My Quest for the Perfect Mac Keyboard


I have a new iMac, and I’m looking for the perfect keyboard for it. The beautifully designed aluminum Bluetooth keyboard that comes with it is great in many ways, but I’m accustomed to the feel of a proper mechanical keyboard, and this mushy, low-travel robber-dome membrane keyboard just won’t cut it.

So, the perfect keyboard needs to have several qualities. It needs to have the “multimedia” keys necessary to control the screen brightness and volume, since there’s no other way to adjust these on an iMac, as well as the eject key (necessary for activating the screen lock, in addition to ejecting the optical media), and I’d like it to have the playback control keys, as well.

Also, to match the Mac aesthetic, including the Mighty Mouse, it should probably be white. It should also be compact, but of course retain full-sized keys.

I don’t think this keyboard currently exists, so it looks like I’ll have to build it.

  1. The Perfect Layout
  2. Reverse-engineering the Choc Mini
  3. A look at the target behavior
  4. Building the keyboard
  5. Ideas for future improvements

A New Contender

I’ve done some research and soul-searching to come up with my ideal Mac keyboard, which ends up looking something like this:

Ideal Mac Keyboard Layout 1
My ideal compact Mac keyboard, option 1

Or this even more compact version:

Ideal Mac Keyboard Layout 2
My ideal compact Mac keyboard, option 2

A new keyboard has come out within the past few months called the Noppoo Choc Mini. It has a layout that’s somewhat similar to my proposed arrangement, although several of the keys are in different places, and some keys are missing (like eject). It also has some unnecessary keys. (Pause? Scroll Lock? Do even Windows users use those?)

Noppoo Choc Mini
Noppoo Choc Mini in white

The Choc Mini has a good build quality. It uses Cherry MX mechanical keyswitches, which I know I like. (For those familiar with these keyswitches, the Choc Mini is available with MX brown, blue, black, and red, so you get to choose the tactile feel and click.) The keyswitches are plate-mounted, which gives it a very solid feel. The keycaps are made of a very nice feeling, thick POM plastic. The overall result is a high quality keyboard.

It’s not sold outside of China, so buying one can be a little tricky. Fortunately, qtan will have them shipped to you directly from China quickly and inexpensively. I got mine in a week.

And lastly, because of some tricks pulled by the controller to try to make it “n-key rollover” over USB, it behaves really bizarrely when connected to Macs. It’s really just useless with Macs. (And it’s not quite right on some other equipment I’ve tried it on, either.) Ironic starting point in my quest for my ideal Mac keyboard.

However, I figure I can reprogram it to be close to the keyboard I want. It may not be perfect, but it ought to be pretty good. To start this project, I’ll need to take a look inside the Choc Mini.