I was handed a 14” IBM Thinkpad T42 that had unfortunate run-in with a tall cup of coffee. It had been dead for quite some time. It was sad to see such a beautiful machine shot down in the prime of its life…
Well, it is actually about 5 years old. Not exactly a puppy in laptop-years. At the time it was released, it had a truly innovative thin and light design. It was a real luxury business machine.
Rebuilding this classic machine became a great little side project. I wondered about how much money a “hardware enthusiast”, like myself, would have to spend to get this computer up and running. I figured parts for an older Thinkpad should be cheap and easy to find. I was in absolutely no hurry to get it working, so I hit Kijiji regularly and waited for some compatible parts to pop up.
Luckily for me, someone posted a beat-up 15” T42 for next to nothing (parts from the 14” and 15” models are interchangeable). I purchased up this broken laptop from a man I can only describe as “sketchy”. Not to worry, though. After I cleaned it up, I found that it had a lot of usable parts. A couple of small ebay auctions later and I had myself a nice big Black Horse bag full of T42 parts.
All told, I spent less than $80 and I have almost enough parts to build another (including a spare battery and charger).
The only logical thing at this point was to take this pile of parts and turn them into something resembling a computer.
First Boot! Woot!
She’s a beauty.
So, how does this old laptop run?
Currently, I have Windows 7 installed and it is running great. The older pre-Core series Intel Pentium M with its 32bit single-core cpu and one gig of ram is apparently more than enough. The screen is bright and the viewing angles are great. It is actually really refreshing to use a 4:3 screen in a world full of wide-screen LCDs. I’m not saying better or worse… just nice for a change.
The keyboard, trackpad, and trackpoint are simply second-to-none. Lenovo has been smart to not change this legendary combo after buying IBM’s laptop business. It just feels perfect in your hands. And, while it does not have a back-lit keyboard like the fancy laptops nowadays, it does have a great little “Thinklight” that shines down from the top of the screen to allow for key pecking in the dark.
It is still light and portable, but the battery life I’m currently getting from the two 6 cell batteries I have sucks. Fortunately, like everything with this laptop, replacement batteries are easy to find. I might pick myself up a 9 cell soon.
That takes me back to what I love most about this laptop. It is designed to be taken apart and repaired. Exhibit A:
As you can see, the sizes of screws for the holes on the bottom of the laptop have been marked. Everything comes apart easily with a small Philips-head. It is the sign of a matured product… almost from another time. The Lenovo Thinkpad series, to this day, is a testament to terrific modular computer design. For example, as I mentioned earlier, the parts in the 14” and 15” versions are compatible. For the 15” version, special connectors are added to the motherboard to make it properly fit the chassis. That is just amazing. This machine is a far cry from the snapped-together, sealed in a box, and un-upgradeable designs of many manufacturers today.
Maybe computers should not be meant to thrown away after a few years of use. We should aim for computers that are designed to be fixed by their owners. I’m not saying everyone should need to know how to fix their own computer, but we should make it less scary for those that want to.
It has been great creating this write-up on such a quality machine. As far as I am concerned, this IBM Thinkpad T42 will run until it is dead…
and I’ll just find some more parts and resurrect it again.
(This post sent from my IBM Thinkpad)