentence the keyboard disconnected AGAIN). I’m probably going to end up trying to get the keyboard apart myself. Assuming for the moment that it is in fact a loose connector that is the problem.

Ignoring the rather glaring issue that I occasionally cannot even use it, it is actually a quite nice keyboard. I’m disappointed I have to employ some fix-it magic on my own, but given the keyboards are manufactured to order I can understand that sometimes they will have issues or problems, and at least this one is something user-serviceable (hopefully, just a loose cord). Shame I ideally need to order and wait for a specific bit to get access to the case, or try my luck with a pair of needle-nose pliers, that is.

I’ve managed so far by trying the “jam the cord and use the cord run-through indent to hold it in place” again, and it’s been fine for a few hours. Still want to fix it more permanently by ripping it open and fixing it properly, and have to admit I am a bit disappointed this is a consideration, given my old keyboard is over seven years old and still holding up just fine. Still highly recommend Unicomp keyboards, especially if you type a lot.

I Eventually had to scrap that particular keyboard, and went ahead and purchased the same keyboard- I got the black version this time. I was also able to get a replacement cable for the old one but it seems the issue was with some other component of the keyboard, as even after a full disassembly of the keyboard I wasn’t able to get it to work.

In fact, that leads into one of the biggest disadvantages of the unicomp, which is it’s one-way assembly. Aside from the case being held together with headless nuts, the innards are held together with melted plastic, which means that disassembly is not very reversible. Many other keyboards and keyboard brands use a more servicable construction, so that is worth considering. However, those other mechanical keyboards are often more expensive, and further, only Unicomp keyboards have the buckling-spring; other “mechanical” keyboards emulate the bucking spring with plastic latches.


As I mentioned I considered a few alternatives first. I considered the Code keyboard as well as the offerings by They are heavily customizable but I couldn’t figure out how to customize it properly; apparently the model I wanted used Version 2 of their designer- and proudly said they had a version 2, but didn’t say where it was. I tried a few things in the URL to see if I could find it manually but then realized I shouldn’t have to fight to give them money and explored alternatives. Perhaps I will try to get a keyboard from them in the future, though I surmise this one will last a while. the “CODE” keyboard- even if we ignore for the moment that they were sold out- didn’t really appeal to me. I liked the backlighting but overall I felt more like I would be paying for the Atwood endorsement than anything. Then I remembered that IBM’s original Model M was highly regarded, and that their keyboard division was actually sold to unicomp (or otherwise). A quick google search took me to, (Unicomp’s Sales front) and I found the keyboards offered there and made my purchase.

Additional considerations

One large consideration when it comes to Unicomp is that they are really only useful for those within North America, and for those outside of the United States, the exchange rate as well as the cost of shipping can bring up the cost of the keyboard, such that keyboards offered by other companies can actually end up to be cheaper. I have no intention of replacing this keyboard but I may build and setup additional computers which themselves could use a good keyboard, which would allow me to perform comparisons between this Unicomp as well as any new keyboard. I probably won’t buy another Unicomp- their support was excellent and their product OK but I’ve been slightly soured by the first keyboard failing (arguably something I could have pursued warranty replacement for) and furthermore the U.S centric nature of their business cost me an excessive amount of shipping (Which is also why I didn’t go the warranty approach, as it would likely cost me just as much to have it warranty replaced as it would to just buy a new keyboard).

Have something to say about this post? Comment!