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How to Make an IBM Model F PC / AT Keyboard Usable on a Modern Computer

The IBM Model F series of keyboards is widely considered the cream of buckling springs keyboards in terms of feel. I have owned a total of five IBM Model F PC/AT keyboards in the past, and, due to their superlative durability, I sold three of them. One concern that potential buyers may have about the IBM Model F is whether it would work easily with a modern computer.

The simple answer is that if you are considering a purchase of a Model F PC/AT (as opposed to a Model F XT or a Model F keyboard designed for a computer terminal), then you should have no problem whatsoever.

There are several options to connect a Model F PC/AT to the USB port of a modern computer:

  • Teensy 2.0
  • Teensy++ 2.0
  • Belkin F5U119-E (Note: This is different to the Belkin F5U119vE1. The Belkin F5U119-E is said to work with the Model F PC/AT; the Belkin F5U119vE1, on the other hand, is an inferior product.)
  • “Blue Cube” PS/2-to-USB adapter

I know very little about Teensy devices. I don’t own one and have never used a Teensy. However, I have no doubt that either a Teensy 2.0 or Teensy++ 2.0 will make a Model F keyboard work on a contemporary computer. Soldering is required unless you get a Teensy with pins.

The Belkin F5U119vE1 PS/2-to-USB adapter will probably allow you to use a Model F PC/AT keyboard on a modern-day computer but it is not easily found in many parts of the world. Don’t confuse this device with other similar Belkin products—the others may not work with a Model F PC/AT.

Having experimented with several adapters, I have no doubt that the “Blue Cube” PS/2-to-USB adapter works best for my setup and needs.

IBM Model F PC/AT Connection to USB Port of Modern Computer

On my Lenovo T61 laptop computer, I connect the AT plug of the keyboard’s cable to a passive AT-to-PS/2 converter/adapter (the grey device in the picture above), which in turn fits into the “Blue Cube”.

The relative bulkiness of the Blue Cube creates two problems when plugged directly into the computer’s USB port:

  1. The Blue Cube tends to sag down a little (it doesn’t fit perfectly into the USB port due to its weight—not a major issue but I’m a perfectionist and it bothers me); and
  2. The Blue Cube will obstruct access to any adjacent USB port.

Therefore, I purchased a cheap ($1) short USB extension cable (blue). The part of the cable which I wrapped in yellow cloth tape looked fragile and I suspect it would have broken if I had not reinforced it with the tape.

Neither soldering nor a special software driver is required when using a “Blue Cube”.

Although not the most elegant of solutions, this setup has worked extremely well for me while alternatives (of which some were more expensive) have led to disappointment.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Subba Rao July 9, 2012, 10:39 PM

    Awesome write up, very informative. 🙂

    • Andy Teh July 9, 2012, 11:38 PM

      @Subba Rao—Thanks! I should have mentioned a few more things in the article.

      1. The IBM Model F PC/AT keyboard does not work via the PS/2 port (through a passive AT-to-PS/2 converter/adapter) of a Lenovo ThinkPad Advanced Mini-Dock. This is probably because the Mini-Dock does not supply enough power (“juice”) to the keyboard and/or its cable. It would have been nice if I could use the PS/2 port because I wouldn’t then need the “Blue Cube” and the USB extension cable.
      2. All the IBM Model M keyboards that I’ve tried (i.e., more than 10 in total) can work through the PS/2 port of the Lenovo ThinkPad Advanced Mini-Dock—this applies only to the “normal” IBM Model Ms that have PS/2 connectors, and not the Model Ms that were designed to work with computer terminals (“Terminal Model Ms”). The latter have “funny” looking connectors anyway, instead of PS/2 connectors.
      3. All IBM Model M keyboards with PS/2 connectors (that I’ve used) can be connected to a USB port of my Lenovo T61 laptop computer via a Blue Cube PS/2-to-USB adapter, in a setup identical or similar to the one I have for my Model F PC/AT (see the photo in the article). The Model M will work normally with this arrangement, i.e., PS/2 cable of Model M keyboard → Blue Cube PS/2-to-USB adapter → short USB extension cable → USB port of computer. However, if you fit the Blue Cube into the USB port of the Mini-Dock, the keyboard won’t work, probably due to lack of “juice.”
  • Carl November 30, 2012, 12:34 PM

    So, I totally have one of these keyboards, bought the bluecube, and one of the AT – PS/2 adapters (albeit the short, non corded version). I have not been able to get the set up to work on my Windows 7, 64 bit computers. Any suggestions as to what my problems might be?

    • Carl November 30, 2012, 12:49 PM

      Ok, so it looks like its just the Model F, not the F/AT

      • Andy Teh November 30, 2012, 6:02 PM

        @Carl—I’m surprised you encountered the issue on Windows 7. I’ve used the Blue Cube with five different Model F PC/AT keyboards, and the set up has worked for me every time on a variety of Windows operating systems, including XP, Vista, and 7. No problems whatsoever. This set up has also worked on Mac OS X and Linux (Debian, Crunchbang, OpenSUSE, etc.). As you probably know, the AT and PS/2 protocols are essentially the same thing, so the converter doesn’t do very much besides making the plug physically compatible with the Blue Cube. From your last comment, I’m not sure if you are having trouble with a non-AT Model F or with a Model F PC/AT. The F PC/AT keyboard should work fine with a Blue Cube. Any other Model F will need a Teensy and probably Soarer’s code.

  • Paul February 15, 2013, 5:35 AM

    Who has only one computer these days? I plug my iBM keyboard into a KVM switch with PS2 port in and USB out. Works great!

  • stephen March 17, 2014, 10:55 PM

    where can I find a blue cube?

    • Andy Teh March 18, 2014, 11:44 PM

      @stephen—I get my Blue Cubes from a fellow collector who is based in Europe. You can purchase a Blue Cube online, e.g. Amazon. I’ve come across a Canadian online seller who sells the Blue Cube. You can also try eBay. Good luck!

  • Susaantha Peramunagama. Sri Lanka. January 18, 2017, 6:52 PM

    I am having a similar problem. From where can I order a Belkin F5U119E “Blue Cube” PS/2 to USB adapter? Does E-bay or Amazon have it? Please let me know. Desperate.

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