Archive for June, 2020


IBM ThinkPad 380ED

Today’s machine was made by IBM, one of the most influential companies in mainframes and early personal computers. This laptop was released in 1997, after the companies influence had waned, it’s a Thinkpad 380ED. The Thinkpad name would become synonymous with high quality and performance portable computing. Here’s a picture of my particular machine.

IBM Thinkpad laptop

It’s in fairly good condition, although I’m missing the power adapter, it was donated to me some time ago by a client when I worked in IT support. It has a Pentium MMX running at 166Mhz which wasn’t the fastest available at the time, but was in general quite a good chip. It was quite capable of playing late MS-DOS games such as Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, and could play earlier windows titles. However this machine wasn’t really suited to most games.

The main reason it’s not great for gaming is the screen. The resolution of 800×600 was good for the time, but the screen on my particular one has a pretty slow response time (it must be the FRSTN model) making it pretty much useless for anything that animates or scrolls. Static images look perfectly fine, but movement of any kinds quickly turns into a blur. There isn’t much in the way of scaling either, so most games won’t fill the entire screen depending on their chosen resolution. Strategy games like Civilization work fairly well, so I guess there’s that. Other wise an external screen makes action games playable, although that kind of defeats the portability of the machine.

The screen is driven by a graphic chip I’d never heard of before, a Neomagic MagicGraph 128V, with slightly more than 1Mb VRAM. I tried a few DOS games and it seems to be quite compatible back to CGA graphics. Although it seems the processor may be too fast for many of the older titles as some games do not start up, crashing with divide error messages. On the other end of the scale SVGA modes are supported and working where I was able to try it.

The internal speaker is driven by a Cirrus Logic audio controller (CS4236), again another device I’ve not had hands on experience with. It seems to be a sound blaster compatible as both digital and OPL sound work well without having to load a driver in native MS-DOS. Audio quality is good, OPL music sounds correct without any pops or noticeable errors and digital audio works similarly well. I also tried games with PC speaker noise, and they also worked quite well.

The other interfaces include the usual serial, parallel and PS/2 mouse connector. You can connect an external VGA screen, which is good if you have one handy. There are two PCMCIA slots for additional interfaces (such as a modem, lan, or wlan card). There is a slim 3.5″ floppy drive and a CD-ROM drive which are both handy, although I’ve not been able to read any CDs. I have a PCMCIA CD drive I may be able use in its place.

The technical specifications of the hardware are only half the picture when it comes to laptops and other portable devices. The durability of the chassis and hinges is a particularly important part of their design. Back in the day I saw numerous laptops with broken hinges and chassis simply because of poor design, often because the outer casing was made of plastic. This particular laptop came before the plastic fantastic chassis of many later machines, and it has a metallic chassis which has a very good build quality. IBM Thinkpads quickly got a reputation for being sturdy and reliable machines because of this, although this didn’t last after IBM sold off its laptop division.

I still have some work to do on this machine before I can really use it much, I need to figure out if I can get the CD drive working, get a new power adapter, and finish erasing the drive and installing a new OS. It’s already been handy in being able to test Bob’s Fury on it (for debugging purposes) and it will play DOS games quite well if I use an external screen. I’m thinking of replacing the internal drive with something like an SD card converter, as the hard drive is so small. The small form factor of a laptop makes it convenient to store and setup when I need it.

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