Introduction

I’m going to be embarking on a multipart series focusing on using old laptops I find on eBay to play old games from my past.

Yes, I could just use a modern laptop with DosBox and all that jazz but there is a part of me that feels like that is copping out. I’ll probably still use DosBox on these older machines due to compatibility issues that are beyond my control but for the most part this will be true to the experience I had at the time.

The games that I’m interested in are a mixture of Dos games and early Windows games. Most are available on GOG and most are actually the GOG versions that I’m using and I’m fully aware that also invalidates my usage of old hardware, deal with it. Playing games like Settlers 2 and Z were fond memories of mine. Also, games like Sacrifice later on hit a bit of nostalgia. There are a couple others that round out things along with 3DMark2001 and PCMark2002. The games I’m only going to be commenting on subjective feel and not objective performance. The second aspect will be ease of getting to a smooth playable state. As far as the hardware is concerned I’ll be giving a detail of the specs and a commentary of how good the unit feels to use in Windows and with games in general.

The IBM ThinkPad T40

Think!

Business.

Big Blue.

Professional.

Reliable.

That’s what I think of when I see the ThinkPad branding. Especially when it’s a pre-Lenovo buyout ThinkPad. I was able to pick up one of these beautiful T40 models from 2003 for about $80 on eBay. This unit is in impeccable condition with only slight markings on the top lid.

Specs

  • Intel Pentium M 1.3GHz
  • 512MB DDR RAM
  • 35GB HDD
  • ATi Mobility Radeon 7500
  • 14” 1024x768 LCD Screen
  • SoundMax Sound Card

Notes

The IBM ThinkPad T40 came pre-installed with what I assume was the stock recovered OS install of Windows XP Professional and all the utilities and drivers. It was service pack 1 and I gave it a shot but there were some games that just wouldn’t install or run correctly. Service pack 2 supports a couple other things that I need so I went and installed that. There is also a very large 1024x768 display and this works great with games that only natively use a 4:3 aspect ratio.

The TrackPoint Nub

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, the Nub. Yes, I absolutely love this thing! As hyperbolic as it sounds I think every laptop should have one. The keyboard seems to be a very long travel rubber dome that feels very responsive and tactile. Setting up anything on the IBM ThinkPad is definitely a trial in patience if you are used to an SSD. This is nothing I’d give the machine a total knock for because this kind of performance was typical for the time.

Testing

No, I didn’t test it on a soft surface. That’s just a picture CALM DOWN!

Synthetic Tests

3DMark 2001

  • IBM ThinkPad T40
    • Score : 4160

PCMark 2002:

  • IBM ThinkPad T40
    • CPU Score : 4310
    • Memory Score : 4258
    • HDD Score : 454

Synthetic Testing Notes

The ATi Mobility Radeon 7500 couldn’t perform the advanced rendering tests in 3DMark 2001. In There were also some tests in PCMark 2002 that wouldn’t run and were skipped.

Gaming Compatibility

I played a bunch of games on here to break ‘er in. Feels weird to lie down relaxing in bed with an old ThinkPad on your chest playing stuff like Arcanum until the early morning but those are the sacrifices that I make. Speaking of Sacrifice and other 3D games in general; This laptop IS NOT made for most 3D games, the hardware just isn’t ideal. Simple 3D games do kind of alright, but it really is a crapshoot if you’re going to get smooth framerates. Expect 30 FPS and under. C I N E M A T I C

Now 2D gaming is this laptop’s wheelhouse. I mentioned playing Arcanum all night, well, I did that multiple nights in a row. I could have done it on my modern laptop with screen resolution fixes and all that fancy business, but I didn’t; It felt that good to play on this machine.

Older DOS games still required DOSBOX for full compatibility and this didn’t really bother me because it kind of evens the playing field when it comes to setting up and comparing things. You can go whole hog and get unique sound card support which is pretty neat.

DOSBOX Gaming Compatibility

Strife

This game is a whole issue no matter what and not just limited to this laptop. There are sound and lag issues that seem to just be in the original executable. DOSBOX fixes them pretty much entirely but there is always the Strife Veteran Edition which I highly recommend for both old and new hardware. Just using normal generic settings pretty much works in DOSBOX and plays great.

Settlers 2

No issues to speak of. Runs great. The slowness that is there reminds me of how it felt to play when I was younger, extra points for that.

Z

The classic robot egg timer simulator 😝. This game has some beautiful pixel art in it and it looks great on the big ThinkPad 4:3 screen. This one stumped me for a while to get working “perfectly”. I couldn’t tell what was going on, something didn’t initially look right with the pixels. I wasn’t sure if it was 1:1 or if DOSBOX was doing something funky. Turns out the game is actually in 640x400 resolution in SVGA mode and that is an 8:5 aspect ratio.

That’s not strange considering VGA and SVGA standards and DOS gaming in general. But once you adjust for that and don’t apply any scaling it looks great albeit a little small.

Windows Gaming Compatibility

Sacrifice

The Radeon 7500 just about scrapes by in being able to play this game well but is hindered by the input devices of the laptop sadly. You need a mouse and you need a mouse with a wheel to get the best experience from this game. no issues beyond that really.

NetStorm

I don’t know why I find this game so enjoyable, but I do, and the ThinkPad has no issues playing it. The only issues are just Windows XP compatibility things where some fiddling with settings will make things better.

Civilization 3

LAGGY, But it’s a CIV game so that’s alright.

Planescape Torment Enhanced Edition

Smooth as silk! First time playing this game, so I have no nostalgia or previous experience to compare it to.

Thoughts and Conclusion

This is my favorite laptop I currently own of any age. Glad I picked it up on eBay for such a cheap price and it’ll be my main retro gaming laptop for the time being. I might upgrade to an SSD at some point, maybe when the drive in it dies. In the next article of this series I’ll be comparing the ThinkPad to a Dell Vostro 1000 which is from 2007.