$Id: mini-keyboards.html,v 1.6 2008/02/26 21:58:33 pmaoki Exp $

You might want a small (80-, 81- or 84-key) keyboard for any of several reasons.

  1. You have limited space - you have a small physical desktop or keyboard tray, you're looking for a keyboard to sit on top of a rackmounted machine (19" form factor), etc.
  2. You think it's stupid that you can't position yourself in the center of your desk's leg aperture.
  3. You're getting RSI from reaching over your numeric keypad for the mouse.

The downsides are equally obvious.

  1. Your arrow keys move to a funny location.
  2. The Home, End, PageUp, PageDown keys become accessible only through the Fn key.
  3. They don't have anti-RSI versions (Microsoft Natural, Kinesis, etc.).

I have looked at two small keyboards, both of which run $30-$40 (though they list higher):

BTC 5100C
The 5100 was volubly praised in Paul Vixie's BSD/OS hardware recommendations from way back when (the link used to be http://www.vix.com/vix/pc-hw/bsd-os-hwconfig.html#Mouse). These are made by Taiwan-based BTC and are fairly easily to obtain (I'm not sure if Fry's carries them or not, but I've seen them in stores around the Valley and they're available online). The 5100 is fairly quiet but has a better tactile feedback (stiffer membrane?) than most PC keyboards. I've been using one myself since 1998 or so and it's still my desktop keyboard. This being the 21st Century, there's now a USB version (BTC 5139) as well.
SIIG MiniTouch
I own a Model 1903 (5-pin mini-DIN). SIIG keyboards are even easier to find than the BTCs - SIIG is based in California. The tactile and audible feedback is not quite "IBM Selectric," but it's pretty clicky. I like clicky. (I haven't popped the keycaps to figure out if it's actually a spring-action or just a really, really stiff membrane. I suspect the latter, though.) The audible feedback is fairly loud for a shared-office or cubicle environment, though - I'd probably use this instead of the BTC if it weren't for the loudness factor.

One might also consider more expensive options:

Lenovo/IBM
I don't know much about IBM's SpaceSaver keyboard (28L3640), which was nominally aimed at rackmount users and had an integrated TrackPoint. (And IBM warned you that it was not compatible with non-IBM notebooks without further explanation.) I have used the Thinkpad Travel Keyboard (31P9490), which has the combined Ultranav/Trackpoint. It's a space-saver in width because you don't need a mouse, but it's also as deep as a laptop (because of the Ultranav pad), which is annoying, and considerably more expensive than the options above.