back to article Happy 20th Birthday, IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad

The ThinkPad is 20 today. Sort of. Launched by IBM and now made by Lenovo, the familiar black-clad, red-nippled 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. The first three clamshell-styled ThinkPads, …


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  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    The Thinkpads were the only machines we had on site that prompted guerrilla action. When they were withdrawn after we went wall-to-wall Dell it took months to winkle them all out from their hidey holes. No-one who used one wanted to use anything else.

    1. Chris Miller

      How simple was corporate PC purchasing in the 90s. If you wanted a desktop, you went to Dell; if you wanted a server, you went to Compaq; and if you wanted a laptop, you went to IBM.

      1. Armando 123

        ... and if you wanted a real, reliable operating sytem, you went to, um, hm, nevermind.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


        2. adam payne

          Novell with out a doubt.

  2. Mondo the Magnificent
    Thumb Up

    The Thinkpad Legacy..

    And what great machines they were, especially in the pioneering days of portable systems when we depended on PC Cards (PCMCIA) for modem and network connectivity, the ThinkPads supported PCMCIA very well indeed.

    Also the ThinkPads had those "pencil eraser" type pointing devices which were also affectionately named the "clit mouse"

    IBM were also very innovative with the design too, I recall the 701C "Butterfly" with its pop out keyboard, it was quite genius at the time in the late 1990's

    When I worked as a tech in the Intel datacentre, the ThinkPad was the standard issue portable and I recall the 300 model we were furnished with had a removable HDD caddy, so swapping between Windows / LINUX OS disks was a simple, tool free task and not a feature offered by Compaq, HP or others at the time

    The IBM branded ThinkPad was also seen on the ISS too! That's an Ace card in the deck!

    Although the iconic ThinkPad moniker lives on, I don't believe it hold the same weight under the Lenovo brand as it did when it was was Big Blue branded.

    Excellent article ElReg!

    1. Chris Miller

      Re: The Thinkpad Legacy..

      I'm sure we weren't the only ones to tell the pointy-haired boss that it stood for Computer Location Interface Tracker.

      Unfortunately, it divided the user community into two classes: those that couldn't use a TrackPoint; and those that couldn't use a GlidePad. This caused problems if you wanted a single supplier for your laptop fleet, solved when mfrs (Dell) started producing laptops with both types of device.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Thinkpad Legacy..

      "IBM were also very innovative with the design too, I recall the 701C "Butterfly" with its pop out keyboard, it was quite genius at the time in the late 1990's"

      Yes, that was one of those machines that as soon as I saw it I wanted one ... and as normal never actually did.

    3. That Awful Puppy

      Re: The Thinkpad Legacy..

      We used to call them SimClits. Still the best mouse replacement, although the new Apple trackpads are close.

    4. Hein-Pieter van Braam
      Thumb Up

      Re: The Thinkpad Legacy..

      "Although the iconic ThinkPad moniker lives on, I don't believe it hold the same weight under the Lenovo brand as it did when it was was Big Blue branded."

      Don't worry about it, If you buy the 'Thinkpad' branded Lenovo laptops, that is 'thinkpad' not 'ideapad' or 'thinkpad edge' they are still very, very good. I have an X230 and my girlfriend has a T420s and they are both as solid as my X60 ever was. Their documentation and after-warranty support is also still great (you can still buy an entire thinkpad in spare parts if you want)

      Lenovo really is doing a bang-up job.

    5. Allison Park

      Re: The Thinkpad Legacy..

      Yipes, never heard of it being called the C___-mouse. I guess that was only used around guys. We always called it the cats tongue since thats what it felt like.

      I hear IBM still owns the trademark for thinkpad which is why Lenovo has "ideapad" so they dont have to pay the royalty for the use of "thinkpad"


  3. Fuzz

    ctrl key

    I see at least two of the machines shown here have the ctrl key in the right place. Why did they ever decide to move it? It's the only thing really wrong with the the current thinkpads.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      Re: ctrl key

      Wrong. While I agree that the Fn and Control keys are in the wrong place (fortunately Fn-C doesn't do anything), the screen's 16x9 on my L430 is too damn short at 1920x1200. Yes, the resolution is fine but I really need to see more router/firewall/switch config at a time without scrolling up and down.

      1. dajames

        Eh, wot?


        ... the screen's 16x9 on my L430 is too damn short at 1920x1200

        Certainly agree that 16:9 has no place on a computer ... but 1920x1200 is 16:10 and would be just about OK. What you have on your L430 is probably 1600x900.

        I would love to be able to buy a machine like the L430 that had 1920x1200 ...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Theres nothing like "New Thinkpad Smell"....

    Pity it took ages for IBM to put a windows key on them....

    1. Christian Berger

      Re: OOH...

      The missing "Windows key" (isn't that really just a disguised Hakenkreuz?) is one of the reasons I buy Thinkpads.

      1. Piro Silver badge

        Re: OOH...

        Yeah, you really haven't used all the extremely useful keyboard shortcuts with the Windows key.

        It's far from a useless key.

  5. Ole Juul

    Old Thinkpads never die

    I'm a bit of a vintage buff and just got a 750c (1993) and found that I could actually run a wireless PCMCIA card under MS-DOS and use telnet and FTP to administer other computers around the place. These things never die.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Old Thinkpads never die

      Indeed - that goes for earlier IBM laptops too. I've still got a working PS/2 N33SX (though its backlight is dying). I think they were built mainly for the Japanese market, but mine (secondhand) came in a SWEB-badged laptop bag, so I assume it had been used for field work in the UK. Same excellent keyboard and build quality as the ThinkPad, but no eraser joystick...

  6. ratfox

    Powered by six AA batteries…

    Scary how power hungry computers have become now. Well, admittedly, the specs also raised a chuckle…

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    reading this on my X201s and

    it's a beaut.

    Keep'em coming Lenovo (but improve your website and sales support - they're bobbins)

  8. Tim 69
    Thumb Up

    Once you pop you just can't stop....

    First laptop I was ever provided through work was a Thinkpad, and I havent' found better. These days I pick up the X60 sized beasties off ebay for not a lot of money and stick Linux on them. Small, portable, reliable and very comfortable to use. Who could want more?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Once you pop you just can't stop....

      I disagree, the Compaq M700 was the best I've had. With the expansion bay battery I could put in 6 hours in the smoking area, walk inside at 4pm, charge it for an hour, and then head home. Ahhh, the good old days.

      Of course, these days, I have my choice of the Sunroom or the picnic table in the back yard... both smoking-allowed.

    2. keithpeter Silver badge

      Re: Once you pop you just can't stop....

      These days I pick up the X60 sized beasties off ebay for not a lot of money and stick Linux on them.

      Sssssssssshhhhhhhh don't tell em all for heavens sake.

      (X200s running Ubuntu)

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    back in the old days

    when your OS only needed 4MB to run and boot time was measured in 1/2 seconds. Of course, those screens were hell on the eyes. Otherwise, I truly wanted one of these relics.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I remember specifying the hardware standards for a large UK financial company in the early 2000s. We were a Thinkpad house, every six months or so, the other laptop manufacturers would come in and try to sell us their stuff. We'd only need to ask one question: "Can we drop it off the desk". The answer was always "no", followed by us saying "oh, IBM let us drop their laptops off the desk, then they stand on them.". There was sometimes a protestation along the lines of "but they're more expensive." which was easily batted away by pointing out that we'd have to replace more of the competition's products.

    I've always had a soft spot for the Thinkpad. Also, it's black, the coolest of colours, so cool that it's not technically a colour...

  11. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Been through many, a lot still work.

    I started buying second hand Thinkpads about 14 years ago, starting with a 365XD, which had a 100MHz Pentium 1 and a 1.2GB disk. Since then, I've bought 360, T20, T23, A30, T30 (and T42/43s for friends and family) systems, and have used as work laptops T60 and T400 (my current work laptop).

    I recently dumped 2 365s and a 360D, as I could not think of any good uses for them. Apart from a broken screen (someone jumped on one - the 365's had plastic covers), I think that they all still worked. All of the T series machines still do, and the A30 is running the firewall for the house. All of the T20 and later systems still work (although there have been some remedial fixes for T30s, it's true).

    I think that the T20 to T23 systems were the nicest to use (although far too slow nowadays to be used for anything other than basic Web, and even then you have to block Flash). They were robust, compact, had optical drives (the X series Thinkpads generally don't), the keyboard was not recessed like newer ones, and just feel good to use. My T30, which is still MY (personal rather than my work) primary laptop was a real downward step, being larger, heavier, and it turns out, having a design flaw with the memory sockets. The T40 and later series use low-profile optical drives that can be difficult to source, and recessed keyboards that don't feel quite right. And the very latest T530s have 'Island' keyboards in a new layout which is just wrong. And of course, all have my pet hate, a 16x9 or 16x10 'wide' aspect ratio screen.

    I have to do something about my T30 before it completely dies, but now that I discover that the Pentium M processor used in the T4X series do not support PAE, and current Ubuntu releases don't run without messing around. It looks like I will have to go for a T60, and live with the fact that I won't be able to swap my IDE drive into the new machine.

    1. Dan Price

      Re: Been through many, a lot still work.

      I had the same issue with PAE on one of my laptops - the "messing around" is pretty minimal if you use the grab the (non-PAE) mini ISO and install from that, though it's a hell of a lot of downloading after using the 50MB CD to get started.

      1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

        Re: Been through many, a lot still work.

        SolusOS (Debian based) offers both PAE and non-PAE versions for download:

  12. h3

    486SLC was not Intel (Think Cyrix/IBM made them)

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      486 SLC and other ramblings

      486SLC was not Intel (Think Cyrix/IBM made them)

      Confusingly, both Cyrix and IBM sold x86-compatible CPUs named "486SLC", but they were not related (other than both being in the x86 family). I assume the 700/700CThinkpads used IBM 486SLCs.

      The IBM 486SLC was the 16-bit-bus version of IBM's "Blue Lightning" 486 line. It was pretty good, for a 16-bit 486.

      I had a 700C for work for a while. Before that I used some of the Thinkpad's ancestors, including the PC Convertible and the PS/Note. The Convertible and Note weren't bad machines for their day, either, though since they lacked hard drives they required a fair bit of floppy-swapping.

      About 10 years ago we ran across the Convertible in a storeroom and powered it up. Ran just fine.

      Since the 700C I've probably had half a dozen other Thinkpads. They have rarely let me down. (My R40, which I loved, eventually developed a heat-related RAM problem and would periodically crash with memory errors, unfortunately.) For some years I carried around a 740 and three hard drives: one with OS/2, one with Windows 95, and one with Red Hat Linux. It was trivial to shut the Thinkpad down and swap drives when I needed to switch OSes.

  13. Simon R. Bone
    Thumb Up


    ...Accept No Substitutes!

  14. DaddyHoggy

    I've still got an old IBM ThinkPad 600E (233MHz PII I think). It was and still is a great machine - managed to shoehorn 192MB into and a 40GB HD and used it for quite some time. It mostly ran Win98SE but it also ran Ubuntu for a while and while the sound worked under Dapper, I never got it to work under Fiesty or later versions of Ubuntu due to archaic sound chip.

    It had an excellent GUI driven BIOS which was ahead of anything I used at the time and for quite some time afterwards.

    It all went a bit wrong when I managed to get a USB2.0 PCMCIA card working on it, but then a wireless network dongle plugged into that was just too much for the little PII CPU and it fatally killed off Win98.

    I used it much less after that, and it lives in a bag under the bed now, I get it out occasionally to recharge the battery and make sure it still boots (into Ubuntu - albeit silently)

    Simpler times!

  15. toadwarrior

    I have a 6 year old R60 thinkpad. It's great and pretty much like new. I did replace the HD with an SSD so it's more portable. But it wasn't needed.

    Thinkpads are pretty much the best laptop you can get.

  16. Christian Berger


    They now also have a consumer branch in that brand. So they now have laptops where they keys scratch against the display and the display doesn't close propperly.

  17. Baudwalk


    That PC110 looks adorable. :-)

    I wish manufacturers these days would make laptops with keyboards like the old ThinkPads.

    It'd be worth a €100 premium.

    Even Lenovo's (the best of the bunch by a mile) aren't quite as good.

    And HP's current EliteBooks' are the worst yet.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pop out keyboard

    I'm surprised they haven't been mentioned more. I was doing a great deal of travelling at the time these came out and had these at the top of my "in your dreams mate" list - laptop keyboards of the day left much to be desired sizewise. They were however far, far too expensive for a mere backpacker to justify.

    What really impresses about these to this day is the build quality, which just has that innate "trust me I'm solid" heft to it, a keyboard as positive as any desktop, and ports galore sensibly arranged. Ma'am has had 3 or 4 of them in different workplaces in the last few years and has never had a hint of trouble with anything other than the lamentable offshored voodoo her employers pass off as 'setup'.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Have an old 380Z in the house, fires up Win 2000, 95 and 3.1 for old school gaming.

    Bit of a small bad patch on the display, but still perfectly usable.

    Used to have a 600 too, but sold it on.

    Couple of indestructable old machines.

    Last couple of places I've worked / work for have had Lenovo Thinkpads. Found these wanting compared to the proper IBM products. I've seen fans failing prematurely, HDDs failing, connections to the dock not working properly such that undocking and redocking you will likely lose connection to one of the external monitors.


    And it looks like IBM innovated the Tablet and the Netbook before they became popular. That that PC110 looks interesting, might be worth tracking down just for the curiousity value!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ThinkPad

      Did I mention the random reboots on the T410s? Grrrr

      There was a PC110 on Ebay last night.

      Ended up going for

      US $306.00

      Approximately £191.26

      + £40 postage.

  20. Rod Talboys

    ThinkPad Excitement

    I use to sell these beauties in my previous life as an IBMer.

    It was always exciting to get your new ThinkPad, loaded with IBM specific SW and re-boxed. Ones that stand out in my memory, but I forget the numbers, are

    1. The small "Butterfly" Model. When you opened the lid the keyboard gyrated and ended up being bigger than the base.

    2. The "Tablet". It had a keyboard but in this model the lid would swivel around 180 degrees and you folded it back on top of the key board and prodded it with stylus. Great to demonstrate but I always used the standard keyboard in the privacy of my own home or office.

    3. The "Overhead Projector Model" This time you could remove the back of the lid, open flat and place screen, less it's metal lid on OHP and show your "Storyboard" slides. In a perfectly dark room the audience could even see them.

    However my favourite story was about the salesman who returned his ThinkPad as faulty. He had a puncture and being on soft ground (not sure what he was doing?) the car jack kept sinking so he placed his ThinkPad under the jack to spread the load!

  21. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Other old hardware

    This prompted me to pull my similar vintage (slightly older) Compaq Contura Aero 4/33c out of the cupboard - it still works too!

  22. jrd
    Thumb Up

    X60 and X30

    My current computer is a Thinkpad X60 tablet running XP (6 years old). It works fine.

    This replaced a Thinkpad X30, which I still use as a music/print server.

    Both of these I bought second-hand (each a couple of years old at the time) and have been good, reliable machines.

  23. Belardi

    Still the best!

    While I do miss the old RGB colored IBM Logo, when it comes to well built modern notebooks, it needs to be a T , X or W class. The Edge and L models are low-end... I really don't consider them as having "ThinkPad DNA".

    I was never able to own an old school ThinkPad. I own a R61 ($500USD - on a Store shelf, the only computer with WindowsXP in a sea of new Vista *barf* notebooks) - its not the fastest, but it was low cost and didn't have the horrible glossy screen that almost ALL notebooks have for some brain-damaged reason. If I wanted to see my face, I'd use a mirror!

    I also have an X61 which is my Windows8 test system before I murder it and install LinuxMint on it. Both run Windows 7 excellent. I also sell/recommend clients to buy ThinkPad. The support is top of the line. And as someone posted, you can ORDER every part for most ThinkPad. Their website has complete service manuals that are easy to find.

    I'm kind of glad they have gone with back-lit keyboards, which at least have some curvature - rather than FLAT keys like everyone else. The "clit mouse" is a bit too big on the new keyboard, taking up more surface area than it should. I also give them a thumbs down on removing the stylish (old school) breaks various F-Keys - YET they still don't flip the CTRL/fn keys like they should be. Whenever I get a modern ThinkPad, I'll physically change the key tops.

    PS: Where do people get the idea they are ugly? They are not glossy plastic garbage with cheap parts that fail. Even Lenovo's IdeaPad and cheap G"Garbage" line isn't bad.... still doesn't compare.

    PS2: Why don't Lenovo called their tablet ThinkPads "ThinkPads"? Like ThinkPad-S series, something :)

    Happy Birthday ThinkPad.

  24. adam payne

    The PC110 makes my netbook look huge.

  25. matthewjs

    My first-ever laptop was a ThinkPad R40, I work from home and used it all day, every day to work on and later to surf the net and watch films on, and it ran faultlessly for 8 years. The build quality was incomparable; I must have typed several million words on the keyboard and not a single key ever so much as came loose from its mounting.

    That's another feature of (perhaps not all, but certainly many) ThinkPads: the duplicate mouse-equivalent buttons beneath and above the trackpad. My work is often heavy on the button-presses and so, for a task that would require extended, repeated button presses I'd use the 'other' mouse button above the trackpad, safe in the knowledge that if it broke or became soft over time I'd still have the other one, which was the one that 'mattered' as it was much more comfortable for browsing and using within documents anyway.

    A few months ago I finally upgraded, to a Lenovo ThinkPad, which, although it's not as robust and doesn't inspire the same confidence as the IBM, feels at least ten times more solid and durable than anything else I've looked at. I wonder if it, too, will last me 8 years?

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