One of my most favourite vintage keyboards is the Apple Extended Keyboard II from the Macintosh II and SE era of the late 1980s. It is a height adjustable, full sized keyboard and it is featuring the rainbow coloured apple logo as well as, in some models, mechanical ALPS switches. Since it requires quite a lot time to research all the things about those keyboards, I decided to sum up and share my knowledge and a few resources on these awesome boards.
Which AEKII Models and Switches exist?
If you’re going to look out for a AEKII keyboard, you may want to know about what versions of the board are available. To keep this short, there’s the M0312 and the M3501 version of the AEK II. While the M0312 definitely has the much preferred ALPS switches, it is kind of a game of chance when it comes to the M3501, since this one either has Mitsumi or ALPS switches.
An easy way to find out what switches the keyboard you’re looking at has, is, to pull one of the keycaps, since the manufacturers name is written on the switch itself.
The keyboard is available in many layouts such as JIS (Japanese Industrial Standards) which has the most beautiful keycaps, ANSI Int and a bunch of regional layouts.
Fantastic Keyboards And Where To Buy Them
The chances are low to none to find a boxed as new AEKII, even though some of them probably still exist in dusty corporate basements as leftovers from bulk buys (in 2012 I have found a few IBM Model M keyboards in a server room of a school boxed as new, so I’m speaking out of experience that it’s just highly unlikely but not impossible). Having that in mind the best way to get hands on a AEKII is to hope for a good second-hand market offer, places to look out for such a keyboard can be:
- flea markets, especially yard sales
- even though some of the flea markets got super expensive during the last like ten years; when I was a teenager it was still possible to buy a lot, now retro, hardware on the cheap, I got an N64 for like 15$ once and old mechanical keyboards for around ~3$, but that was around 2008. Yard sales, especially if the people who are selling the keyboards aren’t professional vintage resellers, are probably the cheapest option.
- there are list offerings like craigslist or eBay and shops like myoldmac, that offer them.
- however those can turn out to be expensive as well, especially if you’re into buying a M0312 (they’re pretty rare).
Sometimes cheaper keyboards are in a bad condition and require some dedication to clean them up and restore their original color. Over time most old hardware oxidised a yellow-brownish layer on its plastic that doesn’t look too beautiful at all. If you’ve bought a keyboard having such a yellow-brownish look, there’s retr0bright to give the keyboard its old color back. Instructables has an tutorial on how to apply retr0bright on old hardware chassis.
Using S-Video instead of Original ADB Cables
If your AEK II comes without a cable, you’re able to acquire a working ADB cable for less than 20$ on eBay, which is pretty expensive for a thirty years old cable. The best solution to this is to use a 4-pin mini-DIN S-Video cable since the Apple Desktop Bus is using the exact same mini-din connector, so they’re compatible.
If you’re going to use your keyboard with an older macintosh computer, make sure that you haven’t plugged your keyboard into the S-Video port of your mac, because that won’t work even though the cable is seamlessly matching the port.
How To USB
Besides the A1243 and Anne Pro (even though I consider switching to a planck ortholinear keyboard) the AEKII is my daily driver. Since I mainly use machines having either USB-B or USB-C ports, and the AEKII is on ADB, you’re going to need a converter to connect the keyboard to your computer.
There are a few store bought solutions to achieve this:
- tinkerBOY ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) to USB Keyboard/Mouse Converter
- ADB-USB Wombat Input Converter
- Griffin iMate
And a few DIY solutions that are cheaper but require some soldering:
- Hack It Better: Apple Extended Keyboard II
- Bringing an Apple Extended Keyboard II back to life
- Apple Extended Keyboard II Bluetooth Conversion
Most ALPS keycaps should be compatible with the AEK II; the hardest would be to replace the power buttons keycap, since it is irregularly sized and a non-standard key, and to find a keycap set matching apples keyboard layout since there are mostly keycaps being offered with a windows tailored layout.
The DIY/repair website ifixit.com offers a complete teardown of the AEKII.
Environmental Aspects Of Using Old Hardware
My AEKII is nearly thirty years old and still rocking my day to day tasks, and I really do not see, besides my hobbyist adventures when it comes to self-build mechanical keyboards, any reason to be on bleeding edge hardware anymore; more or less there’s a good reason not to be on the newest hardware: the environment. It’s kinda sad seeing that most electronic devices are being treated as replaceable consumer devices without any option to repair, modify or upgrade them.
When I was in high school there were still huge benefits upgrading 2006 hardware to 2010 hardware in terms of performance and power consumption. Nowadays I would say that most Sandy-Bridge or Ivy-Bridge based machines are fine, max out RAM, put a SSD into it, and enjoy working on nearly ten years old hardware being repairable and fun.