Page updated May 14, 2012

IBM Thinkpad 701C - the Butterfly

Sometime mid-2002 I got hold of this laptop. For some time i had been on the lookout for a portable computer, capable of running Linux. The main purposes were documentation-reading, seated comfortably in my sofa, the ability to transport large files between work and home and the ability to bring my own computer to meetings in my local Linux User Group. I was offered this old, battered and worn down thing from a computer surplus company. They wanted to get rid of their most antiquated stuff, and nobody wants a 486 nowadays, eh?
So i bought it. Actually i bought two, to make sure i have spare parts available if need be.

Surfing around on the 'net, i found out that i'd actually gotten hold of something of a little gem; The 701C (nicknamed Butterfly because of its ingeniously designed keyboard that does a little trick, expanding to full standard size when you open the lid) is smaller than a sheet of A4-paper, is nice looking (to a degree that has earned it a place in Museum Of Modern Art) and provides enough ergonomic power to actually be usable for real work.
Now would it run Linux? How about a bigger disk? Networking capability? Enough muscles?
It runs Linux all right. Having dealt with the fact that there's no CDROM-drive and chosen Debian, which enables me to install via network, i did just that. I got it running in Console mode, and the time was right for a bigger disk. Got hold of a 4 GB disk and reinstalled, this time with X. No go! Debian 2.2r6 got most of the hardware all wrong, and all I managed to get the darn thing to do was standard VGA, and slow as hell. Bugger!
As it happens, Debian released version 3 at that time, so i grabbed that one and retried. Now the installer got it right. The C&T graphics subsystem was detected OK, framebuffer mode worked, and tinkering a bit made me do SVGA in accelerated mode. 8-bit 640x480 was attained - or was it 16 bit? Enough to be viewable all right. And faster. Not fast, mind you, but faster. Still not usable for daily work. X loaded in five to ten minutes... Got hold of a 32 MB stick o' RAM, increasing memory from 12 to 36 MB. X now loads in a minute or two, and running applications is actually possible. Nessus, EtherApe and various editors run fairly smooth - but slow. I'm trying to do some kernel-upgrading and careful pruning to reduce memory footprint and reduce CPU-time waste. Works, but takes AGES to perform. Compile takes - well, overnight... And since i'm not much of an expert on kernel-pruning it turns out to be an iterative process along Try and Die-lines
Probably some speed can be gained by pruning services started at boot-time, but once again i hit a brick wall, because everything must be made in console-mode. Fallback to manual editing of rc.d-files and that sort of thing. Pushing my wits to the limit. It would be fun, if only it didn't take ages to do and test...
Nevertheless, i'm getting there. The thought of letting go and actually buying a new battery, so that i can get to sit in the sofa and read man-pages and write code, is there for sure.
Today, it works as a network sniffer, ethernet security testbed, serial line sniffer, file transporter and coding platform.
A bit more speed and a new battery, and i'll soon be sitting in my sofa reading PDF-files. Playing OGG-files and trying to learn UML with graphic tools will most likely be out of scope, unless I go completely bonkers and buy that nifty little processor-upgrade kit I found on the 'net.

And for all you guys and gals out there who have zillions of bogoMIPs to throw around, here's a newsflash; you most likely do kernel-compiles mostly for fun. You don't actually need to do it. I've spent - say fifty dollars by now, and I think I'm getting value for money. I'm perfectly happy, sitting next to this guy poking at his flashy 2000-dollar laptop. I'm learning just as he does, only I have 1950 dollars to spend on a family vacation.
If only i had that new battery...