Hardware

Cracking open the IBM ThinkPad 701c

IBM's ThinkPad 701c's unique butterfly keyboard rocked the laptop world when it debuted in 1995. This video shows it in action and you can see more in our Cracking Open photo gallery.

IBM's ThinkPad 701c's unique butterfly keyboard rocked the laptop world when it debuted in 1995. This video shows it in action, and you can see more in our Cracking Open photo gallery.

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IBM ThinkPads have always been famous for their solid keyboards. In 1995, IBM debuted the revolutionary ThinkPad 701c, which put a full-size laptop keyboard into a much smaller package by using an innovative butterfly configuration. You can see the keyboard in action in the IBM ad shown on this video.

It may look like an amazing feat of engineering, but in fact, the butterfly keyboard was pretty simplistic. It was a simple split keyboard that rode on spring-powered rails. You can see what made the butterfly keyboard work by checking out the IBM ThinkPad 701C Photo Gallery.

This photo gallery was cut short because IBM assembled the unit using  #1 Torx screws across the front of the unit, which holds the base and the top together. These are extremely small screws, and we don't have any of those in-house. I was, however, able to get the rest of the unit apart so you could at least see the keyboard mechanism in action.

The butterfly keyboard didn't last very long in the ThinkPads and never showed up in any other laptops. There was a follow-up unit called the 701CS, which just had a few upgrades. Other than that, IBM abandoned the innovation. I'm not sure why, because it was pretty cool. Maybe the mechanical nature of it was prone to failure or the ribbon cables that connected the splitfold keyboard wore out.

Did you ever use a 701C or CS? What were your experiences with it?

7 comments
BDX15
BDX15

Loved that laptop...owned three, all the 701C . I believe the CS version was somehow inferior but I couldn't swear to it. I think it was the screen. They would run Win 95 as I recall. My last one had been upgraded from the 486 to a faster processor by an upgrade company but the upgrade did not result in observable improved performance. It was the only one I ever heard of having the upgraded chip, a 586 I believe.. All three of the computers lasted until the hinge cam that opened the keyboard failed Until the day the last one died it would just WoW! them in Starbucks when the keyboard popped out. It was the first computer to be part of the permanent collection at the New York Museum of Modern Art. It truly was a piece of art.

TheVDM
TheVDM

I owned a 701c (or cs... can't remember) I got it around 1999-2000 and it was an amazing laptop I found that it had the odd keybord problem like keys constantly being on, but running the vacume cleaner over the keybord every now and again kept the issue at bay. I believe mine was a 100Mhz 486DX4 with either 24 or 32Mb RAM and something along the lines of a 300 to 500Mb hard drive. Installing Windows 95 on it at the time was a lot of fun as I didn't have a CD drive and only had Win95 on a CD, so had to install dos on it and use the dos version of winzip to zip all the cab files one by one (from another pc) so they would fit on a floppy disk then extract them all on the laptops hdd to install it... Took a good few hours to sort out, but worked like a dream when it was finished. I loved it so much I am now on the search to get another one for nostalgic reasons.

elf.elf.baby
elf.elf.baby

I have one too - 701c, loaded :) with 24mb of memory. I used to use it with Extranet Access & VPN, but now I can't get a stupid old 3com lan card to work. Probably it's the dongle, or the idea. Has anyone run W2kpro on these? Is it possible? Thank you.

gafisher
gafisher

If Lenovo would beef up its IdeaPad-S10 to ThinkPad quality standard, and include an updated version of the 701C's Butterfly keyboard, they'd have a killer machine on their hands (and under many of ours!)

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

The MacBook Air got a lot of press by being thin. In the mid-1990's, IBM surprised the computing world by debuting a small laptop with a full size keyboard. The ThinkPad 701C came complete with a butterfly keyboard which expanded and collapsed inside of a small form factor case. We got a hold of one and cracked it open in Classics Rock: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/classic-tech/?p=177 We couldn't get it all the way open without destroying it, but we wanted to highlight the butterfly mechanism in any case. Did you have a 701C or its big brother the ThinkPad 701CS? What do you think of ThinkPads in general?

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

W2KPro would never be able to work on a Thinkpad 701C. 2000 takes way more memory than the machine can handle.Windows 98 SE would be a stretch for that machine. You're firmly stuck in Windows 3.1 and Windows 95b I think.

BFilmFan
BFilmFan

Was the one of the few systems that IBM ever built that was rugged, worked well and I actually enjoyed owning. I still have one in a downstairs closet somewhere that I let nieces and nephews tinker on when they decide they want to be computer engineers like Unkey Jerr. IBM should find the design team responsible for that system and give them all a HUGE thank you.

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