A Good OS/2 Thinkpad

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 08/11/99

Want or need a OS/2-compatible notebook, and don't want to constantly fight with compatibility problems? IBM--yes, IBM--may have the answer you're looking for.

I was gradually coming to realize I needed a second computer, and while mobility was a need, compactness was the main issue: my workplace simply didn't have space for two sprawling desktops. So the answer was a notebook. That made OS/2 compatibility very important. While replacing a board to solve a compatibility problem may be an option in a desktop, it's unlikely to be a viable option in a notebook.

Scared off by the price of IBM hardware, I started looking at compatibles, but while some came close to OS/2 compatibility, all in my price range had serious problems upon close examination. Finally my dealer suggested one of the IBM Thinkpad 390E models. The 390E is a new, intermediate level, line of Thinkpads, and since they're made by IBM they cost quite a bit more. However they do have a lot to offer, and amazingly, are completely OS/2 compatible. (See below for the Win-OS/2 limitation.) I found by stretching my budget a bit I could afford one. I've used it for several months now, and I am very happy with it.

I decided to pass on my experience with this notebook for the benefit of those of you who might also be looking for a suitable notebook.

IBM Thinkpad 390E

Hardware Features

The specific model I purchased was 2626C0U, and the actual numbers given are for that model.

256K L2 Cache
Pentium II 300 PE


Hard Disk Size

3.2 (ATA-4)




13.3" 1024x768x16M
--TFT Active Matrix



Fax Data Modem

56K LT


Ser.; PS/2; IR Ports
Par. Port (EPP)

2 PCMCIA Ports

With the 2626C0U the memory can be upgraded by the dealer to a maximum of 256MB, however that much memory is extremely expensive compared to Desktop memory. The hard drive can also be replaced with a larger drive; the largest available at the time of writing is 10GB. The shipped Nickel Hydride battery must be drained completely before being recharged. A better quality Lithium Oxide battery is available as an upgrade. Complete specifications for the 2626C0U, as shipped, are available at this web site.

  1. As shipped, with 32 MB RAM and 3.2 GB hard drive, the current "average reseller" price of the Thinkpad 390E 2626C0U is $2,257.76 U.S. Lesser models (with smaller displays and slower processors) currently start at $1,778.02 U.S.

  2. Complete specifications for other models of the Thinkpad 390E family can be found from the Thinkpad Spec Sheet. Prices and other information about the various Thinkpad models can be found at the Shop IBM - Thinkpad web site.

Software Issues

  1. ALL devices on the Thinkpad 390E 2626C0U have, believe it or not, OS/2 drivers. They can be downloaded from the IBM Thinkpad Support site, to which you will gain access once you purchase a Thinkpad. There is, however, no Win-OS/2 driver available for the audio device.

  2. The Thinkpad 390E contains an internal Lucent LT Winmodem. Normally such modems are not usable with OS/2. However IBM has written a 33.6K driver modem and posted it on the Thinkpad Support site.¹ The modem is 56K capable as the chart above indicates, but the OS/2 driver as yet does not support that speed.

  3. The Thinkpad 390E is only available preloaded with Windows 98. Fortunately I had a dealer who let me reformat the drive for OS/2, so I could try installing from scratch. Due to the way Microsoft licenses its product, the dealer wouldn't give me a discount for not taking Windows, something he did do on a different product I purchased earlier on trial; (and then took back when I bought the Thinkpad). Ironically, the keyboard has none of the special Windows keys. The engineering and marketing divisions must have different mandates.

  4. The Thinkpad 390E features something called "Hibernation". This is a very useful feature that causes the computer, under certain conditions, to save all its registers, RAM memory, and other status indicators onto a special partition on the hard drive, and then power down. The user's manual tells you this is only available under Windows 98. DON'T BELIEVE IT! It works just fine from OS/2. Actually most of it runs at the BIOS level, and so is system-independent. It can be activated by timeout, by keystroke combination, or by closing the notebook cover. It is also one of the most useful features I have seen on any computer anywhere.

The Thinkpad Support Site

This is a private site restricted to owners of IBM Thinkpads. Once you have purchased a Thinkpad, you can come here, and register your machine by completing the profile. (Note that to be able to register, your browser must accept cookies.) When the registration process is complete, you will be granted access to the site, which gives you a whole new set of tools to help you get the most out of your investment. Three resources stand out as being the particularly valuable:

  1. "Hot" information, tailored to your computer. You will be notified when new drivers, support disks, are released. New tips on how to use or care for your machine will appear from time to time as well.

  2. Matrix of the latest drivers for all devices for all operating systems, including OS/2. Complete installation instructions are provided.

  3. The "Discussion Forum" where you can direct a question to a human IBM representative who is knowledgeable about your computer, and be pretty much guaranteed an answer within 1 working day. The people who monitor that board are really very good.

The extra value I've derived from this site alone has a long way to making me feel OK about the extra money the IBM label cost me.

Next time: LPTool and other nifty tools.

¹One question I put to the Thinkpad Discussion Board was the best INIT string to use with the LT modem. Here is the answer I received: AT&FE0%C1&D2V1S0=0. I found using that init string makes using the modem quite a bit smoother and reliable.

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