The weirdest, coolest, and most influential ThinkPads of the last 25 years
Lenovo celebrates the 25th birthday of the venerable ThinkPad line on October 5, marking a quarter century of business-class innovation. ThinkPads aren’t always the most eye-catching machines, but they’ve earned a reputation for reliability over the years, thanks in large part to the careful engineering that goes into each and every one — even the weird ones.
What could possibly be weird about the humble, tireless ThinkPad? Let’s have a look at the last 25 years of ThinkPads and find out.
The ThinkPad 700C was among the first to bear the name ‘ThinkPad,’ along with its siblings the 700 and 700T. Announced on October 3 1992, it was the forebearer to all those sleek black business-class laptops you see in every office. As you can see, it was a bit of a beast by today’s standards, but back then it was a slim, lightweight alternative to bulkier and less-robust business-oriented laptops.
It introduced the characteristic design we would continue to see refined over the years, the all-black chassis with a cherry-red trackpoint ball in the center of the keyboard. Simple, understated, and elegant.
The ThinkPad 701C was a bit of an oddball by today’s standards. It featured a keyboard that would blossom open when you opened the lid of the laptop, offering a wider typing surface than you’d get otherwise. Additionally, the design of the keys themselves was a bit of an oddity.
The keyboard featured a “butterfly” mechanical key switch offering a remarkably tactile typing experience. It’s also worth pointing out that this laptop is a highly sought after collectors’ item, so if you happen to have one sitting in a closet somewhere, you might want to consider cleaning it up and posting on Ebay.
Yep, that’s a ThinkPad there, and it’s in space. Pictured here, we see the ThinkPad X70, but the first ThinkPad in space was the 750S, used in 1993 to view color images coming off of the Hubble Space Telescope. It certainly wouldn’t be the last. ThinkPads have been the laptop of choice for NASA ever since that first flight. .
This guy was a fairly typical late 90’s laptop, but it was much slimmer than its competition. The ThinkPad 560 was the predecessor to the modern netbook, designed from the ground up to offer long battery life and be light enough to carry around all day. It’s certainly a bit larger than netbooks today, but at the time it was considered extraordinarily lightweight, despite its powerful 100MHz processor.
The ThinkPad 240 followed in the footsteps of the 560, offering a thin-and-light chassis for extended everyday use, with one major difference. This was the first laptop to forego an optical drive in order to slim down and save space. It also featured a 300MHz processor, and a discrete graphics card, a NeoMagic MagicGraph 128XD with a whopping 2MB of memory. And no, we did not just make that name up. It was a real graphics card, from a real company. And it was named that on purpose.
As you might have guessed, this one was a bit weird. The ThinkPad 550BJ was a standard business-class laptop, but it featured an integrated printer. You’d just flip up the keyboard, feed paper in, and the internal printer would get to work. It effectively turned the 550BJ into a digital typewriter. The concept was certainly unique — and never saw a successor.
The ThinkPax X20 deserves a special place on this list, because it was among the first ThinkPads to start pushing the boundaries of what we thought of as thin-and-light laptops. If you look at the overall silhouette, you can also see that this laptop has a uniquely ThinkPad aesthetic that appears modern even by current standards. The X20 featured a 600MHz Intel Pentium III processor, and a 20GB hard drive — impressive hardware for a system of its size.
This laptop was among the first to introduce the idea of tablet computing to the masses. The ThinkPad X41 featured a display which could flip around and put the laptop into tablet mode, making it one of the first mass-market 2-in-1 laptops. At the time, it had the distinction of having the best battery life of any 12-inch tablet on the market. According to Lenovo, the X41 had a big impact on the design and development of the modern X1 Yoga convertible laptop.
From the side, the X60 looks like it was put together by hand — like a laptop built from LEGO. That’s partially because it was designed to offer customers a modular design. The top part, the laptop, detaches from the “UltraBase,” which provided more ports and storage options.
This laptop is one of the more recent entries in our list, as it hit store shelves in 2008, but at the time it was lauded for its exceptionally thin build. Coming in at just 20mm thick, the ThinkPad X300 was one of the thinnest, lightest laptops of its time because of its unique construction. It was the first ThinkPad to use carbon fiber elements in the chassis, making for a robust and lightweight build.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon
That brings us to the ThinkPad X1 Series. Among which we’ll find the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the first ThinkPad to use a full carbon fiber chassis, the X1 Tablet, and the X1 Yoga. All three are cutting-edge laptops with that unmistakable ThinkPad design pioneered by designer Richard Sapper. Even today, Lenovo says, those original designs inform the direction of and aesthetic of modern-day enterprise laptops, 2-in-1s, and tablets.