The IBM ThinkPad 701C and was one of the most unusual laptop computers released in the 1990s thanks to a sliding keyboard system that allowed IBM to pack a full-sized keyboard into a notebook that measured just 9.7″ x 7.9″ x 1.7″.

First launched in 1995, the laptop was discontinued later that same year. And even if you’ve held onto one for all this time, the laptop’s not all that useful today thanks to its anemic specs. But hardware hacker Karl Buchka has found a way to give the laptop a second chance at life by replacing the mainboard, ports, and display while keeping the iconic “butterfly” keyboard.

The keyboard is basically split into two halves that fit together like puzzle pieces. Lift the laptop’s lid and the left half of the keyboard slides out to the left, while the right side slides down and to the right so that the keyboard is actually wider than the laptop’s chassis.

Close the lid and the pieces slide back together for safe keeping and easy portability.

But a top-of-the-line ThinkPad 701C originally shipped with a 10.4 inch, 640 x 480 pixel, 65K color TFT display, a 75 MHz Intel DX4 processor up to 40 MB of RAM and up to a 720MB of hard drive. That’s not going to get you very far in 2023.

So Karl Buchka decided to upgrade the internals of a broken ThinkPad 701C using a Framework Mainboard. Made by the company behind the Framework Laptop, these motherboards are designed to fit inside the company’s modular, repairable, and upgradeable computers… but they can also be used as standalone computers in their own right.

The mainboard doesn’t quite fit inside an unmodified ThinkPad 701C chassis, but Buchka says a new lower case and hinge bracket makes it possible to replace the original motherboard with Framework’s mainboard.

This gives the system a new processor and support for modern memory, storage, and I/O functions, thanks to the four USB-C ports on the Framework Mainboard. Buchka says using a USB port replicator plus some of the mainboard’s built-in ports. The result is a system with:

  • 2 x USB Type-C ports
  • 2 x USB Type-A ports (external)
  • 1 x USB Type-A port (internal, for a wireless mouse dongle)
  • 1 x GbE Ethernet port
  • 1 x 3.5mm audio jack

The system also supports WiFi and Bluetooth.

Since the keyboard isn’t designed to connect to the Framework Mainboard, Buchka used a Teensy 3.6 microcontroller running a custom build of the open source QMK keyboard firmware so that it works as a USB input device.

And Buchka replaced the original VGA display with a 10.2 inch, 2160 x 1620 pixel IPS LCD display designed for an iPad 7.

The modified ThinkPad 701C is still a work in progress, but Buchka has posted pictures of a mockup in the Framework Community forum. When everything is complete, the design files will be posted to GitHub for anyone that wants to upgrade their own ThinkPad 701C.

via Hacker News

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  1. I had a 701c once. I gave it to my then girlfriend and we broke up shortly after. That was the last time I saw it.