back to article Reviving a classic: ThinkPad modder rattles tin to fund new motherboard for 2008's T60 and T61 series of laptops

The range of Thinkpads you can modernise is getting wider. XyTech is trying to crowdfund a new mainboard for the 2008 T60/T61 so fans can upgrade the much-loved noughties laptop. "The goal is to recreate the TP experience as much as possible, while incorporating the latest CPUs and technology," XyTech's Xue Yao writes. "As the …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Good show! Nice to see someone doing something that draws attention to the poor quality and disposable mindset of recent years.

  2. Lomax
    Thumb Up

    X330 FTW!

    I have an X230 modded with an X220 keyboard, IPS screen, 2.9GHz i7, 16Gb RAM, 500Gb SSD. I use it all day, every day. Love it! My only concern is that there is no future upgrade option, and that I will have use a laptop made in 2012 for the rest of my life. It seems us computer professionals are no longer a viable market segment for the big manufacturers, so projects like these may be the only way forward.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: X330 FTW!

      "I will have use a laptop made in 2012 for the rest of my life"

      As your eyes age you might have to revisit that. The size of the screen becomes the most important parameter. 12.5" isn't going to cut it for ever.

      1. Lomax

        Re: X330 FTW!

        Portability and durability are my most important parameters. And having a "traditional" keyboard with a TrackPoint is non-negotiable. As far as I know the X330 is the most up-to-date machine that ticks all my boxes, there really seems to be no other option. Would love to upgrade the mint condition X61s I have in storage - 4:3 looks frikkin amazing compared to the 16:9 letterboxes we've all become used to viewing the world through.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: X330 FTW!

          "Portability and durability are my most important parameters."

          At present.

          Whether 4x3 meets your needs better depends on those needs. Working on 2 A4 documents side by side needs a lot of pixels across the screen. In order for those pixels to be useful they need to be big enough. That determines the width. Yes, a lot of screen height would also be handy to allow more of each page to be seen at a glance but that compromises portability.

          OTOH I've been reworking the slides for a lecture next year because I realised that 4x3 was going to project better on the screen the hall we use.

          1. Roland6 Silver badge

            Re: X330 FTW!

            >Working on 2 A4 documents side by side needs a lot of pixels across the screen.

            That's what the external monitor port is for - plugging in a big screen, so you can display 2xA4 side-by-side at circa 100%.

            The 4x3 ratio is good for (portrait mode) document production on-the-move as it will display a reasonable amount of a single A4 page at 100%. I found the 14-inch T60 to be useful on the move, it nicely sat on the seatback trays found on airplanes and trains - even with a power cable plugged in (necessary for a transatlantic flight).

            There again the low res. 1366x768 display - standard on laptops for many years, was good for the preparation of Powerpoint slides - it was quite a novelty to come across a meeting room with anything better than a 1366x768 projector, many had worse...

            1. Dave 126 Silver badge

              Re: X330 FTW!

              How well a certain screen ratio works for a task can affected by the UI of the software being used. I.e, a horizontal 'Ribbon' or Command Bar with chunky icons will eat up a lot of the screens vertical pixels, making the area available for the document [even] more letterboxed.

              The degree of flexibility and customisation the user has over such UI elements (command bars, tool palettes etc) can vary wildly between application software.

    2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: X330 FTW!

      That reminds me. I must get my X200t back from a friend (you know who you are). Now that's one I would love to get a new motherboard for (and yes I'm aware it's not got a trackpad - that's fine with me since it makes it less likely to be nicked.).

      The damn things my favourite travel machine as it'd take a direct hit from a air strike to destroy it.

    3. Werner Heisenberg

      Re: X330 FTW!

      If you can live with the chicklet keyboard (one of the best albeit not a patch on the x220), I can heartily recommend an X270. Upgradeable RAM (I maxed mine to 32Gb), 7th Gen i7s available, bridge battery system, even a touch screen option.I've had an X220, X230 and this X270 and the latter is my favourite so far. Just be sure to get a 7th gen CPU, they did 6th gen earlier in the cycle too.

      Its such a shame the newer TPs are going so ultra-thin-over-everything. They already have the X1 carbon if that's your thing, leave proper Thinkpads alone!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: X330 FTW!

        "and this X270 and the latter is my favourite so far."

        Just make sure you look after that keyboard very, very carefully. It's a bastard to replace. One of the worst in the Lenovo range (not consumer range, I never see them, so don't know).

        To replace, take the bottom off, then keep digging till you eventually have it almost totally stripped down to get the keyboard out. If you are careful and know the "trick", you can avoid having to remove the screen when removing the keyboard. It's possibly the most likely part to fail and pretty much the hardest to replace. Almost every model in the X, P, L and even E range is a 5 minute k/b replacement procedure. X270 and Carbons are a pain (and a very few others where the k/b is part of the cover/chassis/palm-rest, probably for spillage protection))

        1. Werner Heisenberg

          Re: X330 FTW!

          True. I actually did replace the keyboard, the eBay X270 I bought wasn't backlit (which I knew, but the spec and price was good). You have to disassemble everything from the bottom up to get to it. Don't recall having to remove the screen, maybe I just guessed the trick. It does take a while, just take your time and be very, very careful with the latches on the (many) ribbon connectors. They're ridiculously fragile, and probably the only way to replace a broken latch is to salvage one from another mobo.

          Forgot to mention another advantage - NVMe SSD is an option. Only v3 and only 2 lanes, but still makes a hell of a difference over SATA.

  3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

    Build quality getting worse feels normal

    Each new version of HP's Probook (650's especially I've got good experience with since we've brought them since they were 6710b's or maybe nx6120) feels like something else had had a corner cut. Sometimes things are made better after whining.

    Putting the power button on the top row of the keyboard is one of the most confusing things done recently (At least 2 people had to Google how to turn them on, so I know point it out if I am handing one over), plastics to me feel cheaper every time (I also want to slap people who think lighter notebook computers are better).

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Build quality getting worse feels normal

      Still running a HP Folio 9470m & plan to do so for as long as I can.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Build quality getting worse feels normal

      A client has been a long-term user of the ProBook 450, many think the G4's look more modern and better than the G5's...

      >Putting the power button on the top row of the keyboard is one of the most confusing things done recently

      Dell have on some laptops (eg. Vostro 5155) combined the fingerprint reader with the on/off button. Giving rise to the issue the button can't have a keycap and so they have placed a sticker on the case which isn't exactly obvious as to what it means. It thus takes on, initial usage, a little time to find the on/off button.

    3. ElNumbre

      Re: Build quality getting worse feels normal

      Our fleet of Lenovos have the feel of 'Triggers Broom' to them.

      Yes, they still work, but I'm not sure there is much left of what they came out of the factory with.

      Our smaller HP fleet seems rock solid in comparison, bar a small handful of power supply failures.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Build quality getting worse feels normal

        >Our smaller HP fleet seems rock solid in comparison, bar a small handful of power supply failures.

        Perhaps HP, Dell et al need to start naming the manufacturer behind each model in their ranges, then customers could simply select models from manufacturers with proven track records...

  4. Inspector71

    Peak Laptop?

    Each of us has our own idea of the perfect laptop. For me this period of Thinkpads hits the spot, Build quality, design, functionality were all just right for me. At one point I had 5 from this period X61s, X61Tablet, T61p, X301 and X201. You could take it completely apart and replace practically every part and screw. At the time I remember that after IBM sold the hardware business to Lenovo a lot of people thought it would all go downhill fast but for a period they hit it out of the park.

    I've been very tempted to get either of the upgraded X63 or X210.

    1. Snake Silver badge

      Re: Peak Laptop?

      Top-line Lenovo's are still this way - I actually DID replace every screw in my P71, simply as a refresh, after several disassemblies left some screws scratched up.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Peak Laptop?

        as a pointer, nylon coated screws can be substituted for a wipe with low strength threadlock (usually "222" or "242" stuff (purple or blue, although colours are unique to makers))

        If you do this they won't drop out on reassembly

  5. Ken G

    Display

    I liked my old Thinkpads but looking back, the resolution seems terrible. I do favour 4:3 layout since window design puts the title, toolbar etc in a vertical stack. I'm less bothered by the CPU speed than the battery life. I don't care enough to rebuild a laptop but I'd buy an updated version if a manufacturer took refurbishment seriously.

    1. Mast1

      Re: Display

      Upgraded my T60 to Linux Mint XFCE 20 earlier this year. Browses tolerably well maxed out at 3GB DRAM, and with an SSD. Definitley not a stroppy teenager.

      1. trapper

        Re: Display

        Ha! I did exactly the same, and it works just fine. Talk about tough? I bought it new, originally for my biz because I wanted something rugged. Some years later it and the bag it was in survived a house fire and firehosing followed by three days in a freezing garage. The bag was melted and ruined. I poured the water out of the T60, yanked the drive and the battery and put it near a heating register. A week later, I reassembled it - and OMG, it fired right up! And it is still going, and I can't bear to part with it and I'm going to check out those mobos if they ever become available.

  6. karlkarl Silver badge

    I think this is really interesting. Not sure if I will have time to spare to give it a shot but I want to give them some money for trying!

    I honestly don't understand why Lenovo isn't seeing a niche here, surely the entirety of the open-source community is a fairly large market in its own right. ThinkPad is the defacto "high compatibility" laptop for OpenBSD, FreeBSD, Linux (even Solaris, Hackintosh, Plan 9). Why has Lenovo not stepped up to actually monetize that?

    If they literally just kept a production line up of the ThinkPad X220 and provide some nifty open-source stickers and a fancy website, they could almost dominate 100% of that ~5% global market. This is *surely* worth it for a few weeks worth of web developer wages (and to print out those stickers ;))?

    Edit: In many ways, the idea of ThinkPad becoming *the* vendor for open-source platforms is an issue in the same way that I feel a single vendor like Apple controlling an entire ecosystem is a dumb risk for a consumer to take.

  7. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

    T42p

    I still miss that old beast. 1600x1200 4:3 screen, nearly indestructible (colleague left his on his car roof, drove off. It was missing some exterior plastics, but worked for years afterwards). Only died as it was from the beginning of the lead-free solder era, so the GPU came undone.

    Modern Lenovos are not especially open-source friendly, unfortunately.

    Typed on my trusty X230.

    1. Lomax
      Facepalm

      Re: T42p

      I had the 14" T42p and it's definitely one of the most solidly built of the Thinkpads (the 600 series also springs to mind as particularly "indestructible"). I'd left mine switched on and open on the desk in my office when a torrential downpour caused a leak in the roof right above it - when I got into the office the next day I was met by a faint smell of burnt electronics and found my cherished T42p had been completely filled with rainwater. I removed all batteries, took out the keyboard and DVD drive and left it on the radiator for a few days, but any hope I had was lost when I reinstalled the parts and tried to turn it on; it was of course dead as a dodo. Chucked it in a drawer and tried to forget about it, but found it a month later and was amazed to see it spring to life when I flicked the power switch! I kept using that machine for several years, and even did a hardware mod on it to change the HDD interface from IDE to SATA. It was a lovely machine.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: T42p

        With electronic devices in general: after exposure to water, a single night is not long enough to ensure thorough drying. Muster all of your patience, for the longer you can resist pressing the power button, the better the chance of it working. Give it a few days, ideally weeks.

        (Obviously size and construction of device, ambient temperature, humidity and airflow etc are factors in determining how long is long enough to leave a device to dry.

        Of course you may be unlucky and your device is bricked the moment it gets wet. However, often the damage only occurs when the user attempts to start-up the damp device)

  8. sev.monster Bronze badge

    I was using my trusty X220T as a server while on its dock for years up until I got a propet piece of kit for the job. Only problems with it are the terrible thermals and quickly dying battery—everything else is fine.

  9. Kev99 Silver badge

    Updating Macs as well

    It would be nice if someone did the same for classic Mac Pros the Apple purposely hobbles. The whole range from the 1,1 to the 5,1. Apple even change the casesso you can't easily put a later motherboard into a 1,1 or 2,1 case. I'd be happy for just an updated EFI module.

  10. ICam
    Linux

    I'm reading this on my trusty X201

    I got my refurbished X201 from a company on eBay in the UK, back in late 2015 for £110 including delivery. I wanted that company to provide me with one that had the full 8GB of memory that can be installed into one, but unfortunately they supplied one with only 4GB, which is a bit low these days and I did not have time to send the laptop back and get one with 8GB installed, so I was stuck with it.

    Other than the memory being low, the X201 has been a great workhorse for me. It has travelled round the world with me on planes, trains and some very bumpy local transport in various countries. I have had no major issues with it other than overheating, which I have solved via installation of the thinkfan utility for the time being. One day I will get around to taking the thing apart and checking the cooling system/applying new thermal paste. I did have to replace the PSU somewhat recently due to the case coming apart and then in an unfortunate circumstance, shorting on a metal bed frame! The battery, of course, does not hold the charge it used to, but that's standard.

    Just about everything else on the X201 is good for me, in terms of its size, keyboard and screen. A bit of weight shaved off would be good, although not essential, but my laptop has the extended battery pack which adds more weight (although it's great as something to hold if you're carrying the laptop while open) and currently a spinning rust drive. Replacing the drive with an SSD would be great in terms of the weight and performance, and presumably could also extend battery life a bit.

    The idea of having a new motherboard inside the X201 case with at least 16GB of memory and an SSD is really appealing to me. I think I will keep an eye on these replacement motherboard companies and consider what to do when I can get around to giving it some TLC.

  11. lizjohnson

    The chiclet keyboard may not be that awful...

    My X230 and X230T have the original UK chiclet which are really good. Whilst they are not as good as the KB from the X220 they are not awful. What is awful is the "new" keyboard replacements. I've tried 2 so far for my T430 which came with a US keyboard and they feel terrible compared to the originals. I tried different resellers but it looks like they came from the same place. I also tried a refurbed keyboard which had the original feel, but that didn't work and was DOA. I tried swapping the ribbon cable but no joy. What I did find out was when I tried to swap the key caps to see if that improved the feel, is the new keyboard uses different cross switches and the original keyboards have much better gubbins.

  12. ovation1357

    OMG Why did nobody tell be before!?!

    To be fair I'm more pleased with my current P14s than I'd expected and I don't hate the keyboard (which I expected I would), but this is a great idea!

    A bit like putting a souped up engine into a crap old car and then leaving the boy racers in the dirt at the red lights! I'd love to have a vintage laptop which flies!

  13. Tams

    I've had my eye on some of the old Thinkpads for some years now.

    Is an X230t worth bothering with? My only concern is the bottom bezel which seems like the big one I had on a Fujitsu T730. Annoying, but not a deal breaker.

  14. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    IBM Thinkpad

    I never had the good fortune to own an IBM Thinkpad -- but used some... keyboards were great, solid build quality, there was really not another system like them. And once Lenovo took them over and revamped them, no real replacement with similar physical qualities. I could absolutely see wanting to gut one out and put modern hardware inside.

  15. Grunchy

    How about Toshiba Satellite?

    My next-to-new “Y2K” Satellite 2400 sports 3.5” floppy, DVD drive, 3x USB 1.0, and a Pentium 4. It runs everything from Dos 6.22 to Windows XP, and Lubuntu 16.04.

    Never mind, it’s perfect as it sits!

  16. Joe Drunk

    Love the Lenovo Battery Manager

    Something I haven't seen in other models. I use my Thinkpad mainly on AC power. Keeping your battery constantly at 100% is not good for the lifespan. Lenovo Battery Manager allows you to set at what threshold to start and stop charging (they recommend 50% to prolong battery life). This mean I can leave my Thinkpad plugged in but it won't charge the battery past 50% unless I want it to. If I plan to use it on battery then I set it to charge 100%.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Love the Lenovo Battery Manager

      Macbooks Pros, VAIOs and other pricier laptops (including I think Toshiba) have had similar battery-saving charging controls. Of course they may vary in how much they present to the user.

      This is the reason I've seen Macbooks still keep a respectable charge after years of having been mostly plugged in, yet my cheaper laptop couldn't hold a usable charge after only a couple years. (If me trying hard to not overcharge it)

      The same feature was (is?) found on Sony phones- a user-defined upper charge level, at which the phone will stop charging the battery.

      1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

        Re: Love the Lenovo Battery Manager

        If I'm leaving mine on my desk/plugged in, I just pop the battery out.

  17. Steve Graham

    I have a T61 still working. However, I've replaced the fan once, and now the new one is making noises.

    1. VerySlowData

      T61 Fans

      My older T61 (battered case held together with stickers) suffers from ThinkPad fan disease. I have ordered replacement FRU's on eBay with varying success, but my best fix was fan disassembly (clean and oil bushes sparingly) and careful refitting. The noise comes back eventually, but if you work in a quiet environment (I don't) it would bug you after a while.

  18. RAMChYLD

    Deteriorating build quality

    That's pretty much an apt description. Cracks appearing on the bezel around the power button? Logic boards that randomly up for no reason? I've seen my fair share of horror, it hasn't been the same since the L480.

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