Anders Nielsen Brings an IBM Model M2 Keyboard Back From the Brink — and Offers a ChatGPT Warning

It might be tempting to lean on OpenAI's ChatGPT and other large language models when debugging unknown hardware, but do so with caution.

YouTuber and vintage computing enthusiast Anders Nielsen has brought a classic IBM Model M buckling-spring keyboard back from the dead — and in doing so highlighted some of the risks with outsourcing your research to ChatGPT and other large language models (LLMs).

"This IBM Model M2 keyboard from 1993 was listed as not working, so when I plugged it in and it worked flawlessly I thought I made a great deal," Nielsen explains, "but after using it about two times it turned out something was awry after all as it just stropped working. With no amount of unplugging and replugging making any sort of difference, it's starting to be pretty clear that either I have to resell this thing or try taking it apart."

An IBM Model M2 mechanical keyboard has been saved from the scrapheap, thanks to a simple re-cap. (📹: Anders Nielsen)

Opting for the latter, Nielsen began digging into the inner workings of the keyboard — one of the later cost-reduced models in the Model M family, which followed the earlier and bulkier Model F in IBM's family of in-house mechanical keyboards. Based around a buckling-spring design, Model F and Model M keyboards are prized among many keyboard enthusiasts, giving Nielsen plenty of incentive to get it up and running once again.

Deciding the problem was likely bad capacitors in the control board, Nielsen set about replacing them — though initially it didn't seem to help, until he realised there was a poor connection on one solder joint. "Old IBM boards don't have a lot of thermal relief on the GND pads, which means you have to be extra careful not to make cold joints," Nielsen explains. "and I guess in this case I wasn't."

With the new capacitors in place, the keyboard fired up perfectly — but Nielsen ran into an interesting hurdle in learning more about the device and the chip that controls it. "If you ask ChatGPT," he explains, referring to OpenAI's popular large language model chat service, "it'll tell you it's supposed to be an Intel 8042, since that's the keyboard controller found in [IBM] AT and PS/2 machines. Except that's completely wrong, since the 8042 is the controller on the motherboard, while this is clearly inside the keyboard itself."

More information is available in the video embedded above and on Nielsen's YouTube channel.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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