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back to article The IBM ThinkPad: 15 years old today

The ThinkPad is 15 today. Sort of. Launched by IBM and now made by Lenovo, the black-clad laptop family quickly established itself as an icon, in many ways re-establishing Big Blue's reputation as a PC maker after years in the shadow of the clone manufacturers. IBM ThinkPad 700C IBM's ThinkPad 700C The first two clamshell- …

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Butterfly effect

I'm disappointed that you didn't mention the butterfly keyboard introduced in 1994 (or was it 1995?). A marvel of engineering ingenuity, which actually worked.

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Best laptops ever.

The Thinkpad series represents the best laptops I have ever used. Part of my previous job was testing laptops, all the other manufacturers would come in to show off their wares and we'd ask them if we could drop their laptops, they wouldn't let us, IBM however would say, yep, not a problem, we can stand on them as well if you want.

They look stylish and professional, not too flashy (like a Mac laptop for instance, which I couldn't imagine sending a financial services person onto the road with.) IBM don't mess around with the chipsets midway through a product run, so all the drivers in your build 'just work' for all laptops of the same model, even cross models (x3? drivers = t4? etc). They have Linux and Windows support, the safety features and ruggedness are outstanding. More than anything, though, what really tells me that they are good is that I use them myself.

I hope Lenovo don't cock them up.

Happy Birthday...

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Fun article, but how about a roundup of other models?

Such as the 701C/CS 'butterfly' - which was fantastic, the PowerPC based laptops, Thinkpad transnote, or that one where you could swivel the screen around or remove the backing and stick it on an OHP.

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Thinkpad-san

I remember seeing the tiny tiny Thinkpad in a shop in Akihabara (Tokyo) in the 90s and marvelling at it. Expensive, of course, as they all were. I later wondered why they didn't have the same or similar model in the UK.

When I bought my partner a Windows laptop for Christmas I automatically went for a Thinkpad, knowing that it would last a long time. I use an iBook G4 12" myself, which is probably similar quality but not as strong.

Long live the Thinkpad! (I wonder if Solaris can be installed on one?)

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Couldn't agree more

Got a T42 which has been a very faithful servant ever since I got it two and a half years ago, it’s been used and abused in data centers all over the UK and hasn’t *touches wooden surface* crapped on me once. In fact I’ve only rebuilt it once during that time and that was as a result of its MS bloatware O/S slowing to a crawl, once rebuilt its back to its good old self and to be honest I can’t see me replacing this until it dies.

Granted its not the prettiest or lightest laptop on the market but for reliability I wouldn’t even consider another manufacturer, I just hope Lenovo don’t turn the brand to crap ala Compaq/HP.

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x1000

"The 700 was based on a 25MHz Intel 486SLC processor backed by 4MB of memory and a choice of 80MB or 120MB hard drive."

The numbers are pretty much the same today, only multiplied by 1000. :)

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Several mistakes...

First, the 'SLC' lines of CPUs were NOT la intella CPUs; they were lines by IBM and (another approach, but also called 'SLC') by Cyrix (manufactured by TI). TI also selled 486SLC, those were crippled Cyrix' SLCs (smaller L1 cache).

Furthermore, there also were DLC and DLC^2 (like an la intella SX2, or DX2).

Second, it's not called Touchball, it's rather a Trackball.

Nonetheless, ThinkPads are the best mobiles to buy, still. Apple sells crap -- you can't deny it, it's no Mac any more (it's x86 compatible, isn't it?), and about one third of the delivered machines are DoA.

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Lenovo

It's a real shame that IBM sold the brand to Lenovo. The newer Thinkpads are simply not as well built or designed as the older ones. Lenovo seem to have wiped out the high end (eg you can no longer buy a 1600x1200 15" screen), and they've done various daft things (added windows keys, made trackpoint buttons awkward in order to squeeze in a trackpad, moved the connectors from the back to the side and sometimes the front, so the cables now get in the way on the desk, single lid catch, no line-input, case-plastic that flexes too much, ATI card with really poor Linux drivers).

Unfortunately, there's now nobody who will charge 20% above the average market price and sell a *really* good machine. My T60p is not a bad machine, but it feels much more like a Dell than the previous A22p. Lenovo don't have enough pride in their design, or love in their manufacture, and it shows.

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With streaming video...

Overall I enjoyed your article, i did however miss some of the later models with exotic features - such as the butterfly keyboard and power pc risc based models allready mentioned in the above comments, also i missed a few words on the 360 and 720 models with for instance live streaming video in the 360 and "flip up keyboard " (remenber this was in 1996 !!) and inbuilt sourround speakers in the 720 (98).

I have always really enjoyed the thinkpads and the innovations that they brought with them - it´s a shame that IBM couldn´t get this part of their business in the black, and had to sell it to Lenovo, as I recon that the focus wont be on innovation.

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I'm a true blue thinkpad fanboy, and proud of it.

I've still got a 365XD which I got second hand about eight years ago. It's had a hard hard life but still goes strong, and I've seen it take abuse that would have killed most modern laptops.

I love the form factor, the sturdiness and the reliability, and the keyboard is leagues ahead of any other laptop I've used to this day for touch typing.

The next laptop I buy will almost certainly be another Thinkpad, I have never seen anything I like anywhere near as much. I reccomend them to friends and clients alike.

Mine runs a customised GNU/Linux OS that I bootstraped up especially to suit the TPs hardware and capacity, and it never, ever craps out on me.

Color me a fanboy.

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Bag of shite

They make us use ThinkPad R40s here at work. A dog-slow lead brick (fully kitted up it's like a para's bergen) and prone to motherboard failures. The battery failures I can accept, I suppose. Personally I think they're crap. However on the plus side you can get them on Ebay for £20.

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Thinkpad - Yay

I joined a new company recently and was actually asked what laptop I would like to have. I debated for a bit, I was told I couldn't spend too much money and so my first choice of a Toshiba Tablet hybrid was out of the window. So I opted for the safe option, the Volvo of laptops, an IBM Thinkpad. I have an R61 and having replaced Vista with XP I couldn't be happier! It does everything I want in double quick time. It is tough looking and I have no doubt on business trips it will prove it's value. It has already rescued a vendor who visited and his laptop wouldn't output to the display in our meeting room. It is also the envy of my colleagues, which is of course, most important.

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Love 'em

My old 'third hand' think pad is still going strong running linux and my new company supplied Lenovo 61p, while not up to the build quality standards of the old bricks, is proving to be a good, fairly high spec workhorse.

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@Richard Neill

"Lenovo seem to have wiped out the high end (eg you can no longer buy a 1600x1200 15" screen"

The T60p on which I'm typing this (top of the range in mid-2006) has a 1600x1200 15" non-widescreen. Have they withdrawn that option now? IIRC it cost about €4000 - that hurts, esp. when bought in multiples!

I agree that they're not as well built as they used to be, and come pre-loaded with all sorts of trialware shite. At this price point, that pisses me off.

I've had one dropped, fully powered up, from about 5 feet on to a semi-solid wooden floor, and it was fine (but the floor has a big dent). An X60 broke it's screen when subjected to the same treatment.

John

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How much is it worth?

I've got a 700C. A couple of bad pixels and the battery's only good for about an hour. I've got several other antiques. Including a Scelbi 8008, complete with optical paper tape reader and SWTP TV typewriter. And it still runs. It's got 256 bytes of memory.

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No high end Lenovo's?!

"Lenovo seem to have wiped out the high end (eg you can no longer buy a 1600x1200 15" screen"

So 1900x1200 isn't enough?

Agree with John Latham re the trialware (and the price, but it's competitive in it's range), but I'd definitely describe my Z61p as 'high end' (still available and it still comes with XP pro, thank God).

Matt

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Stinkpad

I remember referring to the Thinkpad as a Stinkpad... Not in a nasty way, though...

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awww

Choice of wallpaper on that PC110 is cute - I think I have that wallpaper somewhere.

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built IBM tough

The IBM made T-series are tough! That metal frame is great. I had a T40 that I dropped 4 feet onto a ceramic floor while powered on. It survived with only two injuries. The tabs that held the battery in shifted a bit so that the battery wasn't as tight (no big deal). The DVD drive was dislodged from its tracks. I just popped the drive back into its tracks and all was good.

Amazingly the ceramic floor survived too. I was more worried about it.

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They just work

I think the 600-series ThinkPads will eventually achieve icon status. They're still good machines.

I have 3: 600, 600E, and 600X. When I needed to use Visio at work (and the company no longer supported it) I put it on my 600X. Worked fine.

Lenovo maintains support for them, and, as others have pointed out, they're durable as Hell.

Long Live the ThinkPad!

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Anonymous Coward

IBM is a Religion and I Bleed Blue...

As someone within the gates of IBM, I gotta say, TPs are tough. In my 8 year here, I am have had a: 600e,a22,t30 and a t40. All solid. Most dropped at one time or another. My boss' t41 went through an RV fire a month ago that melted the briefcase to the laptop. Booted first try. After scraping the melted nylon off the outside, it was good as new. Once it ran long enough to get rid of the smell anyway.

I have a t42 sitting on my desk, but I am not going to bother upgrading. My t40 does everything i need, and hasn't had a hardware replacement in three years- other than 2 keyboards which didn't actually die. Rather the letters, numbers, and texture all wore off through use....75hrs/week is hard on a laptop.

I can't imagine buying a different brand. Then again, I can barely use a mouse anymore after years with the trackpoint.

Even folks who have been laid off (there are plenty of them) are buying a thinkpad on the way out the door.

FYI - R-series are junk. T-series and X-series are the only ones worth buying.

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Anonymous Coward

Happy Birthday.

Its nice to look back on the start of the mobile computing, I actually remember when they were released, the hype was mixed and amusing as I recall, with everyone taking a pot-shot. I remember a comment that went "This may stump Bill Gates dream of a computer on every desk, not when you can take it to the park bench."

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Not quite the start of IBM's laptops

Predating the Thinkpad line a bit, IBM also had the venerable L40SX, my first laptop computer. Beige, not black, with a 640x480 grayscale LCD, a 60MB hard drive and a 20MHz 386SX processor. I don't recall how much RAM I had in mine, it certainly wasn't a lot - 2-4M perhaps? It was a workhorse, though - I ran Win 3.1 and OS2 on it and used it extensively for working from home and on the road.

IBM also had the "portable" PC (standard XT packaged in a sewing-machine sized case with a small amber monitor, similar to the old Osborne systems) and before that the venerable and similarly-packaged 5100 (data tapes and build-in BASIC and APL, oooh!)

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T 40

I just remembered, one of the guys I used to work with spilt half a pint of JD and coke over a T40, it all ran out of the vent at the side, he took the keyboard (which has a tray to catch liquid built in) out, washed it off, stuck it in the airing cupboard for a couple of days and then put it all back together. Works a treat to this day.

Beat that, Dell, Apple, HP/Compaq et al.

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World Class

What's to add? Anyone who's ever had a ThinkPad for any length of time knows just how solid and reliable they are. I'm on my third.

One thing that no-one seems to have brought up is the quality of the keyboards: they're the best around.

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760EL

I received two old 760 ELs last year when my friend didn't need them anymore. They worked great. Battery life wasn't too bad, drivers weren't that hard to install, and I had a portable box to play DOS games on. :)

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IBM 600 Series

I had an IBM 600E and it was considered a write off with a faulty HDD - I replaced the drive and used it for two years and then gave it to my brother who to this day still uses it for nav software in his rig - I currently have an asus M6N and even though its a great laptop with the kit I put in and it has a nice hard feel I still miss the strength and feel that I could run over the 600e with my car and it would pull through ok

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Didn't Lenovo already make them?

IIRC, Lenovo was already making the ThinkPads for IBM when they took over the whole business. Production quality should thus be the same – unless, of course, some bean counters wanted to lower costs …

(Or am I mislead about them doing the work for IBM for the past few years?)

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Fanboi blue

Just to add to all the fanboydom, my first laptop was a PoS NCR (servicable, but only). Then I got the 701 "butteryfly". Even after having it for months I'd still sit opening and closing it watching the keybboard fold in and out.

It was the perfect design for a regular traveller - light, and compact (so you could use it on an economy class plane seat and actually have it fit on the tray table), but with a nice big keyboard for my fat fingers.

My next laptop years later was an X40, a great machine that survived infinite abuse.

The two best features of ThinkPads are the fact that the lid has a bezel that keys into the base when it's closed (protecting the screen and hinges), and the "Think Light", a small white LED in the lid bezel that can shine on the keyboard when it's dark (surprisingly and amazingly useful).

And the trackpoint is simply a vastly better pointing device than the trackpad.

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Anonymous Coward

@Jens

Yes, Lenova made Thinkpads for a while under IBM's badge. The point is they were manufacturing an IBM design.

They now own the whole brand and business and get to make their own design choices (eg where the ports are located, materials to use etc)

It's a real shame when something well designed and well built goes downhill for lack of attention to detail.

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