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.
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.
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.
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.
Put it back together with the KeyRah, it's missing a ton of screws I'll have to go buy, I guess.
Then some reassembly required
And it's done! It works!
So... is it any good?
- 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?
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