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How IBM’s ThinkPad Became a Design Icon (2017) (fastcompany.com)
171 points by jpelecanos 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments



Last year, I decided to build an X62 (Thinkpad X61 or X60 with custom hardware) after reading about it here [1]. Shipment of the modification kit (some plastic parts + a new mainboard) took 2 months from China to Germany. It took me a while to find a brand-new screen as a replacement for the original 1024x786 screen (which has to be modified, including some minor metal-working).

After roughly a year of heavy daily use, I must say that this is the best laptop I have owned in my life (including previous Thinkpads R60, T510 and and T460s). The size is just perfect. With the new hardware, it is incredibly light-weight. The 4:3 screen is something I have been missing for a long time on my laptops, and the classic Thinkpad keyboard is just a million times better than the new model. The quality of the original X61 chassis is also very good, and it looks just great.

Overall, the laptop cost me roughly 1000 EUR and around 20 hours of work. This includes 32 GB of RAM, a brand new 100 GB SSD and a brand new replacement screen I bought at Alibaba. I started with a broken X61 I bought for around 40 EUR on eBay, on which I replaced the new Lenovo "ThinkPad" logo with the original IBM ThinkPad logo that was still used on the X60.

[1] https://geoff.greer.fm/2017/07/16/thinkpad-x62/


I came very close to ordering this, as I still use an x61s for most of my hacking due to the ideal physical form factor and classic compact keyboard w/trackpoint.

One major problem I have is the rather old SXGA+ screen used in the mod has a CCFL edgelight, and the last time I did an LED conversion on a modded SXGA+ x61s the visual results were not great - certainly nothing close to what is had on modern LED backlit displays.

The other issue is getting quality replacement batteries for these old thinkpads. Aftermarket ones tend to suck and OEM ones are either counterfeit or very old stock in my experience.

Furthermore, while this particular laptop strikes an exceptional balance of size/weight and usability with a great keyboard, there are some singificant flaws in the chassis design. Every single x61s I've had (there have been many now) has cracked in two places through normal usage:

1. The left edge of the palm rest immediately adjacent to the near keyboard edge above the pccard slot. There is a stress riser there due to the unsupported palm rest flexing above the card slot cavity. It's just a matter of time before it cracks from fatigue.

2. The top edge of the last CPU fan vent grill. The screen hinge is nearby and the cyclic strain of opening and closing the display eventually breaks the chassis at this thin spot - another stress riser caused by the CPU fan exhaust vent. Once the crack is formed, the area visibly deforms whenever moving the screen.

For the most part those chassis flaws seem to be largely cosmetic, but the crack near the hinge does seem to be allowing new and probably increasing levels of flex causing strain on other components which may fail later.


For the display, I bought an LED conversion kit (mainly for the reduced power consumption) and have no complaints regarding the results. But if you are used to modern screens, the display may indeed appear a bit grainy. It doesn't bother me, though.

Regarding the problems with the chassis:

1) Yes, this is absolutely true. The used X61 I bought on eBay already had this issue in a very early stage. However, as the conversion kit does not come with a pccard slot, I just glued the slot latch shut and re-enforced it from the inside. The kit actually comes with a plastic part to close to ejector-button hole for the pccard slot, which is also designed to give additional support.

2) Hm, I will keep an eye on this, but so far I do not have any problems here. On previous ThinkPads I owned I found that any cracks in the chassis can be stopped from extending by opening the ThinkPad, adding a generous amount of superglue on the crack (from the inside) and immediately sprinkling fibers (with a 5mm length) on the glue. I usually obtain the fibers by cutting off a small part of some cheap hardware store synthetic cord.

It should also be added that I have a few spare parts from an X60 chassis (from which I obtained the original logo stickers). If you compare the X60 and the X61 chassis, you can definitely see that some additional reinforcements were added to the X61 chassis, so if anyone is planning to build an X62, I would recommend to use an X61 as a starting point. The X61 chassis also has some kind of a copper heat shield below the palm rests, which the X60 chassis has not.


What are you doing for batteries? How's the battery life on your X62 in linux, and how many cells?

I did appreciate the improved battery life with the LED conversion, but my complaints are more along the lines of colors being off and a visible pattern of the LED strip at the bottom of the display. It's non-trivial to get the LED strip perfectly aligned in the CCFL gutter, and in my last attempt there were some other artifacts, it certainly didn't look OEM in terms of quality.

Having said that, the SXGA+ 4:3 screen in that dimension is a rather nice resolution. I just wish there were compatible OEM LED options to do the mod with. Unfortunately these days nobody seems to be producing 4:3 screens.


Yes, it took me some hours to adjust the LED strip to minimize the effect, but the LED artifacts s are still faintly recognizable in the bottom 5mm of the screen if I'm in a dark room and the screen is mainly white in this area. However, I usually use this laptop as my daily coding workhorse within a terminal with a dark background, where the effect is not present.

Regarding the battery, I use this one: https://www.laptopbatteryexpress.com/Lenovo-long-life-ThinkP...

Battery life is around 7-8 hours when I am coding with 100% screen brightness, using a basically vanilla Ubuntu 16.04. It was close to 9 hours when the battery was new.


I bought an X60 for college in 2006. The only complaint I ever had was the 1024x768 display. No CD-ROM, < 3 lbs. The best keyboard I've ever had in a laptop. I miss that thing.

I'm too lazy to build an X62 but I love that it is a thing.


I'm still using a number of T42p's with 1600x1200 4:3 screens for these reasons. The combination of the good screen, keyboard and the sturdy hardware weigh up to the disadvantage of the rather anaemic CPU (1.8GHz Pentium M) and the limited memory (2GB). An inline PATA-SATA adapter and a SSD make the things faster than they ever were in their heyday and they still run for hours on the extended battery.

It'd be worth a try to stuff a more modern board into its magnesium frame but only if that board could drive the screen.


The one problem I have, rational or not, is just how worn out those laptops look over time. The plastic gets all shiny and worn down and the thing just starts looking greasy.

That's probably the only thing I miss from my older macbook.


I don't mind the worn look, though I often clean the fingerprint oils off the keyboard. A blog post titled Aged to Perfection describes my view[1]:

> The truth is that consumer products are ‘new’ for a very brief moment when they are first removed from the packaging, but spend the great majority of their useful lives as ‘used’ products in the process of decay. Many welcome the breaking-in of products like a leather wallet or a pair of jeans as this wear can be aesthetically-pleasing. The Japanese have a term for this, “Wabi-sabi”.[2] Wabi-sabi can be used to describe the aesthetically pleasing wear of an object as it decays over time.

I still use my X62 as my primary development machine. I like it so much that I've ordered an X210 from the same manufacturer.

1. https://designmind.frogdesign.com/2011/09/aged-perfection/

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi


I've looked longingly at 51nb's X210. It probably could be put into an X200 chassis rather than an X201, I imagine, which would be ideal (I wouldn't really want the touchpad). I can't justify the cost right now though, sadly.


You can easily put a palm rest without touchpad in the X201, those parts are pretty cheap on ebay.


Is the presence/absence touchpad the only significance difference in the chassis between the X200 and X201? (I've never owned an X201.)


My X1 Carbon is only three years old and already looks really crappy. I take it everywhere with me and it's been through a lot - I'm not exactly gentle. To be honest I kind of like how dinged up it is, shows the nice history of planes and coffee shops we've had together and yet it keeps chugging along.


Just like designer jeans , people will be buying laptops with factory made scuffs and wear and tear in 20 years. Mark my words . There will maybe even be apple iPhones with designer scuffs in the year 2035


“Excuse me but this Apple already has a bite taken out of it!”


stickers to the rescue? Or as a protective measure. I've noticed I've been replacing older stickers that have been scratched badly on my MacBook. Goo Gone is what I use to remove the adhesive glue from the old stickers.


Doing a plastidip on ThinkPads is a common fix, if you can tolerate that aesthetic


If you like the 4:3 the 3:2 of SurfaceBook is an okay compromise for something that's a bit easier to source.


Same! I built my X62 after reading his post. How did you do your replacement screen? I have the HD version but I cracked something internally when I was replacing the bulb to LED :/. Works great besides some light leakage on the corner. I just cover it with some tap to stop it from blinding me.


For the metal work, I bought a cheap tool like this here [1] and a diamond separating disc. Replacing the screen was by far the most complicated part, but there are many tutorials still out there, because this was already a fairly common mod for the original X61. It is incredibly important that the screen fits _perfectly_ into the lid, otherwise it won't close properly and/or you will get strange patterns on the display after a while because of the stress. Inserting the LED strip was relatively easy. For the light leakage, I bought some very thin black tape at Obi (a German hardware store) which doesn't let any light through (I have forgotten which tape it was, it was suggested in some old tutorial in a German ThinkPad forum).

[1] https://www.amazon.de/Multifunktionswerkzeug-Mehrzweckschlei...


Are there T40 mods available? I'd prefer a 14 inch to the X60's 12 inch screen.


It's really sad that Lenovo has driven the design into the ground. I have a X201 running NixOS, that I still use from time to time, and I pulled it out recently to show it to friends. Physically speaking it's a revelation.

Three USB ports? Check. Because even today, one port permanently has a YubiKey Nano, one port permanently has a Logitech Unifying nano receiver, and I'll probably be charging my phone out of the third at some point and I'd rather not lose either of the two nano dongles because I had to temporarily unplug them and misplaced them in the process.

Mobile radio? Check. Because who likes to fiddle around with pairing their phone to their laptop when they're on the train?

Drainage ports if you have a minor spill? Check.

Drainage ports in the dock, which match up with the drainage ports on the laptop itself? Check

Dock allows you to charge an extra battery while the laptop itself is charging? Check.

ThinkLight in the screen to illuminate the keyboard without requiring you to bump up the brightness on the screen and take a bigger hit to battery life? Check.

Mechanical latch on the right side, where your hand is naturally located, allowing you to push the screen up with your right hand on the right side of the machine, and push down on the bottom half with your left hand on the left hand side of the machine? Check.

Six-key home/end/insert/delete/pgup/pgdwn cluster that mirrors that on a desktop keyboard? Check.

Dedicated page back and page forward buttons, baked into the arrow key nav cluster, so that you don't need a two-key combo to go back and forward? Check.

TrackPoint lets you mouse without removing hands from the home row? Check.

LED status indicators for disk and network usage? Check.

Physical WiFi switch? Check.

10/10 repairability? Check.

All Lenovo needed to do was to refresh the processor etc. every year, maybe introduce new ports as they came out, and not screw around with a formula that didn't need to be changed. Sigh.


> Six-key home/end/insert/delete/pgup/pgdwn cluster that mirrors that on a desktop keyboard? Check.

I miss this so much. Laptop keyboard layouts are usually a disaster. Lenovo was the shining exception[1], then they went and fucked it up for no apparent reason.

[1] If you excuse the wrong placement of Ctrl and Fn, but from the x10 generation onward this is swapable in BIOS


This is why i love Macs, IMHO the keyboard layout is superior than everything else. home/end/insert/delete/pgup/pgdwn can all be done without specialized keys (and faster because you don't have to move your arm). I am using the small Apple keyboard that matches the one from the Macbooks on my desktop since over 10 years and never ever want such a big clunky board back on my desk like most PC users still use.


Personally I find it easier to push a single key that's slightly up above the number row, than have to press both a modifier and a key in the lower right corner of the keyboard. This also gives me more freedom for window-management key shortcuts.


After seven years of hassle-free service, I upgraded from a T410 to a T480. I miss a few things (mainly the non-chiclet keys and the Thinklight), but otherwise the T480 is—not surprisingly—better than the T410 in almost every way, while retaining much of the heritage and features that led me to purchase my T410 back in 2010.


The T480 is the last of its kind after they butchered the X280. I still have my X230 and use it once and a while but my XPS13 running High Sierra gets more screen time for me.


The X210 from 51nb is a fantastic upgrade, with i5-8250u or i7-8550u processors, M.2 slot with NVME support, DisplayPort output, support for 32GB of RAM and eDP displays. I'm running NixOS on it as well. Matthew Garrett even ported Coreboot to it[1].

[1]: https://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/50924.html


The ability to use Coreboot is part of what makes this extremely appealing. I've stopped at the 30 series because this is the latest one that could be Core- or Libre-boot'ed. And to have the form factor of a X20* (preferrably the X200 than the X201) with a recent processor and DisplayPort output and high RAM possibilities is extremely tempting.


Meh I have a T470s that has most things here, compared to the Apple equivalent it's got plenty of connectivity and physical ports built in without the need for dongles. I wouldn't mind having a hot swappable battery though...


Wouldnt that be a T470? :)


My T470s matches that description.


> In fact, when Hill was named to oversee ThinkPad design in 1995, the line’s general manager informed him that it was time to mix things up. “He felt like three years was enough, and we needed a new design,” Hill remembers. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Well, of all the problems we have, this isn’t one of them.’

Too few people get this.


It's pretty amazing what you can put them through too.

As a MacBook owner Lenovo's dust tests have me wincing:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hazDhYq8YOo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO5LGICeOuk

And the waterproofing is kind of incredible:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig3xI8dUdm0&t=1650s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmdcutSxmn0

Now that they make a solid, thin, repairable, upgradeable 15" laptop for creative types (ThinkPad X1 Extreme), it's becoming increasingly tempting to switch as a MacBook owner, even if I have to ditch macOS.


ThinkPads have always been known for their extreme reliability. Not officially ruggedised, but close enough for most people.

MacOS isn't as good as it used to be, in my opinion. I currently have a 2011 Macbook Pro, but I'm pretty sure my next laptop is not going to be a Macbook. I'll use this one until it wear out, but after that, ThinkPad is definitely high on the list. I'm just looking for a Linux distro that does basically what OS X does. Or did. I'm not happy with Apple's direction lately.


I intend to slug it out with Windows 10 if I switch from MacBook to ThinkPad.

I love Linux (Arch/KDE enthusiast) but there are benefits to Windows too: it generally has better support for gaming, gamedev (all the gamedev live streamers I follow seem to be perfectly productive with Windows), C# development, Adobe apps, and deeper hardware integration (biometrics/Windows Hello and touchscreen support). There still seems to be a huge stigma with using Windows in some developer communities, but I think I can live with that…


Does Windows come with a better command line shell yet? That's the big thing keeping me away. There's just so much unix-based tooling (works on both Linux and Mac) that I don't want to go without.


Yes, there is the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), which is a compatibility layer for running Linux binaries natively on Windows:

https://www.hanselman.com/blog/TheYearOfLinuxOnTheWindowsDes...

https://github.com/sirredbeard/Awesome-WSL

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/wsl/install-win10

I haven't switched to Windows 10 full-time yet, but WSL works remarkably well whenever I've tried it.

Cmder (http://cmder.net/) and ConEmu (https://conemu.github.io/) are pretty decent terminal emulators and Terminus (https://eugeny.github.io/terminus/#header ) looks promising too. (It's hard to beat iTerm, though.)

My other concern with Windows 10 was security and viruses. Last time I used Windows every day (~1999!) that was a huge concern, but it seems to be less of one now. Most seem to consider using the standard Windows-supplied virus checker just fine if you're not torrenting dodgy stuff and opening strange email attachments.

The following guide (from the @SwiftOnSecurity twitter author) was helpful:

https://decentsecurity.com/#/securing-your-computer/

It contains much the same advice for Windows that you'd expect to see for keeping macOS secure too — keep stuff up-to-date, encrypt your drives, don't try to disable User Account Control or Device Guard (like Gatekeeper on Mac).

I've found that chocolatey (https://chocolatey.org/) is a great replacement for brew, Laragon (https://laragon.org/) is a good alternative to Valet, and Autohotkey (https://autohotkey.com/) is unrivaled for general system automation. (See Tom Scott waxing lyrical about Windows and AHK here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIFE7h3m40U ).


I've seen reports of people successfully Hackintoshing Thinkpads, so you wouldn't necessarily have to ditch macOS (though there are better options for Thinkpads anyway, IMO).


Back in those days, ThinkWiki was an excellent resource. Not sure nowadays?

I ran Mac OS X (as it was called back then) on my ThinkPad R61 back in the days (2008 or so?). Everything worked, but I did have to replace the Intel WiFi with an Atheros one and fiddle with all kind of options (it is likely easier these days). One or the other supported packet injection. Mac OS X (I think it was 10.6 or 10.7?) did boot a bit slower than 'Linux' though (probably ran Ubuntu with GNOME 2 back in those days; with a more lightweight WM/DE it'd have been even quicker).

The TrackPoint is one of those amazing tools I miss on a Mac. However, the Magic Trackpad 2 works on Linux and Windows. See this HN discussion [1] for details. Together with a HHKB with BT I have an excellent keyboard and pointer device supporting BT and USB. I even have carry bags to protect both devices.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18273559


The ThinkWiki still seems to be a good source of information, though pretty much everything 'just works' on ThinkPads under Linux. I'm not sure it has information on Hackintoshing, but I've seen detailed instructions elsewhere[1], though I've never tried it.

I seem to be incapable of using Touchpads/Trackpads properly without getting frustrated. It was only after I 'discovered' ThinkPads that I was able to use a laptop as a device that sat on top my lap (rather than having to have somewhere I could use a mouse). Whenever I have to try to use a colleague's Mac laptop, I feel like a clumsy idiot trying to use the touchpad.

[1] E.g. http://x220.mcdonnelltech.com/


The newer Macbook Pro's (Macbook's as well AFAIK) contain a larger touchpad. Apart from the horrible butterfly keyboard (that was before breadcrumbgate or whatever it was called; the noise alone, horrible!) I ended up mistakenly touch it numerous times and if it sits on your lap I suppose you could end up touching the trackpad mistakenly at that point because it sits very close near the edge (small 'bezel'?).

The Apple Magic Trackpad 2 however is the same size as the trackpad on older MB(P)s, and it has Bluetooth and USB (lightning). You can put it on the left side of your keyboard or laptop if you wish to, just like you'd put your mouse. I cannot compare it to Apple Magic Mouse though; but I can say I had a wired Apple mouse (one button) which I used with a Mac Pro G5. Not my cup.


On my ThinkPads which have touchpads, I just physically open up the machine and unplug it - I only ever accidentally use the touchpad, so prefer to forestall that physically.

I've never used the Apple Magic Trackpad (1 or 2), but the issue would be – even if I managed to be able to use it – it would be back being non-ideal for actual use on top of my lap.


Yes, I did that as well my ThinkPads but my accuracy with the TrackPoint isn't as great as with the Apple Magic Trackpad 2. Forget the multitouch; that alone makes it worthwhile (on a side note, vertical mouse scrolling however might be interesting against RSI). Although if you primary use keybinds it isn't that important I do find it important whilst browsing the web. Which is probably why I got into the AMT2.

I use a HHKB and AMT2. Both can be used wired and wireless. I don't need the device near me; both of these can be used remotely.


I'm amazed that there is no mention of the sheer repairability of these devices.

I don't think I will ever encounter a laptop line that is generally so user-accessible. A couple of regular screws and you pop the case. A few more and you can replace the entire keyboard. The hard drive was held in by a single screw in most models and you could easily swap it in without even popping the entire case. The RAM had it's own bay that you could access by removing a single crew. The Ultrabay mechanism was also a huge nod to the design philosophy of making the user feel like the hardware was his/hers to do with.

It's incredibly sad to me that we've abandoned that for the sake of "thinner". I wish I had a legitimate use for older hardware so I could justify picking up one of the IBM-era Thinkpads from eBay and just maintain it into perpetuity. Like the cars of yesteryear that you could mend with some string and a brick. Sure they're not "sexy" and it won't get me likes, but it's actually mine.


Unfortunately they are going away from that. X280 the same as X1 series do not have easily swapable battery (you can still replace it but you have to get inside of the machine). X280 also don't have Ethernet port even tho there is a room for it. They are replacing SD card readers for useless microSD card readers. X280 have also soldered RAM with no expansion slot. Thinkpads was and to some extend still are great machines, but Lenovo is slowly going in to all glued together, non fixable direction


It's a compromise. You can still get a T480, which does all the things you list afaik. But I'm glad that I can also get an X1 Carbon, which is much thinner and lighter. These things aren't achievable without making some compromises. And for how integrated they are, they're still incredibly repairable. Here's the hardware maintenance manual for mine (X1 Carbon 5, last year's model): https://download.lenovo.com/pccbbs/mobiles_pdf/x1_carbon_5th.... It includes instructions how to replace virtually every part in the machine. Broken screen? Fried mainboard? Broken TrackPoint? This is how you replace it.

The more annoying change (imho) is how hard it's become to replace the keyboard. That used to be really easy, remove a handful of screws, slide out the keyboard, and unplug the connector. Now it requires disassembling the entire machine, at least for the X series.


> It's a compromise.

The X200 weighed 1.34 kg, the X280 weighs 1.27 kg. What a massive weight reduction indeed. Totally worth ditching all upgrading possibilities.

Reminds me of Apple ditching the 3.5 mm jack with the pretence of making devices thinner and lighter, when neither happened.


X260 and X270 size wise was virtually the same and yet had 2 batteries, all the port, docking port and many more goodies. I am in the market for small yet versatile laptop that is easy to travel with and can be used even on a plane. 12 inch form factor of X series was always perfect for me. T series is simply to big.


I still use my t440p, and my dad still uses a t61 (!) as our respective daily drivers. I've upgraded the drive to an SSD, and slotted in some extra RAM for mine, since it's so easy to upgrade by design.

From a consumer point of view, they're great machines. But from the seller's point of view, I can see why they want them to be harder to repair. I probably won't be upgrading for another few years, why should I? The whole trend of planned obsolescence is becoming more and more obvious. I hate it, but it was the obvious outcome.


And presumably that unfortunate trend will continue. Unless enough of their big business customers protest loudly, and I don't know to what degree such customers still care about these things.


> The Ultrabay mechanism was also a huge nod to the design philosophy of making the user feel like the hardware was his/hers to do with.

At first I agreed with you, reminiscing that I really loved Ultrabay customizability - switching between a battery when I was on the road, a CD drive to load software when I was in the office, and a hard drive when I needed to archive stuff.

Today though, in the age of fast bandwidth, all-day batteries, and USB, I'm struggling to think of what I would do with an Ultrabay. The closest I can get is that I could use a battery on the road, and a space-saver empty bay around town, but...that's what external batteries are for these days. The more I think about it, the more I think the fondness for Ultrabays only makes sense in the 1990s/2000s, but there's a good reason they're gone.


I have an extra hard drive in mine. It means it's basically hot swappable too.


I extended the useful life of my T410 by doing the same thing. I had a spare SSD lying around, so I put it in the ultrabay to bring my total SSD storage up to 768 GB.


I'm still running an X201t with no intention to upgrade. One of the last machines in that sweet spot of having a sensibly designed keyboard, no trackpad and an IPS display.

I recently had to swap out a keyboard on a 2012 era Macbook and its very clearly highlighted just how good I have it with this thing.


The fans were also easily accessible for cleaning after removing the keyboard/trackpoint assembly, which can be done without removing any other part of the case. They also made the keyboard cable just long enough that you can still operate the laptop with its keyboard half-out (to observe the fans/etc.), and it still folds neatly into place.

Like the cars of yesteryear that you could mend with some string and a brick. Sure they're not "sexy" and it won't get me likes, but it's actually mine.

There's actually quite a lot of classic car enthusiasts, not necessarily on this site but still significant. It mostly depends on what people you associate with.


I'd love to chime in here and specify that this extends to almost every part of a ThinkPad. I had a screen hinge break on my T430, €7 later the replacement hinges were on their way. Replacing them took about 30 minutes and a Philips head screwdriver. Love these machines!


> It's incredibly sad to me that we've abandoned that for the sake of "thinner"

I suspect they don't want to let customers add memory or storage space down the line, especially from a third party hardware vendor- they want that memory and storage money for themselves. And if your laptop breaks, they don't want you to attempt to repair it- they want you to just buy a new one.


Regarding repairability, the mid-2000s Dell Latitude line (D600, D620, D630 etc) had similar repairability as well. I worked at my college's IT helpdesk back then and the repairs were easy to make for even student employees whose only reference points were the Dell Service Manual and a couple of training sessions.

I am curious to know if that is still the case.


Late 2000s Latitudes and Precisions were extremely repairable, too. I have an old Precision M4400 that’s had around a third of its parts swapped out at one point or another and it’s a real dream to work on. Having also worked on a T60p, a T61, and a T400, the Precision was by far the nicest of the four to repair.


I've owned and fiddled with ThinkPads since the 486 days and my previous laptop was a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530. The screen resolution was 1366 x 768, but after some research I found that a W530 screen could be fitted which offered 1920 x 1080. It was literally a straight swap that must've taken less than half an hour.


Wasn't that pretty much standard in the old days?

Many keyboards just had a latch and then you could remove the keyboard without using any tools. Thinkpads was just slower to get rid of that than the most of the brands.

Miss it dearly though. Pretty much all my devices are forced to be obsolete because of non-replaceable batteries.


Apple used to be as good as anyone at this. You could take the keyboard off a PowerBook (to upgrade the RAM) just by sliding a couple tabs: https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/PowerBook+G4+Titanium+DVI+Keybo...


the old days Still have a couple of T500s and a T510 which function as good as new and primarily are used for running specialized apps in parallel with other machines. SSD swapouts followed by Mint or Win7 installation were easy. Swapping out the optical drive for an HDD using a caddy adapter when needed couldn't be easier. Keyboard drain holes for spillage are a nice touch and should be universal. Replacing the CMOS battery (looks like a capacitor) is a bit surgical and could have been more ergonomic but readily doable (note BIOS settings before replacing). Wonder if the new high-end Lenovos are as well engineered.


I don't know...

I had only heard praises like yours on that subject, but I have a T410 and I am really not happy about the access:

* plenty of screws,

* same-looking screws with different length (I won't disassemble it one more time now, but I think that's the case),

* bloody clips that WILL break sooner or later,

* disassembly is neither super intuitive nor obvious,

* I simply could not figure out how to reach some places (like the jack I wanted to fix or change).

It is not better in that respect than the random Compaq I used before, rather worse in fact. The only positive is that the plastic ages better than the old Presario's, which got hard and brittle, so small bits regularly broke when I disassembled/reassembled it.

I had great expectations that the T410 would be better because of the praises I had read, but in fact it was a little bit worse, so I was quite disappointed.


My T43 had a legend on the bottom that told you which length screw to use in which hole, it was pretty fantastic.


It's not just about being thinner, it's about not flexing and feeling so bouncy. New laptops may be less upgradable, but how many end users ever upgrade their hardware? On the other hand, the benefits of a smaller, sturdier machine are experienced every day.


> but how many end users ever upgrade their hardware

Far fewer now, since laptops have become un-upgradeable. ~10 years ago it was fairly common for folks to take their laptops to, e.g., the Geek Squad to have memory upgraded, or to install a larger hard drive. I worked at one such place for ~3 years in the early 2000s, and the laptop upgrade business was booming.


The machine I'm typing this on is an X230 Tablet. I bought it used, dropped in a second 4Gb DIMM and a SSD. It took literally minutes longer than to do the same tasks on a desktop, mostly because you had to remove the old HDD from the caddy.


I am typing this on a (keyboard attached to) Lenovo P51, which has a user swapable m2 disk (and space for one more, plus an SSD), user upgradable ram, user swappable battery and I can install a SIM card, should I want to.

The only thing I can't do, which I could on my last thinkpad, is to add a 9-cell battery.


~repairability, don't forget that IBM software support processes caused some things to be near impossible hard. Like swapping drives or wifi chips.

Other than that they're quite neat.


I had the 701c "butterfly" described in the article. My previous laptop had been a no-name 486 brick with a black and white screen that I bought at a Taiwanese electronics mall for ~$2000. It was barely portable. The 701c, by comparison, was small and durable, had a nice screen, a faster modem, and easily fit into my daypack. I bought it used for about $800 in 1996 and carried it with me throughout Southeast Asia and wrote my first book on it in a cheap hotel in Penang. The previous owner, bless his soul, had even installed Doom on it.


My Dad had the 701c when I was a kid. When it broke (completely dead, some kind of motherboard / PSU failure) he gave it to me to "fix" so I dismantled it to see how the keyboard worked and then just threw everything in the bin. It still keeps me awake occasionally. :(


I bought one on eBay a couple years ago! Managed to get it to boot a couple times (still even had the previous owner's data on it), but then it stopped working. When I started taking it apart I found the plastic was so old and brittle it would fall apart if I just barely flexed it. I disassembled it into its components and put them all in a box which is in a closet somewhere. Someday, I'll find a way to adapt the keyboard to make it work with modern hardware and use it in some sort of cyberdeck-like custom build [0].

[0] https://imgur.com/a/h2kR0Gs


A bunch of old X220 machines are still my only laptops to this day because I simply haven't found anything better since. Every modern laptop I've seen is vastly inferior in some aspect I care about - terrible keyboards, fragile cases, zero maintainability, no Linux support, etc., the list goes on and on. Apart from better CPUs and displays, most laptops have objectively regressed in the metrics I actually care about. Luckily, picking up refurbished X220s is cheap and with current hardware trends being what they are these machines should satisfy my needs for another half a decade at least.


I really don't know how you deal with the awful screens. Even the nicer IPS screen is low resolution and has bad viewing angles.

That alone would be enough to make me upgrade, even if it meant sacrificing everything else on your list.


With a bit of modding, you can replace the panel with something much better.

I have an x230, and I'm planning to upgrade to a 13.3 inch 1080p IPS panel.


I have pretty terrible eyesight, so the IPS screen is okay by my standards. Probably not the case for most people, admittedly.


I used my T420 until last year, and it's a wonderful machine. But the new keyboards aren't as bad as they were in the beginning any more. They're actually good keyboards now. I just wish they had seven rows. But if that doesn't convince you, maybe have a look at the so-called X210. It's an X201 mod with up-to-date hardware, the laptop equivalent of a sleeper car.


They're good keyboards by modern standards, but they're still worse than the keyboards on classic Thinkpads (up to X220/T420/T520), both in terms of feedback (both tactile and sound) and the layout. The X210 looks marvelous, though, I'll see if I can get my hands on one. Thanks!


Yeah I kinda have to agree. I got one of the old ThinkPad USB keyboards when someone was careless enough to list it for 25€ on eBay. It was like new! Best purchase I’ve made in a while.


Owner of a "Thinkpad" X62 here. The most surprising part of the X series from Thinkpad is how serviceable it is. The repair manuals are all online and does not require any special hardware. The OEM replacement parts are extremely abundant online at a reasonable cost. I think when my current laptop becomes obsolete, my next laptop will probably still be a Thinkpad.


I actually had a hard time finding a legit OEM cooler for my X60 after it failed. Found one offered with the right SKU finally and it was electrically and dimensionally correct but it’s actually the part for some other machine and incredibly the BIOS reads out some data from the fan and complains at boot that it’s got the wrong part. Still works though.


I bought a couple items from 51nb (the people who makes the X62 boards) before with good luck since they normally get their parts from scrapped computers. It seems like they shutdown their TaoBao site recently. They opened up a WeiDian site but I have no clue how that site works and how someone in the states buy from them.


> Hortensius, however, says that what keeps ThinkPads relevant is trusty productivity rather than any specific aspect of a given model. [...] “It’s because I can count on it that those things matter.”

Funny to read this, as I await my Lenovo X1 Carbon to come back from repair, as it shut off one night and never came to boot again. I've also got an ~~IBM~~ (edit: it's a Lenovo!) Thinkpad X220, a motherboard-only shell that I plonked my own hardware choice into, taped a slew of Debian stickers onto and haven't had a fault with, ever.

I'll defend the Thinkpad brand with a religious fervour, for the same reason Peter Hortensius says in the article. But under Lenovo's stewardship, I'm left with a lot to be desired.

I hope I was just unlucky with this X1 Carbon, that fervour is willing to give Lenovo a second chance, here.


Sorry to hear about your machine, I hope it gets better soon!

The X1s are well built, though. I have the first-gen one and it still works just fine, dual booting Fedora (24? I think) and Win7. The one thing that ever broke was the square power plug. Not because it's square, but it did break- and then it took me a week of phone calls very patiently speaking to Lenovo reps until I convinced them that my accidental damage protection was still active and it covered the damage. Then they sent a tech guy to my workplace, just so I could let him know I had already mailed the machine to Lenovo, as we had agreed by email. Very well organised.

I now have the 4th gen machine. I initially thought it looked flimsier than my 1st gen one, but then one day I dropped it from about 1.5 meters, on its side and nothing broke. It was inside my bag, and a laptop sleeve, but I'm pretty sure that most other laptops this end of a Toughbook would have ended up with at the very least a broken screen. Not my Splinter :0

Edit: now that I think of it, I've also stepped on it, dropped it from a coffee table and generally handled it roughly. It doesn't care.


My one issue with the first-gen X1 is that they used an obscure SSD type (I'm betting it's a Betamax/VHS issue), which meant sourcing a replacement SSD when mine started to die was a pain. In the end, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk & cost (either source an OEM drive in limited size for high cost or an expensive adapter from unknown sources and a quality drive). I ended up buying a T460 and am quite happy with it. I still miss the old scissor keys in my old X201, but Lenovo's chiclet keys are still better than the Macbook I have to use for work.


Exact same issue. Trying all the SSDs on the shelf, and "What the hell port is this?!"


Had small issues with X1 over the years - e.g. a key fell out (fixed next day by replacing the machine), but otherwise an excellent machine. The trackpad is bad (on Linux) and I didn't find a fix. I like touch to click (without pressing the dedicated button or pressing the trackpad) and it almost never works.


Once my current computer dies I'm done with lenovo for a while. Admittedly I got a mid range computer (yoga 2 pro) not a Thinkpad, but I don't think that excuses the fact that screws simply fall out of the bottom of the machine. Screws which require a nonstandard screwdriver of course. That being said, it is still kicking at almost 4 years, but it has been sent in for repair twice. I'm contemplating my next laptop as a relatively disposable Chromebook running arch.


Did IBM make the x220? I thought Lenovo produced that model (I have a Lenovo x201).


I believe the last IBM Thinkpads were in the X60/X61 era. I have an X60 with a mix of IBM and Lenovo branding. Everything after that was Lenovo.


Huh, TIL.

I'll assume I'm right to give them a second chance, maybe it's just the X1 that's going awry? I've read a lot of reports about the X1's 2013 models that describe the issue that occurred to mine.

Like I say, I love Thinkpads, even with this blip - my next laptop will still likely be a Thinkpad, be it IBM or Lenovo.


It was possible until quite recently for businesses to order Lenovo machines with IBM branding.


Sounds right to me. I have two X61s's that I refurbished for my kids (really just swapping in SSDs and a bit more RAM), one has IBM branding and the other has Lenovo branding.


I own two ThinkPad T420s and my favorite thing about them - well, besides of course being able to install linux without any headaches due to the work of soooo many FOSS engineers - is the keyboard. Man, I never really thought I would appreciate something so seemingly basic...but the keyboard - as silly as this sounds - makes it so much more fun to type!


I still miss that keyboard. I had an X201 until it was practically in pieces. The power jack (mobo side) died, and I replaced it once. Replaced the cooling fan. Ran it on a cooling pad to supplement the airflow. Finally, the spacebar and track pad started going out. After about 4 years, I finally broke down and got an X1 carbon. I sorely miss having a non-chiclet keyboard.


I use a lowly X220i (i3 variant of the X220) every single day. It's been upgraded to 8GB RAM, a 128GB SSD and dual-band wifi.

The 9-cell battery get me 5-6 hours of web surfing, email and Youtube, and it still feels like a new laptop, despite being ~7 years old.

My work-supplied T440 feels like a toy in comparison.


Bought an X220T a few months ago as a possible sturdy laptop for my mother. Was something like $80?

A day after delivery, I had purchased an 8GB ram stick and an SSD for it to keep it for myself. If it had a 1080p screen it'd probably be my main laptop until High Sierra isn't supported by something I need.


Some people are a bit crazy and love the X220 enough to attempt a FullHD mod (with custom hardware and rerouting of the external eDP signal/lane internally). Not for the X220T though.

A kit was for sale here: https://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?t=122640

Edit: better wording


I actually saw this before and was kind of relieved to discover the X220T couldn't do it, I just know I'd've tried to do it otherwise.

It's a remarkably stable Hackintosh though, really regret not buying one 4 years ago. The pen (on windows) is better than I expected too.


You can buy an upgrade kit using the same Sharp screen from the Dell XPS series for the X220/X230. The best bet is to go through a TaoBao agent and buy it from nb51 directly.


I own an X220. any hint how not to fail when attempting this? I.e. some english writeup that is usable with instructions et al. All the stuff seems to be in chinese only :-/


I mainly followed some videos on Youtube for the X61/62 like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcaMFkd_xSY (this one is for the X220). The X220 is a bit easier since there is a big community following for the HD mod [1]. I'm pretty sure the HD mod started from nitrocaster.

Edit: Buy some Gaffers tape too. Much easier to use to tape things down compared to electrical tape.

[1] https://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?t=122640


This warms my heart. The x220 is one of the most oddly aesthetically pleasing laptops I've ever seen.


I still have one of these in storage. I did upgrade to an older T-series model before trying to install it. Feel free to email me if you want to have it in exchange for shipping costs (located in Germany).


I bought the kit and the display. I took one look at how tiny I need to solder the thing on and sold them both for $200 lol.


My lenovo experiences thus far have been mixed. Had a work-provided s540 which was rubbish. Fragile case with blemishes straight out of the factory, so-so performance and battery life, and the main board cracked (literally) just outside of warranty.

Replacing that I got a t460p which I’ve had for 2 years now, and that is an amazing machine. Very good build quality, light and compact, while having excellent performance (i7 6700 hq, 32 gb, dedicated graphics), quiet under load and excellent battery life. And it looks like those old-school thinkpads, which is cute.

I had heard the T series is good and the S is not, but it’s amusing to experience that myself.


I have the exact same laptop. I really like it. I purchased because my x220 lasted forever. In fact it's still running fine as my back-up and travel computer. And in case of emergency, I can always beat an intruder to death with it, whilst running a 10 min gradle build.

Thinkpads have annoyances, but they are cheap if you don't mind upgrading everything yourself, and they are indestructible in my experience. Plus for coding day, having a thinkpoint greatly adds to my productivity. Shame the screens are usually rubbish.


Any recommendations of Thinkpad model to buy in 2018 ? I can wait if anything promising is coming in 2019.


For me, the "vanilla" T-series is the best compromise for weight, build quality, and repairability. My personal laptop is a T480, and it's an excellent machine. Very portable, screamingly fast, very good screen (I have the high-res IPS variant).

If you want a bit more premium feel and lighter weight, the Txxxs (e.g. T480s) is a bit thinner than the regular T-series, and feels a bit sturdier (so I've heard, anyways; my T480 is no slouch here, either). It also has less user-replaceable parts, and is more expensive for the same specs. The X-series also fits here.

If you're going more for a luggable desktop replacement rather than small size, the P-series is what you want. I have a P51 for work, and it's an insane machine: 64 GB RAM, Quadro graphics, touchscreen, Xeon processor... It also barely fits in my laptop bag and comes with a massive 170-watt power brick. But since I work from home and drive into the office once a month or so, it's a great machine that gives desktop-level performance (including very good cooling) while still being at least somewhat portable.

If you want the Macbook Pro experience of premium feel, thinness, less ability to be repaired, and higher cost, go for an X1 Carbon. I'd still prefer the X1 Carbon over a Macbook Pro, but I'd prefer a T- or P-series over either of them.

There are some home/SMB-targetted models, such as the E-series; avoid those unless you absolutely can't afford something better. All of the ones mentioned above were designed for customers that maintain fleets of machines, which has benefits even for non-enterprise users.

The current models are very good, and are a big upgrade from the previous generation. Of course, there is always something nicer coming, if you want to wait.


I'm looking for a portable workstation, so I guess that would be the P-series for me. They're a bit heavier than my current Macbook, though; my 2011 17" MBP weights about 3 kg, while the 17" P71 and P72 start at 3.4 kg.

People already complain my laptop is too heavy. Maybe I should start looking at smaller screen sizes after all.


The new x1 extreme / p1 is notably missing.


Good point. I don't have enough experience with them to speak knowledgeably. They're basically slimmed versions of the P5x series, right?


What OS do you run on it? I have a (personal) T460, but I'm looking to get a new work laptop, and I'm considering trying to swing a T480. I've had great results running Ubuntu 18.04 on my T460, but last I looked, the T480 was having some compatibility issues.


X-series is always a safe bet if you want something a bit more portable than the T-series, but with the same build quality. I don't know about the newest (x280), but I'm rocking the previous X270 and I'm really happy with it.

I also never see people mention it, but the L-series feels a bit underrated. I handled some older ones the other day and was super impressed by the build quality. I think they go for like half the price of T-s too.


L540s (4 or 5 years old now) used by the dozen in one of the places I teach, the managers have them as portable work machines. They seem reliable, they get a beating. Quite big 15inch screen, thick bezel &c.


The T range or the P range remain good recommendations.

The T is a little lighter but you lose some power/upgrade options, the P is kind of what the T used to be (both in terms of price and performance). The current gen' T is a slight lightweight but not a bad buy.

They have a bunch of ultra-lights/ultra-books/2-1s, but they aren't "Thinkpads" in the classical sense.


Not sure about a recommendation but stay away from T480s. My roommate has had so many issues with his that it has driven him mad. He's had so many things fail and had to send it in for repairs that he's used my old MBP more than he's used his new T480s. First, he had issues with battery (it stopped charging), then the internal keyboard failed (wouldn't get recognized) and now one of his USB ports doesn't work and his trackpad intermittently stops working. He still hasn't sent it in for a repair and is contemplating just asking Lenovo for a refund.

This is not an isolated incident... lots of issues with some new Thinkpad models. Make sure you do lots of research before you buy any of them.


I just bought an E485 (AMD Ryzen). I'm enjoying it thoroughly. The "E" series has integrated battery and fewer USB/data ports/less dock compatibility, BUT battery, drive, and RAM are all "user-serviceable" meaning not soldered in.

And I got a great deal with some discount codes, now expired... AMD Ryzen 2700U, 16GB RAM, 128GB NVMe drive, 1080p matte screen for $670 plus tax and shipping.

If I had more money, I would have gotten the A485 (AMD fanboy) as the A and T series are easier to maintain and have more features like keyboard backlights.


X280, T480, T480s, 25, and X1 Carbon are all good. I’m not familiar with their workstation laptops.


Is weight an issue? I recently got the P51 for work and was really surprised at how solidly it was built.

My previous laptop was a T450 the ThinkPad reputation really surprised me because it felt a bit flimsy


The P51 actually has a magnesium body, which I only found out because I was leaning it against some concrete walls in a parking garage while troubleshooting some equipment with it.

It's a tank.


One time I was using my T60 on the floor and managed to tip an entire full glass of water right into it, absolute worst case scenario. I turned it off, pulled the battery, drained it, let it sit for about a day to dry then checked if it still worked. It was totally fine. Another time I had a T43 sitting on the high arm rest of a couch, open, and knocked it onto the floor where it fell directly on the corner of the display. It was also fine.


How much of the floor did you have to replace though?


I would guess that the downstairs neighbors were upset to come home to a hole in the ceiling and a laptop stuck halfway through their coffee table.


Halfway? I didn't know they made a lightweight version of that model.


I have a w520 and while the graphics card could use some help from time to time, I splurged for the i7 quad and it's still keeping up with most of what I come across today. My favorite part is how well it handles bad head management. I know I shouldn't but using it on bed sheets isn't really an issue, it does make hell of a sound though. Sounds like an airplane.


I use a T420 at home with an i7 2nd Gen (Power hunry) @ 2.3Ghz + 16GB Ram and a 250gb SSD. Its old, but its at the inflection point where its more cost effective for me to do some cloud compute the few times a year I need it rather than spending £1500 on a new laptop. The laptop cost me around £130 all in.


Something to be said about the 25th anniversary selling out in very little time. I was watching it and wondering if I should get one (I missed the keyboard from my w520 but not the weight), but had the decision made for me by it selling out very quickly.


Long time macbook user here who just received a used T450 in the mail last week. I bought it just to have access to a Windows machine and I plan to install linux onto it as well.

Initial impressions: I really like it! Very solid little machine, and I really like the keyboard feel as well. After years with Apple, the Thinkpad screen and trackpad are pretty crappy in comparison, but overall I love using it. Currently looking into upgrading the display to a 1080 IPS...


I have an 8-year-old ThinkPad i5 T410S, since 2010.

I tried to replace it in 2012 with an Asus Zenbook but that was not pleasing to me with its flimsiness in keyboard and build-construction.

I would like to perhaps buy a later ThinkPad model, but I really don't see any advantage whatsoever in doing so. My T410S was ordered with the extra-large battery which is still going strong, and I swapped out the 500gig hard drive for a 2000gig hard drive about 5 years back.


I've owned a pretty maxed out T420s. When I bought it back in early 2013, it had the standard HDD drive and 8GB of RAM. I swapped it out with a SSD and bumped it up to 16GB RAM, and I can say it still runs pretty well. Aside from not being able to do 4K or having to live with that ugly 1080p screen, it's been just as solid as my late 2016 15inch MBP.

Oh, no dongle anxiety too.

The ROI on it is pretty amazing. Back when repairability was still a thing.


The 25th anniversary edition should just be an X62.


> a ThinkPad remains a ThinkPad.

Uhm, no. My a20p, bought in 2001 still works. I only swapped the HD once and the keyboard every 6 months or so. I bought my last thinkpad 4 years ago and (given limited time and budget) had only a single model to choose because I wanted metal hinges instead of plastic ones.


Does anyone know of any good upgrade kits for a T410? I've got one thats still going strong but the screen is awful and I'd love to upgrade that and whatever else I can get away with. When I look online I don't usually see stuff for this particular model.


I've been using a t440p as my daily for a year now. Nothing but love for it, I've upgraded the screen, ram, and trackpad. My next upgrade is the CPU to a quad core and this thing will still have a few more years left in it.


Very pleased with how ThinkPad-y my P51 is, even though it also manages to be a thoroughly modern notebook.


ctrl-f revealed no mention of its product placement on Judge Ito's desk in the OJ Simpson trial.

Edit: Really? You don't think all that advertising in such an iconic situation had any relation to its becoming a design icon?




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