Sep 30 '22

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 Replacement

my old natural 4k

They stopped making it! I’m actually typing this post now with a keyboard I built from scracth. I’ve previously been using the MS 4k for over a decade. OK, not the exact one in the image; it’s like my 5th. Without it I’d get wrist pain within a day.

I suddenly found a new one was $400 on amazon! I was also thinking of checking to see if there was something more modern. I think the keys sometimes activate a little past the bump, which has lead me to prefer hammering on them to guarantee it registers. Or maybe I’m just always angry when I code. Things I want in a new keyboard:

  • Ergonomic design. I.e. angled left and right halves. I don’t care of they’re separate/"split” or not.
    • The keys of the 4K are nicely curved in a 3D wave. More on that later.
    • Ctrl and shift are easier to reach with my 5th finger. Actually this is where a lot of discomfort from straight boards comes from. I copy/paste a lot and use ctrl-arrow and ctrl-shift-arrow keys frequently.
  • Reverse tilt. I absolutely love the backwards tilt that the MS 4k’s stand gives. It boggles my mind that so many keyboards come with little stands to raise the back.
  • Wrist/palm rest. As visible in the image, I make good use of the palm rest. Note that this isn’t always great for your wrists and some people say a floating position works better for them.
  • Navigation keys. I use arrow keys and home/end a lot! I don’t care about a numberpad - it just gets in the way of the mouse. I later found this was called an 80% / “TKL”.
  • Light actuation and responsive keys. I don’t want to have to hammer keys to make them work.

Microsoft have a couple of new boards. One is the “Sculpt”. Can people stop making keybaords with integral navigation key layouts? Arrow keys, home and end need to be in a consistent location for my muscle memory to work and when they’re not I can’t copy/paste effectively.

Sculpt ergonomic keyboard

The official replacement is rather ambiguously named the “Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard” (microsoft.com, wikipedia.org). At least the navigation keys are still in a sane place.

Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard

This might have been where my search ended, and there are some other decent looking ergonomic membrane keyboards with standard navigation keys out there (search). Buut.. what about a mechanical keyboard? (search+mechanical) I haven’t used one since the days of old AT DIN connectors. Could an ergonomic one exist? It seems others have had similar ideas too…

Just as recommended on reddit (others fyi), the visually closest mechanical one I could find is the Cloud Nine C989 ErgoFS. Note that they make a smaller one but with ****ed navigation keys. Probably worth a shot, but the keys are perfectly straight rows and by now I’m interested by the term ten keys less (TKL), which technically means no number pad but sadly is also applied to many keyboards with ****ed navigation keys. What other options are out there?

Cloud Nine C989 ErgoFS

Ooh, there’s a whole community of people out there that build their own keyboards!

enter image description here src

That sounds like a lot of work. Definitely, hats off to these people, but I just want something I can buy. So down the rabbit hole I go…

  • https://github.com/diimdeep/awesome-split-keyboards
  • https://gist.github.com/itod/ae27b30f7517dc18b8df110c1d98bccb

Thoughts…

  • They’re all just flat. Probably because PCBs and plates are far easier to make flat. (Afterthought: could be better but not terrible with good tenting adjustment)
  • They’re missing half the keys, like a navigation panel. (Afterthought: getting used to a thumb cluster and layers is possible - e.g. hold a button with your thumb and press I, J, K, L for arrows)
  • Some split boards have customizable buttons between the T, G, B and Y, H, N letters on each half - what a great idea!!
  • Some “columner” boards like Ergodox give kind of an arc/sweep to keys like the MS 4k.
  • The Moonlander can be tilted and tented but to give it a backwards tilt means the thumb cluster must be at an overly steep angle. Also the palm rests cannot be raised, out of the box. enter image description here
  • Some boards like the Dactyl-Manuform are just 3D printed and you can have any shape you want!! enter image description here

So nothing fits exactly what I want. Screw it. I own a 3D printer. I’ll build my own keyboard! (with blackjack…) How hard can this be! All I need to do is some simple soldering with some switches and diodes to an Arduino.

Next post coming soon!…


In the meantime:

The first thing I did was buy some mechanical switch samplers to see which ones I liked. Yes! There are many, many kinds. I highly recommend samplers as trial and error with full boards would be expensive. I liked:

  • Gateron browns. Similar to Kailh; nicer than Cherry which had more slop/play, IMO.
  • Kailh speed copper. Love the high activation point, right at the top, which makes them feel very responsive. Their upstroke is fairly loud and they feel like they take a tad more activation effort without the run-up you get with browns.
  • Kailh box whites. I don’t actually want clickies, but these were pretty cool. Not super loud despite the click on the upstroke too. I’ve since got a few to try with layer and modifier keys. If pressure is applied to the top of the keycap they can activate very slightly before clicking.

I occasionally get double activations with mechanical keys that I didn’t with the MS 4k. I don’t know if this is a thing, or I’m actually making mistakes. Not always the same keys and I’ve used two sets of switches, so it’s probably just me getting used to them and not hammering as much.

I then got a cheap (ish/relatively) mechanical board with my favorite switches. The plan was to use the switches in the one I end up making, and also see how I like using a full board. I was surprised how quickly my wrist pain returned when using this thing, even with a wrist pad and attempts to reverse tilt it.

keycheron

  • I’m in the same boat as you. I have 3 Microsoft Ergo 4000s left (2 on 2 separate computer stations, one in the closet) and they all look like the first pic in this post. On one of them the controller latches up periodically and I have to unplug/replug to reset it.

    I have one of the updated “Microsoft Ergonomic” keyboards, but all the keys are squished together in a smaller footprint, and the wrist rest is too broad. When using the front skirt for negative tilt, the wrist rest digs into my wrists and causes my fingers to go numb. I cannot use a keyboard without negative tilt (and I am also boggled as to why most keyboards only tilt up in the back).

    anonymous, Oct 27 '22
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    • Interesting about the Microsoft Ergonomic board! Wish they were able to keep the good parts when making revisions. BTW, I saw a post where someone was able to re-upholster their 4k wrist rest. I’ve used leather couch repair patches for that before and it works a treat! Those traces that connect the membrane contacts are crazy delicate when taking it apart though.

      anonymous, Oct 28 '22
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  • I currently have 3 or 4 Ergo 4Ks and use one almost every day and have done so for the last Ergonomic 4000 years so I’m reeeeeeeeealy used to where all the keys are. I almost never have to look down when I type and can regulary type !, @, #, $, &, *, (, and ) without looking. I always wanted a wireless Ergo 4K and was able to make one a few ̶b̶e̶e̶r̶s̶ years ago via Handheld Scientific's BT-500 "Bluetooth Adapter for Keyboard & Mouse". It worked pretty well with the only downside being the daily swapping of a freshly recharged usb power stick (which I quickly converted to an 18650 + boost converter) and the bulk of the battery and extra components. In addition to wireless I wanted something new(er) but it had to have the arrow keys and the 6 keys above that in the same configuration. I was pretty happy when I found this exact layout in the semi-recently released Logitech Ergo K860. This keyboard has both Bluetooth and one of their "Unifying" USB chicklets with the bonus being it can quickly switch between three different devices using either wireless option. I thought I had it made so I ponied up the ~$130 and bought one. I was happy with the build quality and battery life but I had trouble adjusting to it as the keys are flat and the overall geometry slightly off from the Ergo 4K. I figured it would take some time to adjust so I kept at it. Week after week after week. I could not seem to overcome my muscle memory for the distance between the split halves as I was continually one or two keys off when returning to the home position with my right hand after using the arrows and/or home/end/etc which I did all the time. This caused endless typos and slowly became quite aggravating. It would be interesting to know my ratio of the Backspace key to the rest of the keys as I suspect it might have been around 30% possibly approaching 40% (tho probably more like 10-20% which is still way too high of a number!). I finally gave up after ~8 weeks and am back on the one working Ergo 4K I have left. I need to try it again sometime and maybe stick with it a little longer (or at least research how long it takes an average user to switch keyboards!). I wrote all this up for a couple of reasons. The first is that I hope it helps someone looking for a new (wireless) version of the Ergo 4K to feel reasonably comfortable buying the Logi Ergo K860 as its layout is very similar to the Ergo 4K. It’s a quality keyboard that one can probably get used to given enough time. The second is for folks who always wanted a wireless Ergo 4K and didn’t know they could easily make one with a BT-500 and a USB power stick. And the last, most important reason, is that I hope this plan to make a 3D printable Ergo 4K comes to fruition and that someone emails me about it at msnek4k@palese.net so I can 3D print my own copy! God Speed, Keyboard Warrior! 🤘😁🤘 Vinny Palese

    anonymous, Jan 4 at 13:45
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