IBM ThinkPad 701C

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For a while, I've wanted a subnotebook that could run Linux. Brand new laptops are way too expensive, though, so I picked up this computer over eBay. Why I chose this computer? It is inexpensive and cool. It's the model that made IBM Thinkpads famous with its butterfly keyboard. It's only about the size of a standard computer book. Even after being discontinued for five years, it's a very cool laptop. I also bought the Multiport (which gives it a full set of ports), an external CD-ROM drive, and an extra battery (lasts roughly 2 hours). This is a very portable laptop. I'm actually sitting in an airport listening to MP3's on it while writing this. Hours later, I am in a hotel room, because my flight was cancelled. AARRGGHH!!!!

As for why I chose Slackware, I don't have a clue. It was the first distribution I ever played with and is supposedly the most *nix-like. It also runs on little memory, which is what I unfortunately have. I may try to pick up a 32 MB SO-DIMM, but they are hard to find and rather pricey. Plus, I don't know if it works with my specific model. If anyone wants to donate one... :)

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First, I updated the BIOS, which can thankfully still be found in IBM's support section.

I then installed Slackware 7.0. WARNING: Slackware 7.1 doesn't work. I'm not sure what happens, but it just won't boot correctly. If anyone tries out the 2.4 kernel when it comes out, drop me a line, but it seems almost pointless to make this sort of upgrade for this laptop. If anyone has success with this distribution, let me know. The setup is very straightforward.

I used the bare.i boot disk and the color.gz root disk. To install from the PCMCIA CD-ROM drive, you also need the pcmcia.dsk supplemental disk. I then used fdisk to partition the hard drive. These are pretty much left up to you, but here's an idea of what you can do:

I did a full install, but you can easily cut a lot of space by not installing many unnecessary packages. I was just too lazy to wade through the fat, and you can always uninstall packages later. For example, there's absolutely no need for pciutils, because the 701C only has an ISA bus. Also, there was absolutely no problem with detecting the Slackware CD. I burned an ISO image, and the setup program automatically found it on the PCMCIA CD-ROM drive. The only other thing you have to worry about is LILO. This I went ahead and installed to the MBR. I've heard that this sometimes causes problems with Thinkpads, but it worked fine for me.

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Some Issues


Using X stinks. It's pretty slow, because the laptop only has one megabyte of video RAM. However, I did figure out what chip this model uses from the IBM website. It has a Chips & Technology CT-65545, which is in the list of video cards, so just go with the defaults. (This may vary with specific models of the 701C.) The maximum resolution is only 640x480 and 256 colors. However, with an external display, it's 1024x768. I haven't tried that yet, though. Nonetheless, KDE runs adequately. I have yet to try other window managers. The one annoying thing about KDE is that the default window sizes are usually larger than 640x480, which prevents you from seeing all of many important windows. I may try switching to something else if this causes me to start ripping out hair.

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With Slackware, this is easily done by editing the file /etc/rc.d/modules. The 701C has Soundblaster-compatible ESS688/Yamaha OPL3, so just remove the # in front of the line under Sound Blaster Pro/16 Support. Also, make sure that you change the IRQ on that line. The default is IRQ 5, but it could be different depending on how it's set up in your BIOS.

Slackware 7.0 unfortunately doesn't come with any mp3 players, so I installed the mp3 package in the AP directory from Slackware 7.1. These give you amp and mpg123. Use mpg123. Amp runs badly and doesn't seem able to play anything at a decent bitrate. Most of my mp3's are encoded at 128 Kbps 44.1 KHz stereo. You have to singlemix it to mono, though. Mpg123 offers this ability, though, and the sound quality is tolerable. It's like listening to an FM radio.

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This works nicely except for one really, really, really annoying thing. The system time clock loses track of time. Linux keeps track of its own time and writes the time to the system clock, so during hibernation, time stays still. I don't know of any way around this. I suppose this could be fixed by somehow preventing the write to the system clock, but I'm too lazy to figure it out.

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This doesn't seem too hard to setup. However, I haven't played around with it due to laziness. The kernel definitely detects the port. (It sits on /dev/ttyS1.) This will probably be the next thing I tackle.

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One thing to remember: GET A PCMCIA MODEM!!! The one built in works with Linux, but who in the world wants to use a 14.4 modem? You can get one cheap off of eBay. I'm using a USRobotics 56k PC Card Modem with XJACK Connector. I wasn't thinking when I bought the modem, though. I would not recommend getting one with an XJACK, because the butterfly keyboard makes it hard for the line to be plugged in. I would definitely recommend a dongle instead. With Slackware, the modem's easily configured using pppsetup. Just remember that it now sits on /dev/ttyS2. If you really want to use the internal modem (only God knows why you would), it's on /dev/ttyS0.

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I haven't actually bothered hooking it up to a network, but it seems to work beautifully. I just popped in my 3Com PC Card, and it's detected just fine and network setup is pretty straightforward. It should be relatively easy to install Linux over a network, too. I haven't tried it, though.

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Recompiling the Kernel

This is a pain in the ass.

It doesn't seem worth it to me. First, the current kernel doesn't take up that much memory. I have more than enough. Second, it takes FOREVER. Prepare to spend at least half your day doing it. I also can't get the PCMCIA module installed correctly either for some reason. As a result, for now, I have given up on this.

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There's no real point in installing this, because the BIOS can take care of all of these things.

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Hard Drive

You will definitely want to upgrade from the hard drive that came with your computer. The biggest that it ever came with was 720 MB - not nearly enough for all my mp3's. :) The BIOS detects the size of the hard drive wrong, but you should be fine. It's the 12 mm form factor. My Fujitsu drive doesn't fit properly in the drive caddy, though. The screw holes are in the wrong place. However, it works just fine.

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Useful Links

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