If you’re not in my particular niche communities, you might not know about the community that exists around old ThinkPad laptops. But I’m going to tell you about it, because I think it’s awesome!

ThinkPad laptops from years ago are enduringly popular, because they have great support from free software, and they’re extremely repairable.

Not only are new or used parts extremely easy to come by, people are even designing new parts for these old machines, so you can upgrade rather than replace!

People will combine parts from different laptops to create a “FrankenPad” that’s their favourite combination of different things.

I love this so much because rather than wait for some capitalists to deliver on their greenwashed promise of “modular” computing if we first buy their totally custom thing and hope they don’t go out of business, we’ve de facto standardised on computers that ALREADY exist, and can be obtained fairly cheaply.

Additionally, there’s a social benefit beyond the environmental one — these computers are not luxury hardware at this point. Since a lot of the users of these computers are software developers, they’re much less likely to develop software that only works on the latest premium hardware most people don’t have access to. It’s a stark difference to the new MacBook Pros a lot of us were using previously.


Any upgrade you might want to do has almost certainly been documented online. There’s a community available to help you with it, even if you don’t know anything about what’s inside a computer!

Don’t buy new laptops! Buy old ThinkPads, and never buy a whole new computer again.

Things I can upgrade/customise one at a time in my laptop, relatively cheaply:

• Screen
• Memory
• Keyboard
• Battery
• Motherboard / processor
• Case

Hell, you can gradually work your way to a whole different computer, Ship of Theseus style. But you don’t _have_ to. You can change only the bits that matter to you, and the parts that you’re done with will be useful to somebody else!

The other day I was sitting in the Edinburgh Hacklab watching a friend out together a working computer out of two broken ones that would probably otherwise have been landfilled.

A note: don’t take this enthusiasm as any sort of endorsement of modern ThinkPads. They’re garbage, like every other modern laptop. The point at which this happened is debatable, but barely none of the parts of the latest ones are replaceable without replacing the whole computer.

adjacent question:

does *anyone* make a semi-modular smaller-than-a-desktop computer these days?

Tablet, handheld, laptop...earpiece...anything?


That seems intentional on the part of the rent-seeking planned-obsolescence sector of capitalism...

...but it could also just be incompetence?


@eryn I think it’s the former. Nobody wants to sell you the last laptop you’ll ever need.

@qyliss which is a financially ridiculous stance, because with a decent module spec, you can sell upgrades for 20+ years on the original item.

But there's this massive push (in corporate/manufacturing world) for more/higher profit now, ignoring the fact that people stop buying stuff that breaks three months outside warranty...


I could make a raspberry pi laptop for half the cost of an entry level internet machine, and be happy.

Realistically I have enough computers, and mostly just wish there was something to point my tech-unsavvy friend/relative/etc peeps at as a "this will last you until the internet stops being a thing" option.

A light use notebook with all-day battery life (or even two days?) is possible (based on my back of the napkin maths), and current tech levels make it possible with off the shelf parts, but selling units is the mainstream measure of how successful it is...

...time for bespoke modular computers with an open source module interface spec?

@eryn Raspberry Pi is getting close. There is also an impressive array of small form-factor systems floating around. Whether or not these let you cobble together a bits'n'pieces modular mobile system I'm not yet sure. But it's pretty dang near.

CPU, disk/storage, networking, power, keyboard, screen. No real need to stick it all in one box.



I think System76 does, but I can't attest to the repairability or anything of these:

also @mntmn is working on version two of the fully free Reform laptop.

@s_ol @eryn @qyliss @mntmn I've used system76 laptops. They're whitelabel Clevos with the price bumped up a shit ton, and their stock cooling is garbage. legit blew out a fan a month just browsing the internet. used thinkpads/dells will give equally good performance with a better price and the only reason S76 boxes have such good Linux support is that they run Intel modules for absolutely everything.

huh, was not aware of that. Thanks for the correction.

@eryn @qyliss

Parenthetically, Macbooks (at least pre-2018) are remarkably repairable (*despite* Apple's intentions). They have relatively few hardware designs with lots of units sold, so economies of scale kick in. Tools, spare parts and howtos are probably available for any specific Macbook.

(Post 2018 is another story; the "security" chip means replacement parts won't work without proprietary cryptographic keys.)

@qyliss how compatible is a T410i with this approach? I know I can add memory. Can I replace the CPU with a faster one, or would the motherboard bus speed hold me back? I haven't done hardware mods since my desktop that ran NT 4, so I'm very out of touch and uncertain where to begin with the newer gear.

@FASA_Andrew_1879 don’t know about that one I’m afraid, but I’m sure there’ll be info online. It sounds old enough.

@qyliss this is exciting to hear. I've been wondering about getting an old 'pad.
What era / model would you suggest that I look for to start with?

@M0YNG @qyliss I got a thinkpad T420 for around $250 a couple of years ago off Amazon. Or rather my inlaws bought it for me for Christmas. I love it.

@qyliss i run a rebuilt t430. been using it for years. cost me about $200 when it was new to me. runs everything but modern games pretty great. i can play ps2 games in the emulator if i want to game
@kawaiipunk i use retroarch. I'd have to check the core when i het home

@polymerwitch oh nice! thanks. the front end confuses the heck out of me 🤔

@qyliss what counts as "modern"? I think my thinkpad is from like 2015, it cost $150 off newegg, and it works great

@Dayglochainsaw it’s a sliding scale. They just got worse over time. I don’t know about what you have, but you can find out by doing a web search for upgrades or modifications to it!
But if it’s working for you right now, that’s great no matter what. Stick with it!

@qyliss the battery was somewhat shit when I bought it, so I just popped it out and bought a new one. It seems pretty moddable, from what I can tell.

@qyliss I've got a T440p, I don't know if that's too recent or not, but I'm going to find out.

@qyliss Dang, that’s amazing! Where does one get started? What’s the best/most portable Thinkpad to start hacking on?

@gueorgui X200 X220 X230 are good ones that have a lot of interchangeable parts. X200 is cool because you can run Libreboot and have a completely free boot process. The other two are maybe a little more moddable, and are more powerful.

I think the T400 and X61 are probably also good, but don’t know much about those.

@qyliss Thank you! The X2x0 series looks great, and quite affordable nowadays it seems. I'll start researching!

@qyliss wow, I have an old T410 that I stopped using bc the battery doesn't hold a charge anymore. i'm gonna look into getting a replacement/upgrade, thanks for the thread!

@qyliss yet several years I'm dreaming to replace broken uxga 1600x1200 matrix for my T42p. but it's unavailable. :/ nevertheless, I still can use it as a headless machine. :)

@qyliss Fully agreed. I haven't purchased a new computer in like 7 years.

@qyliss THIS!
Even those compact X1 Carbon can be upgraded completely. <3

@gueorgui @qyliss At least the first and second models. Sadly not the RAM, but its got two PCIe-slots for wifi and wwan and an SATA 3 SFF slot for the SSD. You can use mSATA too with an adapter.

That Wiki is a very good source for Thinkpad information.

@gueorgui @qyliss If you like it that small then the T560 is fine, too. It's just a hair thicker.

@qyliss @alsternerd I honestly want the smallest and most portable possible model :) 15” is a bit too large for me!

@gueorgui @qyliss Theres also a Thinkpad line for that. The X-line does have smaller ones, too.

@qyliss so, theoretically, i have an old thinkpad.
however, it's a first generation thinkpad yoga

and really, the only thing that needs upgrading is the RAM, and that's soldered onto the motherboard

@qyliss so, perhaps i should just change the motherboard then???

@hirojin if you can fit a better one inside the case. I don’t know anything about the yoga so don’t know if that’s possible. Problem with motherboards is you either have to get all the ports to line up with the case, or mod the case.

@hirojin @qyliss have you heard of the small group (or just one person?) in China doing retro-fitting upgrades of Thinkpads? If you want to tweak it, you could draw some inspiration from them. Search for X210.

@ng0 @qyliss i have read about them and looked them up, but the prices are pretty much the same as they are for a new thinkpad
although, i guess, that makes sense

@hirojin @qyliss Yes, pretty interesting but expensive. I'm intrigued but also the way to order is like I used to do way back when internet social networks were new and I could just ask random bands to send me their old albums etc.. kinda weird. And interesting.
@hirojin @qyliss T400/T440s got one soldered unit, one free but later T generations don't have them this way, as well as earlier. It's pretty inconsistent and annoying :/
@qyliss I was big into ThinkPads for quite a while, but I'm on the comedown now. Intel ME/AMD PSP and spectre/meltdown kind of made me lose faith in x86 as a platform, so now I've started selling my ThinkPads and I'm itching to get on something else ASAP. Probably ARM for now, and then hopefully RISC-V someday in the future. You might be interested in the MNT Reform[0], it's an open and hackable laptop being developed. ARM CPU, mechanical programmable keyboard, the battery is just a bunch of 18650s you can replace as desired. I'm pretty excited about it. The pic on the front page is old, btw, they've redesigned the trackball area and it'll have like 5 buttons instead of 2 now. There's also talks of having an option to order one with an ortholinear keyboard, which is extremely cool.
[0] https://mntre.com/reform/
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