CharlieFoxtrot wrote on 2023-03-12, 11:00:
I've incidently read a lot about different Model Ms recently, and what I've gathered there is no difference at least between the white and blue labels. They are the same keyboard, IBM at some point just transferred keyboard manufacturing to Lexmark division. They were made with same tooling in same factories as they were when they were branded IBM. Only major design change during Lexmark days was that at some point they ditched the detachable cable.
And the same goes with Unicomp. When IBM quit ordering Model M keyboards, bunch of people who worked at that time first in IBM and then in Lexmark offered to buy the production equipment and rights to the Model M keyboards from IBM/Lexmark. And thus the story of model M continues to this day, Unicomp has of course introduced their improved model, but they still make and sell the classic one.
Yes, Unicomp still makes them, but no, there are differences. Simplest measure was weight:
1st gen was 2.5kg, 2nd gen were 2.2kg, 3rd gen 2.06kg and 4th gen started at 2kg. That's simply less material being used per generation, mainly in the steel backplate. Thinner backplate means less rigidity and a more high-pitched sound.
Oddly Unicomp claims current Classic 104 White Buckling Spring weigh an unlikely 7lbs (=3.17kg), which if true would make them heavier than most Model F boards. I've had one Unicomp board and sadly I was not impressed: it was most definitely not over 3kg, the plastic felt light, brittle and had sharp edges. The whole thing rattled alarmingly. It felt as if they were not only still using the same molds as almost 30 years ago, but that they were not maintaining them, leading to wear and looser tolerances. I'd thoroughly recommend Unicomp for any spares for these boards, their service is absolutely top-notch, but I wouldn't get one of their new boards.
Now, differences between 2nd gen (white oval) and 3rd gen (first with blue oval) are relatively small, mainly the addition of (sometimes partial) drainage channels/holes, and the use of a flat rather than round coiled cable - and a reduction of backplate thickness.
I have both 2nd and 3rd gen and prefer the slightly more solid feel of the 2nd gen, but they are the closest match between any two version.
As for the price... vintage PC stuff is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it. I'd not pay USD 300 for any Model M or indeed Model F unless complete NOS. Of course I have several of both which does reduce the need for more, but I regularly see 2nd gen Model Ms go for less than EUR 150, and usually prices are higher in Europe than in the US. In fact I'm the patient 'wait for months until something I want comes by locally' kind of person and I've not paid more than EUR 100 for any of my vintage IBM boards, not even my F 122 Battleship. As always, if you are impatient, you will pay more.