There is perhaps no other laptop with as fascinating a history as the ThinkPad. Since the first models were produced by IBM almost thirty years ago, the ThinkPad has been considered the most robust business laptop ever made. Throughout its history, it has been praised by famous publications like PC Magazine and Laptop Magazine. Additionally, it is one of the only laptops certified by NASA for use on the Internation Space Station.

The laptop is perfect for business applications thanks to its robust processing capabilities, making it an excellent laptop for college students and traveling professionals alike. The latest models are incredibly competitive, offering features unique to the ThinkPad lineup.

In today’s article, we’ll take a walk through the illustrious history of the ThinkPad. From the first models introduced in the early 1990s to the latest machines today, we’ll talk about the complete history of the laptop and what made it so revolutionary. Finally, we’ll see how ThinkPads have changed over the years, and what some of the best current models are. 

ThinkPad: Best Deal Today

Today, the Lenovo ThinkPad is one of the best laptops you can get for a wide range of uses. It’s is an excellent choice whether you want a laptop to use in the office or something portable to travel with.

ThinkPad: Overview

IBM announced the first ThinkPad in 1992. The ThinkPad 700 was the first of its kind, with production and design headed by Richard Sapper and Tom Hardy. ThinkPads were the first laptops to pioneer the “convertible” laptop design that is so common today. In fact, some of the earliest models were tablet computers that used touch styluses for input and navigation.

History

thinkpad
IBM has operations in over 171 countries.

With IBM developing the ThinkPad throughout the 1990s, the turning point for the series was yet to come. In 2005, the critical point in the laptop’s history occurred when Lenovo purchased the personal computer and the ThinkPad brand from IBM. Since 2005, its lineup has been designed and produced by Lenovo. Although the IBM brand name was kept on ThinkPads for a few years after the acquisition, it was eventually dropped. Today, the IBM name has been entirely removed from the laptop.

Locations

The latest ThinkPads are manufactured at various locations around the world. Lenovo operates manufacturing facilities in Mexico, Slovakia, India, and China. A select few models are manufactured at the American plant based in Whitsett, North Carolina. These rare ThinkPads are emblazoned with a red-white-and-blue sticker proudly broadcasting their American manufacturing status.

Acclaim

Since its inception, the ThinkPad has garnered a cult following among computer enthusiasts everywhere. The innovative design and durable construction have been garnering praise from the computing community for decades. It has even won several awards, including Reader’s Choice for PC-based laptops in PC Magazine, and it was the first laptop to be inducted into the PC World Hall of Fame.

Ventures in Space

thinkpad
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990 and remains in operation.

The ThinkPad is also famed for its use on the International Space Station. Along with the Zbook from HP, it’s is the only laptop certified for use in space. The space shuttle Endeavour took a ThinkPad 750 on a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope in 1993. Since then, ThinkPad’s reputation has been solidified as a “space-grade” laptop. Unlike most other computers in space, it was the first relatively standard machine used in space exploration.

ThinkPad: Different Models

The ThinkPad has evolved extensively since its original inception in 1992. The first models were similar to other laptops of the time, using Intel 486 processors and MS-DOS-based operating systems. Let’s discuss some of the most popular versions of the product.

The Early ThinkPads

The ThinkPad 700 was the first notable model of the series. Featuring Intel 386 and Intel 486 processors and a monochrome 10” STN display, the ThinkPad 700 was average for the time. The 700 series was offered with an 80MB or 120MB hard drive and a 2.4K modem, which was an innovative feature at the time. The 700 series was unique because it was offered in a tablet form-factor known as the 700T.

The first of its kind, the ThinkPad 700T, pioneered the tablet convertible format we are accustomed to today. The dual SanDisk solid-state file system, with two 20MB drives, is what made this model stand out. While the 700T didn’t break any records, the 700C, released in October of 1992, was a game changer. The ThinkPad 700C was the first popular release of the laptop, thanks to its 10.1” full-color display.

The Introduction of TrackPoint

thinkpad
TrackPoint is a small analog stick used as a pointing device.

Additionally, this was the first version of the ThinkPad to use the characteristic red TrackPoint that has been used in every model since. The ThinkPad evolved rapidly throughout the 1990s, and by the end of the decade, the newest models were vastly more powerful. By 1998, they were shipped with the latest Intel Pentium MMX processors, running at up to 266MHz. They used removable batteries and came with conventional IDE hard drives, which were upgradeable by the end-user.

Despite massive performance and feature upgrades, the ThinkPad retained its classic black color scheme and red TrackPoint. This design would go on to become an icon in the world of business laptops. To this day, they try to retain some of their original aesthetic appeal.

T-Series ThinkPads

IBM released over 100 different models after the first ThinkPads launched in 1992. By 2000, they had experimented with quirky features like swivel displays, convertible keyboards, and even a built-in printer. By the time the 1990s drew to a close, IBM was squarely focused on the business user. The ThinkPad T-series was the first laptop to consolidate the best features from every previous generation, and it became the “Jack of all trades” among business laptops.

Released in early 2000, the T-series is still around today. The first of its kind was the ThinkPad T20, loaded with an Intel Pentium III processor and 128MB of RAM. The T20 was unique because it offered users a swappable DVD-ROM drive, floppy drive, ethernet port, and even a USB port. This would be one of the last successful models before IBM sold the ThinkPad lineup to Lenovo in 2005.

The Incorporation of Multi-Core Processors

The T-series continued to evolve over the next two decades, and the latest models are vastly more powerful than the earliest ones. The T60, the first model produced under Lenovo, became the first model to use the latest multi-core processors. The ThinkPad T61 became the best-selling model to date in 2007 and gained further notoriety for its use on the International Space Station. The 25th-anniversary edition of the laptop launched in 2017 and was based on a ThinkPad T470.

The latest T-series features both Intel Core and AMD Ryzen processors, depending on your preference. The ThinkPad T14, initially released in 2020, is now in its second generation and features the latest technology, like an IPS touch display, M.2 solid-state drive, and USB Type-C ports.

X-Series ThinkPads

While ThinkPads were great business computers, they were extremely bulky. IBM attempted to fix this by releasing the X-series in 2000. With a 12.1” display, the X-series was designed to provide similar computing power to a smaller, lighter laptop. The first models were released in 2000 and replaced many older compact models.

IBM produced the X-series until Lenovo took over in 2005. The ThinkPad X61 was the first model launched since the switch to Lenovo. This model featured Intel Core 2 Duo processors and was one of the last models to feature the classic 4:3 aspect ratio display. All subsequent models have used the more modern wide-screen format.

Solid-State Drives

The ThinkPad X200 and X200S were released in 2008 and were some of the earliest laptops to ship with modern solid-state drives. While this technology is commonplace today, solid-state media was in its infancy at the time and was practically unheard of on a laptop. The ThinkPad X200 was one of the lightest models yet, weighing just under three pounds. Additionally, it offered excellent battery life and a quiet cooling system.

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The ThinkPad X1 series is a line of high-end ThinkPad laptops and tablets produced by Lenovo.

The X1 series launched in 2011 and improved the laptop even further. Unlike the standard X-series, the X1 is designed for the high-end business-grade market. This is evidenced by the high price tag and cutting-edge specs. The X1 came in multiple variations: a 13” for standard use, a 13” convertible, a 14” premium model, and the 15” X1 “Extreme” model.

ThinkPad Yoga

The ThinkPad Yoga launched in 2013 and brought many revolutionary features to the lineup. Designed as a business-focused tablet, the Yoga is one of the earliest instances of the convertible 2-in-1 format we are accustomed to seeing today. The ThinkPad Yoga perfected this design, improving upon earlier convertible laptop designs from the previous decade.

Aside from being a convertible, the Yoga was a typical ThinkPad in every other sense. It came with the iconic red TrackPoint, backlit keyboard, and black magnesium-reinforced chassis. The earliest Yoga models were designed to be used with a touch stylus, but Lenovo quickly optimized the display for multi-point touch. 

Criticism

The biggest complaint with the ThinkPad Yoga was in response to the soldered RAM and non-replaceable battery. While these laptops have always been easily serviceable and upgradeable, the ThinkPad Yoga set a precedent that its users were very unhappy with. Lenovo remedied this by releasing certain variations over the next few years, each with upgradeable RAM and replaceable batteries. However, most Yoga models still use soldered RAM.

The ThinkPad Yoga is still around today, and we are currently in the eighth generation since its initial launch. The latest Yoga models come with 11th generation Intel Core processors, DDR4 RAM, and M.2 solid-state drives. Additionally, they are offered a 14” IPS touch display.

ThinkPad: Popular Models

Some of the most popular ThinkPad models today include:

ThinkPad: Features

The ThinkPad is known for providing a wealth of business-focused features as well as standard ones. Current models come with essential features like WiFi, Bluetooth, USB ports, card readers, and communication features like an integrated webcam and microphone. Another characteristic of the laptop is its huge selection of ports. Almost every popular model offers docking ports and multiple options for connecting external displays, USB devices, and peripherals.

While most laptops stick to a standard trackpad for navigation and input, the ThinkPad has also provided users with its iconic red TrackPoint. Located in the center of the keyboard, the TrackPoint offers an alternative input method where you don’t need to move your hands from the keyboard to move the cursor. If you spend a lot of time typing or programming, the TrackPoint is a valuable addition to your laptop.

ThinkPads also pioneered features we take for granted today, like the fingerprint scanner. The first system equipped with a fingerprint scanner was the ThinkPad T42, released in 2004. Since then, it has been a standard feature on almost every model. 

ThinkPad: Specifications

The ThinkPad series has always been competitive when it comes to raw specs. You can see how its specs have evolved over the years. Below, we’ve compiled the specs of the best-selling current models to give you an idea of what to expect.

X1 NanoX1 CarbonYogaP17
Processor12th Gen. Intel12th Gen. Intel12th Gen. Intel12th Gen. Intel
Display13” IPS14” IPS11.6” IPS17.3” IPS
Max RAM32GB DDR532GB DDR58GB DDR4128GB DDR4
Battery49.6 Wh57 Wh46 Wh92.4 Wh
Weight2.2 pounds2.48 pounds4.4 pounds8.09 pounds
Price$1300+$1450+$329+$2000+

ThinkPad: Review

The ThinkPad has evolved over the years to become the powerful business-focused system we know today. With the release of the latest models, you can enjoy a feature-packed laptop in a slim and lightweight frame. Alongside the Dell Latitude and HP Elitebook, the Lenovo ThinkPad is one of the most popular laptops for use in business and corporate environments.

With such a longstanding reputation, the laptop is an obvious first choice for those who need a serious laptop. Used in schools, construction sites, law enforcement, and even in space, it has proven that there is no place it can’t go. This is something to keep in mind if you’re ever looking for the most durable laptop. Additionally, since most ThinkPads come equipped with shock-proof cases, spill-proof, comfortable keyboards, and rugged chassis components, they are built to keep you productive even in harsh environments.

Besides being extremely durable and well-built, it is also engineered to be easy to service and upgrade. This is becoming less common in newer laptops, with their lack of repairability. Since the ThinkPad is intended to be used in demanding business environments, having the ability to perform upgrades and repairs is vital.

ThinkPad: Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Great battery life
  • Space-grade durability
  • Highly upgradeable
  • Easy to service
  • Lots of modern features

Cons:

  • Not the best graphics
  • Basic design

ThinkPad: Is it a buy?

This laptop is often recommended by technicians due to its ease of upgrade and repairability. It’s also praised by businesses and office workers thanks to its long-term reliability and portable performance. 

Buy it if…

A basic, sturdy laptop is what you’re looking for. The ThinkPad has never attempted to be the thinnest or most attractive, but it offers a variety of modern features and a solid build quality. A model with the latest features, like a touchscreen display or convertible tablet form factor, is often easy to find if you’re shopping for a new one. Additionally, most ThinkPads offer incredible processing power for their price. This laptop should be at the top of your list if you are a professional, college student, or office worker.

Don’t buy it if…

You need a gaming laptop or a laptop with a top-of-the-line screen. Although the best ThinkPads have competitive onboard graphics, they are not designed for playing games. Additionally, the basic, neutral design of the laptop may not be attractive to everyone. If you want one that prides itself on being shiny and slim, the ThinkPad will be a disappointment. Though some models are slim and light, most have boxy, dated-looking designs.

Last update on 2022-11-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The Complete History of the ThinkPad: Launch, Models, Pricing, and More FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How is a ThinkPad different from a laptop?

The ThinkPad is unique because it is certified by NASA for use in space. Besides this, the ThinkPad does not compromise on the quality of its most iconic features, like rugged construction, TrackPoint, and comfortable keyboard.

What is a ThinkPad used for?

The ThinkPad is used in everything from colleges and schools to businesses and construction sites. The ThinkPad has even been used in space, thanks to its high build quality and durability.

Are ThinkPads good laptops?

ThinkPads are ideal for business purposes. In fact, they make for some of the best laptops you can get. If you want a powerful portable laptop, the ThinkPad is in a league of its own.

Why is it called ThinkPad?

The word “THINK” was found on early IBM mainframes and desktops. The term stuck when IBM started producing laptops.

How old is ThinkPad?

The first ThinkPads were made in 1992, and they have gone through hundreds of different models and variations since then.

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