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Deck 82 keyboard (Ice Blue) review: Deck 82 keyboard (Ice Blue)

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IBM made its first Model M keyboard in the 1980s, and it quickly rose to a cult product among typing purists who preferred its buckling spring keys to the thin scissor-switch laptop keys we use today. The Deck 82 is the latest iteration of the classic Model M design, with Cherry MX black key switches, ultrabright backlit LEDs under each of the 82 keys, and a compact chassis that saves precious work-space real estate. At $119, the Deck 82 is cheaper than many of the mechanical keyboards we've reviewed, and its open architecture makes it easily accessible for user modifications. Although the adjusted key layout adds time to the learning curve, we recommend the Deck 82 mechanical backlit keyboard to anyone looking to upgrade his or her input device.

Deck 82 - Ice
8.7

Deck 82 keyboard (Ice Blue)

The Good

The backlit, compact 82-key layout helps the <b>Deck 82</b> keyboard fit in tight spaces, and its affordable price tag makes it an excellent mechanical keyboard for first-time adopters and mod-freaks alike.

The Bad

The keyboard lacks an integrated palm rest, which may limit its appeal for heavy typists.

The Bottom Line

The Deck 82 keyboard's space-saving design, adjustable backlit luminescence, and low price tag make this fully customizable keyboard a win for mechanical keyboard typists.

Design and features
The 82 is Deck Keyboards' answer to the high demand for the short-lived compact version of the IBM Model M, also known as the Space Saving keyboard for its 10-key-less layout. Likewise, the Deck 82 also eliminates the number pad on the right side of traditional keyboards to save room on your desktop, and the whole chassis measures just 12 inches wide by 6 inches deep by 1.8 inches tall.

Of course, reducing the number of keys also means that some of them need to be rerouted to nontraditional locations that may add time to the learning curve. For example, Deck moves the Delete key to the left of the four-way directional pad at the bottom, the Windows key earns a prominent position at the very top-right corner, and the Print Screen and SysRq keys are combined with Pause and Break.

Finally, the Page Up and Page Down keys line up vertically in a column on the right, and you'll also notice a keycap labeled "Fn" to the right of the space bar. That key toggles the secondary functions that you can assign to any of the F1 through F12 keys on the top row, and it's also used to adjust the brightness of the backlit LEDs hidden underneath each of the keycaps.

Deck tells us that the LEDs are rated at approximately 200,000 hours of life (that's 22 years, if you're doing the math), and that's if you never turn it off. Combined with the Cherry MX black keycaps' reported 50 million key-press life span, the Deck 82 will likely outlive the user depending on its care.

The Deck 82 contains 83 LEDs lights total--a light under each of the 82 keys, another under the Caps Lock indicator, and yet another on the translucent USB plug. You can toggle between seven levels of brightness by holding down the Fn key while simultaneously pressing the up or down arrows. Alternatively, you can also Fn and the 1-7 numbers for predefined luminescence, and believe us when we say the keyboard gets very bright: the maximum brightness tops out at 5.25 milliamps (mA), and the steady glow is very useful for working at night or channeling your inner hacker.

The company currently only offers the stock keyboard in Ice Blue, which is the unit we reviewed, but the four screws on the bottom steel plate make it easy to replace the blue with the different colored casings available for purchase from Deck.

Deck also welcomes creative input for new functions and color suggestions on its Web Forum. A quick glance at the existing threads shows some users adding things like an integrated USB port similar to the replicator on the Das Keyboard, individual LED controls, custom paint jobs, and so on. The company also generously covers modded keyboards under its standard one-year warranty, within reason. And if you're not into experimenting with your Deck, you can also purchase replacement cables and keycaps.

Performance
Mechanical key switches offer a more tactile typing experience than the standard rubber dome switches you get on stock input devices. As with the IBM Model M, many users may enjoy the tactility and audible click emitted by the keys' resistance, but the sound unfortunately eliminates the appeal for office dwellers who may irritate their surrounding coworkers.

On the other hand, the Deck 82 uses linear Cherry MX black switches that give off a smoother, more pillowy feel than the Cherry MX blue series, but do require a little more actuation force to engage--60g, to be exact. The vertical depression distance down to the bottom of the key also feels longer because the actuation and release points are in the same position underneath the caps. Deck uses this style intentionally for the benefit of gamers who frequently hit the wrong button in play; the 4-millimeter key travel distance from top to bottom eliminates these accidental key presses. Lastly, hard-core gamers will also enjoy up to six simultaneous key presses at once on the 82, not including modifier keys (such as Shift and Alt), a feature commonly known as "rollover."

At the time of this review, Deck only offers PC versions of its custom keyboards. Like all USB plug-and-play devices, you can still use the Deck 82 with an Apple computer with no problems aside from the lack of an Eject button and incorrect artwork on the keycaps. For Mac users who want to swap the Alt (Option) and Windows (Command or Apple) keys, we recommend installing KeyRemap4MacBook, a lightweight application that lets you change nearly every key function on the board. Alternatively, PC users should check out a Registry hack called SharpKeys to remap individual keys to commonly used functions like media navigation, volume control, and app launches.

Conclusion
Deck keeps the door open to modifications on its 82-series illuminated keyboards with provisions for replacement USB cables, alternate colored chassis, and swappable keycaps. The Deck 82's burly physical build and durable internal key switches ensure its longevity, and its relatively low price tag for a mechanical keyboard solidifies our recommendation for those looking to upgrade their typing hardware.

Deck 82 - Ice
8.7

Deck 82 keyboard (Ice Blue)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 9