Revised May 16, 2018

In the year 2016, it may be odd to hear someone refer to a computer as “their baby”. However, when a computer stays in your family for 20 years, that tends to happen.

Around the end of 1993, there were not many laptops that weighed less than a book and used as much power as a nightlight. At the time, we were traveling a lot, and the thought of a lightweight laptop that lasted 5-6 hours on battery was intriguing. (IBM advertised 3 to 9 hours). Enter the IBM ThinkPad 500, which ended up being one of the most forgotten laptops of the era.

This was a 486 machine running at 25/50 MHz (depending on the Caching or Double-Clocking setting), and it came with an 85 MB ($1999 configuration) or 170 MB ($2499 configuration) Hard Drive. The screen was monochrome, but it was extremely crisp – way crisper than the color version (the 510cs) which came later but used a passive-matrix screen. Our TP500 came with 4 MB of RAM; however, you could expand it to 12 by using an IC-DRAM Memory Card – the kind that looks suspiciously like a PCMCIA Card.

One particularly weird feature of the IBM ThinkPad 500 is that it came with personalized name plates (see picture of registration card below). You could send in your name to IBM, and they would give you a nameplate to affix to the laptop in a specially-recessed area.

Our ThinkPad 500 lasted all the way until its 20’th birthday – September 15, 2013 – at which point I took several pictures of it sitting next to the IBM PS/2 CL57SX, and finally retired it.

Pictures

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The Original Box

NOTE: These photos were all taken in February of 2016. While the box and manual are the original box and manual for the TP500 mentioned in this article, the rest came with one of my later ThinkPad 510 purchases.

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In Practice

The keyboard is wonderful to type on. Despite the August 16, 1993 edition of InfoWorld magazine claiming the laptop was too small to be usable, I have no issue touch-typing on it. It’s tactile, like the Model M Keyboard, and the TrackPoint mouse made a lot of sense when they were engineering the machine for portability.

Conclusion

Although the laptop went through a battery replacement and several TrackPoint nubs, purchasing it was a good financial decision. It gave 20 years of service, and continued to work in the face of several electronic meltdowns.

 


Category: IBM

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