Cherry M4/M5/M6 Series and Serie M7
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There are two separate keyboard switches series that have been mistakenly treated as one series, under various names. As more information has come to light (including drawings kindly supplied by Cherry US) the distinction between the two series can now be made.
The US-made switches are referred to as “gold crosspoint”, or M4/M5/M6 Series. The German-made switches form Serie M7. Good evidence exists to indicate that we can distinguish the two types by easy visual indication, as noted under Design; in short, the US-made switches comprise Styles A, AB and B, and the German-made switches comprise Styles C (normal switches) and D (custom switches for Sagem).
Following the cessation of manufacturing at the US sites, Cherry US appears to have switched to buying in M7 switches from Germany, making M7 the final designation for these switches. This can be see in the Keyswitch M7 brochure from January 1994, printed in the US, but depicting German M7 switches.
At present, we assume that Cherry keyboard switch modules originated in Cherry US. In catalogues, these did not have a concise description, but were described as ‘Gold “Crosspoint” Contact Switch’, ‘Gold Crosspoint Contact Switch’ (without the quotation marks), ‘Cherry Low Profile Key Switches With Gold “Crosspoint” Contacts’ or simply ‘Cherry Key Modules’. Here they are referred to as “gold crosspoint”, although that term could also be used for ‘Cherry gold “crosspoint” contact switches for low energy circuits’. That latter term spanned (in 1973) E21, E53, E63, E68, E78 and G13 enclosed switches (derived from Series E22, Series E51, Series E61, E69, E79 and Series E13 respectively) alongside S31 miniature open switches derived from Series S30 (referred to by keyboard enthusiasts as “mousetrap” switches).
The US-made switches had part numbers beginning M4, M5 and M6. See Schema for details. The 1979 US catalogue also included one M71 type. The drawing for this originates from Germany, and this appears to be a German-made type imported into the US. It does not appear to be part of the US production.
A 1985 Cherry advertisement in Electronic Engineers Master Vol 2 1985/86 shows “M4/M5/M6 Series” and lists only part numbers for these three subseries. The existence of these designations three years on from the 1982 German catalogue (where Serie M7 is detailed) offers the final evidence that the two series (M4/M5/M6 and M7) were independent.
The Cherry C-73 catalogue (copyright 1972) notes that gold crosspoint contacts have “provided highly reliable keyboard switching for several years in thousands of the most sophisticated electronic desk top calculators and computer terminals”, suggesting 1969 or earlier (some point in time three or more years before 1972).
The Cherry KB79-2 catalogue claims that gold crosspoint switching “has provided highly reliable keyboard switching for nearly 10 years in tens of thousands of the most sophisticated, most demanding applications.” If this catalogue is from 1979 as the name suggests, that would suggest 1970, which is sufficiently similar.
However, Cherry’s Meet the PRO brochure (which appears to be from 1977) notes the following:
Best of all, the PRO is made by Cherry … the company with more than a decade of experience in the manufacture and application of commercial and OEM keyboards.
The company that first introduced gold crosspoint contacts to snap action switches for low energy solid state circuits. Then, applied this same innovative gold crosspoint technology to keyboards back in 1967.
It is not clear what occurred in 1967, as this would appear to be at odds with the previous information. However, the KB79-2 catalogue also notes that Cherry has “become a major source of keyboards since the original success of [their] low energy switching units in 1967. We can see that the low-energy gold crosspoint switches were absent in the Cherry Precision Switches catalogue C-663 from 1965, although S30 miniature open switches are included.
In addition, we also have several Cherry patents. US patent 3715545 covers the standard momentary design (single/double pole, and linear and tactile) and this was only filed in June 1971. If these switches really are from 1967, one has to wonder why it took four years to file a patent. The alternate action patent was filed in January 1972 (US patent 3770923) as though alternate action was introduced later.
Unfortunately no Cherry catalogues featuring keyboard switches have been discovered from prior to 1972.
Separately to the US-made switches, production of Serie M7 was set up in Germany. The origin of this series is not documented, but the M71-0100 drawing from Cherry-Mikroschalter dates to May 1974. The drawing for M73-0110 dates to September 1976. The latter clearly depicts a Style C switch, even though Style AB and B switches would see use in the US for years to come.
German production used part numbers following on directly from those in the US. Where the US-made switches had part numbers beginning M4, M5 and M6, the German switches used M7. However, while the US used separate series for the switches, all German switches fell under a single series. Variations in design were given subseries groups instead: M71 for simple illuminated, M73–74 for standard switches and M75–78 for complex switches.
A dearth in catalogues greatly limits our understanding of this series at present. It is however now clear that these switches are quite separate from their US-made counterparts.
Hirose M5 and M6
According to Hirose (per a reply from them on 2019-01-08), Cherry M5 switch was made in (or from) 1983 and M6 switch was made in (or from) 1985. In fact, 1985 is the year of manufacture of a Hirose-made B70-4753 with the elusive Style B′ switches, which may as of yet turn out to be the Hirose variant of M6.
So far it appears that Hirose-made M5 and M6 switches were largely identical to their US counterparts.