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Posts about keyboard

Turning a gutted C64 into a USB keyboard

So, I like key­boards and I am pret­ty old. That means I have a prob­a­bly un­de­served­ly glow­ing mem­o­ry of the key­board of my first com­put­er­s.

No, not the key­board of my Timex Sin­clair 1000, that key­board is lit­er­al­ly a stick­er there is no amount of am­ne­sia that will make me like it.

But ... the C64? Well, that was a me­chan­i­cal key­board was­n't it?

So, when I heard about the KeyRah a while ago, which is a board that lets you use the C64 key­board (and oth­er­s!) as a USB de­vice I start­ed con­sid­er­ing if I could get a dead C64 some­where and turn it in­to some­thing use­ful?

So, while it's not my fond­ly re­mem­bered bread­bin, when a C64-C with­out a moth­er­board came my way ... well, I did it.

This is a prob­a­bly 1986 vin­tage "Drean Com­modore 64 C", built in San Luis, Ar­genti­na, and it was filthy.

One filthy C64

So, I opened it, and re­moved ev­ery key­cap and spring in it



Each and ev­ery spring had its own gross dust bun­ny, and all keys were cov­ered with some sticky grime. But hey, at least springs were not rusty, and they key­caps cleaned nice­ly with soapy wa­ter.

Cleaning keycaps

They key­caps seem to be dou­ble-shot PBT, and 1.65mm thick, and since they are 35 years old I guess they are pret­ty durable :-)

The leg­end on the side is dye-­sub but it's not sub­ject to fin­ger con­tact so they are al­so ok.

Nice keycap Nice keycap

The mech­a­nism is un­usu­al for mod­ern eye­s:

  • Ex­ter­nal spring!
  • It has some sort of con­duc­tive graphite pads which are used to close the cir­cuit
  • The switch­es are not at­tached at all to the PCB

This PCB had some dodgy tracks but it turned out to be ok.

This is fine

Put it back to­geth­er with the KeyRah, it's miss­ing a ton of screws I'll have to go buy, I guess.

PCB and switches

Then some re­assem­bly re­quired

Half reassembled keybaord

And it's done! It work­s!


So... is it any good?

Not re­al­ly.

  • It has 2 cur­sor keys in­stead of 4 (I should sell it as "key­board for vi user­s")
  • The lay­out is weird
  • The switch­es are scratchy as hel­l, I need to look in­to lub­ing them
  • The key­press­es are re­al­ly heavy
  • It has a me­chan­i­cal shift lock­!!!!

So, wast­ed time?

Hell no!

Once I have my own of­fice (I cur­rent­ly share it with my wife be­cause of the pan­demic) this will be a use­ful thing.

The idea is to add a Pi4 (or some­thing) in­side the case, per­haps with a cou­ple large SS­Ds (yes, there is a lot of room) and turn it in­to a retro-gam­ing de­vice plus a node in my home clus­ter, so it will be very use­ful.

All the im­ages are in The C64C gal­llery

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