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Looking back at the 25 year history of ThinkPad

ThinkPad
(Image credit: Future)
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ThinkPads a quarter century in the making

(Image credit: Future)

Lenovo celebrates the 25th anniversary of ThinkPad early this year, kicking it off with a Transform Event in New York City, pulling several of its older laptops out of cold storage. 

From the first ThinkPad that started it all to the latest and greatest Ultrabook from the company, every important milestone was on display.

Join us as we guide you through the showcase and display just how far Lenovo’s – or, before 2005, IBM’s – little black boxes have come.

1992: The first ThinkPad

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

In 1992, the first three IBM ThinkPad models were introduced with the 700, 700c (pictured above) and 700t. Unlike every other laptop before it, the ThinkPad 700 came with a TrackPoint, or that red nubbin’ in the middle of the keyboard, which enabled users to control the notebook without plugging in a mouse or trackball. This signature feature has come to every ThinkPad since.

Aside from the TrackPoint, the ThinkPad 700C was notably well-equipped for the time, with a 10.4-inch display, a screen size unlike anything seen on a portable computer before – and in full color no less. This was all backed up by a whopping 25MHz of computing power courtesy of an IBM 486 SLC processor and a 120MB hard disk drive.

The original price for all of this fabulousness? A cool $4,350 (about £3,450, AU$5,740).

1993: ThinkPads in space

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

ThinkPads are practically the official laptop of NASA, and it all started when astronauts took the ThinkPad 750c into space aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 1993. Unlike most of the equipment we take into space, ThinkPads sent into the void are relatively standard, off-the-shelf computers with only a few modifications. 

According to IBM (opens in new tab), NASA’s flight crews would often take an average of seven ThinkPads on every space shuttle mission.

1995: Before the Sidekick was a thing

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

Due to the ThinkPad’s boxy proportions, a full-sized keyboard was always a challenge. However, the ThinkPad 701c tackled that problem by introducing a fold-out butterfly keyboard. 

The keyboard would automatically expand as you opened the screen lid. The two halves of the keyboard were split diagonally and met at a stairstep seam.

1997: The original ultraportable

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

Ultrabooks might be ubiquitous today, but the ThinkPad 560 was arguably the first ultraportable laptop. 

The 12.1-inch notebook was thinner and lighter than anything the company made before, measuring 1 inch in thickness and weighing only four pounds. 

Despite its slim proportions, few – if any – compromises were made, with a keyboard that still felt like a typewriter.

2000: X marks the spot

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

ThinkPad’s love affair with thin laptops eventually culminated with its first X-series machine, the ThinkPad X20. Designed for extreme portability, the 12.1-inch laptop was designed to be extra small and light at just 3.1 pounds. 

Meanwhile, Intel Mobile Pentium III processors provided ample computing power (at the time) at 600MHz clock speed, and a 3.8-hour battery life was also remarkable.

2004: Fingerprint scanner

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

Apple’s Touch ID might have helped make fingerprint readers as popular as they are today, but the first laptop to ever sport this type of biometric sensor was the ThinkPad T42.

2005: Flip it

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

This was a monumental year for ThinkPad, as 2005 was the year in which Lenovo acquired the company. The first ThinkPad under Lenovo was the X41 Tablet, arguably the world’s first 2-in-1 laptop.

The 12.1-inch convertible featured a swiveling display that would fold flat over the keyboard, allowing users to write text and draw diagrams with a stylus.

2008: Carbon fiber arrives

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

For more than a decade, ThinkPads were made largely made with titanium composite or magnesium shells. In 2008, that all changed with the introduction of carbon fiber and glass fiber materials. 

The ThinkPad X300 was the first machine to feature these new elements, and it showed us that a professional laptop could be as light as 2.9 pounds.

2012: An Ultrabook for pros

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

Originally launched in 2012, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has become Lenovo’s flagship laptop for professionals. 

The laptop was thinner than anything ThinkPad introduced before and brought with it a host of cutting-edge parts, including solid-state drives and Ivy Bridge Intel Core processors.

2017: Thinner and smaller than ever

ThinkPad

(Image credit: Future)

In just five short years, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has seen several revisions, including an adaptive row of function keys well before the TouchBar of the current MacBook Pro (opens in new tab).

The 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon (opens in new tab) is the thinnest and lightest pro machine from Lenovo yet. Despite being more compact in every way, it still features a 14-inch screen and the full-sized ports you'd expect on this business machine. 

Kevin Lee
Kevin Lee

Kevin Lee was a former computing reporter at TechRadar. Kevin is now the SEO Updates Editor at IGN based in New York. He handles all of the best of tech buying guides while also dipping his hand in the entertainment and games evergreen content. Kevin has over eight years of experience in the tech and games publications with previous bylines at Polygon, PC World, and more. Outside of work, Kevin is major movie buff of cult and bad films. He also regularly plays flight & space sim and racing games. IRL he's a fan of archery, axe throwing, and board games.