Blog - Picked up a couple ThinkPads!

January 9, 2022 - 7:00 PM

The T42, facing the lid

Both of the ThinkPads together! (421kB)

So, I got myself some late Christmas presents! They’re two used ThinkPads I bought on eBay, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them over the past few days. They're a ThinkPad T42 and a ThinkPad 11e Chromebook, and I’ve set up the T42 to dual-boot Windows 98 and XP, with the Chromebook running Arch Linux (replacing Chrome OS entirely). Thankfully they weren’t very expensive! I’m writing this blog post to talk about what I’ve been up to with these laptops, and to give my thoughts on what it’s like to use them!

These two ThinkPads are the newest additions to my small laptop collection, complementing my main laptop which is a ThinkPad T450 with the fancy third-party IPS display. I’ve gone from having one laptop (an original Chromebook Flip) to having six laptops over the span of two or three years or so, and already it’s getting hard to manage! Still though, I can fit all of them in less than the space of a single desktop PC, so it’s not too bad.

I used both of these ThinkPads to write this blog post, starting with LibreOffice Writer on the Chromebook and switching to Microsoft Word 2003 on the T42, it’s been an especially nostalgic time using Word 2003 for this! I’m especially glad the document converted so well, since I used Word for a good chunk of the writing.

The T42, facing the lid

A true classic! (262kB)

My new retro PC, the T42

Ahh, good ol’ classic ThinkPad… this one was a no-brainer pick for retro PC software and gaming, as it’s a very good laptop from 2004 or so (though mine was made somewhat later) and it has good proper driver support for Windows 98 all the way through to 7. I’ve set it up to dual-boot Windows 98 and XP, and the Windows 98 support was actually one of the biggest reasons I went for it, even though I haven’t ended up using it much yet! I find an XP laptop to be a very useful thing, and this one in particular is also one I picked to replace another XP laptop that won’t charge anymore, an HP Pavilion zv5000, I think that one has a better GPU than this one.

I haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the Windows 98 side of it yet, though I’m working on that! I’d like to see if it’s possible to get Wi-Fi working under 98, but for now it does at least work in XP, and the few games I can imagine wanting to play online (mainly Quake III Arena) would work fine under XP anyway. I still need to figure out what I’m going to do for Sound Blaster support for older games and MIDI playback, because this thing works great for DOS games too outside of sound, but for later games made specifically for Win9x it works great so far.

But mainly I’ve been using XP, I have far more software set up on there and I’ve just been doing a lot more on there in general. It’s very nostalgic! I used to use XP for years, as the first real desktop PC my parents got when I was a kid was an HP Pavilion running XP that we had for at least 6 years I think, and of course I continued to use XP a lot for a good while after that thanks to outdated computers at schools. But I haven’t had a real XP setup in quite a while (well, I did for a bit, on that HP laptop until it died), so it’s very nice to be able to have a system that reminds me of my favorite things about both our old home PC and the XP machines I used in elementary schools hehe!

As for the classic ThinkPad keyboard, it definitely feels nice to type on, though I think the keys are a little stiff for my liking… I also occasionally have some function keys be a little unresponsive, no idea what’s up with that, maybe a loose ribbon cable from shipping or something. Overall though, it’s certainly a very nice keyboard for a laptop! I’m very glad to finally be able to see what all the fuss is about, it certainly reminds me of a desktop keyboard more than any laptop I’ve ever used, and despite the stiffness it’s probably my favorite laptop keyboard out of all the laptops I have just because of how much it feels like a proper desktop keyboard.

The screen is generally pretty yellow, and starts rather dim, though I think it just takes some time to warm up, it appears to get brighter if I leave it on for a bit. Both of those are just symptoms of aging LCDs I’m pretty sure, so not much of a surprise. Still, I find the yellow tint surprisingly nostalgic, and if I’m looking at games or video then it’s not the most noticeable, plus it’s just a rather nice-looking screen for its time in general, even if it’s definitely showing its age at this point.

This is probably my new favorite laptop! Sure, it’s not capable of a lot of what more modern laptops are capable of, but there’s still plenty that it can do, and it has my favorite look-and-feel of any ThinkPad I own, my other ones feel like “just laptops” but this one really feels like a portable Windows XP workstation, the kind you’d think of as a “desktop replacement”! I just love this thing so much! It helps that Windows XP is probably what I feel to be the best version of Windows as far as usability goes, there’s a lot this OS does right and I really enjoy using it every time, even though it does have its flaws. But still, I love XP so much, honestly even more than 7.

The T42 showing Word 2003 The T42 showing Kid Pix
A draft of this very post! (375kB) Making a mess in Kid Pix! (348kB)
The T42 showing the game Hard Time The T42 showing WMP9 and IE6
Playing a "classic" game! (353kB) Web and music like it's 2004! (343kB)
The 11e, facing the lid

Bonus sticker residue! (242kB)

My new spare netbook, the 11e (Glimmer model)

This is a laptop I mainly just picked up because it’s cheap, it’ll serve as a spare web browsing laptop alongside my main one, the ThinkPad T450 I mentioned above. I think it’ll come in handy a decent amount for when I don’t feel like using my T450 for web browsing or a bit of writing, as despite its age and low power it works very nicely. Its keyboard is a modern ThinkPad keyboard but with a matte surface to its keys instead of a glossy one, which makes it feels so much better to me despite its slightly shorter travel distance compared to my T450’s keyboard. It doesn’t really win out against the T42’s keyboard at all, but since it’s not as stiff as the T42’s keyboard it’s at least a bit less fatiguing for my hands.

ThinkPad Chromebooks might be something of a controversial topic (at least as far as I’ve seen on the subreddit), and god knows I normally can’t stand Chrome OS, but a lot older Chromebooks make for great Linux laptops, and this model is a great one for that. I’ve used the Firmware Utility Script from MrChromebox to install a proper coreboot UEFI firmware on it, allowing me to install Arch Linux the exact same way as on a regular laptop. An older Chromebook with Linux on it can make for a very good budget system for browsing the internet on, so I’d very much recommend it if you’re looking for that sort of thing! Just, probably consider a different distro, like Linux Mint, I only use Arch because I find its sort of DIY nature kinda fun to play with.

I like this thing! Its processor isn’t much to write home about these days, but it’s easily capable of the basic laptop tasks I’d need, that being web browsing in Firefox, word processing in LibreOffice (which I used to draft this blog post), and Inkscape for basic design work. It handles these pretty well, and while 4GB of RAM would be way too small for any modern Windows setup, it’s plenty for Arch with KDE, as well as most Linux distros you can throw at it. And after tweaking the theme a bunch, it doesn’t feel out of place on a Chromebook either! I’d like to talk about those tweaks, but that’s a blog post for another day…

I really don’t like Chrome OS, even aside from how I’ve already switched to Firefox (so I don’t like using Chrome anyway), it’s just plain terrible as an OS, I seriously don’t get why people seem to like it so much. I wouldn’t be enjoying this laptop at all if I was stuck with Chrome OS, so I’m really glad it’s so easy to put real Linux on it! It makes Chromebooks like this so much more useful than just leaving Chrome OS on them.

Unfortunately though, the worst part of this thing is easily the screen… it’s very blue (and can’t really do Night Light), its viewing angles are awful, and its colors are very, very poor with ugly dithering, honestly it’s the worst display of any laptop I own. Very disappointing since even the Acer netbook from 2010 that I own has a better one, and my old Chromebook Flip had a very pretty IPS that I liked a lot. It’s tolerable in short bursts though, and I don’t mind doing some writing on it at low brightness. Would never do art on it though, which kinda sucks since it can run Inkscape great. It’s a shame, because I otherwise like so much about this little laptop and how it feels to use.

This thing also has something of a weird design, so I definitely understand the people who don’t consider the Chromebooks to be “real” ThinkPads… it’s missing the famous TrackPoint, as well as the physical mouse buttons, which certainly is a bummer. It also has a weird green light at the top that lights up whenever the Wi-Fi is turned on, I guess for school purposes? Like, so that a teacher can make sure students aren’t cheating on tests using the internet or something? I don’t know. This Chromebook very likely came from a school before I got it, so that’s just what I’m guessing.

It also only has 16GB of eMMC storage inside, though that’s surprisingly not as big a deal as you might think! Lighter Linux distros already don’t take a whole lot of space as it is, but it especially helps if you use btrfs filesystem compression, since it saves quite a lot of space! Definitely make sure to use btrfs as your filesystem if you pick up a similar Chromebook, being able to use the compression feature is certainly worth it alone (though you’ll probably have to figure out how to enable it for your distro), and the slight storage speed performance hit doesn’t really make a difference on a device like this where you aren’t doing anything super IO-heavy anyway.

The 11e browsing the web in Firefox The 11e running LibreOffice and Gwenview
Browsing the web in Firefox! (314kB) Doing non-Chromebook things! (297kB)

Think different! (Wait, wrong company…)

I’ve been having a lot of fun with both of these ThinkPads so far! I really enjoy messing around with computers in general, but ThinkPads like this are especially a huge joy to play with, they’re usually really nice laptops in general and have great OS support. I probably won’t say much about them on the website in the future, but I do plan on using the T42 as one of the devices I use to test the website, since it has XP on it with IE6.

Anyway, that’s all for now! I haven’t done much work on the site since before Christmas, so I’ve been wanting to at least write something decently long to make up for it. This post took waaay to long to write, because of how long it is… also I promise I’ll get around to setting up the Projects section eventually! Part of the problem is that it’s hard to figure out how to distinguish pages in the section from regular blog posts, I’m considering tying the two sections together somehow (like maybe linking to the relevant blog posts in a project’s page). I’m also reconsidering certain other sections on the site, though I’ll think about that more when I get there.

I’m thinking about also trying out Microsoft FrontPage 2003 for working on the site, because vintage problems require vintage solutions, right? Though, I’m enjoying the control I have when writing the site entirely by hand, so I’m not really sure if I’d like to use a WYSIWYG editor at all. I’ll give it a try though! If I end up switching to it, I’ll certainly post something on the site about it.

Have a happy 2022! I sure hope it’ll be better than 2021!

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