IBM PowerPC ThinkPad - Capabilities

The PowerPC ThinkPads were very powerful and capable machines by the standards of 1995, the year they appeared on the market.  Indeed even by today's standards they are still very capable.

Notable and Unique Features

  • The 85x, 860 and some 82x models out of the box allow for recording and playback of NTSC and recording of PAL video signals over standard video lines. This allows viewing and recording of VCR signals as well as playback out to VCR. The main marketing thrust of this feature was for video teleconferencing when used in conjunction with the optional clip-on camera. All software required is included with AIX 4 as part of IBM Ultimedia Service (UMS). For 1995, these were incredible and unheard of features! See "Details" below for more info.
  • The 850 was the first commercially-available laptop with a built-in camera. Thanks to Kenan Cosabic for the tip.
  • All models out of the box allow for speech navigation and dictation with IBM's UMS software and the included microphone. With navigation you can simulate keystrokes and mouse events with your voice in a fully customizable and programmable environment, all without going through any voice-learning process. It really works, even for people with heavy accents! Dictation allows isolated word-at-a-time speech to be translated into text in supported applications such as a text editor. While not as sophisticated as the more recently available fluent speech to text software widely available, these features were incredible for 1995 and unheard of on notebooks and even Wintel desktops!
  • All models include on-board SCSI-2, which was a smart decision that definitely improves disk throughput speeds as compared to the ubiquitous and slower IDE interface. Even today you rarely see SCSI used in notebooks. At the time, SCSI-2 was technically superior to all IDE PIO modes. Only with UDMA-33 and 66 did IDE surpass SCSI-2. An added bonus with SCSI was the external SCSI-2 connector allowing easy hookup of external SCSI tape, disk and CD drives. Compare that to your only option for external devices at the time on Wintel notebooks: the relatively slow parallel port interface.
  • The 85x and 860 models include a "smart" NiMH battery which contains its own processor to make the most efficient use of the battery and charging cycles, dramatically extending battery life and longevity.
  • Details

  • Housing: The 85x and 860 models are housed in a case very similar to the high-end Intel-based ThinkPads available from IBM at the time. The keyboard has a very nice feel and the TrackPoint pointing device is a great mouse-substitute. The 82x models are probably similar to a smaller Intel-based ThinkPad, e-mail me if you can identify which one.
  • CPU: All models are built around the PowerPC 603e CPU. The 82x and 85x operate at 100 MHz. The more recent 860 model has a clock speed of 166 MHz. The 603e is a 32-bit chip. The bus width from CPU to RAM is 32-bit on the 82x and 64-bit on the 85x and 860. It is unknown what clock speed the model 800 operates at but is likely 66 or 100 MHz.
  • L2 cache: All PowerPC ThinkPads contain 256KB L2 cache, except for the 800 which only had 128KB.
  • RAM: The 82x and 85x contain 16 or 32MB standard expandable to 48MB in the 82x and a whopping (by 1995 standards) 96MB in the 85x and 860. The 800 had 16MB standard and 80MB max.
  • PCMCIA slots: All models include 2 Type I/II or 1 Type III.
  • Hard Drive: All models use fast SCSI-2 as the interface and give a choice of 540, 810 and 1200 MB. Any standard 2.5" SCSI drive should work in place of the included drive (confirmations wanted).
  • Sound: All models include 16 bit stereo capture and playback, stereo speakers, jacks for microphone and headphones as well as line in and line out.
  • Graphics: Both the 82x and 85x have a brilliant 10.4" color active matrix TFT with black matrix display capable of 640x480 or 800x600, depending on sub-model chosen. The 860 has a similar but larger 12.1" TFT display at 1024x768. All models operate at an 8-bit depth (256 colors). 16-bit depth may be supported under Windows NT (confirmations wanted).
  • CD-ROM: All models include a 2X internal SCSI-2 drive.
  • Floppy Drive: All models include an external 1.44MB diskette drive which can be mounted internally in place of the CD-ROM drive.
  • Video: Standard in the 85x and 860 and optional in the 82x (and 800?) is the video capture adapter (VCA) and video in/out jacks. This unique feature allows video conferencing (with the optional clip-on camera), video monitoring and capture from an NTSC (in/out) or PAL (in only) video source such as a VCR, and video playback such as playing an .AVI movie file out to a VCR. The VCA, almost unheard of in notebooks of the era, is somewhat limited in capabilities. It appears to feed uncompressed raw video directly to the hard disk. Considering the incredible bandwidth required, the practical frame rate is limited to around 5 fps. See the query item off the home page for more info.
  • Specifications Quick Reference
    Model 800 820 821/822/823 850 851 860
    Type 6020 6040 7247 6042 7249 7249
    Announced ????/??/??6 1995/06/19 1996/02/20 1995/06/19 1996/02/20 1996/10/08
    Available ????/??/??6 1995/07/241 1996/04/15 1995/07/241 1996/04/15 1996/11/08
    Withdrawn ????/??/??6 1996/03/20 1996/07/26 1996/03/20 1996/11/08 1998/01/30
    Weight (lbs)4 ?6 7.53 7.53 7.96 7.96 7.96???
    CPU 603(e?) ? MHz6 603e 100MHz 603e 100MHz 603e 100MHz 603e 100MHz 603e 166MHz
    Memory Bus ?-bit6 32-bit 32-bit 64-bit 64-bit 64-bit
    RAM standard at least 16 16 or 32MB 32MB 16 or 32MB 32MB 32MB
    RAM maximum 80MB 48MB 48MB 96MB 96MB 96MB
    HDD standard at least 810 MB 540/810/1200 MB 810/1200MB 540/810/1200 MB 810/1200 MB 1200 MB
    TFT display ?6 10.4" 10.4" 10.4" 10.4" 12.1"
    TFT resolution3 640x480 640x480/800x6002 640x480/800x6002 640x480/800x6002 800x600 1024x768
    Graphics adapter G10 G10 G10 G10 G10 GT20
    Motion capt/play optional? optional optional standard standard standard
    Max AIX level 4.1.x? 4.2.1 4.2.1 4.2.1 4.2.1 4.2.15

    1 The versions of these systems sold with a 1.2GB hard drive were not released until 1995/08/29.
    2 Sub-model dependent (the more expensive sub-models have the higher capability).
    3 When connected to an external monitor most models are capable of higher resolution: the "next step up" (ie: from 800x600 to 1024x768).
    4 Weight is the fully loaded weight not including optional snap-on video camera.
    5 While 4.1.5 is the max officially supported, there is a hack to get 4.2.1 to work.
    6 Very little is known regarding the 800 model. All this info is based on a single report from an owner of an 800. I had never seen any other reports on this model. There is a good chance the 800 was experimental, or released on within IBM and never widely distributed or advertised. If anyone has any further information on this model, please email me. Thanks to Daniel Thompson ( danielthompson at ) for the details!

    Please inform me of any factual errors, additional info or comments.  I'd like to see this page evolve into a complete, precise and definitive capability list.

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