Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Hey everyone, it's Colin! How's it going?

  • I recently picked up this old ThinkPad. Let's see what it takes to get it up and running again.

  • [♪ Music - Intro ♪]

  • This is an IBM ThinkPad 390E from 1999

  • and it was a pretty mainstream kinda laptop during its day.

  • There were a few different configurations you could get on this particular model.

  • This is a low-end one. It comes with a 12 inch LCD, but it could also be had in a 13 and 14 inch version,

  • which also got you a little bit better resolution.

  • This one has a 300 megahertz Celeron CPU, but the higher-end models came with up to a 333 megahertz mobile Pentium 2.

  • Base RAM on these was 32 megabytes. Some of the higher end ones came with 64.

  • And you could get these with up to a 6.4 gig hard drive.

  • Obviously, this is an older type of machine before IBM started doing the touchpads in the palm rest,

  • so all you got was the little TrackPoint nubbin thing here on the keyboard.

  • But what's particularly interesting about this machine is its bay configuration.

  • Obviously, this particular computer has been used for quite a while.

  • I actually picked it up off of the e-waste pile, so I saved it from getting recycled.

  • It's overall in really good condition.

  • Surprisingly enough, it had the power supply with it, which doesn't always happen when you're grabbing stuff off of recycle piles.

  • But it's just got a few, you know, kinda basic scratches and some label residue and stuff like that...

  • from use, but it's overall in really good shape.

  • On the bottom is kinda typical IBM construction,

  • so there's these connectors here for plugging it into a docking station.

  • Here's the cover for, I believe, the RAM.

  • The battery comes out just by pushing this tab and sliding it forward,

  • and surprisingly enough, this battery still works. I'm- I'm quite surprised by that,

  • I left the machine plugged in for a while and it actually powered on...

  • um, with the battery in there and the AC adapter unplugged.

  • But this flex bay is really kinda curious.

  • So it's the same type of latching design...

  • and then, this entire bay that has the floppy drive and CD-ROM can come out.

  • This is a 24x CD-ROM, but you could get different modules that would go into this bay on the side.

  • And...

  • You can see, if I flip this thing up...

  • There's this flappy door, so you can stick a wide variety of things, not just different kinds of like floppy or CD drives.

  • But this thing was compatible with another battery.

  • Um, I've read that they also made additional hard drive carriers that you could stick in here.

  • And then things like Zip Drives and LS120 and all the- the supposed successor to the floppy that never really took off.

  • Also, one curious little note from back in the day when laptops were being made,

  • like, you know, these bigger style, this has got feet. *Chuckle*

  • Fold out, fold out little plastic feet. Been a long time since I've seen laptops with feet on 'em.

  • On this side, pretty typical layout. There's a built-in 56K modem,

  • sound, in and out with an actual like, analog volume dial. It's been a long time since we've seen that too.

  • Couple of PCMCIA card slots.

  • This one came with, I believe, this was an Ethernet, yeah. A 10/100 Ethernet card.

  • I do have the dongle for that, I think, somewhere? I'll have to look for it.

  • Around back, pretty straightforward compliment of ports.

  • Uh, this is, I believe, PS/2, serial, VGA, your standard parallel port, AC adapter in...

  • And then on this side: USB, the door is missing, so I'm not sure if this is S-Video or PS/2.

  • Actually, that I believe is S-Video out for hooking up to like an old TV to present or whatever.

  • Infrared for syncing with things like Palm Pilots, and then your power switch.

  • Nothing around front except for a couple of latches.

  • It's also been a long time since we've had laptops with latches to hold the screen closed.

  • When I first got this machine and powered it on,

  • I figured the hard drive was just blank.

  • Which is a good thing, right? If you're gonna send a machine out to get recycled, you wanna wipe the hard drive on it.

  • But, you know, I'd go into the- into the BIOS on here and I'd wanna look at the system specs.

  • And like I said, you know, I know that this thing has the 300 megahertz Celeron

  • because its got the sticker on the corner here and it actually says so, I believe, during- during boot.

  • And obviously, it's got the 12 inch display.

  • And here's, you know, the CPU and the speed.

  • One thing that's really kind of frustrating about this machine is it doesn't list anything about its internal hard drive capabilities.

  • Um, it'll tell you how much memory is in here.

  • And this one has actually received a memory upgrade. It's got 160 meg in it, which is totally awesome!

  • But nowhere in here do they talk about like... anything to do with the hard drive. So... okay, fine.

  • I guess IBM figured, you know, "There's only one hard drive bay, so...

  • What would there be for you to configure regarding the hard drive in this thing?"

  • Something curious also is this is from the day before operation systems had, you know, really decent support for laptops.

  • I believe this machine typically shipped with Windows 98. So all of your power saving features are actually in the BIOS here.

  • Um, settings for, you know, how long the machine goes before it turns off the screen or spins down the hard drive

  • or, you know, goes into sleep mode or whatever. Um, you actually set all those things in the BIOS...

  • instead of in the OS, which is very interesting.

  • So when I first powered this machine on, after going through the BIOS and not seeing any settings about the hard drive in there,

  • any ideas as to what its capacity was, I figure, "Okay, I'm just gonna let the machine finish booting...

  • You know, maybe- maybe it'll tell me somewhere in there. Maybe there will actually be an OS on this hard drive, who knows?"

  • So, I let the machine sit and basically, it never boots.

  • Uh, it just sits here at this blinking screen and then goes to "Operating System not found,"

  • so I figure, "Oh- Okay. They wiped the hard drive. If I wanna figure out what its specs are, its capacity, all that, I need to pull it out."

  • Now, the hard drive bay on this machine is actually quite serviceable, which is rather surprising.

  • It's this little door here in the back.

  • (And of course, I've got it loosened to make life a little bit easier for us here.)

  • And then this door comes off and then your hard drive goes *in there*!

  • But, when I took the door off, I saw...

  • that, which is...

  • so unfortunately, they had taken the hard drive out before putting the machine on the recycle pile.

  • The bummer though is you can't just stick any normal IDE laptop hard drive in here as-is.

  • This is a very specific size bay, there's no way to screw the drive in.

  • There's no holes in the bottom to screw the drive in or anything.

  • And... it's tough to see in there, but it's also not a standard connector on the inside.

  • So in order to get a hard drive working in that bay, first thing I needed to buy was this little adapter

  • and it basically takes you from the standard IDE pin arrangement

  • to this kind of edge connector/proprietary thing that IBM was doing. And this was easy enough to find.

  • It was all about I think, $4 shipped off of eBay, from somewhere here in the US.

  • But then, I got to thinking...

  • "You know, what kind of hard drive do I even wanna put in this thing? It doesn't even have anything in it now, so I can kinda blank slate this a little bit.

  • Do I wanna put in a really big hard drive in there? Maybe I can stick a whole bunch of games or multiboot different OSes or something like that?"

  • But then I got to thinking, "You know, do I really wanna stick a mechanical hard drive in this thing?"

  • So that, you know, the lack of having a spare part...

  • and my general reluctance to want to put another mechanical drive in this thing that ultimately, is gonna fail.

  • And I should note that I'm not necessarily like a purist when it comes to getting this machine back to its like original specifications.

  • I'm not trying to restore this thing back to factory condition or anything, I just wanna get it up and running again.

  • So that all kinda combined to lead me to go pick up one of these, and this is a CompactFlash card.

  • What's interesting about CompactFlash is that it's actually based on the same kind of set of protocols as IDE hard drives.

  • There are a few differences here and there... and, you know, it-

  • Obviously, there's major differences in capacities, like this is an 8 gig card and it's only like this big.

  • But, in general, these are compatible with computers that are just looking for a regular IDE hard drive.

  • And apparently, a lot of people will do this kind of conversion

  • where they'll get rid of a mechanical drive and swap it out for a CompactFlash card,

  • cause obviously this is solid state. It's gonna be way more reliable in the long term.

  • And if you can read the label on this card, it says "Mettler-Toledo" on there.

  • And, I don't know what specific product came out of, but I know that company makes things like industrial and commercial scales.

  • Basically, embedded kind of computing devices, so...

  • If they went and put a CompactFlash card in an embedded computing device,

  • obviously I'm on the right track because they know that doing this works.

  • So I picked up a lot of these cards. I think I got 3 or 4 of 'em.

  • These were not brand new, but I think I paid maybe $25-35 shipped for that entire lot of cards.

  • Which I think is a decent deal and 8 gig of space is still gonna be plenty for a machine like this.

  • Now in order to get that card to work in the computer, I need one more piece and that is... this.

  • This is a CompactFlash to IDE adapter.

  • And these are surprisingly inexpensive mostly because they appear to be really simple.

  • Uh, this one cost me, I think, $3 shipped from China.

  • Obviously it took forever to get here, but... you know what, it looks like a really simple device.

  • I'm not seeing any sort of like active electronics on it or anything.

  • Um, it just- you know, you just stick the card in *here*...

  • And then you plug the other end into, you know, your IDE cable or directly into your laptop or... into an adapter deal like this.

  • And then it should just work. Um, there are... some jumper settings here that you can use and...

  • Just looking at it... they're saying jumper 1-2 is Master/Slave and then jumper 2-3 is Slave/Master.

  • Why are they having the second word on there? Slave and... Master.

  • I would think that it would just be like jumper 1-2 is "Set this as master," jumper 2-3 is "Set this as slave."

  • Solder... pads, this...

  • Those are the same...

  • Oh! Ohhhh, interesting!

  • So this company- This is very crafty. Okay, so here's what's going on:

  • This board- this PCB can actually get used for multiple products.

  • So this is obviously a single card board, right?

  • You just stick- you can only stick one CompactFlash in here and it'll just present as one drive to your computer.

  • But if you look at the back, they've got the same solder pads here in these four corners as for this connector.

  • I suspect they sell another version of this adapter with a second CompactFlash card reader on the back.

  • So you could have two drives.

  • So you could have like, you know, effectively, a C: drive on one card and a D: drive on the other as separate hard drives.

  • And then this jumper basically flips as to which card is identified as Master and which one is identified as Slave.

  • That's really crafty! Okay!

  • So anyway, the idea is you know, I'm gonna drop the card into the adapter here,

  • and then I stick this guy on the end, and then... that's it!

  • Looking at that bay in the back of the computer, I can't necessarily just throw this in as is

  • because that's a pretty big hard drive bay. Obviously it's designed for a fullinch drive and this is a lot smaller.

  • I'm afraid this thing's gonna be kinda flappin' around back there and it may fall out.

  • I don't suspect this edge connector holds on very tightly.

  • So I picked up one more thing and this was actually quite a bit harder to find.

  • This is the metal cage that the original hard drive would go into.

  • This particular model of laptop seems really kinda standard, you know, it seems like a really typical kind of mainstream model, but...

  • It's really hard to find parts for this online!

  • It took me a while, I finally found a seller that had this cage on it, you know, in stock and available.

  • And, it was from a seller in Germany, so I guess hello to all of my German viewers.

  • Um, some e-recycling, you know, e-waste kinda shop.

  • It cost me $20 shipped from there, so not terribly expensive.

  • But it was the only one that I could find. I couldn't find anybody in the US selling this drive cage.

  • And maybe this cage is swappable between multiple ThinkPad models.

  • I dunno, I couldn't find any information about it, but...

  • Anyway, this is the last thing that I think I'll need in order to get this all working.

  • Now... something I'll have to figure out is how do I get that to stay in there...

  • You know, like, cause otherwise it's just gonna rattle around and stuff. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

  • First things first, I wanna make sure that this works in the laptop

  • before I commit to figuring out how to adhere all of this down. Because, who knows?

  • Maybe they're doing something weird and this whole setup won't work, and I'll have to... you know, switch back to using a regular mechanical drive.

  • I took a piece of capped-on tape, stuck it to the back, and then... made like a little pull tab out of it.

  • Right, so this is all taped together. It won't fall apart on me.

  • But now I can pull it out of the back of the computer,

  • you know, without needing to stick it in that cage.

  • I'm not sure if you're gonna be able to see this, and we'll see how well I can do this...

  • Yeah, see, it maybe- Okay, so I can feel it. It's in the edge connector, but it's in there really loose...

  • And... not sure if you can tell... it's really dark. But it's kind of... it's really loose in there.

  • Doesn't wanna stay put, so I definitely need to figure out a better permanent solution,

  • but for testing and getting this thing up and running, it should work just fine.

  • Alright, so let's plug in power here.

  • And just for grins, let's try turning it on.

  • Alright, uh, that's kind of what I was expecting, so operating system not found.

  • Let's try getting a boot CD in here and see we can maybe get a copy of Windows installed or something.

  • Okay, attempt number 2, I've got a Windows install disc in there.

  • *BEEP*

  • Let's see...

  • Yeah, I wanna boot from CD-ROM.

  • Uh... Let's just start Windows setup from CD-ROM, why not?

  • Let's see if the thing's formatted and just...

  • maybe doesn't have an operating system on it.

  • Not install- Does not have an hard disk. Your hard disk is not- Okay.

  • So the hard drive is... probably completely unformatted, so let's quit setup.

  • Uh...

  • Is fdisk on here?

  • "No fixed disks present."

  • Okay.

  • I'ma have to do a little bit of research.

  • Okay, so I did some digging. Here's what I was able to find out.

  • Yes, CompactFlash cards work great as boot disks for laptops, you know, anything that needs IDE...

  • Except, and now, my memory is being jostled after seeing this message about no fixed disks present,

  • the keyword "fixed" is what got me thinking.

  • CompactFlash cards can have two modes:

  • They can have what they call "Removable Mode" and then "Fixed Mode."

  • It's largely just a function of the way the firmware on the card has been set up.

  • Removable mode, obviously, is for if you wanna use this in something like a digital camera or, you know, whatever,

  • where you're gonna be frequently plugging in the card and removing it.

  • And... especially if you wanna be able to hotplug the card into something like a card reader on a PC,

  • so that you can, you know, maybe pick pictures up off of it, whatever.

  • And I remember doing that a lot when I would have digital cameras that would use this format.

  • Apparently, most CompactFlash cards ship in "Removable Mode".

  • But... Windows in particular and some other operating systems actually need

  • any drive that they can install to to identify as a fixed disk.

  • Which has a slightly different set of commands or something like that, I guess?

  • It basically makes it behave more like a traditional hard drive instead of, you know, removable media.

  • Now, in doing a little bit of digging, I'm lucky in that I bought a SanDisk card,

  • because at one point, SanDisk offered a utility that you could,

  • you know, boot off of and run to convert between the two modes.

  • Now, if you go to SanDisk's website today, they've got a knowledge base article that talks about this,

  • but they then go on to say that they no longer sell CompactFlash cards that are set as fixed from the factory,

  • and they also no longer offer a utility that lets you flip back and forth between the two modes on the cards.

  • And, one other little note is... I read some reports from people who have gone down this rabbit hole,