The MechBoard64

Shift Lock Circuit

The original Shift Lock key uses a latching/locking type switch. Cherry used to make these but have since discontinued making them. Thus, I had to come up with another solution. I therefore made a small circuit which adds a push on push off functionality. This way a standard non-latching microswitch can be used to turn on the Shift Lock and when pressed again, turn it off. In order to get a visual indication of the state of the switch (on or off) a red 3 mm LED is placed underneath the keycap which lights up whenever the switch is activated. The circuit is made from a few standard components including a NE555 timer, a 4066 analog switch, some resistors and two capacitors.

Before transferring the circuit onto the PCB, the Shift Lock circuit was tested with a simple breadboard connected to a Commodore 64. The Shift Lock circuit is powered using the 5V line going to the keyboard. This 5V line is not used on the original C64 keyboards, so it came in handy for powering the Shift Lock circuit on my keyboards. The 5V line is also present on the C64 Reloaded boards and Gideon has confirmed that it is also present on his Ultimate64 boards (thanks Gideon!).

Two SIP sockets have been added to the Shift Lock microswitch. This way the color of the 3mm LED can easily be exchanged to match the color of the power LED of the machine.

It is also possible to exchange the standard non-latching microswitch with a locking type switch like the Cherry Locking switch. To do this, the momentary microswitch obviously needs to be de-soldered and replaced. In that case the small Shift Lock circuit is no longer needed and must be bypassed in order for the locking switch to work properly. This is simply done by moving the two header caps inside the Shift Lock Circuit area of the PCB as indicated by the text on the board. Easy peasy!

NOTE: Using the MechBoard64 with a Keyrah from Individual Computers (link) should be possible. However, as the 5V line of the Keyrah is not connected, neither the Shift Lock circuit nor the LED will function. In this case, a Cherry Locking switch may be used instead.

Wiring the MechBoard64

The keyboard is connected to the motherboard using a 20 cm ribbon cable. Below are images from installation in a long board (Assy 250425) and a short board (Assy 250469).

One of my C64C slim cases has an Assy 250466 long board installed as Commodore basically assembled machines depending on what they had in stock. The combination of a long board and a C64C slim case places the keyboard pins on the C64 motherboard quite far from the keyboard pins on the PCB and the 20 cm ribbon cable is simply too short. I therefore had to use a 10 cm extension cable to make it work. I have also seen Assy 250425 long boards installed in C64C slim cases. That combination will also need an extension cable…

Keyboard Case & Mount Compatibility

I wanted to make sure that the keyboard is as universal as possible. I therefore tested it in all the different machines that I have in my possession. I found that the MechBoard64 fits perfectly in all of my machines regardless of the internal hardware and cases (breadbox and C64C slim cases). The only combination that caused some trouble was long boards (e.g. Assy 250425 and Assy 250466) installed in a C64C slim case. This combination needs a longer ribbon cable in order to make the connection as described previously!

Adding the MechBoard64 to Real Hardware

Well, there is not much to report as the MechBoard64 simply does what it is supposed to do – give inputs to the Commodore 64 regardless of motherboard version. The Shift Lock circuit works like a charm and turns on and off as it is supposed to. The MechBoard64 fits perfectly in both C64C slim cases and the old breadbox cases.

If looking closely at the images below of the keyboard inside a C64C case, it’s possible to see the wider Gateron microswitches underneath the keycaps. This is of course not possible on the old keyboard as it has, well no microswitches. All that is visible is the springs…

…and after waiting for more than two years, my C64 Reloaded machines have finally gotten their new keyboards… Now I just need need some keycaps. Please hurry up Phase5!

Final Thoughts

My little keyboard project has finally come to an end! I’ve spend 350+ hours on the project and the total cost of making the two keyboards exceeds reason by a very large margin… But it has been sooo much fun creating something usefull for my machines that I couldn’t just order somewhere. Hopefully they will last for at least 30 years! The final looks of the keyboard also exceeded my expectations by far and I’m really glad I abandoned the acrylic plate bracket and went for an aluminum version instead. The final version is very stiff and should be able to take some serious pounding…

© 2018

39 comments on “The MechBoard64

  1. Currently there are no plans on making the keyboard available with Cherry switches, sorry. However, future batches may have a ‘switchless’ options for those who want to install their own switches 😉

  2. I guess I should’ve made my question less specific… So there are no plans to offer a batch with switches other than the Gateron Yellow? Linear switches are a no-go for me, if I’m going to replace a C64 keyboard I would want something that improves on the original instead of just copying the mushy feel of it.

  3. Hi Unseen, I know that the choice of microswitches is a very personal thing especially for those who use as a mechanical keyboard as their ‘daily driver’. For the MechBoard64 I had to make some choices with regard to microswitches to find a balance between cost, quality and availability. The primary goal was to find a switch that would resemble the ‘feel’ (whatever that is, right?) of the original C64 keyboard the best. To this end, I think that the Gateron yellows get closest with respect to being linear and the force needed to activate – but without the mushy feel of the original. However, that is just my personal opinion and the MechBoard64 is therefore also offered with Gateron Reds and clicky Blues.

    You will certainly get an even stiffer feel by using Cherry greens or their clicky blues! That is also why I’m considering to offer future batches with an option without any switches installed. This way people, like yourself, can add their favorite Cherry mx styled microswitches and hopefully share their experince 🙂

  4. We Love your engagement and want to preorder a new Keyboard for our C64.

  5. @MtnBuffalo Ah, I didn’t see that you also offer Red and Blue! Just disregard my questions then, Gateron Blue is probably clicky enough for me. =)

  6. Just curious, you have gone this far with the keyboard. Why not go all the way and create the keycaps too, that will fit the switches? Screw waiting for phase5…

  7. Hi Oscar, back in 2015 when I started on the keyboard project, the Phase5 campaign seemed like a sure thing that would come through really fast. However, as time has passed even I start to have doubts that they will ever deliver. Producing the keycaps myself would be the coolest way to finish the MechBoard64 and to get rid of the 3D printed adaters. The problem is that the mold cost is very high. I have been told that they cost at least $20.000+ to make before the first keycap has been produced. After that they need to be printed on. As I have absolutely no experience with this line of work, the financial risk is simply too high. However, if someone will produce the keycaps I’m more than willing to team up 🙂 The MechBoard64 can very easily be adjusted to accommodate Cherry mx styled keycaps.

  8. 3D printed ketycaps would definately work. However, the finish will be different compared to plastic molded keycaps 🙂

  9. Hi Jason, no it is a standard non-latching microswitch just like the rest of the keyboard switches. A red LED lights up underneath the keycap when the Shift Lock is active. However, a locking type switch like the Cherry locking can be installed by the user. The mod is described in the installation manual (link). If the mod is performed, it will void your warranty of the keyboard.

  10. Hi Urban, estimated delivery times are always stated at the current batch page which can be found on this page (link) 🙂 The current batch (Signature 2018 batch) is expected to be shipped no later than October 29th 2018. However, I try to ship the keyboards out as I make them so the date is conservative 😉

  11. so.. basically… that’s the final stage in reproducing new c64’s.
    take a new c64c case from icomp, take the ultimate64-II mainboard (as the one icomp offers still needs the old chips you can’t buy anywhere), take that white psu boxy thing made by yet another company and take this keyboard… and you have a complete brand new c64. Btw scr** the ‘original’ keycaps. Why not just take any keycap that was designed for these switches and already is mass produced and just have the commodore pictures lasered onto them instead. Same mold, for all I care even the same grey plastic, just different images on the keys 😉 (or would normal keycaps be too low to come out of the case or something)
    Now all that’s needed is a shop that sells it all in masses, in one place. Preferably already assembled and put into one box 😛 (the keyboard has been the ‘missing part’ for years now, all of those chips have had fgpa replacements for ages. The case molds popped up again, nobody even wants the original PSU as it’s a death trap so there are at least 3 better mass produced replacements for those on the market. But nobody ever came up with a keyboard to complete the thing.

  12. I have to ask. – Why didn’t you get the switches with new keycaps? Was there a size issue? Cost? It seems to me that if everything else on the keyboard is new, why not the keycaps? This is not a cheap assembly, just under $200 US. Were the adapters drastically cheaper than new parts?

    After reading about how sturdy the assembly is, it seems like there are ways to trim the PCB thickness and the aluminum plate, and still have a keyboard that is several times more sturdy than the original keyboard.

    One of the issues with rebuilding an older Commodore is that the plastic keyboard parts are often bad, broken or missing.


  13. I would love to add keycaps to the keyboard. No doubt about it. Cherry mx keycaps will fit the Gateron switches. However, the keycaps are not all standard size so a normal e.g 96/104 keyset of Cherry mx compatible keycaps cannot be used. The C64 has more 1.5u keycaps and the 9u spacebar is not really easy to get anywhere. To my knowledge only Signatue Plastics produces them. I have just ordered a set of these for testing purposes. The price of the keycaps, shipping, customs fees and VAT, ended up at 226 USD…. And these keycaps are not even printed on!
    I’ve also talked to companies that make keycaps and print them. I need to order at least 200 sets and 1000 sets will abviously make it cheaper (go figure, right?). So adding printed keycaps, that can be used without the 3D prints will probably make the keyboard 65-120 USD more expensive. For customers with unlimitd funds, this may not be a problem. But for most people it will be. Furthermore, due to the unconventional keycap sizes, the C64 keysets will only be compatible with my keyboard and I don’t think I will ever sell even close to that many keyboards
    I can save a little on the PCB if the thickness is reduced. However, this is only in the range of 1-1.5 USD per PCB. Furthermore, the bracket price will be unchanged as any excess material will just be removed by the lasercutter – and most lilely reduce the strenght of it.
    So the short answer to your questions is cost. It will be way too expensive to add custom keycaps, especially if Phase5 from the Indiegogo campaign eventually starts to deliver. This will most likely make any custom keycaps for the MechBoard64 redundant.

  14. If the ultimate goal here is ultimately completely new machines with completely new parts, then the need for keycap adapters and old keycaps may not be ideal for achieving it. Doubleshot PBT keycaps are really expensive, but UV printed keys are pretty attainable in small, even single-unit quantities. The question is … will standard keycaps even fit the C64 housings?

  15. I would love to be able to use a Commodore 64, built brand new from new parts like this as a daily driver for work. Maybe if someone can develop GEOS 3.0 and develop enhancements to the GUI for daily use…
    We can deal with the graphics not being the best, but memory, disk speed and networking would be a problem – so you should consider increasing the RAM (as if you had a expansion module built in) – include a SD Card reader in the side somewhere, so we can use SD Cards like small floppies and give me an Ethernet port or wireless so I can actually send an email.
    I believe all of these things have already been developed – either here or by others working on different projects.
    You should start a manufacturing collective, gathering parts from all the other projects out there and assembling them here into a kick ass C64R (R for Reloaded)… Use the newer C64c style case, it looks better than the breadbin – dare I say it.

  16. Dear MtnBuffalo,
    My no4 works perfect 🙂 I love this product and short msg for those who still thinking – order or not 🙂 ORDER ASAP !
    Did you think to put some more led to make (every three/four keys) a nice back light ?

  17. Dear Mike,
    Thanks for the very nice comment 🙂 Much appreciated.
    You are not the first one to ask for more LED light behind the keycaps. I personally think it would kinda ruin the original spirit of the Commodore 64 if I added heaps of LED light to it. On second thought, the newer machines (C64R and U64) with C64C cases in new colors, this may actually look pretty cool 🙂

  18. I like the second thought 😉 Maybe a small revision of the PCB (with the posibility to install switches with LEDs, like the Run Stop switch) will be enough ? 🙂 There should of course be a balance between the orginal spirit of the keyboard and the more futuristic looks of the newer machines (my keyboard works with the U64)… Maybe with an on/off option so that those who wants to keep it orginal can keep the LEDs turned off, but with the possibility to turn on the backlight to add some magic 😉
    Maybe this tiny gadget could be used – the TTP223 touch sensor button to turn on/off the light. I used the TTP233 with my mods and the wow effect is guaranteed 🙂 Here is an example of the device (not mine) on YouTube (link).

  19. Hi Mike, really cool idea with the touch sensor and an arduino to run it all. I’m a little concerned about the power needed to power everything (Arduino, touch sensor and numerous LEDs). Especially the bright LEDs chug down quite a bit of power. Don’t want to but excessive strain on the old power supplies that some people are still using 🙂

  20. You dont need Arduino to use the touch sensor 🙂 You can use it as a stand alone device. Sensor works with 3.3 to 5 v. Regarding the old power supplies – Mmybe in that mode use only every third LED in line? It will be 5 LEDs per row 🙂

  21. Have you considered releasing a variant of the MechBoard64 which works as a USB keyboard? It would be a good complement to both software emulation running on modern PCs and … certain hardware C64 replicas which use USB keyboards. An integrated dual USB hub would be ideal, as that would allow joysticks, USB drives, SD2IECs, and also mice and normal PC-layout keyboards to be plugged in.

  22. Hi Leo, I have actually played around with the idea of implementing a small circuit that would enable USB connectivity. To keep the MechBoard64 in its current form, I think the best approach would be in the form of e.g. a cheap daughterboard that can be inserted directly onto one of the 20 pin male connectors. It could also be one of the smaller (and cheaper) Arduinos with USB integrated. The latter doesn’t have the USB hub you talk about. However, having a readily programmable platform will certainly make things happen a lot faster in comparison to developing a new PCB 🙂

  23. Hi, great looking and well build keyboard! I’m interested in buying a keyboard for my U64. How can I sign up?

  24. Hi Richard, thank you for your interest in the MechBord64. You can always find the latest information on current and future batches on top of this page (link) 🙂

  25. Hi Flor, you will need to find a donor C64 keyboard to get the keycaps. I’ve tested some modern day keycaps here (link) but they did’t have any letters on them and none of the 1.5u keycaps would fit…

  26. Hi FeralChild, those keycaps look sooo nice! Thanks for sharing. I’ve also added them to the MechBoard64 User Gallery section which can be found here (link)
    Would you share what keycaps they are and how you got them printed?

  27. Thank you 🙂
    Short story: keycaps printed in MaxKeyboard (took 104 ANSI 6.0U space variant + 2x 1.5U R1 keys).
    Long story: I am going to publish everything (SVG design + 3D CAD files + detailed instruction), probably on a public GIT service; but for now the priority is to design and 3D-print the inserts for 1.5U keys.
    BTW, there is currently a small brainstorm ongoing on the Lemon64 forum, more people are discussing (and prototyping) their ideas 🙂 (link)

  28. What an amazing build! Are the new C64 to MX adapter .stl files that you improved available to download at all?

  29. Hi Patrick, I did not alter the orignal .stl that much. I basically filled the top right hole with a logo plate 🙂

  30. Just wanted to say I’m really interested in this product as I am going to build a new C64 soon. Looks fantastic!

  31. Is there gonna be a 128 version of this? I have a 128 that needs this due to a sticky “,” key 🙂

  32. Dear friend, I have received my Mechboard and it’s so good. Good job. And now, let me ask you a question: Can you recommend a set of brackets for a C64C Pixelwizard case and a Ultimate 64? What I bought to that store doesn’t fit with your keyboard. Thanks in advance.

  33. Hi Sergio, thanks for your feedback and for bringing to my attention that the Pixelwizard 3D printed keyboard brackets use different holes than the original Commodore 64 mounts.
    You have a few options: You can either simply not install the screw of the right 3D printed bracket from Pixelwizard. The MechBoard64 will fit the Pixelwizard case pretty tight, so it shouldn’t move around too much even if leaving out one screw. You can also drill a hole into the aluminum bracket of the MechBoard64 (this will void the warranty, though!). Last option is to get a 3D printed keyboard bracket from Corei64 in Canada (link) 🙂 That should work with the Pixelwizard case and the Ultimate64 without any issues.

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