If you haven’t seen the interview I did with Rob Herman, I will link in directly below.
If you’d like to just listen to the interview, here is an mp3 of our talk.
It was really great to speak with Rob and learn about his unique perspective in the creative process. Every person that makes up the team that gives us a machine has a part to play and it was very interesting to hear his thoughts on some of the classic and upcoming ThinkPads that have been released. It has certainly brought a newfound appreciation for the process and all the steps involved.
If you are looking for a greater, in-depth article, please consider checking out this fantastic summary of several of the keyboards below here.
PS/2 Era or Earlier
A classic with Buckling springs. Very rare with no active listings on eBay. For more information on this beauty, check out LGR’s episode where he covers it in detail. An even rarer version of this keyboard was made for the IBM PS/55E computer in Japan called the IBM 5576-C01.
Often found in black, but also can be acquired in white, these IBM-bred keyboards feature a full Number pad as well as the classic TrackPoint. On eBay listings will range around the $150-200USD mark for one in good condition.
SpaceSaver II (RT3200)
This PS/2 based keyboard is pretty rare with no current eBay listings. Users have modified them to have a USB-C connection and even built custom boards based on this layout. The red accents on the left and right-click buttons are very desirable. Claimed as the “World’s Best Computer Keyboard” in this article. There was a USB variant with a similar setup called the KPH0035, which is equally rare with no active listings.
IBM Trackpoint 84 Key AKA “SpaceSaver I” or “M4-1” (84H8503)
Another uncommon PS/2 beast. No known listings but some surplus sites price it at $100 USD. It also came in black.
IBM ThinkPad USB Keyboard (SK-8840)
PS/2 variant of the SK-8845 listed below. Somewhat rare and fetch prices of $150USD and up.
ThinkPad TrackPoint Keyboard II (4Y40X49493)
Bluetooth, USB-C and wireless, oh my. A modern keyboard for the modern world. $120 CDN if you get it on sale. If you are looking to get one of these, consider checking out my Affiliate page and placing an order through that link.
ThinkPad Wired USB Keyboard with TrackPoint (0B47190)
Sporting the newer key layout, this keyboard can be had directly from Lenovo with many sales for as little as $75 CDN. If you are looking to get one of these, consider checking out my Affiliate page and placing an order through that link.
ThinkPad USB Keyboard (SK-8855)
This unit does not feature the combined UltraNav setup of the original IBM variant listed below. These can be found on eBay for around $90USD. For a comprehensive comparison between the IBM and Lenovo variants, check out this great article.
IBM ThinkPad USB Keyboard (SK-8845 and SK-8845CR)
Often what people find when they search eBay is this gem. An IBM Branded USB-based keyboard. A PS/2 variant of this keyboard is also available (SK8840). The CR variant omits the TrackPad. In good shape, they can be found for about $100USD.
Not as common as the other IBM branded keyboards, this sports the UltraNav configuration of the TrackPoint and a full Numpad. Prices for these on eBay are usually around $200USD.
Unicomp which has a history in making excellent Buckling Spring keyboards has the EnduraPro that features a TrackPoint. Modestly priced as $129USD.
These are third-party, high-quality keyboards that include the TrackPoint. Their Yoda II version looks very similar to a keyboard that was a Japanese exclusive anniversary keyboard. They are in the premium price bracket ranging from $185 USD up to $399 USD. A Shinobi DIY kit starts at $109 USD. Stock on these units fluctuates so check back often.
There is some speculation that Tex was behind the Anniversary Edition Mechanical Keyboard that Lenovo produced, but the images below found on Twitter do not match up with the branding of the one found here. The boxes are different as well as the logo colouring in the bottom right-hand corner.
Disguised at one point as the “ThinkPad 25th Anniversary Edition” keyboard, this appears to have been made by ZGGA and out of circulation. It looks very similar to the Yoda II as stated earlier. The company appeared to sell this keyboard for a limited time on AliExpress.
This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below.
Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56.
One of the longest-running metrics for keyboard quality, especially on laptops has been key travel. While key travel plays an incredibly important part, I’ve had a hard time believing it was the only one. I know for example that there are many fans of what is considered the classic IBM/ThinkPad 7-row keyboard before it was changed to the design we have today. When that design changed occurred, strong opinions emerged and that didn’t result in any significant change to key travel. If you want an in-depth look at the differences between these two keyboards, I strongly recommend this article from Laptopmag.com: https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/thinkpad-type-off-is-lenovos-new-island-style-keyboard-better-or-worse
In the article above they examined several different metrics and came to the conclusion that the newer keyboard was not a step backward. In fact, the key travel between the two keyboards is identical, but the strong opinions remain for some, thus another factor must be at work. Now, getting back to our article from the Journal of Applied Biomechanics.
The present results suggest that key travel alone does not predict biomechanical outcomes and that key mechanism and activation force are also important factors in key switch design.
The results from the study were very interesting considering the common trend among reviewers and I suspect the industry as a whole is to discuss key travel as the main metric to measure the quality of the keyboard. Many companies like Dell have come up with some interesting ideas such as the use of magnets on their keyboards to maintain a good tactile feel while reducing travel. Others like Apple have ended up being in the news over their butterfly switches and their failure rate.
Specifically, the 2 devices with the same short travel (0.55 mm) had the largest differences across most muscles, though this difference was relatively small (<1.0% MVC). These 2 devices differed in activation force and mechanism: Tablet S had a dome switch mechanism and a higher activation force than Notebook S, which had a butterfly switch mechanism. Similarly, this study found that key travel distance was not strictly associated with typing force, typing performance, or perceived experience, as Tablet S was associated with the worst results across these measures compared with the other 3 devices.
In short, other factors such as the switch mechanism and how it relates to activation force potentially play a larger role than just key travel alone. Some might wish to equate a longer key travel with a greater activation force but that isn’t how spring mechanisms work.
Let us consider the classic example of a keyboard with an actual spring in the switch for sake of simplicity. If we look at Hooke’s Law which is used to calculate spring constants, F = -kΔx where F= force in Newtons, -k= Spring Constant and Δx= the change in spring length, we can see from this relationship that depending on the spring, we can change how much force is required for a specific change in distance. Now for further math-related content regarding keyboards and force, I strongly suggest you spend some time looking at the work done by Javier De Leon at the University of Alaska.
Turning out attention to the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which has key travel of 1.35mm, the mechanism gives it a positive typing experience. One of the “key” criticisms of the newer ThinkPads is the reduced key travel on the thinner models. While thinning a laptop down objectively leaves less room for key travel and some traditional activation mechanisms, we shouldn’t count out innovation to find solutions to these problems.
One announcement at CES 2021 that in my opinion, didn’t get the discussion it deserves, comes from Energysquare which is a small start-up that wants to make wireless charging in laptops mainstream. Wireless charging is growing more and more common with smaller electronics but in terms of larger ones, the pros and cons are still […]
Just announced is the kit to make just about any 13-14″ laptop be able to charge wirelessly. It will just cost you a USB-C port and only work with laptops that need up to 65W (maximum output of 20V, 3.25A, and 65W to be exact) power delivery. It is a simple accessory that rides on a rail, presumably for fast removal if needed. It comes into contact with the charging panel and makes the connection. This setup adds 3.2mm of thickness to your laptop, which might be a steep trade-off for some.
The kit, part of Lenovo’s new Go line is scheduled to launch in October with a cost of $139.99 USD.
One of the stretch goals I had for this channel is to one day use my growing experience and accumulating knowledge about laptops is of course to review newer ones. This is a stretch goal though and not the purpose for Laptop Retrospective to exist. I’m happy with the direction of the channel overall and the exciting opportunities it has given me, especially in the last year. Those have been something really special. So special in fact, that even my original stretch goal is something I could let go of because I’m having too much fun. I consider myself very fortunate to have the freedom to explore so many different avenues.
Long-term viewers will know that I have a full-time job and do not intend for YouTube and content creation to support me in any way shape or form. The channel supports itself.
Now, getting to the article and how that relates with what I’ve said above are some of the interesting statistics it includes. Entering into the world of reviewing is a sticky one that can be difficult to navigate.
“92% of buyers state they are more likely to purchase a product or service after reading a trusted review.”
“How many reviews are people reading before buying:5, 20, 50?
“…a whopping 95% of us believe reviews are fake if the feedback is only positive.”
There are more statistics included in the article but these three jumped out to me and allow me to outline why.
Trusted reviews are really important. I am not confident there are enough of these out there. With varying disclosure laws about partnerships with ad companies, content creators and influencers, I feel that this is a murky area that can be very challenging for the consumer to navigate. I’m fortunate that I do not require funding from any company to create content but I understand others do it as a source of income to sustain their livelihood. That isn’t a bad thing by itself, but it is something that the viewer should know about to help evaluate your relationship with a brand or company. I’ve tried my best to be upfront and transparent about my relationships with any company I’ve worked with and have avoided and even stopped projects where I wasn’t allowed to be critical or the company demanded a specific outcome. It is for this reason that I have never accept financial compensation for my work as I feel that would impact my content and I know that is not something everyone can do, nor would I expect it. Our goals are simply different.
There is a difference between an ad and a review. This should be obvious, especially to the consumer, but sometimes it is challenging to spot. Most companies know the difference when it comes to working with content creators and influencers but a lot of them do not, especially the ones that work with smaller creators such as myself. They do not have robust or dedicated marketing teams that actually understand these subtle differences and feel that any constructive criticism will harm them. In reality, it will probably do more good than harm as we can see from the third statistic.
One of the reasons I wanted to get into this sort of work was to see what the industry was really like as a content creator. I also feel that if something is too polished or professional-looking, it starts to look more like an ad and less like a review. There is a fine line and some creators do a fantastic job of balancing these audience expectations whereas others seem to go “all in” to the ad side of things. That is perfectly fine, so long as that clear and spelt-out relationship is made clear to the viewer.
Anyway, I just wanted to bash out a couple of thoughts here on this since I do not feel I get the chance to talk about this sort of thing very often. Honestly, reviews are less and less of a focus and as I mentioned earlier, that is really okay with me. I want to have fun and learn, those are the two major objectives.
I hope you have found it entertaining and/or informative.
This article has been updated on 27 June 2021 to include new information.
It appears last year Lenovo filed a new Butterfly-style keyboard patent and it was recently approved earlier this month by the US Patent Office. You can look it up on your own using the #11,029,723 and unsurprisingly it references John Karidis’ existing patents for the original. I have also linked it below.
The gear design present in the newer patent looks similar to the original meaning it would possibly still be driven by the opening and closing of the machine. It has been made even more complex with the use of magnets and a more compact design. The patent appears to be specifically for some kind of wireless keyboard that would be intended for use with tablets, like the X1 Fold, which certainly has a small keyboard and even then, no TrackPoint.
It could also be possible that this patent is being filed is to possibly safeguard this iconic design on a modern keyboard so somebody else doesn’t lay claim to it. This is the first step of many into the realm of speculation.
While the patent may be intended for a wireless keyboard, the creation of this could lead to it being included on a dedicated machine. Who knows, maybe even a 30th Anniversary Special Edition. There are few ThinkPads that are more iconic. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is also a trial run to see how difficult it would be to manufacture as the original was incredibly difficult to build and had many problems to overcome. But that is a story for another day.
Whether this means we will see a new Butterfly ThinkPad from Lenovo is yet to be seen. This could lead to a final product or end up on the cutting room floor of the Yamato Labs.
As some supplemental material for the “Think Design Stories” episode I did with David Hill on the subject of wallpaper, please find below a collection of resources. If you haven’t seen the video yet, or want to hear the story again, please find the video below.
For those that want a good look at the original map David Hill used, see the image below.
With pre-orders open to most countries for the Framework Laptop, I’ve been reading some criticism (some serious, some not) on the module design that Framework has created.
Some have stated that the creation of these “pockets” in the body of the laptop is a gimmick and does not truly add meaningful functionality, but I am tempted to disagree. While the concept is simple to execute, it has large implications on how these machines can be configured.
One way to look at this is to peer back into history when, not at computers, but military load-bearing equipment or LBE for short. It wasn’t until recently that this equipment adopted a similar idea to the Framework Laptop known as modularity. Many armies traditionally have had bags or satchels and at best, sewn on pockets to a vest or harness, but these pockets could not be moved or swapped out, so every soldier had the same equipment, but not the same mission.
Over time this got better, but the position and availability of the pockets were often limited to proprietary systems that offered no interchangeability.
The standard practice of MOLLE and other systems brought about huge change in how a soldier could configure their gear. Using a “basket-weaving” style method, you could now swap pouches and pockets to change up the load of equipment you carried without too much difficulty. To me, this is what Framework is trying to do with their laptop.
In short, I am hoping more people are willing to give this concept a chance. It has a lot of merit to be able to configure the machine to perform in a variety of different situations and tasks where ports truly matter. It could also impact how businesses would deploy a fleet of machines and be able to swap ports between them. Not to mention if a module is used frequently, it could also reduce wear on the USB-C port that would otherwise be used with a dongle on a frequent basis.
Since I first posted about the Framework Laptop, many details have been released. Here is everything we know so far about this laptop. Currently, Framework is preparing for pre-orders. You can find out more information in their article here.
Modularity is something we haven’t truly seen in laptops since Intel decided to stop offering socketed mobile CPUs. Manufacturers often shoulder the blame on that, unfairly in my mind, but that is a topic for another article. Many users miss the days of taking apart every component of their laptop and replacing or upgrading components […]
1. 1080 Webcam
The Framework Laptop will have a 1080P 60fps camera. Produced by Partron in South Korea, it will have the following specifications:
1/6″ OmniVision OV2740 sensor
80° diagonal f/2.0 four-element lens, using a blue glass IR filter for improved colour performance
Realtek RTS5853 camera controller
Hardware privacy switch for the camera and microphone array
2. The Motherboard
The motherboard planned is designed to be removed and replaced with other motherboards of the same form factor. It also sports:
Removable memory modules
Tiger Lake CPUs at launch (i5-1135G7, i7-1165G7, i7-1185G7)
You can buy the Framework Laptop without RAM, SSD or WiFi so you can use your own parts
M.2 2280 PCIe Gen 4 NVMe (up to 7,000MB/s and write speeds of up to 5,300MB/s)
Prebuilt models will ship with Western Digital’s SN730
2 SO-DIMM sockets supporting DDR4 DRAM at up to DDR4-3200. Maximum of 64GB of RAM over 32GB modules
Prebuilt models will ship with Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron
WiFi is handled by support for 2×2 WiFi 6 and WiFi 6E modules through an M.2 2230 socket
3. The Keyboard
The keyboard of any laptop is an essential component as you spend more time touching it than any other part of the machine. Here is what we know about the keyboard on the Framework laptop:
1.5mm key travel
Keyboard and top decks will be available for purchase
US English, UK English, International English, French, French Canadian, Korean, Chinese Pinyin, Chinese Traditional, Japanese, German, Italian, Spanish, Latin American, and Dutch Belgian variants are being planned
Completely black and clear keyboards will also be available
4. Storage Expansion Cards
One of the eye-catching design choices of the Framework Laptop is the expansion modules. These allow for functionality and ports to be swapped on the fly through the use of the USB-C form-factor. Several modules like USB-C, USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, MicroSD are already planned and now they have added storage to this list. 250GB and 1TB are the current sizes being tested.
Cards being made by BizLink and Phison
U17 Flash Controller, N28 NAND
1TB card exceeds 1000MB/s read and write
250GB clocks in at 1000MB/s read and 375 MB/s write
5. 3:2 Display
Let’s get right to the point. This display looks amazing. To remove it, simply remove a magnetic bezel and four fasteners.
BOE’s 13.5” 2256×1504 LCD
100% coverage of sRGB
Lay flat design (180-degree hinge)
Ambient light sensor
DC mode backlight controller to avoid flicker
Bezel colour options available
6. The Power Adapter
Power adapters are important, for without them, you have a paperweight. Here is what we know about the adapter that will be bundled with the Framework Laptop:
60W 20V/3A USB-C (USB-PD 3.0 and PPS)
Developed in partnership with Phihong
58mm x 58mm x 27mm
Modular cable options for different regions and is replaceable from both ends or the brick itself
I first encountered the name Steve Hamm when I was doing research on a ThinkPad to track down and cover for the channel. I had consulted several lists to see what would be some fun and unique models to try and acquire that weren’t overly expensive. There are some really cool ThinkPads out there, but some are simply not being sold online or if they are, go for significant amounts of money, ready for museums.
I settled on learning more about the ThinkPad X300 and quickly, after a few searches in a variety of places, one of them being YouTube, I found there was little in the way of recent coverage and discussion about the X300 and its underappreciated role in laptop design. However, one of the items I did find was a talk that Steve Hamm gave on the Microsoft Research channel. You can find the full video below.
After watching the first hour of Steve’s talk, I was intrigued. Steve had been a technology journalist for over 20 years at the point to wrote “The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer.” Then I saw the cover of the book and found a digital copy of the dust jacket. The book was primarily focused on the X300, I thought I couldn’t have asked for a better resource. At the end of the project, it was a tie between the treasure-trove of the book and talking to David Hill (who was the head of design at the time for IBM/Lenovo) about the X300.
One thing you need to understand is the book is more than just about the X300. If you want to understand the history of portable computing or ThinkPad development, you need to read this book. The stories and people that he interviewed for the book at first might not seem interconnected but it helps you build an understanding and appreciation for what Lenovo was able to accomplish in the X300. Going all the way back to the early days of portable computing up to what was the present day at the time of publishing gives a crystal clear picture of the significance of computers like the X300. This isn’t just about one laptop, it is a history of mobile computing.
Steve had exclusive access to multiple key people on the X300 project, David Hill included. Originally he was at Lenovo to interview the chairman who just recently completed the purchase of IBM’s PC division. His schedule was packed, but he had a few minutes where he was taken down to the design lab, this is where he and David would meet for the first time. When I spoke to David Hill, he told me about how far Steve’s access went.
They brought him down to the design lab and said, “Hey, this is Steve Hamm, he is from BusinessWeek Magazine, he’s got like, 20 minutes, can you show him something?”
I’m like, okay. So I said, “So what can I show him?”
“Well he’s on a Non-Disclosure-Agreement so you can show him anything.”
So I showed him what were were doing and he was so fascinated with it, he said, “I want to write a book about it.”
So we gave him a complete, insider view of exactly what was happening. He went to Japan and he went to Italy and he met with Richard Sapper, he met with Naihtoh-son. It was kind of funny, I had an interlock call with Naihtoh-son we had a regular kind of call when meeting about various kinds of topics and he said, “Hey do you know this guy Steve Hamm?” and I said “Yeah I do.”
“I met him in Japan, he knows everything.”
I said, “Yeah, he does. We’ve been talking to him and showing him all this stuff. What did you do?”
“Well I figured it must be okay, so I showed him everything.”
David Hill would go on to say that this was completely counter to anything that IBM would have ever allowed. If you haven’t seen my video review of this book, please consider watching it below.
Steve mentions this in the Microsoft Research video above when he talks about the book, but one of the great things about “The Race for Perfect” is he was able to interview and get these accounts first hand from the people that were there with very few exceptions. I will leave the final word with Steve Hamm as it personifies how I felt when I sat down with David Hill to talk to him regarding his role in the X300.
These people are incredible inventors and they need to be remembered.
I hope you enjoy the interview, it was a lot of fun talking to Steve and I am infinitely grateful for the generous gift of his time and sharing. For those looking for an audio version of the interview, you can find it below or click here for the mp3.