IBM ThinkPad 701C: The Iconic Butterfly Keyboard

IBM ThinkPad 701C: The Iconic Butterfly Keyboard

Greetings and welcome to an LGR thing!
And this delightful thing is the IBM ThinkPad 701C, released in March of
1995 starting at a price of $3,700 US dollars. And it has one of the best mechanical gimmicks of any computer ever made. *sliding, clicking in place of the mechanism* Haha, let’s look at that again! *more sounds of mechanical satisfaction* That is one of the most satisfying combinations of sight, sound, and feeling I’ve experienced in a piece of technology. And
a big thanks to Sam for letting me borrow this fantastic machine for this
video. Because yeah these are not easy to come by, especially in his decent shape
as this one is. And it really is all because of that innovative keyboard
mechanism. The 701 ThinkPads were the only ones to have ever come with this
keyboard, which by the way was branded as the TrackWrite by IBM, but it’s more
widely known as “the Butterfly Keyboard.” Yeah I just can’t stop messing
with this and looking at it. And even looking closer here, look at this piece of
metal that moves around when you open or close the computer. The lid moves against
this metal piece right here which slides up against another piece and then the
keyboard’s two halves either open or closed in unison. Ah it’s wonderful, and
so was the person that originally conceived of the idea: the late inventor
and mechanical engineer Dr. John Karidis, who thought up the idea by playing with
building blocks with his daughter. The story goes there were two triangular
pieces that, when moved side to side, gave him the idea that IBM was looking for
for a keyboard that could fold up and become smaller. He immediately jotted down the idea and went back to the IBM Research Division
in Westchester County, New York. And in every sense of the phrase it became an
instant hit with the design receiving 27 different awards. And there’s even one on
permanent display at the Manhattan Museum of Modern Art, one of the very few
computers to have that honor. “It belongs in a museum,” indeed! But before we dive into more technical details let’s take a trip back to the first half
of the 1990s, where there was a growing industry trend of releasing ultra
portable notebook computers, often referred to as subnotebooks. Machines
like the Compaq Contura Aero, the Gateway Handbook, the HP OmniBook, and
the Toshiba Libretto were notable examples, all of which attempted to
combine the usefulness of MS-DOS and Windows 3.1 with the smallest footprint
and lightest weight possible, combined with the color LCD screens of the day
which ranged anywhere from seven to nine inches or so. And of course there were
several compromises that had to be made in order to make this happen, such as
removing standard sized parallel and serial ports and all sorts of other
ports, forgoing the internal floppy drive, and relying on docking stations and
external add-ons to reintroduce those features as the user desired. And another
obvious way to bring down the size was to decrease the physical dimensions of
the keyboard itself, fitting more in line with the 4:3 aspect ratio of
the displays so as to minimize bezels, but also making the keys smaller and
more cramped. Naturally IBM wanted in on the action and experimented with the
form factor as well with machines like the IBM ThinkPad 500 in 1993. But as with
many subnotebooks the compromised keyboard and screen meant that it was
less comfortable to use for any length of time for any serious work. And
considering this was geared largely towards business users on the go this
was not great. And that’s why the introduction of the TrackWrite keyboard
made so much sense for a particular need at a particular time in the 90s. By
packing away the keyboard when the unit was closed you could have both the small
footprint for portability and have a full-sized keyboard for ease of use. And
then combined with a slightly larger VGA display that was brighter and sharper
than previous models, and the 701 was precisely the right computer for
precisely the right moment. Well, a portion of the right moment at least, because while it earned plenty of praise and actually became the best-selling
notebook of 1995, it only lasted about a year on the market. IBM
announced to the 701 line’s discontinuation in February of 1996,
ceasing production in June of the same year. And there were a couple of reasons
for that. For one thing the 701 was originally meant to come out in 1994
right at the height of the 90s subnotebook craze. It would have made plenty of
sense then but by the time it was on the market in 1995 customer preferences and
available technology were quickly changing and left it behind. Within a
matter of months, the 701 lost a lot of its appeal with
the arrival of well-built 12 inch LCD panels, which were not only bigger and
more desirable, but they also fit in with a full-size keyboard a little bit more.
To quote the board’s creator, mister Karidis: “the butterfly keyboard was no
longer necessary because people moved to larger displays. Where the butterfly
approach makes sense is where you want the largest keyboard possible in combination
with an 8 or 10 inch display.” And if you look at reviews from the time period
they often mention that the 701 was also hampered by the 486 CPUs offered with
the device. Depending on your benchmark of choice even the fastest 75 megahertz DX4 CPU benchmarked at about the same speed as competing
systems’ 50 megahertz DX2. The 701 also used nickel-cadmium batteries, which were
rather dated by 1995 and only lasted one hour and 40 minutes or so when two hours
was considered by many as the minimum acceptable runtime. But that sure didn’t
stop people from buying it for the time it was on the market and becoming quite
the computing collectible in later years. And not just collectible in a desirable
sense, these are not cheap either, currently running anywhere from $400 to
$900 for a nice 701C and a bit less than half that for a 701CS model.
Speaking of which, yeah, there were two main models. The main differences between the C and the CS is that the C came with a 10.4 inch TFT active-matrix
LCD screen while the CS used a dual scan LCD screen of the same size. They both
have a native resolution of 640×480 but the CS model’s dual scan monitor was a cheaper and lower quality type of
passive-matrix panel that isn’t suited for much beyond static imagery. But
between the two models there were a broad range of configurations available,
starting with the processor which was an Intel 486 in either the DX2 or DX4
models running at 50 or 75 megahertz, respectively. The one I have
comes with the latter. You also have the option of four or eight megabytes of RAM
installed onboard and it supports up to 32 megs of additional RAM. As for the
hard drive you got the option of 360 or 540 megabytes with a 720 meg upgrade
option available from IBM. And you had a choice between a couple operating
systems, this one being configured with PC-DOS 6.3 and Windows 3.11 *startup sounds commence, with hard drive noises and PC speaker beeping* *Windows 3.11 “tada!” startup sound plays* Or, OS/2 Warp was available as an option on the 75 megahertz model. You also get
a one megabyte CT65545 VESA local bus graphics chipset, a
16-bit ES688 AudioDrive Sound Blaster Pro compatible audio chipset, a 14.4k data/fax modem, an IRDA 1.0 compatible infrared communications
interface, a single Type 3 or two Type 2 PCMCIA slots, as well as a connection for
a three and a half inch ThinkPad external floppy disk drive — which is a
bit annoying since that particular drive is exclusive to these machines. Something
else to keep in mind if you’re looking for a 701 are the battery issues, which
of course is common across all sorts of older computers like this. But in
particular the NiCad battery that they used in these tends to leak pretty badly,
sometimes damaging the internals. But there are some guides online showing you
how to rebuild these batteries using rechargeable AAs. Not something
I’ve done but you know, there it is. Another battery that is also a pain to
deal with is the CMOS battery. The 701 uses a Varta V30H, or sometimes a V40H I gather, which is a 1.2 volt 43 mAh button cell battery. And
that is soldered directly to the bottom of one of the motherboard layers, that’s
fun. You can also use a more standard CR2032 or BR1225 battery, but you still
need to solder it to the board so ideally you’ll want one with soldering
legs already attached. Also it is worth noting that the case on these is
notoriously easy to damage these days. As with many IBM ThinkPads of the era it
uses a soft kind of rubbery finish, but over the years it started to deteriorate
and has gotten a little gummy and weird. So I kind of feel like I’m walking on
eggshells every time I set it up and start using it, just trying so hard not
to scuff it up. Doubly so since I’m only borrowing this unit. But disregarding
that bit of anxiety using the 701C is quite normal. Once you get past the
keyboard mechanism it really is just a mid-90s ThinkPad with a classic
TrackPoint nub and the classic ThinkPad keys and key mechanisms. And yeah, it’s just a pleasure to use. And it has that nice VGA display here, at least on this TFT
version. 256 color graphics on a portable computer in 1995 yeah, this is a pretty
good example all things considered. And you get a lovely Sound Blaster-compatible sound chip so it’s pretty fantastic for playing mid-90s DOS games! *music and sound effects from various MS-DOS games play for a while* Well, it’s pretty fantastic if you can
actually get the games on there in the first place, and that can be a bit of an
ordeal if you just have the computer itself. After all, at the end of the day
it is a mid-90s subnotebook and all the missing features means getting data onto
or off of the machine is a chore. If you don’t have a ThinkPad disk drive with
the proper 701-compatible cable, which I don’t, then that is just unfortunate. And
of course, it doesn’t have a serial or parallel port unless you attach a dock
or a port replicator, like this IBM MultiPort II, which adds a very handy
pass-through for PS/2 keyboard and mouse connection, a serial and parallel port,
audio in and out ports, VGA out, and a DC power connector. This thing is a
must-have for this system as far as I’m concerned, especially if you’re not a big
fan of the built-in TrackPoint mouse nub and want to use another pointing device.
Or dare I say it, another keyboard, hrmm. And you may also be able to use the
PCMCIA slots to hook in other storage devices and adapters, provided they’re
compatible with the operating system that’s installed on the computer. And in
my case very few things worked. So yeah, it really does end up being a bit of a
commitment to want to use the 701C for very long. As much of a pleasure as it is
in the short term to use, it’s also one of the least enjoyable ThinkPads to use,
just due to all the limitations of the hardware. However, that is just not the
point! There are plenty of great IBM ThinkPads that type well, have tons of
built-in slots and ports and features and whatnot, but none of them except
these 701 have the TrackWrite keyboard. And that counts for an awful lot when so
many of the other ThinikPads tend to blur together a bit. It’s just so
satisfying to look at and to feel and to show off and, of course, to put in a
YouTube video. So I hope that you enjoyed checking out this legend of
computer! And if you did enjoy this video then great! I’m glad to hear it,
I love covering old IBM computers and just computers and hardware and
software of all kinds. So if you’re into that kind of thing, stick around, LGR is
your channel. And as per usual I thank you very much for watching!

100 thoughts to “IBM ThinkPad 701C: The Iconic Butterfly Keyboard”

  1. And then the "Butterfly Keyboard" now on new MacBook Pro (and after that having trouble with the keyboard).

  2. Debating whether to keep or sell as last month cleaning out my uncle's place I found one of these top spec mint in box it was his and hardly if ever used it is an awesome design there was also a 64 Atari 400 and an a400 he has a lot of old sh… stuff

  3. I sort of miss IBM. For years they were the second largest employer in my hometown (Lexington, ky), and the office headquarters were literally a few blocks away from my street. As a kid, many of my freind’s parents worked for IBM. Fascinating times.

  4. Just came across one of these in the shop today and was in awe at the whole keyboard bit. The one that came in was for recycle and was not in very good condition and was missing parts. I decided to look it up online to get some more information on the unit and "Holy S***! Clint has a review on this very system!?". You covered everything I wanted to know and then some! Awesome!

  5. I'd love to see this mechanism integrated into a modern laptop to cram a full size keyboard with a numpad into a laptop under 20 inches

  6. It might be gimmicky, but damn… It sure would be nice to have a real full-size keyboard in a 15" lappy.

  7. Update june 1st 2019 . Location Barrie Ontario Canada. Had a garage sale today demonstrated the butterfly function to probably 20-30 potential customers. It had the $5.00 sticker on it from when I bought it. . Everybody thought it was cool but nobody wanted it. I t doesn't take up enough space to justify throwing it out. It is not working and appears to be missing some parts in a panel underneath. I love your videos If you want the mentioned computer lmk. [email protected] .com

  8. Would love this for my tiny work laptop. I have a docking station at work but when working at home I gotta deal with a tiny keyboard.

  9. I remember seeing an ad for this back in the day and thought it was cool, but didn't realise it had such a limited product life. Clever concept though.

  10. These were really cool, but by 1998 or so, Toshiba quietly whipped almost everyone in ultra-portability small laptops with decent keyboards in their Portege lineup, starting with the 3010/3015 which had a magnesium alloy frame which also acted as the system heatsink, and truly impressive dimensions for a laptop of that era. At less than three pounds even with the extended battery attached, they were impressive by even much later standards. A couple of Product of the Year awards in late 1998. The IBM had the impressive keyboard a few years earlier but then IBM basically gave up on the tiny ultra-portable market.

  11. Really envy of the computer users within the 80's and 90's as they have a better keyboard on their laptop systems, keyboards are now thinner and thinner and smaller and smaller this days, and it is a pain for people working on the PC for at least 10 hours a day like me… I really don't know why those web developers can live with their modern mac book keyboards, those are just like typing on the elevator buttons.

  12. Wow when this thing was new.. ………….what a time to be alive 🙏 now a days we got way more powerful than this in our pockets

  13. I remember this one coming out and someone at work getting one … it was really cool, but the battery life and crappy performance made it less interesting for me. I had an Omnibook 300CT and early Apple Powerbook, and skipped this one but rejoined with the Omnibook 800CT and the Toshiba Liberty 50 and 100/110CT (and Portege, etc.) as well!

  14. When that first opened and saw windows 3.1 on it brought back a flashback of me being in the third grade with a friend letting me use this laptop. This is where I got my beginnings with pcs and laptops. They absolutely fascinated me.

  15. '90s: Does not think about changing to a different type of small ports and puts stupid docking stations with adaptors, and people says it sucks
    Now: Has some sort of tb3 or Type-C for expansion or even the only ports on the laptops and people consider it to be a great idea and considered the future

  16. Also in the movie Robocop 2 or 3 a young girl would plug her ibm into the leg of the robot and give it a new set of commands, CCH POUNDER was in the movie also.

  17. Would you ever do a series about the Ultra Mobile PC like the Samsung Q1. Those years were amazing with hoe big of steps computers were making and finally the arrival of smart phones as we know them today

  18. What is the best ibm thinkpad for playing games on windows xp? Any help would be greatly appreciated! I'm thinking of getting the ibm thinkpad t43

  19. 40% of video: Opening laptop and unfolding keyboard
    That's not like I'm unsatisfyed though. This keyboard needs 10 hour vid of opening and closing

  20. Unfortunately, Lenovo buy the laptops line from IBM and now producing sooooooo low quality devices. Like rly, before outsider in quality was Acer but now Acer is much better than Lenovo… 🙁

  21. Who knew my first ever computer has now become a collectors item! Back in 2009 or 2010, my dad gave me one of these to fool around with. It didn't do much at the time, but man, I loved it. Now that I've gotten into retro computing, I'm really sad that he got rid of it when I upgraded. If I had the peripherals needed, I would absolutely love to run period DOS games on it if I could. Looks like getting my hands on another one won't be an easy task…

  22. Im the thousand comment

    Jah wow

    I wantet to say something

    Oh came back in my mind (werry bad memory)
    I forgot waitt

    Now if you woud make a laptop with a wireless charger and no ports how would you use it k bye 👋

  23. It's easy to forget nowadays what a revolution USB and the universal Plug 'n Play driver standard was. Getting data onto and off of computers is just not an issue we have to think about now (unless the thing between the keyboard and the chair manages to break all the USB ports by shoving them in upside down repeatedly, which I have witnessed).

  24. Somebody tell me why these things are so expensive on eBay. I found this actual model that a guy was selling with a non-working battery for 500 bucks. And all its running is Windows 3.1 and Dos has 366 megabytes hard drive so what on Earth makes this thing so expensive that it would be worth five hundred bucks. Because I could go buymyself with decent laptop from today for that not an old machine. I was just curious why somebody would think it was worth this much money today when the software and the specs are so outdated. Is this like a collector piece? Like how people will pay insane amounts for certain video games?

  25. Haha my buddy just gave me one of these today. “You want my grandmas shitty old IBM laptop?” I thought I had seen it somewhere, and yep I had seen it in this video! Thank you for teaching me a whole lot about my new laptop.


  27. IBM butterfly keyboard won an award for the keyboard and is in a museum

    Apple Butterfly keyboard – is guaranteed to break at some point, and is horrible to type on smoothly

  28. Not this particular one, but I do remember the first laptop in the home growing was one of the Thinkpad models, don't remember the model number off hand but i do remember it was running Windows 98. Still dig the full size keyboard, though.

  29. 710 model, vaio p and the clamp shell macbook are my favorite pc designs… wish lenovo could bring back the 710 laptop,, that would be awesome

  30. I had to use a Thinkpad for a couple years for work (so about 2013-2015, certainly nothing this retro) and I liked the machine but hated to take it out because it ALWAYS smelled like old band-aids. Did every Thinkpad smell like that because of that coating they used?

  31. LGR: wouldn't it be possible to simply remove the button cell battery and tap off the main battery with a dc-dc converter? or even have two small Li-ion rechargeable batteries in parallel that tap off the main battery and provide power to the button cell contacts (charging one and then the other with a voltage regulator)? those batteries are pretty easily removed with a soldering iron…

  32. I had one of these in about 2000. I used a Sorayama desktop image and customised the Windows appearance and pulling it out and flipping it open was slick as hell. That was back when it was still cool and slightly hacker/cyberpunk to carry a laptop in a sling bag and pull it out in public to connect to the WiFi.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *