Bringing the IBM Thinkpad 'Butterfly' back to life
Framework offers refurb kit and parts – for instance, to upgrade a decades-old subnotebook
If you are lucky enough to own an IBM ThinkPad 701C, with its famous "butterfly" keyboard, options are appearing to help you bring it back to life – and some are quite dramatic.
IBM's Thinkpad 701C is one of the most storied models of laptop ever made. Nicknamed the "Butterfly" for its ingenious folding keyboard, it's one of the machines highlighted in The Reg's 25th anniversary retrospective of the range. This early subnotebook wasn't blazingly high-spec, even when it was new: this Vulture's own one is the marginally faster model, with a 75MHz Intel 80486 DX4 (there was also a version with a 486 DX/2 50).
Most of us need a little more compute power than that today, which is why hardware hacker Karl Buchka is working on putting the motherboard of an old Framework laptop into his.
We've covered the Framework modular laptops before. These are designed with the goal of encouraging owners to take them apart to repair or upgrade them. That means there is a ready source of old motherboards from Framework laptops that have been upgraded – such as with the Intel 12th generation processor mainboards we mentioned last May.
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Buchka's plan is to replace the guts of his dead IBM Butterfly with a Framework motherboard and battery pack, plus a 10.2" 2160 x 1620 LCD taken from a 2019 iPad 7. A Teensy 3.6 board interfaces with the keyboard, thanks to the existing QMK firmware.
It's a bold plan, and will involve 3D printing a whole new lower chassis for the ThinkPad. If you are either not quite so intrepid as that, or want to preserve a vintage machine in its original condition, help is at hand for that too.
Matt Hrushka has set up Project Butterfly on 701c.org, which has guides, parts lists, replacement components, and more. He's also published a complete step-by-step guide on iFixit, detailing how to completely disassemble – and reassemble – the machine. And he has a list of critical fixes to help you troubleshoot what might have gone wrong with a nearly three-decade-old laptop.
As Framework's stock pic shows, the motherboard is fairly small, which is how it will fit inside a 10" laptop
If you're not lucky enough to have a 701C lying around, or just prefer a more modern, thin and light laptop, Framework also sells refurbished units. It has recently expanded its refurb program, which now covers France, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Ireland in the EU, as well as its existing online store for the USA and Canada.
The ThinkPad "Butterfly" was famous for its form factor. It squeezed a full-width, full-travel keyboard into a iPad-sized chassis (or, to be fair, into a chassis the size of a stack of four original iPads). The keyboard split in half via a zigzag line down the middle. When the owner closed the lid, a cam on the left screen hinge slid the halves of the keyboard apart and around, rearranging them to fit neatly inside. When you opened it, the cam did the reverse: the keyboard slid out and rearranged itself to full size, overhanging to the left and right. It was a mechanical marvel that sparked joy in the beholder, and while the survivors' 28-year-old batteries will have failed, the keyboard still works fine. ®