The IBM ThinkPad: 15 years old today
The iconic black laptop celebrates its birthday
Forgotten Tech 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's ThinkPad 700C
The first two clamshell-styled ThinkPads, the 700 and the 700C, were launched on 5 October 1992. Some people claim they were announced at Comdex Fall, but that took place more than a month later, on 16-20 November. Still, the new notebooks would have had their first full public outing at the show.
But if they didn't appear until 5 October, why is today the ThinkPad's birthday? Read on...
The 700 was based on a 25MHz Intel 486SLC processor backed by 4MB of memory and a choice of 80MB or 120MB hard drive. Its screen was a 9.5in, 640 x 480 monochrome job, physically smaller than the 10.4in, 640 x 480 active-matrix colour screen fitted to the premium-priced 700C. The higher-end model had the same processor as the 700, but a removable 120MB hard drive came as standard though buyers could choose either 4MB, 8MB or 16MB of memory.
Both machines contained nickel metal hydride batteries good for almost four hours' use, IBM claimed at launch. The 700C weighed in at 3.5kg (7.6lb), while the 700 was 3kg (6.5lb). The price was hefty too: a cool $4,350, worth rather more in 1992 than it is today. The 80MB 700 cost $2750, the 120MB version $2950.
No great innovation among those specs, but the ThinkPad did introduce - or at least popularise - the TrackPoint controller, a tiny joystick built into the keyboard between the G and H keys, in place of a touchpad or, in those days, a touchball.
The 700 and 700C could each be connected to a specific version of the 3550 Expansion Unit, a docking unit IBM introduced on the same day. The 3550 allowed users to connect SCSI devices, and added VGA, keyboard and mouse ports, along with serial and parallel connectors.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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. :)