In pictures: 20 years of the ThinkPad

It’s been 7 years since Lenovo bought IBM’s PC division and there’s no doubt that the legacy of the iconic ThinkPad, developed by Big Blue 20 years ago, is alive and well.

By David Binning on Sep 6, 2012
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The history of the ThinkPad over the past two decades is a fascinating study in the history of laptop design, providing an insight into the minds of engineers and how they saw the world when money was no object.
In 1992 IBM launched the ThinkPad 700c. Modelled after the traditional Japanese ‘bento’ lunch box, the first in this illustrious line of portables had a 25 MHz 486SLC processor, 120 MB hard disk drive, the industry's first 10.4" TFT color display, and 2.2in × 11.7in × 8.3in dimensions. It weighed just shy of 3kg and sold in the US for around $US4,350.
The Power PC was one of the first portables that really tried to take it to its bigger desktop brothers. This little baby would have set you back over $14,000 in the early 90s. We’d tell you the specs but noone seems to remember.
The ThinkPad 701c featured IBM’s famed butterfly keyboard, developed in response to user complaints that the diminuitive keyboards appearing on ever shrinking machines were difficult to use.
Which begs the question, how would users have found the insanely tiny keys on probably the cudliest of the ThinkPad line, the Palm Pop PC110? Sold between 1996 and 1997, this machine was in many ways a portent of things to come, in everything but its price, which was around $3,000 in the US. Ouch!
The first ThinkPad Pentium 1, the 533x, has a pretty high cute factor too.
The ThinkPad Transnote is quite a piece of equipment, the likes of which we’ll never see again. With its patented ThinkScript note pad transcribing written notes to a word document on your hard drive, this product generated lots of excitement around the time of the millenium. And to show how serious IBM was, it shipped in leather and vinyl versions for both right and left-handed users.
In 2005 IBM launched the ThinkPad Reserve Edition. While a classy leather case isn’t enough to induce someone to part with $US5,000 these days, this product was designed to spruik the upper limits of IBM’s global support back then, with buyers treated to beneftis such as maximum two-ring telephone support and 4-hour turnaround for repairs.
IBM admits that the ThinkPad T60w, featuring clear plastic casing, seemed like a good idea at the time but the tolerances of the materials available at the time apparently caused the engineers so much grief that it was promptly shelved.
The ThinkPad A31P, featuring two ultrabays, became the first portable computer to journey to the international space station in 1998.
The ThinkPad W700 was aimed at high-end professionals in areas such as finance and scientific research. In the words of Lenovo’s worldwide competitive analyst Kevin Beck, it’s the sort of thing engineers build when “money is no object”.
2012. Beck sings the prasies of Lenovo’s current flagship ThinkPad, the Carbon X1 ultrabook.

David Binning travelled to Tokyo as a guest of Lenovo.

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