Filco Majestouch-2 TK (MX Blue) with Dolch keycaps

Note: The keyboard and keycaps in this article are bought by me and not a review sample. I have, however worked with KeyboardCo in the past and like them a lot in general. But just so you know!

A new keyboard in the house! Namely the Filco Majestouch-2 TK (MX Blue) Always an exciting happening in the family. After typing happily for a couple of years with superbly compact and slim Apple Magic Keyboard (works fine with Windows btw.) at home, and with my Topre Realforce 88UB at work, I thought it would be fun to get a keyboard with the classic clickly MX blues.

My main reason to get Cherries apart from the amazing blue clicky sound is the fact that one can get a wide selection of custom keycaps, very much unlike the Topre ones where you’re pretty much stuck with the keys they came with, or maybe some with Japanese characters.

After some consultation in Geekhack, I decided that out of the options I had available (in Finland pretty much zero apart from some gaming keyboards), Filco would be a good choice. Knowing they stock it, I headed straight to The Keyboard Company  website and after some deliberation opted for one in Scandinavian layout — easier to swap here in Finland if I want to switch again. The Filcos are in no way inexpensive, but knowing the amount of time I spend typing, I considered the hourly cost to be quite reasonable.

Unboxing Filco Majestouch

The delivery from KeyboardCo arrived promptly as always, and I decided to shoot a classic unboxing video. Notice the great “Code and Life” logo in the thumbnail! There are no audio comments in the video, but you can hear the clickies quite well.

As an “out of the box” experience, here are my major plusses and minuses list:

Plusses
  • Very solid build, the case will definitely last a lifetime
  • Great MX blue typing experience and satisfying sound
  • Compact layout, it doesn’t expand much outside the keys in any direction
  • It’s a “no frills” workhorse, not much more to be said!
Minuses
  • Standard keycaps are quite high, making a wrist support pretty much a must
  • There’s nothing particularly exciting or special about they look

Custom Dolch Keycaps: Taking It to Another Level

Now that I got my keyboard, it was time to take step two: Finding proper retro styled keycaps. I wanted to avoid laser engraved ones in order to have the legends around as long as possible. Ideally I would’ve wanted PBT keycaps with very simple, centered legends, but turns out that ISO layout sets with these two attributes are *extremely* hard to find! So I made my peace with getting high quality double-shot ABS caps.

After long time browsing AliExpress and a dozen small suppliers in US (for some reason Europe has a limited vendor selection), plus some group buys, I settled on U.S. quality vendor PimpMyKeyboard and their DSA “Dolch” keyset. I got the red arrow keys and ISO kit as well, for a total of I-don’t-really-want-to-disclose after shipping and EU customs. Let’s just say the caps were more expensive than the keyboard. These baddies are worth their weight in silver.

Here’s a set of images for your drooling pleasure. Note also the nice Filco wooden wrist rest that works nicely and leaves the logo visible (it’s the smallest size I originally got for HHKB2. There’s also dedicated TK option but I just reach for cursor keys occasionally, so I don’t mind the narrower form factor.

As you can see, the keys look quite amazing! I especially like the font on these, and the color scheme reminds me of the old MSX computer my friend’s older brother had in the 80s. The red cursor and escape keys are a nice icing on the cake.

The PimpMyKeyboard caps are decidedly lower profile than the quite high originals, and the function keys even are a bit recessed into their deep settings. I think it’s a nice detail, but some might feel the caps a bit low for this Filco.

Main keys are good height and a pleasure to type on. For some reason, I had issues with the D key getting stuck down on my keyboard. I notified PMKB and they promptly sent me a replacement for no cost (and a fun “sorry!” sticker :), which was excellent service. The new D is a bit better, but it still sometimes gets held down, and I suspect my Filco may have its D switch some fractions of a millimeter off center, causing the issue with keycaps of slightly different dimensions. Nothing a quick swipe of a file won’t fix.

Plusses of PMKB Dolch
  • High quality doubleshot ABS caps
  • Excellent font, very legible and very vintage
  • Pleasant neutral color scheme reminiscent of the 70s and 80s
  • Written labels on special keys is very retro
  • Good selection of additional key kits including ISO, color highlights and gamer options
  • Fast shipping, great customer service
Minuses
  • Darn expensive, cost more than a keyboard when shipped to Europe
  • High Filco original keycaps mean it’s an A- fit instead of straight A
  • No PBT option

Conclusions

I’ve now logged about five months of continuous use with the Filco Majestouch-2 TK and I can say I like the cherry MX blues well. They have a satisfying feel and sound, and there’s a certain feeling it imparts when you are using the keyboard. In mechanical switch realm I still think the Topre switches have a slight edge, but the difference is small and they lack the oldskool feel so I haven’t bothered hauling my Realforce from work over this time.

Main consideration with the MX blues compared to the browns for example is the sound level. The first four months I had the pleasure to type on my Filco while my wife was temporarily in Cambridge, and I could enjoy the clickies. Now that she’s back, the sound doesn’t probably bother her much (no complaints so far) but I am quite aware whenever I’m typing after midnight. In this regard, my previous Apple Magic Keyboard is more clandestine.

If you are on the lookout for a top notch mechanical keyboard, I can give a high recommendation to the Filco. A further recommendation for the MX blue option if you’re in an environment where the clicks won’t be a problem. And of course you can have another late night coding keyboard, so you get some refreshing variety in your life!

Also, thumbs up for the PMKB Dolch keyset, they are 98 % perfect fit for the Filco! I wanted a retro keyboard, and now I have it, and thanks for excellent build quality and good switches, it’s not just shiny exterior, but a pleasure to hack on as well.

Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

There are few tools that are essential for an electronics hobbyist. When I started, I had a soldering iron, a multimeter and some components, and that was about it. That got me quite far because you can do simple debugging even with a multimeter, but once you start to do any communications, you will either work in the dark or get a signal analyzer, oscilloscope, or both. I reached that point about 9 months into my hobby, and eventually decided to get an entry-level PicoScope from Picotech. You can read the whole story from my PicoScope 2204 review from four years ago.

Long story short, I was extremely happy with my Picoscope, and I’ve been using Picotech’s products ever since in various projects. In the past years, I’ve also been collaborating with Picotech, so I’ve had the chance to use also their higher end models, including the frighteningly powerful 4-channel, 200 MHz, 16 bit PicoScope 5444B, which is really great but maybe even too hefty for my use. So when I was offered the chance to try out Picotech’s latest generation of their entry-level 2000 series published just a month ago, I was immediately in.

Without further ado, let’s get reviewing!

PicoScope 2000 series overview

The new PicoScope 2000 series is divided into roughly two groups of equipment: The entry models 2204 and 2205 range in price from 139€ for the 10 MHz 2-channel 2204A to 419€ 2205A and 2405A which are 25 MHz and have MSO (mixed-signal oscilloscope, i.e. it has 16 channel digital part as well) capability and 4-channels, respectively. Don’t let the low bandwith confuse you, even these models have sampling rates ranging from 100 MS/s to 500 MS/s, so you will get quite a lot of measuring power out of them.

Biggest limitation with 2204 and 2205 models is the buffer size, which ranges from 8 kS to 48 kS, so for longer captures than a few waveforms, only option is the continuous capture over USB which worked at a steady rate of 1 MS/s the last time I used it. So you can do unlimited capturing of signals around 100 kHz, but above that it’s the normal oscilloscope triggering business — that’s the way scopes have always worked from their beginnings, so it gets the job done as well.

  2204 2205 2206 2207 2208
Bandwith 10 MHz 20 MHz 50 MHz 70 MHz 100 MHz
Sample rate 100 MS/s 200 MS/s 500 MS/s 1000 MS/s 1000 MS/s
Resolution * 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit 8 bit
Memory 8 kS 16 kS (48 kS w. MSO/4ch) 32 MS 64 MS 128 MS
Price (2015-22-05) 139 € 209 € 319 € 459 € 629 €
Options MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch MSO or 4ch

*) Resolution for repeating signals can be increased to 12 bit with multiple samples
Continue reading Picoscope 2208B MSO Review

Topre Realforce 88UB – A Happier Hacking Keyboard

Topre Realforce 88UB review

This is my review of the Topre Realforce 88UB mechanical keyboard with evenly weighted 45g switches and UK layout. This is the ISO layout sister model of the Topre Realforce 87U (87UB / 87UW) so everything in this review will apply for that model, except a few layout details regarding the extra keys. Before diving into details, a short background of my previous journey:

Two years ago I got really interested in high quality mechanical keyboards. After all, the keyboard is the instrument I use several hours every day, so if I am spending close to 2000€ on a workstation and display, why should I compromise with a cheap 30€ keyboard, especially since the keyboard will likely last several workstation lifespans?

After heavy research I settled on Happy Hacking Keyboard 2 Professional due to its compact “hacker” layout which seemed great for vim, and Topre key switches, which many consider to have the very best tactile feel. See my review of the HHKB2 keyboard for details.

However, in two years of typing with the HHKB, I never fully learned to use function key bindings for cursor keys and Home/End fluently. Coding with Vim somewhat alleviated the problem, but every time with a command prompt or a shell this nagged me. Also, playing games required a separate keyboard, as most games make use of function keys, and many make use of both WASD and cursor keys. It was time for something else. Something better.

Topre Realforce 88UB – Best of both worlds?

After my experience with HHKB, I had the critical components for my dream keyboard well thought out:

  1. Tenkeyless model with dedicated cursor and function keys. I’ve also used CM Quickfire TK and I can say from experience it is a terrible idea.
  2. ISO layout, so I get the \ and | right next to my right pinky, and an additional key next to z to get < and > in Finnish keyboard layout (it doubles as another \| in US layout)
  3. Topre switches for the ultimate typing comfort. Having used rubber dome, scissor mechanisms and Cherry MX blues, and trying out reds, blacks and browns, there really is no competitor. Buckling spring is just too heavy and noisy for my taste.

The items 1 and 2 are quite easy, but the third one essentially meant that the Topre Realforce line would be the primary candidate to fill all these needs. I’ve used The Keyboard Company before and they have a superb selection of Topre models, so I quickly zoomed in on the black 88-key model with UK layout:

Topre Realforce 88UB UK layout
Continue reading Topre Realforce 88UB – A Happier Hacking Keyboard

Picoscope Beta for Linux

Picoscope for Linux

Tux logo by Larry Ewing, Simon Budig, Anja Gerwinski

I’ve been a big fan of Picotech’s USB connected PC oscilloscopes ever since I purchased my first PicoScope 2204 almost two years ago. I liked the compact form factor on my desk a lot, and the powerful Picoscope software for Windows – Picotech makes only one version of this software so you get the same functionality with a £159 ($260) 2204 scope as a £5,995 ($9,900) PicoScope 6407 user would – although of course the scope features would be wildly different.

Now Picoscope is a great piece of Windows software and as I generally use Win7 to avoid reboots every time I want to use Photoshop or play a session of Mass Effect, it’s been perfect for me. However, quite a few of electronics enthusiasts are also big advocates of open software movement, and while Picotech has had drivers and SDK for Linux for a while to implement things like my realtime composite decoder, the fact that there is no Linux version of the oscilloscope software has been unfortunate. So when I noticed in the latest Picotech newsletter that there is now a beta of Picoscope for Linux, I knew I had to take it for a spin.

Installing Picoscope on Linux Mint 15

Picotech’s installation process is built on apt packaging system, so a Debian-based Linux distro is the easiest installation target. This includes the wildly popular Ubuntu and Linux Mint distros, which means mainstream Linux users are well catered to. In Picotech forums, the beta thread had at least one user who extracted necessary stuff from the .deb packages and installed the software for Fedora, too.

In Debian-based Mint, the installation went without any hiccups just by following the instructions at Picotech’s Linux Drivers page. Note that sudo apt-get install picoscope also installs all drivers so you don’t need to install your model-specific driver separately. Essentially the installation is just:

sudo echo deb http://labs.picotech.com/debian picoscope main >> /etc/apt/sources.list
wget -O - http://labs.picotech.com/debian/dists/picoscope/Release.gpg.key | sudo apt-key add -
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install picoscope

Continue reading Picoscope Beta for Linux

PicoScope 3206B Review

As I mentioned earlier, I got a PicoScope 3206B back in August. After a few months of use I have gathered enough experience with it to feel qualified to write a review on the device.

Those who haven’t yet done so, I suggest you to check out my earlier review of PicoScope 2204 – it covers a bit of my rationale for a USB scope, and the basic features of Picoscope software, which is the same for the whole PicoScope product line.

The 3206B is the top-of-the-line two-channel scope in the 3000 series. The prices have dropped a bit after the introduction of mixed signal version 3206B MSO, so for $1320, you’ll get this device with fairly impressive key feature set:

  • Two channels, and external trigger line
  • 200 MHz analog bandwith
  • 500 MS/s sampling rate
  • A huge 128 MS sample buffer
  • Arbitary waveform function generator (20 MS/s)
  • Two 250 MHz probes, storage bag and software CD

For full details, I suggest you to look up the 3200 series spec sheet from Picotech’s website. Let’s get started!

Unpacking the box

Picotech ships from UK and within EU, no additional taxes or import fees need to be paid. Both my deliveries from them have arrived promptly within two days, well packaged and in impeccable condition.

The scope comes in a cardboard box that also has space for the probes, a storage bag and software CD. Nothing too fancy, but works well for longer term storage, too.
Continue reading PicoScope 3206B Review

Olimex and ATtiny2313 breadboard header

This is the final article in my ATtiny2313 breadboard header series. In the previous parts we’ve looked at:

In this part, I’ll have a short review of the PCB ordering process with Olimex, and a bit how the boards turned out. Let’s get going!
Continue reading Olimex and ATtiny2313 breadboard header

Digi-Key Order and Review

Until now, I’ve been ordering all my electronics supplies through the excellent Finnish firm Partco. However, after running out of ATtiny85 chips I just couldn’t make myself pay 5.90€ ($7.80) when the same part was available for third the price from Digi-Key. I decided to try the fabled distributor myself. In case you haven’t tried them yet, read on for my experiences.

Website and Shopping Process

It is surprising how such a successful electronics component retailer is able to operate with such a poorly laid out and difficult to use website. From a usability standpoint, it’s a prime example of how not do design a web store. There’s so much to critize it’s hard to know where to begin, but here my top annoyances for the front page alone:
Continue reading Digi-Key Order and Review

PicoScope 2204 USB Oscilloscope Review

PicoScope 2204 USB scope

One of the nicest things when starting a new hobby is that there’s just so many things you don’t yet have, and can thus look forward to researching and then maybe buying if the price is right. In electronics, you can pretty much get started with a $10 soldering iron, $25 multimeter, maybe a $30 programmer if you want to use microcontrollers, and then just buy cheap components to tinker with. But sooner or later, you start thinking about how nice it would be if you had an oscilloscope.

For me it took about nine months. I saw an article on using AVR as an RFID tag and noticed I could build a simple RFID reader with a few components. However, to really learn something, it would be nice to actually see the 125 kHz RFID carrier wave instead of fumbling blindly with the schematics. Additionally, I could use the scope to verify DIY D/A circuits, maybe debug serial protocols and much more. So I started researching.

Getting a used analog or digital scope from eBay was of course one option. However, old scopes are big, clunky and I don’t really have much table space. And if the scope fell out of use, it would be wasting space in a closet. New Chinese-made digital scopes from Owon and Rigol looked good and were relatively small and light. However, they had 640×480 or 800×600 displays and I had 2560×1600 30″ monitor sitting on my workspace, and being more of a software person, I eventually decided against them and chose to get a PC scope instead.

Options in USB scopes

Going through the options for digital scopes, there seemed to be a few price brackets:
Continue reading PicoScope 2204 USB Oscilloscope Review