Introduction

Every now and then, you acquire a machine that nobody else has heard of. Sometimes, its rarity is dictated by the niche market it was sold in. Sometimes, a high price can dictate how uncommon it is. And sometimes, it’s both: an expensive and niche machine that very few people would ever truly appreciate.

Note: I unfortunately no longer have this wonderful machine, but I would still most likely be able to answer questions about it. I would also be fascinated to hear any stories from people that dealt with one of these back in the day.

Enter the IBM RS/6000 Model 860. Yes, it’s a ThinkPad version of the PowerPC (RISC-based) IBM RS/6000.

I had been looking for one of these for a very, very long time. Sometime in 2013, I finally set up search alerts on eBay and a few other sites, but it took a few more years before I found one online.

When you first turn this lovely machine on, you are greeted immediately with a brief fanfare from the built-in stereo speakers. The first thing you see on the 1024×768 TFT screen is (as seen in the picture above) an IBM logo with some artwork. On my machine, it then boots into AIX 4.2. Did I mention this laptop is from 1996!?

AIX was IBM’s Unix-based operating system. It was first released in 1986, and is still being updated at the time of this writing. Throughout its lifetime, you would typically find it on servers, although it was on some workstations as well. Very few mobile workstations or laptops were ever produced that used a PowerPC Architecture and ran AIX. (Note that the PowerPC version of Windows NT 4.0 works on the 860!)

(Click thumbnails for larger images)

Specifications

Here are the specs for my machine. Keep in mind, my machine was produced in June of 1996. These specs were unheard of in a laptop back then, and would be high-end even for a full-out desktop workstation of the time.

  • CPU: PowerPC 603e @ 166MHz
  • Video: 1024×768 (12.1″) – 105 DPI
  • RAM: 32 MB built-in (expandable to 96 MB with two 32 MB IC DRAM Cards!)
  • HDD: 1.2 GB SCSI Hard Drive
  • CD: Integrated CD-ROM Drive
  • Input: Three-button TrackPoint, excellent keyboard (IBM Model M6-1)
  • Ports: Composite Video In/Out, SCSI 50-pin, RS-232C Serial, Parallel 25-pin, FDD, Stereo Audio Line In/Out, PS/2, 2xPCMCIA Non-CardBus Type II
  • Model Number: 7249-860

You’re reading that correctly. A SCSI Hard Drive, CD-ROM, 1024×768 screen, and a Model M Keyboard (albeit very high-quality rubber-dome) in a laptop… in 1996. There was also a webcam option for some of the ThinkPads in the 800-series line, which connected to the top of the screen. In one of my pictures, you can see the “cutout” where the screen bezel separates to allow for this expansion. (Yes, I did say there was an entire line of 800-series ThinkPads; there was also a much more common ThinkPad 850 running at only 100 MHz, as well as an 800 and an N40, which was similar in design to a Tadpole SPARCbook.)

I’m not able to find an exact MSRP or original price for the 860, but the 850 started around $12,000 USD in 1996 ($19,700 in 2019). IBM was “generous enough” to lower the price on the 860 to $7,500 in August of 1997 ($12,000 in 2019). These prices make even the IBM PS/2 P70 blush.

The 860 was discontinued on January 30, 1998.

Public Service Announcement

These older ThinkPads (including the 755, 760, and 770 series… and even the PC110) contain NiMH standby batteries, which corrode over time. These are usually green in color, and are separate from the CMOS/clock battery and main battery. They were intended to allow the user to swap batteries without a full loss of power (similar to the “Power Bridge” concept that Lenovo used for a few years in the mid-to-late 2010s, except these only allowed for battery swapping while in Standby/Suspend mode).

The interior picture you see below shows the condition of the machine when I got it. The first thing I did was remove the standby battery (and main battery, which had not corroded yet). Fortunately, beyond the surface-level damage shown on the CD-ROM drive, there did not appear to be any further damage to traces or other components.


Category: IBM

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