ThinkPad 701 Restore Using CF Media

Thanks to a kind reader, the OS/2 Museum obtained a file archive of the ThinkPad 701 recovery CD. The 701C/701CS was also known as Butterfly thanks to its unique folding keyboard.

IBM TrackWrite KeyboardThe recovery tool appears to have been designed for all ThinkPads and desktop PCs that IBM sold during the era (circa 1995). Since the recovery CD was, well, a CD, the software was able to either boot from a specially created floppy in the target system and directly use a built-in CD-ROM, or connect a CD-ROM-less target system (such as the ThinkPad 701) over a parallel (or even serial, if one had a lot of spare time) cable to a host system equipped with a CD-ROM.

Neither of these methods sounded particularly attractive. PCMCIA-attached CD-ROMs are rather exotic, and the files weren’t even on a CD anyway. A parallel cable would have been a possibility, but since the host system needed to run Windows 3.1 (and have a parallel port), this was rejected too. Oh, and the ThinkPad 701 needs a port expander or a special cable to even have a physical parallel port connector, since it is so small.

On the other hand, the ThinkPad 701 has two PCMCIA slots, and both PCMCIA to CF adapters as well as CF cards and microdrives are inexpensive and easy to find. Better yet, with a USB to CF adapter, it’s very convenient to transfer large chunks of data to/from a modern PC or a Mac. How hard would it be to restore the Butterfly using a CF card? Not too hard.

The Recipe

The recovery CD contains two distinct sets of files: a number of individual files in the ‘preload’ directory for performing the restore, and two largish ZIP archives in the ‘zip’ directory which contain files to be copied onto the target system. The two archives, named mobile1.zip (108MB) and mobile2.zip (160MB), are designed for the 50 MHz 486 DX2 and 75 MHz DX4 models, respectively. The former contains PC DOS 6.3, Windows 3.1, and preloaded applications. The latter additionally includes OS/2 Warp 3 in a dual-boot configuration.

Preparing the CF card is trivial. A 512 MB card is big enough to hold both of the recovery archives; in a real pinch a 128 MB card would be big enough to restore the smaller one. The CF card has to be formatted with a FAT16 filesystem and must contain the ‘zip’ directory copied from the recovery CD in its root directory.

The tricky part is the DOS boot floppy containing the recovery software. Fortunately, although IBM provided a tool to create the floppy with one of several predefined configurations (different CD-ROM models/docks or cable transfers), the software is transparent enough. Most of the controlling logic is in AUTOEXEC.BAT, which calls several custom utilities.

It’s possible to start either with one of the predefined floppies or from scratch by restoring the ‘preload\dosboot.dsk’ image (using the included LOADDSKF utility) and copying the required tools from the ‘preload’ directory.

What’s not directly included on the recovery CD is the PCMCIA ATA driver stack. It could be extracted from the ZIP archives, or from the pctpx130.exe package which any pcbbs mirror will have.

The rest is a matter of constructing a requisite CONFIG.SYS, editing AUTOEXEC.BAT (initially copied from one of the several existing alternatives), and copying all requested drivers and tools onto the floppy.

Once the preparation is complete, all that remains is to insert the PCMCIA/CF card, boot from the restore floppy, respond to the prompts, and finally sit back until the restore is done (it takes a while).

Note that by default, the restore process repartitions the disk, destroying any existing data in the process. If that is not desirable, it is possible to comment out the re_part step from AUTOEXEC.BAT. In that case, a sufficiently large primary partition must be provided. The formatting step can be skipped as well, in which case a FAT16-formatted C: drive with enough free space must exist.

The findzip utility is responsible for finding the recovery archive on an existing drive. The argument ‘1’ or ‘2’ determines whether mobile1.zip or mobile2.zip will be used.

Note that the updateea utility (which is run last) is crucial for preloads which include OS/2. The utility processes Extended Attributes (EAs) without which OS/2 will not function correctly.

For the DOS-challenged, an image of the adapted boot floppy is available here. It will completely wipe repartition the disk and restore the mobile2.zip archive (with OS/2 preloaded); if any of that is undesirable, AUTOEXEC.BAT needs to be edited as described above.

The Results

If everything went well, the ThinkPad will boot to something like this (the ThinkPad Advisor):

ThinkPad AdvisorNote that the restore archive for ThinkPads without OS/2 is somewhat older and contains a different ThinkPad presentation. As mentioned above, the better ThinkPad 701 models (with DX4 CPUs and 8MB RAM on board) were preloaded with both DOS 6.3/Windows 3.1 and OS/2 Warp.

ThinkPad 701 Advisor OS selection

And as with many contemporary laptops, the ThinkPad 701 came with a bevy of preloaded software of questionable usefulness:

ThinkPad 701 DesktopThe “Go to OS/2 Warp” icon was prominently placed in the center of the screen. OS/2 was installed on the same FAT partition as a dual-boot system; OS/2 also used the same Windows 3.1 installation for its Win-OS/2 support. Windows 95 was not available as a preload option, but was a supported supported operating system on the ThinkPad 701.

As always, it’s nice to see a 20-year old system spring to life more or less as it had been originally shipped… give or take a few scratches and gouges here and there, and a dead battery.

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22 Responses to ThinkPad 701 Restore Using CF Media

  1. calvin says:

    My 701 (cs, DX4, 8 MB) seems to have been a (sloppy) upgrade from (just) 3.1 to 95.

    Also need to replace the CMOS battery, but ripping the whole thing apart to do so is not exactly my idea of fun.

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    The CMOS battery placement in the 701 is just atrocious. By far the worst of the entire ThinkPad line as far as I can tell. After you find the special tools and disassemble the whole thing, the battery is soldered to the board, and that really feels like IBM is laughing at you. Definitely in the “WTF were they thinking” category.

  3. I used to have a 701cs, great little machine! I had one of those Iomega click! drives, which was pretty cool for the day, 40MB removable disks! …

    Once wifi became popular, there is a PCMCIA cisco card that will automatically join open networks, so all you had to do was load the driver directly without any tools or anything and you could… basically telnet as doing anything on a 486 even back then was overtaxing.

  4. Trowa Barton says:

    Holy crap! I’ve been fixing up some 701c and cs model laptops for a few months now and one of them had a bunch of stuff installed in 3.1, I didn’t think anything of it until I saw that restored desktop image, mine actually had the factory image on it… I thought all these programs were things a user had installed, talk about bloat….

    I’m pretty sure its lacking OS/2 though.

  5. Michal Necasek says:

    Yep, there was quite a lot, especially given how small the disks were.

  6. jack says:

    i have ibm thinkpad long ago now it mess up

  7. Joshua Rodd says:

    Seeing the new MacBook design (basically cramming each part anywhere they can find to put it) reminded me of the ThinkPad 701; definitely no thought in either machine for servicing batteries 10 years down the road.

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    There’s a very big difference though… ThinkPads usually don’t require special tools (the 701 with its tiny Torx screws is an exception, and even those tools aren’t that hard to find) and IBM gave users the Hardware Maintenance Manual which told everyone how to take the ThinkPad completely apart.

    So yeah, I think there’s a similarity in the design, but when it comes to maintainability, Apple is orders of magnitude worse (and always has been AFAIK).

  9. Joshua Rodd says:

    Apple actually does make a hardware maintenance manual which is on par with the quality of the IBM guides – you just can’t get them unless you’re an Apple Certified Mac Technician.

    And the procedures for taking apart things like iMacs and MacBook Airs is horrendous. I’m talking about things like a special tool that’s a large suction cup to detach the iMac’s display, or special pieces of plastic designed to deform and be used once to split a MacBook Air apart.

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    That’s what I mean — the IBM HMMs were never very hard to get, and for most ThinkPads and IBM PCs and PS/2s, only standard, common tools were needed. With many Macs it’s nothing like that. The need for special tools is kind of nasty because it means repairing is not very cost effective.

  11. Josh Higgins says:

    I just got my 701c but at some point it has been wiped clean and installed with stock Windows 95. It has been well looked after with a wopping 16MB of RAM. I would love to experience the nostalgia of the original installed system if you would be willing to share the file archive? Many Thanks!

  12. Michal Necasek says:

    Check your e-mail.

  13. Josh Higgins says:

    Hi Michal, sorry to be a pain but your mail must have gone to spam and got deleted before I found it!

  14. Michal Necasek says:

    No problem, sent again.

  15. Paul says:

    That would be me who originally posted the preload cd zip file. Here it is if anyone else wants it (assuming I can post links on here):
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/1t1cinbr23uji6b/701.zip?dl=0

    It seems that leaking batteries are quite common on the 701 series, both with NiMH and NiCAD batteries (since these systems shipped with both for the primary batteries). Then you have the worthless standby battery, that was supposed to keep the memory contents when switching batteries. Oddly enough, other 7xx series and 355/360 series don’t seem to leak over time (at least I haven’t seen one leak yet).

  16. Paul says:

    One other thing worth mentioning – if you run benchmarks on here, you’ll find the CPU clocks about or slower than a DX2-50, despite being a DX4-75 (for the DX4 versions, anyways). That, coupled with the different firmware, make me wonder what’s going on. The other 7xx series tend to match relatively well with their desktop brethren, or even other notebooks with the same CPU. It would be curious to see if the 350 or the 510CS have the same problem, since their BIOS is also different from what IBM usually put on their ThinkPads.

  17. Michal Necasek says:

    My experience is that the 7xx series all leak, but it’s very random (the 701s might be worse than the rest). Some laptops survived entirely intact, others of the same vintage are eaten by battery acid. I have no idea what it depends on.

  18. Michal Necasek says:

    In my tests I saw that the Butterflies are clocked at 75 MHz all right, but there’s no L2 cache in the system and that significantly hurts the performance. The system RAM is fairly fast (low latency) but the lack of L2 cache reduces the theoretical performance by maybe 20-30%.

  19. Josh Higgins says:

    I finally got around to restoring my 701 with the files, many thanks.

    It took me a while to figure out how to do it since I don’t have the floppy drive, I wrote down my experience here http://www.joshh.info/2016/03/restore-thinkpad-701-without-floppy.html

    I have the AMD X5-133 processor in mine, what kind of software do you use for testing/benchmark? Would be interesting to see how it compares and if it was really worth it back in the day.

  20. Michal Necasek says:

    Nice work! I didn’t know the 701 floppy drives were hard to get, aren’t they the same as the 560 drives? Maybe not… IBM had an annoying multitude of connectors all doing the exact same thing.

    Benchmarking is tricky. Depends on what you want to measure 🙂 I’d think the 133 MHz board should be significantly faster with higher bus speed, 2x the cache size, and much higher internal speed. The 16K L1 cache might help a lot since the 701 has no L2 cache (just like many other ThinkPads of the era).

  21. bill morrow says:

    Nice instructions for recovering a 701C to the factory preload..
    i had thought to have it on a CD but it only has the 755CE/CD recovery and the floppy diskette..
    I have/had about a dozen 701C thinkpads and one 701Cs but i have been selling them off to a fellow who is restoring them.. also selling some NOS keyboards and system boards as well as all those little parts..
    a T-1 torx and a T-6 torx are required to work on these machines..
    i have reached 80 and i am disbursing them rather than have these and other antique thinkpads wind up in a dumpster should i go tits-up unexpectedly..
    i’m going to d/l the recovery image when time permits..
    happy trails..
    http://www.thinkpads.com

  22. Steve Huffer says:

    The link from “Paul” above was like Mana from Heaven. I had the restore disks for a 755CE which allow recovery by a Laplink cable or by using a Thinkpad Dock I or Dock II with a CD (scsi, IDE or even ISA), but not a pcmcia CD. There is also an option to hook up a “host” computer with a CD to the 701C with a parallel to parallel “Laplink” data transfer cable. I used a Thinkpad 380D which has an internal floppy and CD, running Windows 95. I reauthored the 755CE restore disk by removing the original “preload” and “zip” folders and replacing with the ones from this link. Leave the “floppy” folder and the loadsoft executable in place. Launch the loadsoft from the CD and it makes a bootable floppy which you then put in the target 701C, using the external floppy drive. Connect the laplink cable from the “host” to the 701C using the little port replicator bar on the 701C. Takes a couple hours to transfer but you wind up with a snazzy original factory load with DOS 6.3, Win 3.11 and OS2.

    “Hwattys”

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