/ThinkPad 560E

ThinkPad 560E

Complete ThinkPad 560E system.

I’ve been idly looking for one of the mid-90s ThinkPads known to have perfect OpenStep/Rhapsody support for years as a fun collector piece, but been unwilling to pay eBay prices. The other week I scored a pristine IBM ThinkPad 560E for $20 in a Shopgoodwill auction, below is notes on getting it up and running, plus some relevant history and plans.

It’s the fancier model (2642-40U, with a 166MHz Pentium MMX), and the only external sign of physical wear I can find is a little scuffing on the external logo badge. It was listed as “Shows error 00161/00163” and “No HDD”; the former of which a quick search shows is IBM for “Dead CMOS battery,” and the latter of which was visibly a lie because this thing still has its screw cover stickers intact, and removing the HDD from a 560 chassis is (irritatingly) invasive.

Sure enough, one new CR1220 later, and powered from a “close enough” AC adapter from the parts bin, it booted from the original 2GB HDD into a very clean Windows 95 installation with all the IBM addons (including Lotus SmartSuite), Microsoft Entertainment Pack #2 and 3, plus some emulators and ROMs added around 2003. None of the non-game files look like they had been touched after 1998, and there were no user documents, so my theory is it was a corporate buy (See Steelcase registration) that never got used by whoever it was given to, and was briefly used as a game machine some years later.

I’m really impressed with it as a Windows 95 box; it boots to desktop in a bit under 30s and it’s more responsive than I remember Windows 95 being. Then again, it’s quite late and ritzy by Windows 95 standards, and I have used some truly shit Win95 boxes.

Initially the battery was reporting itself dead, as you would expect for a 23 year old battery. On a whim I tried the “briefly near-short the battery with a continuity tester in both directions and see if it will take a charge” thing while I was probing to see if it showed any potential (it did, around 6v) – I got lucky, not only did it not catch fire, the original battery now charges to “full” and holds a nontrivial charge, it claims an hour or two in the battery meter which isn’t far from original claimed endurance.

It didn’t come with a cap on the TrackPoint, so I swiped a proper “classic dome” from the spares that came with my T60p to make everything period correct (aside: why are classic dome caps so expensive these days? The soft domes are cheap and everywhere). I still don’t care for Trackpoints, but it has cachet.

RAM stick hitting CMOS socket.
The 560 Chassis is slightly picky about RAM

Having prove it working, I promptly turned around and spent another $45 on an IBM external floppy drive with the 17mm connector ($25, working after a few spins of a cleaning disk), matching AC adapter ($10, I paid an extra dollar or two for one with the three-color logo), and 64MB low-profile 144pin SODIMM ($10). The 560E maxes out at 16MB soldered in + 64MB module = 80MB so now I’m living 1997 large. It is a bit picky about RAM; the module has to be short enough to not bump the battery holder – the first one I was planning to use from the pile of parts that was once my Winbook XL was too tall.

The 560E is unbelievably compatible for a small laptop, especially of it’s time. It had first-party support for Windows 95, 98, 2000 Pro (only with the last BIOS release), and OS/2 (See thinkpads.com’s archived driver and software page). They were fairly popular as Linux boxes. It’s known to run both OpenStep 4.2 and Rhapsody DR2 perfectly. That last point is really why I bought it, OpenStep is historically interesting, and unlike Linux and BeOS, I haven’t spent a bunch of time with it. It’s easy to get 4.2 going in VirtualBox, and earlier NextStep releases in Previous, but want to try it on period hardware. I’m also hoping to try for a Rhapsody DR2 install – the last public-ish x86 release of the transitional series between OpenStep and OS X; it looks like a hybrid between the Mac OS 8 “Platinum” theme that was the only success of the Copland fiasco, and OpenStep UI, running on the NeXT Mach/XNU stack. Rhapsody is extremely picky about hardware and I’ve never managed color or sound in a VM, but everything is supposed to work on here.

And yes, to be clear, this whole project is primarily for the experience of OpenStep/Rhapsody on period hardware and/or making some “honorary Macintosh” IBM hardware meme pictures. A 560 running OpenStep was shown at Macworld Expo 1997 as “the future,” details of that machine in this Nextcomputers thread where Marc J. Driftmeyer who set it up for Steve Jobs tells us all about it, so a 560 chassis really is an ideal host for the task. This is a weird turn, since I was and remain in the”BeOS would have been a better choice” camp.

I bought a SD to 44-pin IDE adapter figuring the hard drive would be on it’s last legs and/or I’d want it to cheat at the OS install thing and dd images prepared in a VM on, but now I’m hesitating because it’s healthy, never been opened, and maybe the whine and ticking of a 90s HDD is part of the experience…

Next I need to find a suitable SlimSCSI PCMCIA card with cable and an external SCSI CD drive (or suitable adapter for one of my old Apple internal CD drives), preferably for less than I’ve spent on the rest of the project. One is required for doing in-place installs of the NeXT family OSes on these things, and they are generally not cheap.

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