Realforce 87u upclose

The Best Mechanical Keyboard? Realforce 87u Review

The Realforce 87u is one of the best and prestigious keyboards in the world. This keyboard is sought after by many programmers, secretaries, and other professionals that spend most of their day typing. This keyboard uses the capacitive Topre switches which are arguably, the best key switches in the world. While this keyboard is often considered a mechanical, Topre switches are technically a hybrid switch. Part rubber dome, and part mechanical spring. For the sake of simplicity, Ill refer to this keyboard as mechanical. Now that we got that asside, lets talk about this keyboard. Like I said, the Realforce keyboards are considered one of the best keyboards in the world, mainly due to their key switches but also due to their build quality. The 87u in particular is a compact tenkeyless which is keyboard slang for a keyboard without a numpad. As the name implies, this keyboard has 87 keys. The version I got is the limited edition 87u with variable 35, 45, and 55 gram key weighting. The standard 87u comes equipped with 45 gram key weighting. Most people that own Realforce or HHKB keyboards usually start with an entry-level mechanical keyboard. This keyboard is very expensive starting at $300 while entry-level mechanical Cherry MX keyboards usually start a little over $100. This will be the third mechanical keyboard Ive had the pleasure to type on. How does this keyboard compare to Cherry MX keyboards? And is it worth the price?

First Impressions

Realforce 87UThe retail box of the 87u is surprisingly similar to the Leopold Tenkeyless. The packaging was modest. It just came with the keyboard, lavender WASD keys, a blank red ESC key, and a key puller tool. There was no manual or pamphlet. You would expect after paying $300 for a keyboard, youd get some literature to read. There was, however, some information on the box which tell you some of the presets. For example, you can turn a series of switches on the keyboard to disable the Caps Lock key. I left it stock and plugged it in. At first, I couldnt get it to work. The 87u is a USB keyboard but I had a PS/2 adaptor on my Leopold so I figured it would work the same way. It didnt. The Leopold needed the adaptor in order to get n-key rollover(NKR) which is a fancy way of saying you can press lots of keys at the same time and they would all register. I took the adapter off and plugged in the USB and surprisingly, NKR works. Ive tested this by hitting 10 keys(one for each finger and thumbs) at the same time and the keys registered. Cool! I immediately used the key puller and replaced the stock ESC key with the blank red one and the stock WSAD with the lavender ones. Even though Im not much of a gamer, I think they look great. They give the keyboard a nice contrast. Typing on them for the first time immediately reminded me of my Leopold. These Topre keys feel a bit like the Cherry MX browns.

Build Quality

This keyboard is solid. When I have this keyboard on my desk, it seems sturdier than my Leopold Browns. This keyboard feels a bit heavier and it also stays put better which is nice. I also notice that the keycaps dont chatter as much meaning there is less play when you brush your fingers over them. The legs are sturdy and level. The keycaps are made of PBT (Ploybutylene Terephthalate) which is a plastic that is resistant to wear and chemicals. One thing I instantly noticed about these key caps is the feel. They have somewhat of a rough feeling. Its a hard feeling to describe. I can best describe it as having skateboard tape on the keys. It definitely doesnt hurt. Its actually very pleasant to type on with the added grip. With my Leopold, the keys were suffering from Shiny Key Syndrome(SKS) and sometimes my fingers would slip. I havent had that problem yet on these key caps. I read they are more resistant to SKS.

Style Simplicity is good

Usually, style points arent really given to mechanical keyboards simply because they tend to be more traditional looking. That isnt to say its a bad thing. Simplicity is good. The 87u has a nice stealth look, at least the black version. The black lettered key caps makes it hard to read but they encourage you to learn the position of the keys and become a touch typist. I like the black lettering because I still havent memorized the symbols yet so having them acts like a cheat sheet. I love the red ESC and lavender WASD keys. The red ESC keycap seem to fit perfectly with the Realforce logo on the top left of the keyboard. The lavender WASD keycaps give the keyboard a nice contrast and its just fun. I think tenkeyless keyboards in general, look better than full-sized keyboards. The compact design gives it a minimalistic look and you dont really sacrifice any features. The only reason I would consider getting a full-sized keyboard over a tenkeyless is if I did lots of numerical entries, like payroll or math. A nice touch that negates this weakness is the Num Lock. When you enable the Num Lock, you can use J, K, L, ect as 1, 2, 3. Basically, you have a hidden numpad albeit on staggered keys.

Realforce 87U


Besides the extra numpad and sweet Topre key switches, the Realforce 87u is pretty plain. Its your standard tenkeyless keyboard without much in terms of features. Simplicity is the purpose. This keyboard is almost identical to the 86u in the sense that both have variable key weighting but the 87u has an extra Windows/Super/Meta key. Another minor thing that separates the 87u from the 86u is the addition of LED lights on the Num Lock, Caps Lock, and Ctrl keys. The LED is a bright blue which is pretty standard but a deep red wouldve been wicked cool to match the Realforce logo. Honestly, the Realforce 87u lacks features. Thats not necessarily a bad thing. If youve read my review on the Leopold Tenkeyless, I gave it high praise for its no-nonsense approach to typing. With tenkeyless keyboards, you will use all the keys without wasting any extra space. With most modern rubber-dome keyboard, you have lots of useless buttons and keys youll probably use once and never again. I mean, Ive had those keyboards in the past and I cant remember that last time I hit the mail button. Not to take too much from them, I did find media keys such as volume up/down useful and Ive mapped them to F9/F10 on my sound mixer.


The feel is one of the top factors when buying most mechanical keyboards and the Realforce 87u is high on that list. In my first impressions earlier, I described it as closely resembling the Cherry MX browns. This the best comparison to another key switch. After typing on it for a while, the character of these switches start to come alive. They are a completely different animal. These key switches are much more refined that the Browns. Its like driving a Subaru and an Audi. Both are very similar cars in a sense that both have AWD(at least on the quattro version). One is just a bit more luxurious. The Cherry MX browns feel great and I take nothing away from them. They are work horses. The Topre switches just feel better. Ive heard people describing the feeling as typing on wet clay tablets. Ive never done that and quite frankly, that sounds a bitВ ridiculous. Its a nice feeling but nothing so over-the-top orgasmic Though it is! Ha, Im just teasing. Anyways, the rough feeling I described earlier is attributed to the keycaps design and material, not the key-press. Dont let the word rough fool you. It certainly gives you confident traction but it doesnt hurt or take anything from the quality. This new keycap feeling has actually improved my accuracy on typeracer and,В subsequently, improved my speed. I believe the sound also plays a big role on how this keyboard feels. Take a chance to listen to some people typing on this keyboard. Ive listened to many people typing ferociously as if they were taking a typing test but try to find a video or sound clip of someone typing about 40-50 WPM. Most of my creative typing is done at that speed and I find the sound very calming. I can go up to 70-80 but the sound is completely different at that speed. At least for me. As most of you know, these switches make a distinct Plop sound. Besides the sound, the feeling can be best described as typing on little piano keys. The good ones, not those cheap electric keyboards with the lights. A firm but softer tactile feeling over the Browns.


This is a very expensive keyboard. This keyboard retails for $300 which is about half the cost of most peoples laptops and triple the cost of a basic tenkeyless. Does that mean its 3x better? Probably not, but as with most things at the top, you are paying for the best and that doesnt always scale well on paper. This keyboard is really meant for professionals and enthusiasts. It can be hard to justify spending that much money for a keyboard. Most people already have a hard time justifying $100 on a mechanical keyboard let alone $300. Keyboards are considered peripherals. Most people are reluctant spending that much money on an accessory when they could use that extra cash on a new monitor or something. I justify all my purchases by use. If I put it to good use, its my money to spend. Usually, if I dont use it anymore, I sell it. For you, it may be different. You may be a collector. Some people collect baseball cards, some people collect keyboards. Its your money. Although this was gifted to me, would I spend my own money on it? Yes. Most people spend 5+ hours on their computers a day. Is it really that ludicrous to spend $300 on a keyboard that will last you decades? Your call. One thing I want to point out is the price hike. It may be inflation or demand but this keyboard, at least the discontinued 86u, used to be $245 which is a sale in comparison. Oh well. There was a time where you could buy a bag of chips for a quarter. Such is life I suppose.

Final Thoughts

When I was looking to get this keyboard, another keyboard caught my eye which I think is worth mentioning. The HHKB Pro 2. This keyboard also has the Topre key switches but comes in a smaller form factor. I like the form factor but two things swayed me towards the Realforce over the HHKB Pro 2. Dedicated arrow keys and the position of the Caps Lock. I use my Caps Lock as a backspace and HHKB has the Ctrl in place of the Caps Lock. Both are great keyboards. On that note, stay tuned for a review on the HHKB Pro 2. If I had to describe this keyboard in 1 word, it would have to be Classy. This keyboard has a classic simple look, its inoffensive and its high quality. The keycaps are high quality, the switches are high quality, and the board is high quality. Going back to the car analogies, this car would have to be an Audi in my book. Capable and luxurious. Thank you for reading.

Realforce 87u upclose

Realforce 87U

The Realforce 87U is one of the most prestigious keyboards in the world. They are sought after by their Topre keyswitches, build quality, stealthy good looks, and tenkeyless design. Keyboard designs are somewhat of a personal preference but the tenkeyless has always been a favorite of mine. The comfort of using this keyboard is a step above traditional mechanical keyboards. The biggest drawback of this keyboard is its price. This keyboard will lighten your wallet by 3 bills. Crazy to ordinary consumers and even to some geeks alike.

Rating by Set Sar: 4.0 stars


Set Sar

Set is a writer, blogger, and analyst. His duties include site administration, graphic design, reporting, and publishing articles. His passions include technology, science, cars, and learning.

More Posts - Twitter - Google Plus

  • rjrich

    Thanks for the review. I wish that Realforce would make a 60+% keyboard like a HHKB Pro 2 with dedicated arrow keys or a refined version of the Leopold FC660C with dye-sublimated keycaps such as those on the off-white and light gray version of the RF 87U.

  • rjrich

    Decided to go with the HHKB Pro 2. I think I knew it was the best keyboard for me all along, but I kept hesitating because I thought I would not like the layout or the absence of dedicated arrow keys. After trying it for only a few minutes, it felt as if it had been designed for me. Everything about it seems right, and now I am using it as one of my two principal keyboards (the other is an IBM Model M SSK). Nevertheless, I would still like to try the RF 87u, because I would like to determine if 55-gram Topre switches might be better for me than the 45-gram switches in the HHKB Pro 2.

  • Patrick Michael Graf Murray

    Thanks you for writing this, because I currently bought and now own with great admiration the Leopold fc660c topre switch keyboard. Now, I have conversed with you through youtube and I just wanted to say that I appreciate your work as an inspiring journalist for pc components and peripherals along with other topics that strike my interest.

    Well, when I first plugged the leopold in the first time, when I actually received it a little less the month ago, I used the usb port having many of them on my motherboard. Anyways I am going to be purchasing a custom sleeved cable for this keyboard seeing as I just modded the key caps to red and I wanted a matching cable. I went to plug it into the ps2 port via ps2 adapter that I happen to own two of them and neither would work, and it led me to believe that possibly my keyboard was faulty with ps2 connection. Now, It meant I would not be ordering a custom sleeved ps2 cable that looks amazing btw, and that I would be ordering a usb A to mini usb B which isnt much of a hiccup.

    Granted I was still disappointed believing I would not be able to achieve nkey rollover(which technically I wouldnt need but it was the fact that I paid so much for a faulty keyboard) only to do some more reasearch. Now, I land upon your site which I have bookmarked btw, and I find out the Realforce does not work through PS2 adapter and leading me to try pressing multiple key presses at the same timeand walah! I was able to press at least 11 keys I believe and get registered no problem which in essence helped me relax over the fact that my keyboard was faulty to a small degree.

    So, I just wanted to say thank you, happy holidays, keep up the good work, and topre switches are the best thing I have typed and gamed on which I seriously doubt I would enjoy typing with any other kind of switch as much as I have with this one. I am looking into buying a tenkeyless Realforce with either the 55g uniform resistance across the board, and or the Realforce 87ub with the variable weighting and using this primarily for a school and or work.
    Which the main reason I purchased the Leopold was the price point, the compact design, the reviews, and the fact that it was 45g uniform which I would prefer for typing possibly but would definitely prefer for gaming. Anyways thanks and any feedback and or suggestions on a next edition to the topre keyboard collection for myself would be welcomed and appreciated. -Patrick

    • Set

      Thanks for the positive feedback. We really appreciate comments like these. It is my understanding that Leopold is the parent company to Realforce. On the underside of my Realforce 87u, Theres a product sticker that says Leopold on it. Im assuming they share some of the same components including the nkey rollover via USB.

      I have the variable key-weighted 87u and its pretty much a flat 45g across the board. The only key that is 55g is the ESC key so thats pretty much pure marketing. Having said that, I can only see the uniform 55g weighting beneficial if you are using it purely for gaming. It is much too heavy(IMO) for production work like typing essays, articles, or general use. After almost 2 years of heavy use, I barely see shine on the PBT keycaps whereas my old Leopold brown ABS keycaps showed shine after a few weeks. Mechanical keyboard can be an expensive hobby! Be careful. I was tempted to try the silent version of this keyboard when my computer was in my room. My lady would complain about the typing noise when she was trying to sleep. Now that I have my own office space, I cant use that as an excuse anymore!

      I use my 87u as a benchmark to all keyboards I test drive. Whether its the latest Razer gaming keyboard or laptop keyboards, I always make a comparison. Now that youre an owner of a high-end keyboard, I know your FC660C will give you pride sitting on your desk. It may sound weird but once I got into mechanical keyboards, it made me want to type on it. Thanks for keeping in touch. Were lucky to have readers like you!

  • Daniel Jansson

    Nice review! It helped me make a decision a couple of days ago. Typing this on my new Topre Realforce.

    I pretty much share your reflections on this keyboard. I have a Filco as well that has brown switches. I find that I can type much faster without error with the brown switches. I just get a much better/faster flow while typing fast with the Cherry MX switches.

    However. The smoothness of the Realforce is unreal. In comparison with the Cherry MX it feels like cutting through butter when typing. So smooth. The Cherry MX browns can sometimes feel like red switches with sand in them. At least in comparison with the Topre. But oh my the comfort while typing is just excellent.

    Actually the Topre keyboard reminds me of the old Keytronic Ergoforce keyboards in feel and sound. Just a bit more luxurious version of them with even better feel and build quality.

    I think I may have a small amount of buyers remorse at the moment and wondering if I should just continue with my Filco keyboard as I like to type fast. But everytime I go back to it now it feels so harsh and hard and loud. I definitely type faster right away but going back to the Filco for some time and then back again to the Topre you really start to appreciate the smoothness of the Topre switches that may not be that apparent while using them.

    Still Im very early into the ownership of the Topre and I guess my thoughts about it will change further the more I use it. I would have to say I would have liked it to have 30g keys all over the keyboard. I have the one that has the consistent 45g keys. I think the pressure needed to press the keys is one of the reasons I cant type as fast on this as on my Filco.

    One thing that surprises me though is that my PBT keys on the Topre is much more slippery than the ABS plastic keycaps of my Filco. The difference is very noticeable and I slip a lot more on the Topre keys than on the Filco.