The Lay o' the Land
Back in the day, Commodore was legendary for constantly changing their hardware on the fly in order to cut costs as products matured in the market place. But in the early days, they often went all out.
A perfect example of this evolution is the Amiga 2000 keyboard. There were at least three different keyboard designs for the Amiga 2000 during its production run from 1987 through 1991. The most obvious differences mostly involve the keycaps and the switches below. Keyboard switches are the mechanical components that provide key responsiveness, travel times, noise and the overall tactile feel. The various switches can range from very clicky to extremely quiet and muted. This genre of keyboard nerdery is very subjective and sometimes even contentious, but for argument’s sake I’ll speak in generalities.
There are two main categories of keyboard design we’re going to focus on.
The first are called Mechanical Keyboards. These have individual key switches and metal springs. The second type I’m calling called Rubber Cups - which are first cousins of the far more common Rubber Domes in today’s modern keyboards, and cost far less to produce. They use a rubber “cup” to provide resistance and act as the spring found in mechanical keyboards. When a keyboard uses a mechanical switch, it’s usually pretty obvious. The feedback is much stronger and you often hear a click, and feel a smooth and solid bottoming out to the keyboard’s base. Some folks today really like the feeling but not the noise so they use little rubber o-rings to quiet things down.
The rubber cups or domes are usually quieter yet “mushier” when you get to the bottom of the keypress.
Mechanical keyboards are often the first choice of many gamers because their tactile experience can be more precise. Since their strokes are often linear, some gamers believe they give them a slight edge when every keypress counts.
Swinging back to the Amiga 2000 keyboards, let’s take a look at some of the variations Commodore produced and dig a little deeper.
Cherry MX One of the original A2000 keyboards Commodore created, this keyboard is pretty easy to spot. It has several design differences we can all see without even removing a single keycap. I will refer to this keyboard as the Cherry Keyboard.
From the WASD Keyboard Guide:
The first obvious difference is that, like the glorious Amiga 1000, this keyboard has bright red Amiga “A” keys. It also has a very small and simple badge in the upper right-hand corner compared to future revisions. Removing the keycaps, we see that this fantastic keyboard has Cherry MX Black switches. These happen to be switches similar to those found in Amiga 1000s (but not exactly the same). These switches are rated to a lifespan of 50 million keystrokes per key. The sound level is rated as quiet, with a travel distance of only 4 millimeters. The keystrokes are fluid and linear and the feel is nice and heavy. This is a primo Commodore keyboard, and is one of the finest they ever produced.MX Black switches are linear switches, so they have no tactile feedback unless the switch is "bottomed out," meaning the switch is pressed all the way down. The keystroke is smooth all the way down. The stronger spring is said to help the switch reset faster, which can be useful in some instances where "double tapping" is needed. The stiffer switches may also help with accidental key presses from straying fingers. Commonly marketed as a "gamer" switch.
There are a couple other visual differences worth pointing out, in case you ever run across one of these in the wild.
If you flip the keyboard over, you can see it actually has six plastic clips around its perimeter. This is not always the case, but it sometimes is and can help identify what you're looking at pretty quickly. The cord’s plug is also uniquely shaped, as it is more ergonomic and has a somewhat hourglass shape. You’ll also discover there is no serial number sticker or manufacturing country of origin on the bottom. The case is almost completely smooth.
The Caps-Lock LED light is a vertical bar of clear plastic at the bottom of the key, not a red dot in one of the top upper corners. And the main glyphs and letter forms - aka the legend - are closer to the Amiga 1000 than later revisions.
Speaking of keycaps, most of these appear to be double-shot. Like the early C64 breadbin keycaps, these caps are actually made with two different colors of plastic. That means the glyphs aren’t printed on the keycaps - they are the keycaps. No printing is necessary. The end result is a set of key letterforms and glyphs that should never fade from use or chip off. At worst, they might yellow. One final difference worth mentioning is the keyboard case’s subtle yet unique color: it’s more of an almond color than the typical beige.
It’s not known how many of these keyboards were made, but the number is believed to be quite low.
At some point in the early days the keyboard got a total revamp.
And to the untrained eye it might appear that little had changed. But in fact quite a lot changed, so let’s take a closer look. This next keyboard I’m calling the “Hi-Tek”.
Hi-Tek The Hi-Tek keyboard has more visual queues in common with its younger siblings (which we’ll look at soon) so you have to look a bit more closely in order to identify it.
You can see right off the bat that the red Amiga keys are now black, like most Amigas. This was probably a cost saving exercise, but also allowed the 2000 keycaps to perfectly match its sister, the more popular Amiga 500.
The Caps-Lock key displays its LED light now in the much more common circular dot in the upper-right corner (some keyboards also put the light in the upper-left corner). The long vertical light on the bottom of the keycap is gone.
Flipping the case over, we still have no serial number stickers but we do have a large circular imprint from the injection molds and a couple of tiny little Quality Assurance stickers. It’s kind of amazing those didn’t fall off after all these years…
The case is now the more typical beige color most of us come to expect with our A2000 keyboards, and the case badge has gotten bigger with a more prominent “2000” in the corner. Note the addition of “Commodore” in the badge now, too.
The keycaps do not appear to be double-shot anymore. A far cheaper process of pad-printing the legend on the keys is the way going forward now for all of Commodore’s future keyboards. I've been told that some of the Hi-Tek keyboards did get double-shot keys, but I've not seen them in person (I have 2 of this model). But now, let’s talk about the good stuff.
If you remove one of these keycaps we see we have NMB Hi-Tek Series 725 switches, aka “Space Invaders” or “Angry Bear”! “These switches are used primarily, if not solely, in keyboards manufactured by Hi-Tek and NMB”
The NMB Hi-Tek switches are no pushover switches. Designed in the early 1980s, these highly coveted switches can reduce the height of keyboards significantly while retaining full travel (aka having a low profile).
There are several variations of switches, but the ones in the A2000 keyboards are known as White Linear. This same switch can be found in some very early and quite rare Amiga 500, Commodore PC-5 and PC-10 keyboards. I can 't 100% prove it, but I currently believe the A500's with Hi-Tek switches are the "chicken lips" variety that were made in Germany. I have a very early Chickenlips NTSC model that was made in the U.S.A., and it did not come with the Hi-Tek's.
The Space Invaders feel a bit stiff while typing, which is actually kind of nice and they are extremely stable. Unlike many Commodore keyboards, there is virtually zero wiggle in these keys. Compared to the Cherry MX switches, the Cherries are practically break dancing (and I don’t consider them wiggly at all).
What most folks like about the Space Invaders, though, is actually the dense clicking sound. For some, typing on these keyboards can almost produce an ASMR experience. At times it reminds me of drum sticks being lightly tapped on wooden furniture.
If there’s anything I might criticize the switches for, it would be their fragility. If you take the keycaps off, there’s a good chance the spring will go FLYING. With so many keys to remove, the idea of cleaning this keyboard is a bit nerve wracking to ponder. Also the little metal contact hands are very fragile.
In other words, these keyboards were not made to be maintained or cleaned except by keyboard experts and I’ll be leaving mine the hell alone for the most part.
They look great, and they feel great, but if you dare take off their clothes be prepared for some shock and pain.
On to the final A2000 keyboard, the Mitsumi.
The Mitsumi KKQ-E94C model keyboards were the final A2000 model made, and the most common. This keyboard uses Mitsumi Hybrid switches with tactile “buckling rubber sleeves” with a slider and a membrane. Technically, these keyboards are not considered to be mechanical.
Mitsumi happens to be the same company that built the keyboards for the popular Commodore 64C (where the “C” stands for Cost Reduced, or cheap ass bitches). They appear to have made most if not all of the non-mechanical Amiga keyboards and switches, which includes every single model except the original Amiga 1000. As such, these Mitsumi keyboards are a bit quieter with the exception of the spacebars, which can be sometimes be a bit jangly. They lean more towards the stiff yet “mushy” and wobbly variants. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s also a very functional device and is very easy to type on without any issues, as well as take apart and clean. It’s far better than the Mitsumi switches found on the 64C - that comparison is not even close or really even fair. These keyboards feel “real” if not as high quality as their mechanical siblings.
Regardless, the legend on this keyboard matches that of the Hi-Tek keyboard. And the keycaps are also pad-printed which is one of the cheapest options out there and least durable for heavy use.
We also get yet another badge in the upper right-hand corner, and we finally get a serial number sticker on the bottom where we can also see the model number (which we can compare and match to the A3000, CDTV, and so on). This version of keyboard happens to be one of the main ones I’ve been using for the past couple of years, so I feel right at home with them as I’m sure many of you do, too.
And even if you haven’t ever had an Amiga 2000, you’ve surely felt the Mitsumi version as that’s where the evolution landed across all models for the most part.
At the end of the day, I love all of the Amiga 2000 keyboards. And since I love them all, that means I pretty much love all of the Amiga keyboards ever made. But if I had a choice, well, I’d gravitate towards the Cherry MX keyboards, like the early 2000 and A1000s. But it's hard to really choose as I actually prefer the sound of the Hi-Tek. But I’m not a snob about it - it’s totally a subjective thing. I dig 'em all.