How I Got My IBM Thinkpad 600X:
I bought my Thinkpad 600X in 2012 about 13 years after it first came out on the market. I bought it less than half of a year since the purchase of my first used laptop, in the summer of that year. At that time I needed a cheap replacement laptop after a long trip abroad. I needed to buy something locally and quickly, and the first used laptop that I purchased ended up being a ThinkPad R52 (that was quickly discovered to be broken) and that was quickly exchanged for a larger, older but working ThinkPad R51. Prior to that point I’d used HP, as well as Acer laptops that I bought new and I didn’t have much of an opinion on laptops, though I would say that a few of the HP laptops, the TX-2 comes to mind, typically became defective soon after purchase due to a faulty design in heat dissipation, and that was quite a headache. The R52 ThinkPad’s “classic” or “retro” plain black laptop design helped it stand out from the rest of the used competitors in the store and that’s why I chose to buy it. As I explored my “new” obsolescent ThinkPad, I was intrigued to find that it had lots of useful features such as the Active System Protection, ThinkLight, TrackPoint, an LCD screen that bends all the way back, good responsive keyboard, lots of useful ports, solid design, relatively easy end-user serviceability, as well as great system recovery options. I soon started to research the ThinkPad line more, and slowly learned to and began refurbishing, and fixing various laptops in my spare time. Eventually I developed another hobby which was to collect various older ThinkPads, especially ones that I could acquire at a reasonable price. Some older models could occasionally be found at my local thrift store and this was where I picked up my IBM ThinkPad 600X. It had no hard drive, or battery, or ac power adapter, but I noticed that the cosmetic condition of it was extremely good. It had very few nicks or scratches, and seemed very solid, pretty good for a laptop from 1999 that I found in 2012! I can honestly say that the laptop’s overall look and design appealed to me much in the same way as its “cousin” had half of a year back, it had the ultimate retro late 90s laptop feel to it. The material seemed to be very sturdy, not cheap plastic, and overall it seemed to have very good build quality. I also loved the rubber coating on top of the lid, and the palmrest, and the protruding prominent IBM symbol on the lid. I even liked the smell that the laptop had. I paid about 25 USD for it, which wasn’t too much for a “toy” for me to play with.
When I got it home and plugged my ac adapter into it and turned it on, I found that it had: a 500 MHz Pentium III CPU, 64 MB of DDR1 PC-100 RAM built onto the motherboard, which was a common thing for laptops of the time, it also had two slots for RAM expansion one of which had a 64 MB SODIMM in it, giving a total of 128 MB. I increased the RAM to 384 MB with a 256 MB PC-100 IBM RAM stick that I had. I had to replace the dead CR2025 CMOS battery (as it gave an error during booting) which I did by taking the old one out and removing the battery from the connecting cable and welded-on metal strips without breaking them, replacing the battery itself, and using electrical tape to attach the metal strips back onto the battery, and putting it back in. I also (eventually) put in a 20 GB 4200 rpm IBM Travelstar IDE hard drive, and purchased a separate IBM 54 watt ac power adapter for it, and eventually loaded it with Windows 2000 Professional SP2. I did order a battery from eBay but sadly it never arrived.
A Bit of History:
The ThinkPad 600 was designed to be a more portable version of the 770 series, weighing in at about 5 pounds. The original ThinkPad 600 came with a Pentium MMX CPU at 233 MHz. Later models came with a Pentium II CPU at 233, 266 or 300 MHz. It shipped with either 32MB or 64MB of RAM (and was upgradeable to 288MB/320MB using PC-66 SODIMMs), the screens were available as 12.1 SVGA or 13.3 XGA. Later the 600E model came out as an upgrade, and had a Pentium II CPU at 300 MHz, 366 MHz, or 400 MHz; they all came with 13.3 XGA screens. The final model (of this series) was the 600X, available as Pentium III 450 MHz, 500MHz CPU’s in Dec 1999 with up to 576 MB or RAM, and finally 500 MHz to 650 MHz CPU’s (from February 2000 to February 2001).
Around the time that the ThinkPad 600X came out, the ThinkPad 600 was IBM’s most popular notebook, with 2 million units in use. The 600X was the final 600 series laptop and was the direct precursor to IBM’s, and later Lenovo’s, iconic T series, starting with the IBM ThinkPad T20. This laptop was designed for the corporate and business market (like the later ThinkPad T series) and that was probably the largest user base for it. It should also be noted that it was an expensive laptop, even for its time starting with a whopping $4100 USD price tag. The 600X was an important laptop for its time; it was part of the generation of laptops that helped to make the transition from desktops to laptops viable. A problem of laptops of the previous generation was that the battery life was rather short and many Pentium II and earlier generation laptops overheated, making them extremely uncomfortable to use for extended periods, especially if they were sitting on your lap. Also the previous CPU’s consumed a lot of power and so the battery life of the laptops was rather poor. With the introduction of mobile Pentium III processors these problem were overcome to a certain extent, as they didn’t generate as much heat, and consumed less power, thereby increasing battery life, and this contributed to laptops becoming more viable and popular. The other benefit that this laptop had was the weight, 5 pounds really isn’t too bad for portability; I remember I had an old 13.3” screen Pentium II Compaq Armada and it weighed a ton! (It strikes me that such heavy laptops were once thought of as being portable). The design of the 600X was retained, with some modifications, in IBM’s T2* series, until the more drastic redesign of the T30, and beyond.
Design and Features:
This laptop features a “classic” ThinkPad design, though the ThinkPad 600 was somewhat of a redesign from the previous ThinkPad laptops, it had less of a lunchbox design than its predecessors. It is bulky by today’s standards; it is quite thick in comparison to more modern iterations of ThinkPads such as the T40, and T60. To give some idea of this it has a thickness of 1.4″, compare that to 1.0” to 1.2” thickness for a 14” T60. However I loved how solid the laptop felt, it felt sturdier than my ThinkPad T42, the material is a carbon fiber plastic composite material that is light but very strong, and the LCD screen hinges on mine were extremely tight. The chassis is aluminum reinforced; I heard that the chassis has crossbeams that give it more rigidity than newer laptops that don’t use crossbeams for structural support. Like I stated it is coated with a thick rubbery coating on the lid and palmrest area, for some reason I loved the smell of it (though your affinity for this will surely vary). The screen hinges were actually so tight that (if I recall correctly) the laptop could be picked up by the edge of the screen without the hinges moving. It features a 13.3” XGA TFT screen (SXGA was not an option for these types of laptops until the T21). It has a sliding brightness switch on the screen bezel to control screen brightness, which is something not found (to my knowledge) on subsequent models.
The model I had only had a swappable CD-ROM in the UltraSlimBay, but a DVD-ROM is an upgrade option. The CD-ROM was a bit noisy, but like the ThinkPad itself, it had a that solid feel or at least appearance about it, and a cool retro look that matches the rest of the laptop (it opens on the front end of the Thinkpad, unlike later models which have the Ultrabay on the side of the laptop). The keyboard is what you expect of the quality of “legendary” ThinkPad keyboards, the keys themselves were a bit higher than ones found on newer models such as the T40 series, it is actually very much like a real external keyboard. The iconic TrackPoint and mouse keys are here, but there is no touchpad (it was not added until the T30 for this line of ThinkPads). The speakers are placed on the edges of palmrest; despite the problem this presents of dust and other material falling into the speaker holes (probably why they were moved elsewhere on subsequent models), I liked the way it sounded when the sound didn’t come from under the chassis; it seemed to have a better sound.
The 600X also comes with several ports (most of these are obsolete these days). What I liked about the ports though is that they had rubber covers on top of them to protect them from dirt, and damage. It has only one USB 1.1 port on the side (which is quite slow for file transfers by today’s standards). It also has a port on the side for connecting an external floppy drive or an UltraslimBay floppy drive in external housing. Some models also had a TV-out port that required a special cable to convert it to composite video. It has a standard VGA connector, to connect it to an external monitor. Also it has parallel and serial ports at the back, covered with rubber covers. Parallel ports were used to connect to a number of peripherals, the printer probably being the most used with this connection (it was also known as a Parallel Printer Port). Serial ports were used to transfer data to devices, and could also be used to connect a large number of peripherals. It also has an infrared irDA 1.1 port that can be used to communicate with peripherals, mobile phones, digital cameras, etc (this was before the days of Bluetooth). Another relic of the past is included: a PS/2 port for connecting either an external PS/2 mouse or keyboard. There is no Ethernet port, and no Wireless LAN, only a telephone socket for its 56k dial-up modem. Mobile internet used to mean taking your laptop with you somewhere and connecting it to a dial-up modem. However there are CardBus, PCMCIA slots on the side that allow the connection of either an Ethernet adapter, a PCMCIA WiFi card, or a PCMCIA USB 2.0 port adapter. It also has the expansion port that allows it to connect to a port replicator or docking station. It has an audio in (unfortunately some newer ThinkPad’s have removed this useful feature) and an audio out jack. It also has an internal microphone! (I used it for Google voice a few times)
In terms of hardware it has 64 MB of RAM soldered onto the motherboard and has 2 RAM slots for PC-100 (or PC-66) DDR1 SODIMMs. It can have a maximum of 576 MB of RAM (with two 256 MB SODIMMs). There were 3 major models available the 450 MHZ, 500MHZ CPU models (available December 1999), and the rarer 650 MHz CPU (with SpeedStep Technology) (available in February 2000) models. Like ThinkPads of later eras it was primarily aimed at the business market and thus its graphics were its weakest point, it had a NeoMagic MagicGraph256ZX GPU chip with 4 MB of VRAM, which I believe has difficulty with some 3D applications and games. However if it is connected to its large docking station that has a PCI slot available, it is possible to connect a 3D card such as Voodoo or Nvidia GeForce and play 3D games on it. It originally was available with either 6.0, 12.0, or up to an 18.0 GB 4200 rpm hard drive. And of course as most other ThinkPads of its size it had a version of the UltraBay, the UltraSlimBay introduced in the ThinkPad 600. This can be used to house a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, and Floppy Drive, ZIP drive, LS-120 Superdrive, an HDD adapter or an UltraSlimBay battery to extend its battery life. These laptops originally retailed for about $4100 USD; although laptop and desktop prices were higher in those days (a decent desktop could cost about $1000) this was towards the upper level in terms of price.
The 600X was a significant improvement over the 600, or 600E hardware-wise, and as I already mentioned the predecessor to the legendary T series. The 600 only had either a Pentium MMX or Pentium II and used PC-66 RAM. The 600E also only had a Pentium II. The PIII mobile CPU it had not only improved its performance significantly, but as was mentioned reduced the heat it generated as well as increased battery life. The CPU’s that were used were the MMC-2 type, not the newer (and smaller) type that was found in later PIII models such as the T20. That is, it was the MMC-2 Coppermine CPU, and not the later Mobile Pentium III-M Tualatin. The original OS options were Windows 98 and Windows NT (on the 1999 models), with a Windows 95 downgrade option, and Windows 98 and Windows 2000 on the 2000 year models. Battery life could be about 3 hours at lower power consumption settings. Apparently a reviewer of this laptop at the time was able to watch almost all but the last 10 minutes of his DVD on battery power. And I suppose I should mention that it was advertised as being Y2K compliant. Last point I should mention is that it has a very colorful BIOS, it is quite graphical. This is a feature lacking in newer laptops, if you haven’t seen it before I recommend searching for a short video of it on YouTube.
How I Used It:
Having gotten all of that technical information out of the way, I want to discuss how I actually used this laptop. Its more modern features in comparison to its predecessors really helped me get some actual use out of it in 2013. As I said I had an old 13.3” screen Compaq Armada with a PII 300 MHz CPU, and it was so slow that it was practically impossible to get any real use out of it, aside from either as doorstop, a showpiece, or a toy. At one point in time I also had a dual boot of Windows 98SE and Windows XP installed on it, as I was partly using it as a DOS/Windows 9X gaming machine (quite a few good memories there). It’s pretty well known that some old games often have trouble with the newer NT based operating systems, and using a laptop with native Windows 9X OS drivers avoids the issue. I should say however that I had this setup with an IDE SSD before I put in the HDD and installed Windows 2000 Professional SP2 using T23 recovery CD’s. I was also able to do quite a bit of basic tasks, including watching basic (lower bit-rate) video files, doing light word processing, downloading torrents, and even some basic internet browsing, including checking my emails. I was really impressed with how well it worked for a laptop of its age. I suppose its great design and build quality as well as hardware improvements over its predecessors, is why some people even think the ThinkPad 600X was relative to its time the best laptop ever! I definitely got some amusement out of it, though I did ultimately sell it (which I somewhat regret) due to just not having enough space for it (and my other laptops).
OS Options and Upgrades:
In terms of the OS that it can run, it is possible to install Windows XP, but of course all of the service packs and updates slow it down considerably. The stated requirements for Windows XP on Microsoft’s website really apply only to XP with no service packs or perhaps up to Service Pack 2. The system I had had a 500 MHz CPU and 384 MB of RAM along with a 4200 rpm 20GB HDD, and it seemed to run Windows 2000 Professional SP2 (that I installed using the T23 recovery discs) quite comfortably. I should say that the OS installation using those recovery discs seemed flawless (Windows 2000 Professional probably includes many legacy drivers that take care of the 600X during installation), the software installed seemed to be very minimal, that is, there was virtually no bloatware, yet all of the drivers appeared to be there. I imagine that with the full 576 MB of RAM and a 7200 rpm HDD it can either run Windows 2000 Professional SP4 or a stripped down version of Windows XP fairly well, just don’t expect it to do more than the lightest browsing. I’m not sure if it would even be able to play YouTube videos as of now, even with my T42 I seem to have quite a bit of difficulty doing this in 2017. As for successfully using a Linux distribution, it would have to be something very lightweight like Puppy Linux or perhaps Lubuntu. I suppose some people also would install IBM’s own operating system OS/2 warp, but I don’t know very much about that so I am unable to comment.
In terms of upgrades aside from the suggested peripherals such as a CardBus WLAN adapter, and CardBus USB 2.0 adapter, maxing out the RAM, and getting a fast HDD, or SSD, there isn’t much more that can be done. It is uncommon now but for the 650 MHz model (with SpeedStep technology), people used to upgrade the CPU to the maximum 850 MHz. It appears that non-SpeedStep models can also be upgraded but not reliably. Due to the scarcity of mobile P-III MMC-2 CPUs they sell on sites such as eBay for ridiculously high prices, so it really isn’t worth the upgrade (in terms of price but also in terms of the amount of disassembly and reassembly required).
Another Reason That I Liked This Laptop:
Aside from admiring its build and design quality and significance for the ThinkPad line, for me the greater value of the laptop really lay in its vintage retro factor and nostalgic memories that it conjures up of the late 1990s. The 600X reminds me of a time when dial-up was a standard internet connection and they were just advertising cable and DSL internet on TV with infomercials, a time when AltaVista was a popular web search engine, a time when Napster was a way to (illegally?) download mp3’s, a time when connecting to the internet made all of those weird dial-up noises, a time when people started to obsessively use instant messaging services, a time when 3 ½ inch floppies were a common way to save files, and a time when web pages didn’t have way too much flash content. It was a time when I was in my very early teens and I could only afford to dream of getting a laptop, and a desktop was really the only “affordable” (and I use that term loosely) option for a young guy like me. This was also a time when the DVD began to have prominence in the market in North America. It was a time when the Sony PlayStation and Nintendo64 were the most popular game consoles although they were getting old, and the Sega Dreamcast just came out to launch the new 128 bit era of console gaming. A time when cell phones started to become more commonplace. It was a time when Windows 98 was the standard Windows OS that you had just about anywhere with a desktop PC. It was the time when there was resurgence in animated shows and series and so many now classic TV shows, e.g. sitcoms, had their heyday (TV was still a big thing back then, streaming over the internet wasn’t really an option).
It’s not that the time was particularly good for me personally, it was actually quite difficult, but I like to reminisce all of the good things of the time, all of the inspirational things, the memories of being young and growing up in this technologically developing society. There was little doubt that computers would become more popular and heavily used worldwide, and that the internet would grow, and spread enormously all over the world in a number of years. Consequently it was evident that computer use and computer literacy would become essential members of society as computers became more incorporated into virtually all aspects of modern day life. This seemed like a time of things to come with great technological advances in the not-too-distant future, mental imagery of Japanese style robots and such, electric powered cars, and greater automation in our daily lives (we’ve still got a long way to go). In a way laptops of this generation such as the 600X could be said to have made a small step in that direction.
I remember that as I was looking at it in 2013, I thought to myself that the 600X’s aesthetics and build quality are (to an extent) superior to many lower end relatively modern laptops, even though it was (then) 13 years old! So considering all things I believe that the 600X is a great retro ThinkPad to own; it has a great retro look, great build quality, as well as hardware powerful enough to make it at least somewhat useful (in contrast to many earlier ThinkPad models). These are all important qualities that a retro laptop should have in my opinion. If you’re looking for a retro laptop, and unless you’d prefer a more modern (and capable) retro laptop in this size such as a T2* series model or a T30, you should consider getting an IBM ThinkPad 600X.