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

IBM

Model M13

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.

KPD8923

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.

IBM KPD8923 in White. (Photo by speedonlineau)

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 SpaceSaver II (Photo by engadget)

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 TrackPoiont 84 Key (Photo by Memory4less.com)

IBM ThinkPad USB Keyboard (SK-8840)

PS/2 variant of the SK-8845 listed below. Somewhat rare and fetch prices of $150USD and up.

USB Era

Lenovo

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 TrackPoint Keyboard II (Photo by Lenovo)

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 Wired USB Keyboard with TrackPoint (Photo by Lenovo)

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.

Lenovo ThinkPad USB Keyboard (Photo by notebookreview.com)

IBM

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.

IBM ThinkPad USB Keyboard SK-8845 (Photo by notebookreview.com)
The SK-8845CR model (Photo by Tasurinchi)

IBM SK-8835

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.

IBM SK-8835 (Photo by next.day.automation)

Unicomp

Unicomp which has a history in making excellent Buckling Spring keyboards has the EnduraPro that features a TrackPoint. Modestly priced as $129USD.

Unicomp Endura Pro

Website

Tex Keyboards

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.

Website

 

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.

 

ZGGA?

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.

https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml

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

Lenovo at the time also published a 5-pager which you can read here: Lenovo-Keyboard_Change-Is-Hard-Why-You-Should-Give-In-to-the-New-ThinkPad-Keyboard They outline the work that went into the redesign of the keyboard if you have never read it.

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.

Cherry MX Brown Switch Components. Note the spring included that makes up the core of the force required. Daniel beardsmore / http://deskthority.net/wiki/User:Daniel_beardsmore, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/211_fall_2018/Javi_De_Leon/javier_deleon/Title_Page.html

If seeing classic  keyboard switches gutted are your thing, you might want to check out this article that shows the switch designs of several classic ThinkPad keyboards including the 701C

https://deskthority.net/viewtopic.php?t=15457

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.

Lenovo, who has partnered with Energysquare has started announcing wireless charging products for your existing laptops. I’ve talked about this technology in an earlier post that I will link below.

Jan
16

Wireless Charging for Laptops and Beyond

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.

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.

New Butterfly Patent

One of the original Patent drawings of the John Karidis design.

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.

The original map that David’s design team used to create the iconic wallpaper.

ThinkPad ThinkCentre Active Desktops

  • The above link contains both Active Desktops for ThinkPad and ThinkCentre machines that support Active Desktops. They display key system information for your wallpaper.

TP_ssaver_setup

  • A collection of ThinkPad screensavers.

WallpaperWebPage

  • A modern, lightweight program that allows Windows 10 to run a website as a background image. While it is far from perfect, it is the closest thing I’ve found to do the job.

world.time.wallpaper

  • The original dynamic wallpaper remake originally hosted on axofiber.info but occasionally the host does not work. The highest supported resolution is 1680×1050.

world.time.wallpaper.lenovo.edition

  • The same as above but with Lenovo branding.

ActiveTimeZoneWallpapers

  • Three original installs of the Time Zone wallpaper. North American, Europe and Asia variants.

For higher resolution Timezone wallpapers, check out nitrocaster’s recreation. Max resolution is 1920×1080/1200

For more ThinkPad related wallpapers and such, you can visit http://www.mocom.ru/Wallpapers/ibm.htm

For other OEM goodies like wallpaper and screensavers broken down my  OS and model number, check out https://sites.google.com/view/oemfiles

ThinkPad 20th Anniversary Wallpaper Collection 1080/1200

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.

The front cover of the book featuring the Lenovo ThinkPad 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. 

-Steve Hamm

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.

Running benchmarks and tests of this nature aren’t my normal thing since these tests are somewhat theoretical when it comes to real-world usage, but I can appreciate that people like to compare the numbers. For me, the main purpose of these tests was to push the laptop from a thermal standpoint to see how well it did under load.

PassMark Rating

PassMark Software – Display Baseline ID# 1373050

As shown in the Day 12 video update, thermals remained very acceptable, not climbing higher than 35.0C at the CPU underneath the laptop or at the vent exhaust port.

For more information on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, if you haven’t seen the first videos in the series, please consider checking them out below. If you’d like to buy one for yourself, please consider visiting Lenovo’s website through the links on my Affiliates page as I can earn a small commission that goes back to supporting the channel.

ThinkPad Announcements at CES 2021

Below find the new ThinkPads joining the lineup in 2021. I might add additional thoughts in future articles.

ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga (13.5″)

360-degree hinge with Titanium construction. Intel Evo CPUs. 3:2 aspect ratio with 2K display.

ThinkPad X12 Detachable (12″)

The long-awaited return of the X1 Tablet. Intel 11th generation CPUs. 1920×1280 (3:2) 440 nit screen with Gorilla Glass. Optional folio keyboard with TrackPoint of course.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 6 (14″)

Intel Evo with 16:10 and a wider touchpad to match. A larger battery still makes room for internal pen storage.

ThinkPad X1 Nano (13″)

Starting at $1900 CAD, the lightest ThinkPad yet at 1kg. Intel 11th Gen CPU, TB4, 16:10 screen and IR camera with a 2K screen as standard.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (14″)

16:10 display. Intel Evo vPro and everything you’ve come to like about the X1 Carbon. A wider touchpad and a larger battery are now included.

 

Rumours have been circulating for a while now that Titanium will be used on the new X1 and X1 Yoga models. In a recent contest on Twitter, Lenovo has essentially confirmed that they are coming, probably at CES 2021.

However, as I discuss in a recently released video on the channel, this isn’t the first time they have used Titanium on a laptop.

I really hope that Lenovo has learned their lessons on how to best use this material as it does have some significant drawbacks as seen in the video. Granted manufacturing technology has improved significantly since then, I would be very mindful about what sort of abuse I would put a chassis that has this metal at its core.

Another thing to consider is that materials in engineering, even from my limited understanding, are rarely interchangeable and equal. I occasionally watch Ian McCollum’s Forgotten Weapons YouTube channel to hear about design decisions in the firearm industry. While I don’t have a major interest in firearms beyond interesting trivia, I feel like one can learn a lot about design from a fellow like Ian. He is involved with a joint venture with a firearms manufacturing company to create a polymer lower to the AR-15 platform and has documented that it isn’t as simple as casting the same part using a different material.

All that to say, I’m curious to see what, if any considerations exist between the build process between the regular X1 and X1 Yoga variants and their newer Titanium counterparts.