New to physical BBC retrocomputing

discuss both original and modern hardware for the bbc micro/electron
Post Reply
wemb
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:41 pm
Contact:

New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by wemb » Fri Aug 14, 2020 2:08 pm

The last time I touched a BBC Micro would have been sometime in 1992, when I went to university and found they were using BBC B's as tty terminals for their unix systems.

This week I brought a BBC Master from ebay - and I'm about to get it up and running. While I've not turned it on yet, (waiting for a set of caps for the PSU), the one thing I've noticed is the horrible state of the keyboard. While it looks very clean (and I've removed a few of the keycaps, and they're clean underneath), much of the keys are binding very badly.

Now, I know I shouldn't expect a keyboard like a modern mechanical unit, but this is far, far worse than some of equally vintage C64 keyboards.

I mean, they're just as spongy and horrible as I remember them from my youth, but you can at least tell when you're pushing the keys, This Master's keyboard is barely useable. What are my best options for making the keyboard more useable, with smoother keytravel and less binding? I'm wary about just spraying random lubricants or oil into it without advice.

Thanks
Dave

User avatar
tricky
Posts: 4676
Joined: Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:25 am
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by tricky » Fri Aug 14, 2020 3:00 pm

Welcome.
I can't find it now, but this was mentioned in a recent thread.
Most of the beebs that I have come across, even filthy still feel better than any of the usual 8bits.
This isn't a Master Compact with its membrane keyboard is it?

Coeus
Posts: 1821
Joined: Mon Jul 25, 2016 12:05 pm
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by Coeus » Fri Aug 14, 2020 3:48 pm

I think keyboard feel has a lot to do with what you're accustomed to.

When I got the BBC micro back in the day I thought the keyboard was great, especially compared to the membrane thing on the ZX81. It was also well-regarded at the time amongst home micros. Coming back to it after using an IBM Model F on the PC it seems a bit soggy but then it has linear key swicthes and the Model F is tactile (and clicky). Also, every keyboard I have feels a bit soggy after the Model F, though there are plenty of newer mechanical keyboards I have not tried.

To me, the Master keyboard is also not as good as the Model B.

If the keys seem sticky, though, maybe they will free up with more use. I would certainly not try to lubricate them.

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4256
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by flaxcottage » Fri Aug 14, 2020 5:25 pm

Welcome, Dave. :D

When you say the keys are binding, do you mean that the key caps touch each other or do you mean that the key itself is difficult to push down?

If the former, have the key switches been located properly into the black matrix panel that holds them at the correct spacing.

If the latter the key switches may respond to a prolonged session of rapidly pressing the key fully down to the stop. If the switch itself does not make contact properly it can be unsoldered, the pins unscrewed and cleaned with a very fine abrasive and screwed back one after another. That should cure most ills.
- John

Image

User avatar
danielj
Posts: 8432
Joined: Thu Oct 02, 2008 5:51 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by danielj » Fri Aug 14, 2020 9:38 pm

A Master keyboard shouldn't feel too bad - certainly not spongey (that's ST territory) - I do wonder if it's been wet and they've all ended up rather grotty?

User avatar
richardtoohey
Posts: 3986
Joined: Thu Dec 29, 2011 5:13 am
Location: Tauranga, New Zealand
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by richardtoohey » Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:29 am

tricky wrote:
Fri Aug 14, 2020 3:00 pm
This isn't a Master Compact with its membrane keyboard is it?
That's what the description made it sound like ... they are not nice keyboards (but they are nice compact 6502 machines like Electrons).

User avatar
kieranhj
Posts: 921
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2015 11:11 pm
Location: Farnham, Surrey, UK
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by kieranhj » Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:33 am

It's not a 'cherry' Master is it? The keyboard for those later models feels very different from a classic BBC.

EDIT: Pictures would help!
Bitshifters Collective | Retro Code & Demos for BBC Micro & Acorn computers | https://bitshifters.github.io/

User avatar
richardtoohey
Posts: 3986
Joined: Thu Dec 29, 2011 5:13 am
Location: Tauranga, New Zealand
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by richardtoohey » Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:35 am

I tried taping on my Master-with-Cherry-keyboard before sending my last reply ... it's not too spongy.

But if you are used to a modern mechanical keyboard then the older stuff can feel a bit odd. But better than a Spectrum! Or a ZX81 (how did we ever manage to type in those magazine listings!) :D

User avatar
kieranhj
Posts: 921
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2015 11:11 pm
Location: Farnham, Surrey, UK
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by kieranhj » Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:41 am

Now you mention it, I do have a very crusty issue 4 Beeb that has incredibly stiff & sticky keys that are quite unpleasant to type on and often don't connect even though they have to be quite deliberately pressed. I don't have a good answer to how to improve this, as I don't use it as my 'regular' machine - perhaps liberal doses of key switch cleaner & hammering every key on the keyboard 50x?! :?
Bitshifters Collective | Retro Code & Demos for BBC Micro & Acorn computers | https://bitshifters.github.io/

User avatar
tricky
Posts: 4676
Joined: Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:25 am
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by tricky » Sat Aug 15, 2020 9:19 am

I can't think of a way to get the dust and grit out of the key switch assembly without taking them apart and don't really want to flush it through into the mechanism as a slurry!

Assuming that nearly all the dirt is on the outside, but getting pushed in with each key press, I guess removing all the key caps and cleaning the stalks while holding the keyboard upside-down would be best, but still, what to clean with?

1.leaving upside down in a key-stalk's depth of room temperature water with a dash of washing up liquid before VAXing dry, still upside-down. 2.spraying it with some sort of foam cleaner before VAXing dry and rinsing with a spray of IPA whilst still upside-down.
3.clearning each stalk with a cloth and IPA
4.clearning each stalk with a cloth and switch cleaner

What I guess I really need to know is that the cleaner isn't going to do nasty things to the plastic - so no WD40!

What do people think about a light spray of plastic safe silicone lubricant afterwards - before replacing the key caps?

While the key-caps have been off, they can have had a bath in warm water + a little washing up liquid, rise with water and towel dry gently!

PS Personally I don't like the micro-switch feel on my arcade controls nor my keyboards. Leaf springs for me :)

User avatar
Elminster
Posts: 4247
Joined: Wed Jun 20, 2012 9:09 am
Location: Essex, UK
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by Elminster » Sat Aug 15, 2020 10:29 am

Welcome.

I often use switch contact cleaner, and then just press a few thousand times. I did try the watered down kettle descaled once but it just desolated what little was left of the contact, so I had to replace the whole switch, which I was expecting to have to do anyway.

Once the computer museums around the country reopen, you could try ‘testing’ their keyboards to see if the feel of your keyboard is the same. I.e. is it false memories or a hunky keyboard.

The are quite a few keyboard cleaning videos on you tube channels like 8bit guy, retroman cave etc. There are a number of other topic in the forum around cleaning keys. I think it comes down to is this a grotty keyboard or a golden haze memory of what keyboards were like.

wemb
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:41 pm
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by wemb » Sat Aug 15, 2020 4:07 pm

Wow thanks for all the replies. To clarify:

* It's a Master 128, with a soldering keyboard, distinct keyswitches, not a membrane
* When I was talking about spongy I was thinking of my C64 just a contrast to what I'd expect from a Beeb which is a must stiffer keyboard - but this one is way far to stiff to be comfortable to use. May keys need a substantial amount of force, and some of the keys bind very bandly (and it's not the keycaps rubbing on each other).

* As I said, some keys are much worse than others - so it's not just be bringing 2020 sensibilities to a 1980s keyboard.

Any particular brand of contact cleaner known to not cause damage to the plastics involved?

Thanks
Dave

User avatar
tone76
Posts: 46
Joined: Mon Feb 10, 2020 10:35 am
Location: The Colonies
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by tone76 » Sun Aug 16, 2020 4:37 am

Welcome back to the Beeb!

I'd be inclined to the the keyboard a thorough clean. Remove the keycaps, give the keyboard surface a good dusting with an anti-static brush or some compressed air, then try a little bit of contact cleaner/deoxidiser in each of the keyswitches (DeOxit is particularly good, many consider it to be the gold standard in contact cleaners).

Allow the contact cleaner to soak for as long as it takes for you to give the keycaps a good clean. Mild soap in warm water does a good job. A sponge or cleaning cloth is usually good enough, but you might need an old toothbrush to help with particularly grotty keys. Give the keycaps a quick dry, and then pop them face up on a drying rack to allow the water to run out from inside each keycap.

Whilst waiting for the keycaps to dry, tap each keyswitch repeatedly until it feels like it's moving freely (say 15-20 times per keyswitch). You should feel each keyswitch unbinding by about 10 taps in, but if it doesn't, just give the keyswitch another quick blast with contact cleaner and then move onto the next keyswitch.

Once you're happy with the action of each keyswitch, check that the keycaps are dry. Assuming they're all dry, gently put them back on the keyboard. Any keycaps sitting proud once all have been replaced... those are the ones that'll need a bit more force. Try and be as gentle as possible with the additional force, as the plastic sleeve that goes on top of the keyswitch may be slightly brittle.

Test the keyboard to confirm that you're happy with the feel. If there are still any issues with specific keys binding, take the offending keycap off and give said switch a little more contact cleaner, then keep tapping the key until you're happy with how it moves.

Bear in mind that the keyboard is at least three decades old, so it may not be perfect ... but it should still feel way better than a typical modern laptop keyboard.

One final tip: get yourself a wire keycap puller. They're only a few pounds each, and you'll save a lot of time (and reduce the risk of keycap damage). The all-plastic keycap pullers can be a faff, and - oddly enough - can do more damage to keycaps than a wire keycap puller.

Best of British!
Acorn Electron
BBC Model B (either too many or not enough)
BBC Model B+ 128K
BBC Master 128 x 2

wemb
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Aug 07, 2020 5:41 pm
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by wemb » Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:37 pm

Thanks tone76 - lovely detailed answer. I've washing the keycaps already now, not much dirt came off them - about to invest in some deoxit - though it's rather expensive stuff - might get a tube and apply it with a syringe, rather than an entire can. Much appreciated.

Dave

User avatar
tone76
Posts: 46
Joined: Mon Feb 10, 2020 10:35 am
Location: The Colonies
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by tone76 » Sun Aug 30, 2020 1:02 am

wemb wrote:
Fri Aug 28, 2020 11:37 pm
Thanks tone76 - lovely detailed answer. I've washing the keycaps already now, not much dirt came off them - about to invest in some deoxit - though it's rather expensive stuff - might get a tube and apply it with a syringe, rather than an entire can. Much appreciated.
True, DeOxit isn't cheap ... but it can be used sparingly, so it should last you a fair while (especially when applied via tube/syringe).

Let us know how you get on.
Acorn Electron
BBC Model B (either too many or not enough)
BBC Model B+ 128K
BBC Master 128 x 2

User avatar
danielj
Posts: 8432
Joined: Thu Oct 02, 2008 5:51 pm
Location: Manchester
Contact:

Re: New to physical BBC retrocomputing

Post by danielj » Sun Aug 30, 2020 7:21 am

If you don't wish to splash on deoxit, the usual standard go-to in the UK is servisol super 10. Many reviews saying people can't tell the difference... (also others obviously saying the opposite in both directions!). I've used servisol to good effect on beeb and master keyboards many times.

Post Reply

Return to “8-bit acorn hardware”