Prototype Your Keyboard Layout First: X-keys XKE-128

Ortho-Linear keyboards are great. Before laying down the cash it would be nice to see how it feels. All of the different layouts look interesting too. It would be nice to easily try them out with a new layer or something. It seems like there might be a nice option.


The easiest way to try it out might be using a reprogrammable grid keyboard.

I wanted the following:

  • (Model): And URL
  • (R&C) Lots of rows and columns
    • Love single keypress to do things
    • Want it wide enough to serve as a split-keyboard, without splitting
  • ($) is available for purchase in USD
  • Re(P)ly: Sales/company replies to emails
    • Don’t make it a challenge just to buy it
  • (R)eprogrammable
    • Conveniently
  • (C)ross Platform
    • Works on OS X and Windows
  • (K)eycaps and switches are likable
  • (Note): Anything

I found:

Model R&C $ P R C K Note
(DigiPos) TIPRO FREE-128 8×16 ? F T T Cherry MX Mostly PS2. Mostly UK.
ACCESS-IS AKC128 8×16 235 F T T Cherry MX Cfg prog painful.
Expertkeys EK-128 8×16 NA NA NA NA NA No USA sales.
Cherry G86-63400EUADAA 8×16 110 T T T F Great support. Rubber dome. Can’t use Cherry MX keycaps.
P.I. Engineering XKE-128 8×16 500 T T T Cherry MX caps Rub dome switch. Great support.
TYSSO PKB-111 7×16   NA T T Cherry. 16 layers! Supports OS X? USB PKB-111YBU. On device. Nice. Can’t find anywhere :(.
PrehKeyTec USA MC 128 8×16 120 NA T ? ?  

Addendum: <2016-04-23 Sat 15:06>

You can assemble/build an X-KEYS like grid keyboard using the Pi3 Matrix for $60USD.

Addendum: <2016-06-20 Mon 19:09>

Found the MC 128; there are both USB and PS/2 models on Ebay.


DigiPos, Access-IS never replied so they are out.

Expertkeys is out because I can’t easily buy it.

Cherry has been awesome throughout. They are likable in every regard. I want new keycaps though, so it is not an option. Too bad because 100 is a great price.

The PKB-111 rocks!!! Can’t find it for sale anywhere though.

P.I. Engineering seems to rock by every asessment I made.

Best Pick: X-keys XKE-128

  • Homepage
    • Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, Surface, USB HID
    • 8 rows, 16 columns
    • Ortho-linear
    • Can produce: 1-49 $500/unit, 200+ $350/unit
    • M-F, 8-5EDT customer support
    • XKE-128 USB Keyboard Info Sheet
      • Programmable
      • Commercial duty extruded aluminum case
      • Programmable via Windows or OS X
      • SDKs for everything but OS X
      • Emulates: keyboard, mouse, game controller, or media
        • Would be nice to do OS X keys for
          • Volume
          • Brightness
          • Everything else
          • Saw key caps for this somewhere
    • XKE-128 USB Keyboard Product Manual
      • Individual key backlighting
      • US Company for design and manufacturing
      • FCC compliance
    • Pictures
      • Like the look of it
    • Videos
      • Macroworks tutorials reveals that there are two modes: software and hardware. Hardware lets you utilize your programming on any OS.
        • Two layers: blue and red
        • Can program a key to change layers
        • Software mode
          • Macros per application
          • Macros let you
            • Insert text
            • Send keystroke
              • Modifiers
              • Tab
            • Shortcut to a file or URL
            • A function
          • Can string together events
        • After saving your key configuration if you press another key you can begin programming it immediately. This make for an easy configuration cycle.
      • Text feature
        • Easily do Unicode
        • Chinese, Greek, Emoticons
      • MacroWorks is powerful
        • Can stick keys; can unstuck them
        • State management with Sketchup example
  • Features
    • Better summary
    • Recommend single units for experimentation
    • Can do key caps: double-shot molded
    • Can take the keyboard through all aspects of manufacturing
  • Specs
    • Switch Type: Full-travel rubber dome, carbon on gold contacts, guaranteed for over 1 million operations
      • Bummer?
    • Key Cap Type: Relegendable with Cherry MX compatible stem
      • Rocks!
    • Key Cap Size
      • 0.625” (16mm) sq.
    • Key Spacing
      • 0.75“ O.C.
    • Current Draw: Cool to have it all listed out
  • Drawings
    • Cool
  • 3D
    • Cool
  • Software
    • CM seems to do everything MW does, for OS X
  • Accessories
    • OK
  • Developers
    • Developer Integration follows
    • X-keys are normally used in one of 3 ways.
      • Hardware Mode – the X-keys simply sends native USB commands to the OS
      • Software Mode with MacroWorks Software – the X-keys sends SPLAT Messages to the HID driver and MacroWorks translates them into the desired response such as a keystroke, mouse, or other action
      • Software Mode with a Custom Application – the X-keys sends SPLAT Messages to the HID driver and a developer translates them into the desired response within the application
    • I want hardware mode because I want a cross-OS keyboard
  • Applications
    • Case Studies
    • Programs
      • Black Magic ATEM
        • Video production
      • Day Trading
        • Yes
      • Adobe Photoshop
        • Personal layout, cool
      • Sketchup
    • Industries
      • Video Switching
      • Sports Data
      • Trading
      • Live Media Control


Elisp let’s you fail fast and find what is right. It should be the same with designing keyboard layouts.

The XKE-128:

  • Is inexpensive
    • $500USD versus creating the PCB and case and firmware yourself
    • $500USD seems cheaper and faster then building a new 8×16 keyboard from


  • For prototyping it would be great
  • Is flexible
    • 8×16 gives you plenty of wiggle room
    • Lets you make a virtually split keyboard
  • Is supportable
    • Great team
    • Great timing
  • Is cross-platform
    • Hardware support if you want it
    • OS level if you want more
  • Is production ready
    • If the keyboard takes off, they can make one for real

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