Happy birthday to the ThinkPad

Perhaps inspired by Henry Ford, IBM 's matt-black laptop has been a feature of portable working for the last 15 years. Now owned by Chinese corporation Lenovo (as with all IBM's PC-making interests), there is a reason it remains the regulation black.

Lenovo technologist Kenny Ferguson visited the Tech.co.uk offices yesterday and he puts it down to envy. The fact is, with the ThinkPad, a two year-old model looks no older than a boxfresh specimen. In other words, workers don't feel hard done by when their laptop isn't upgraded!

Lenovo launched the ThinkPad and 300 and 700 series in October 1992. But today is being marketed as the ThinkPad's anniversary because of a pen-driven device (the IBM 2521) that was announced in April 1992 and shipped in the July. It had a 640 x 480 monochrome screen.

The actual notebooks, launched 14.5 years ago, had a 10.4-inch screen and introduced the TrackPoint 'nipple' controller that sits between the middle keys on the keyboard. IBM had to later go populist and also include a trackpad, while Dell went the other way and included a TrackPoint-type device to cover all bases.

The 1992-introduced 700 and 700C ran Microsoft Windows 3.1 and had a 25 MHz 486SLC processor, 120 MB hard disk drive, 10.4" TFT colour display (an industry first and weighed 3KG. It cost $4,350.

An IBM researcher conceived the title ThinkPad from a corporate-issued leather-bound pocket notebook with the corporate motto 'Think' embossed on the cover. The name met disagreements from the IBM corporate naming committee because the nomenclature system for the IBM computers was then numerical; however, the brand name ThinkPad was kept because of positive feedback.

Industry first

In 1997 IBM introduced the industry's first notebook equipped with a DVD-ROM, the ThinkPad 770 before introducting the first 'ultraportable' at around 1.4KG in 1999. The 10 millionth ThinkPad was shipped in 2001, with the 20 millionth coming only two years later in 2003.

The fold-out butterfly keyboard, which appeared in the ThinkPad 701 series, is widely considered a design masterpiece and is on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Another interesting design was in the Thinkpad 760 series, where the keyboard was elevated by two arms riding on small rails on the side of the screen, thus creating a more ergonomic, tilted keyboard as opposed to the flat keyboards of other laptops.

In 2005 Lenovo introduced the ThinkPad X41 Tablet before taking on dual-core in 2006, extending the ThinkPad battery life to 11 hours.

Lenovo acquired IBM's Personal Computing Division in 2005 and has begun the process of co-branding new ThinkPads. The notebooks will be fully branded as Lenovo from next year, when the Chinese company will also launch a full consumer range.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.