Antiquities: IBM ThinkPad T40, the first wireless

    Fifteen years ago, in 2003, wireless Internet from an expensive highly specialized technology began to turn into something accessible to everyone and for granted. Of course, this did not happen right away: in order for Wi-Fi to appear, it was necessary to conduct home some kind of wired Internet, and at that time not everyone refused even modem access. An important step towards getting rid of wire slavery was the presentation of Intel's Centrino platform, along with the first Pentium M processors to replace the mobile Pentium III and IV. One of the first "wireless" laptops was the IBM ThinkPad T40.

    Today, this model is in the status of no one particularly needed, so it’s cheap. I bought a laptop at the beginning of last year, it actually became the first in my modern collection of obsolete devices, but then there were more interesting ThinkPad T43 , T22 and 600 models , and I forgot about the “fortieth” for a while. It's time to tell the story of a laptop in which I changed everything, upgraded almost to the maximum of capabilities and made a highly specialized Linux machine out of it.

    I keep a diary of a collector of old pieces of iron in real time in a Telegram . Now there is in full swing the construction of a retro-desktop based on the Pentium III.

    Introduced in March 2003, the ThinkPad T40 replaced the T23 and T30 models, which used, respectively, the Pentium III and Pentium 4 mobile processors. The new Pentium M processors provided quite a significant increase in performance, and at the same time were characterized by low power consumption: the declared battery life compared to the T30 work with a standard battery has grown from 2.5 to 5.5 hours. The 14-inch copy I bought for 800 rubles, judging by the table above, was packed almost at the highest level: a processor with a frequency of 1.6 gigahertz, 512 megabytes of memory, a 40 gigabyte hard drive. Judging by the advertisements in PC Magazine, such laptops were not cheap:

    Is that the display resolution is not premium, 1024x768 pixels, not 1400x1500, but it does not matter. The trouble was that the laptop periodically slashed the screen - a clear sign of a falling off video card. In IBM models of this period, this is a common problem: insufficient cooling is possible (the graphics chip was covered with a radiator only in 15-inch versions), but an unsuccessful design is also possible when the motherboard is subjected to loads in the region of the video card when carrying the laptop.

    And here begins such a typical story of a collector of old pieces: if the device does not immediately work, there is a desire to restore it. An honorable occupation and exciting, but the cost of this event is many times higher than the initial investment. On the occasion, a non-working laptop of a similar configuration (only without Wi-Fi) was bought for 400 rubles, most of the case was inherited from it, which did not have serious scratches and cracks.

    A motherboard was separately ordered, a new heatsink with a cooler, and after a couple of nights of active work with a screwdriver, the laptop finally worked. Unlike the ThinkPad X301 model of the end of the zero, which (with reservations) can be used today, the T40 is unsuitable for any modern tasks. In 2003, it was a fairly powerful machine: at about the same time I was using a desktop computer with a 400-MHz Pentium II, and not that I suffered much about it. You can slightly improve the characteristics of an inexpensive upgrade, although I spent five times more money on it than the laptop itself cost. You can update the processor:

    The Pentium M 760 with a frequency of 2 gigahertz, a finer manufacturing process and an updated architecture was completely unavailable at the time of the release of the laptop (announced only in 2005). The most powerful processor for this notebook is the Pentium M 780 with a frequency of 2.27 gigahertz. It cost a little more, and I put one in the more modern ThinkPad T43.

    A memory upgrade is even more important than increasing the frequency of the processor. Native 512 megabytes for any modern tasks is very small. The laptop supports a maximum of two gigabyte low-density DDR memory modules, one slot is located at the bottom, to access the second you need to remove the keyboard. Judging by benchmarks, both upgrades increase the system performance by about a factor of two. 18 years ago, that would have been a huge difference, but now it’s not so special - an unbearably slow laptop turns into not very fast.

    Nevertheless, the ThinkPad T40 can be equipped with any modern OS - from Windows 10 to Ubuntu 18.10. In both cases, support for 32-bit architectures seems to be coming to an end, but so far everything is working. Unless Ubuntu needs to get around one problem: Pentium M processors do not show the Page Address Extensions function support flag, although the technology itself is supported . I had experience with modern Ubuntu so-so even on the ThinkPad X301. I briefly tested on a T40 Ubuntu Server without a graphical shell (it is quite possible to raise a mail server on such hardware), but then I switched to Raspberry Pi Desktop .

    This is a very interesting version of the operating system, originally assembled for Raspberry Pi mini-computers, but has been available on "large computers" for quite some time now. The advantage of such a distribution is that it was originally created for hardware with limited capabilities. Of course, there are many other ways to build an economical system, but this method seems to me one of the easiest.

    At the same time, here you can see the result of testing the laptop in Geekbench 4. In the multiprocessor test, the result is even less than in single-threaded (which is expected on a single-core Pentium M). This is about two times less than the dual-core ThinkPad X301 (after overclocking - three times), and almost 20 times slower than my moderately ancient desktop computer. But these are tests, in real life everything is bad enough, but not terrible. A memory upgrade helped - without it, trying to open any website led to a hellish swap. With two gigabytes in the "strictly one tab" mode, it is quite possible to go to the Internet. YouTube skips half the frames at the smallest resolution, but this can be overcome using the mps-youtube program - it can even be viewed with a resolution of 720p.

    The ThinkPad T40 is the latest IBM laptop with honest support for Windows 98 (as well as OS / 2 and Windows NT). Compatibility with DOS games is mediocre because of a too modern sound card. But the games of the late nineties work, which the ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics card with 32 megabytes of memory still helps. For almost two thousandth games, the power of this notebook accelerator is not enough, but for older games it is suitable. In the 3DMark 2001SE test, the result is slightly higher than the desktop NVIDIA GeForce 2MX.


    The 802.11b wireless standard was finalized back in 1999. At the beginning of the two thousandth wireless modules began to appear in selected mobile devices, but it was in 2003 that the rejection of wires became widespread. This was partly due to the efforts of Intel: this company was actively promoting the Centrino platform, as a combination of Pentium M processors and a wireless module in laptops. Two modules were installed in the ThinkPad T40: Intel Wireless 2100 with support for 802.11b, or Cisco. Due to the assembly of one computer from two different computers, I had both available, but only the Intel adapter in the rather strange Mini PCI form factor was working.

    If the module is installed, when loading the laptop shows the Intel Centrino logo, if not, it does not. In 2019, support for 802.11b in home routers can be turned off by default. If everything works, then it’s pretty slow, but, according to my feelings, quite reliable. For laptop developers, the “wireless” use case turned into an additional headache: laptop owners with wireless modules quickly got used to carrying laptops with or without laptops, which led to new requirements for device reliability. Protection systems for the hard drive, parking heads in the event of a fall (before landing), appeared around this time. Although Wi-Fi has accelerated significantly since then, this part of the vintage laptop has proven to be the most practical with modern usage. More speed and is not required - the laptop draws sites longer than it downloads data for them.

    Museum exhibit

    The last important purchase for this laptop was a proprietary set of cogs and, most importantly, stickers, under which palmrest fasteners are hidden. With them I brought the laptop to almost original condition. I can’t say that it is “like new” - scratches on the soft cover of the case interfere, but in a few tricks I brought this laptop to working condition. For good, it would be necessary to replace the slow hard drive with a USB flash drive or SSD, but let it be an instance in a configuration close to the original.

    Mid-2000 laptops are now, by and large, no one needs. Models of the late nineties are already of collectible interest and cost, the farther, the more expensive. Notebooks of 2005 and later can still be put to work. The ThinkPad T40 is not a vintage, and there’s not much sense in it - it’s only suitable for typing on a classic “another” keyboard. Experience shows that this will not always be the case, and gradually the laptops of the “early era of wireless Internet” will be appreciated more and more.

    While I am waiting for price increases, I plan to use the ThinkPad T40 as a kind of proxy for broadcasting the Internet to other devices. But this is a topic for a separate story.

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