Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

Older ThinkPads.. from the 600, the 7xx, the iSeries, 300, 500, the Transnote and, of course, the 701
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kobalt
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Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#1 Post by kobalt » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:35 am

Hi all,

It's been a few months now I'm back in DOS retrogaming (my first PC was a 486DX2 back in the days...).
I'm sure there are many old DOS games lovers in these forums.

So here is my question : what is/are the best classic Thinkpad to play DOS games natively ?

I own a few classic TP from the 90's era : 600X, 390X and 770.

So far, I've been using a lot these machines to play old DOS games. But they all have downsides :
- 600X : My favorite machine, but i can't get the sound driver working with FreeDos, and troubles with Win98 DOS mode.
- 390X : Win98 DOS mode is working great, games are running fine, but problem here is fan noise, always spinning at max speed under DOS, quite uncomfortable.
- 770 : probably the best results in terms of DOS gaming. Silent, great sound fast enough to run most games, but...No 3D acceleration, CPU a bit slow, some games like Tomb Raider 1 are slow. And screen expansion is not the best with the machine (awful scaling up)

So here are a few requirements in my opinion. What TP ... :
- Run well under DOS and is well supported with this OS (video / screen expansion, sound ok + midi, PCMCIA...) ?
- is fast enough to fluently play games from win98 era, let's say Quake2, or Motocross Madness, etc etc (Pentium 2/3 required ?)
- is silent enough to not bother gaming ?

I own Thinkpads from the 2000's era too (T30, A31P, X30,X31,X40), but all these models features sound chips not supported under DOS.

So do you have advices or experiences to share ? Do you rock the casbah at old DOS games with your Thinkpads ? :)


Thanks !

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#2 Post by Hans Gruber » Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:02 am

I would suggest using XP if you want to play DOS games. The games that come to mind are DOOM and Myst and maybe Duke Nukem. A T43 or maybe a T42/T41/T40 would be a good choice for DOS gaming.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#3 Post by fultontech » Mon Apr 25, 2016 9:08 am

I did most of my gaming in the 80's, so things like King's Quest were on CGA monitors. I haven't installed any games up to this point on my collection (outside of "hunt the wumpus" in AIX).

Any ThinkPad designed to work with PC-DOS 6.x and Windows 3.x installed from the factory would be 1995 or earlier.

The 701Cs seems to have good sound and drivers for DOS/Win and Win95. I know you were focused on Win98 in your question, but I was using a PIII workstation with Win98 back then, so I have no idea how the graphics would be on the ThinkPad for games like Solder of Fortune or Quake III.
Last edited by fultontech on Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#4 Post by Hans Gruber » Mon Apr 25, 2016 8:18 pm

Windows XP has compatibility mode for DOS. If some games do not work there is DOS Box which is a download that plays all the legacy games. I recommend newer Thinkpads listed in my previous post simply for the graphics and rendering horsepower. You could use an old archaic Thinkpad with Windows 98 or Windows 95 but the graphics power will be lacking.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#5 Post by kobalt » Mon Apr 25, 2016 11:19 pm

Thank you for your answers, but my question was about the "best" thinkpad (I should say the most balanced, or the most optimized maybe) to play DOS games natively, regarding the requirements in my first post.

I reinstalled Windows 98 on my 600X last night, and it appears after some tweaking, the sound chip is working great under DOS mode.
The 600X lacks a bit horsepower with win98 3D games, but still, i think it's pretty decent. Way faster than with the P233MMX on my 770...
The graphics are limited to 1280*1024@8bits through VGA output though..

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#6 Post by Radioguy » Tue Apr 26, 2016 12:42 am

Hans Gruber wrote:If some games do not work there is DOS Box which is a download that plays all the legacy games.
It can be hit and miss, but when I get a hankering for some nostalgic LHX Attack Chopper play, on it goes to whatever machine I'm near. :)

I feel the need to mention that several, although not all, DOS games are legitimately public domain now, and shared on the internet (others exist in a grey area).

I'd also recommend seeking out MAME, an emulator which allows play of arcade ROMs on PCs. There are other emulators that exist for other platforms, but not all are endorsed by the original platform manufacturers (often quite the opposite), and not all ROMs out there, for MAME or otherwise, are public domain (so be careful).
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#7 Post by dr_st » Tue Apr 26, 2016 2:13 am

Hans Gruber wrote:Windows XP has compatibility mode for DOS. If some games do not work there is DOS Box which is a download that plays all the legacy games. I recommend newer Thinkpads listed in my previous post simply for the graphics and rendering horsepower. You could use an old archaic Thinkpad with Windows 98 or Windows 95 but the graphics power will be lacking.
XP's DOS compatibility is not good enough. Many games won't work at all, or will work without sound.

DOSBox is great, but since it is an emulator, it requires a lot of processing power, compared to the native system it emulates. The T4x series you recommended are very borderline in that sense - simple DOS games will work fine, but for the heavier DOS games (mid to late 90s), it will not be sufficient, and you will suffer slowdowns and/or framerate drops.

Since the question was about playing DOS games natively, I do think that a legacy system with native Win9x support and DOS/Win9x compatible hardware is the way to go.

When it comes to desktops, to me, the sweet spot has been a 400-600MHz P2/P3/K6 equivalent, running Windows 98, and 64-256MB RAM. It has pure DOS mode, it is fast enough to play all DOS games, it is reasonably fast to play many of the earlier Windows games, although that requires some power in the video chipset.

Has there ever been a Thinkpad with a 3dfx video card? I wouldn't think so, but who knows. Some games from that era only work with the 3dfx Glide renderer (or have special versions for Glide, which look much better than SW rendered). Glide is not supported in nVidia/ATI cards. Again, emulation exists, and again - it requires a beefier video card to start.

An important point for DOS support is sound compatibility. I was told that some of the 2K/XP-era Thinkpads have PCI sound cards that offer SB16 emulation for DOS, which actually works. This is worth checking, because it would allow you to enjoy all worlds - DOS, Win9x and early WinXP games as well.

VOGONS is a great community for discussing retrogaming. I recently participated in a thread about laptops for retrogaming, although the focus there has been in 9x/XP, and not so much on DOS/9x. But it's worth checking out. I am sure laptops for DOS/9x gaming were discussed there many times before.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#8 Post by kobalt » Wed Apr 27, 2016 5:57 am

dr_st wrote: An important point for DOS support is sound compatibility. I was told that some of the 2K/XP-era Thinkpads have PCI sound cards that offer SB16 emulation for DOS, which actually works. This is worth checking, because it would allow you to enjoy all worlds - DOS, Win9x and early WinXP games as well.
That's basically the main problem.
From what I read here and there, the trend has been to stop DOS support starting with AC97 chipset.
That said, I'm currently lurking for a PCMCIA sound card, DOS-supported, to use with post-2000 era laptops. It would be so great to use my A31P to play dos games natively (provided the PCMCIA drive is DOS-compatible too - but DOS PCMCIA driver is provided on this website for the A31P / have to test it)...
For instance, based on my tests, playing DOS games with a A31P running Win98 isn't that great. Some games have problems like sound bugs, or they do need to be run in DOS mode to work.
On the other hand, Win95/98 games that require 3D acceleration are just perfect on a A31P...FireGL + 15" 1600x1200 make a great job.

I'm going to look for a 770X to buy, it has better CPU than my 770 and the Trident 9397 graphic chip seems to provide a basic but sufficient 3D acceleration for games like Quake1/2, Motocross Madness, Tomb Raider serie, etc...

dr_st wrote: When it comes to desktops, to me, the sweet spot has been a 400-600MHz P2/P3/K6 equivalent, running Windows 98, and 64-256MB RAM. It has pure DOS mode, it is fast enough to play all DOS games, it is reasonably fast to play many of the earlier Windows games, although that requires some power in the video chipset.
Totally agree with this.
It's on my plans to buy (or even better to build) a desktop machine from that era, but I'm currently very limited regarding free space in my flat.
A desktop would solve two problems in a row : having decent to good sounds under DOS, and having gameport available to use my old Microsoft Sidewinder stick...


That brings me to my next question : have a laptop from the 90's era ever featured a DA-15 gameport ?
If no, then do you know a PCMCIA sound card featuring such a port, and DOS compatible ? (I know, that's a lot to ask)
If not PCMCIA, it could an ultrabay adapter maybe. I know USB to gameport adapter do exist, but DOS doesn't support USB...

In french we say "demander un mouton à 5 pattes", translated to "asking for a 5-legged sheep"... :lol:

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#9 Post by RealBlackStuff » Wed Apr 27, 2016 8:13 am

I don't play games, but I do have an oldie lying about (I think from 2001).
It's not a Thinkpad, but I think this one is at least as good: NEC Versa VXi, model VV4D7CA-10B-000
You can see the specs here: http://support.necam.com/downloads/PDFs/VersaVXi.pdf
Userguide here: https://support.necam.com/download/200673-000low.pdf
Plenty links/downloads on the NEC website: http://search.necam.com/search?q=nec+versa+vxi

Mine has 2x128MB=256MB RAM, 6GB HD with Windows XP installed.
The COA is for W98-SE
It's missing the battery and the original charger (19V/2.64A).
But I have a matching Gateway charger, which just needs to have its non-matching DC-plug replaced (needs same plug as IBM below).
I run it currently on an IBM 16V/72W charger, which has a DC-plug that fits in the NEC.

I think it has Yamaha AC-XG (YMF743) sound with Sound Blaster® Pro audio compatibility.
Would that be what you are looking for?
It's in very nice condition and I wouldn't mind selling it to create some space.
PM me if interested.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#10 Post by jaspen-meyer » Wed Apr 27, 2016 1:47 pm

kobalt wrote: - 390X : Win98 DOS mode is working great, games are running fine, but problem here is fan noise, always spinning at max speed under DOS, quite uncomfortable.
Can electronic components lower the fan speed?
A replacement fan on ebay says 'Brushless 5V 0.24A' and has three wires from the board.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#11 Post by Kasm279 » Sun May 01, 2016 1:34 am

I'm quite fond of the 600E for DOS stuff. The keyboard is excellent and it has both SoundBlaster 16 compatibility and a nice wavetable synth.
Last edited by Kasm279 on Tue May 24, 2016 3:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#12 Post by kobalt » Wed May 11, 2016 12:20 pm

I just bought and received today a nice 570E, with an Ultrabase.
And i had the nice surprise to spot a MIDI/gameport on it !

Image

I didn't know this, so it might be interesting some retrogamers/thinkpadders.

Now I have to find a way to plug a CDROM drive on it, because the bay slot is empty, to be able to install windows 98 + DOS on this nice 570E.
And I don't have CD/DVD drives that could fit in it right now.

Will provide testing results later.

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#13 Post by Radioguy » Wed May 11, 2016 6:31 pm

IIRC, the 760 series had a compatible gameport adapter dongle available.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#14 Post by Kasm279 » Thu May 19, 2016 1:02 am

600E is my personal favorite. Second best ThinkPad keyboard, SB16-compatible sound chip, and an awesome wavetable synth all in one package. As for the 2k/XP era ThinkPads mentioned, the T23 at least has no SB16 compatibility, but prior T2x series do. And yes, the 560 series machines do have a gameport connector on them, but you'll need an unobtanium dongle to use it.
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#15 Post by thinkpadcollection » Thu May 19, 2016 3:56 pm

Kasm279 wrote:600E is my personal favorite. Second best ThinkPad keyboard, SB16-compatible sound chip, and an awesome wavetable synth all in one package. As for the 2k/XP era ThinkPads mentioned, the T23 at least has no SB16 compatibility, but prior T2x series do. And yes, the 560 series machines do have a gameport connector on them, but you'll need an unobtanium dongle to use it.
600 series are best for old DOS games. Take note that T2x including T23 have S3 GPUs with poor support when attempting to run inside windows environment or without. I had old computers that ran old S3 Trio 64V+ rather well and Tnesg chipsets as well.

Cheers, thinkpadcollection

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#16 Post by pkiff » Sun May 29, 2016 9:01 pm

Kasm279 wrote:And yes, the 560 series machines do have a gameport connector on them, but you'll need an unobtanium dongle to use it.
Ha ha! I may have one of those unobtanium dongles for my old 760 in storage somewhere...either that or I must have used a port on the port replicator?
dr_st wrote:Has there ever been a Thinkpad with a 3dfx video card?
Not built-in that I know of. But I still have a SelectaDock III with a 64MB 3dfx Voodoo 5 5500 PCI card installed along with a Soundblaster Live card. I did a little bit of DOS gaming with that rig using a 770E - playing Descent II, if I recall correctly. I also played games on a 770Z and 600X in that same SelectaDock, but I'm not sure I was still playing any games in true DOS mode by then. Except maybe XCOM, which didn't need all that muscle.

And I guess that doesn't really help the OP due to space limitations. And really, at that point, you might as well just build a regular legacy desktop machine.

Still, I would bet that the 770X/770Z would be great machines for DOS gaming. The 4MB or 8MB video card in the those models has more memory than the 2.5MB in the 600X, but the 3D support in those old Trident cards left a bit to be desired. And the drivers were never that stable. Also, I think the sound cards in those machines may have been better than the sound card in the 600X?
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#17 Post by kobalt » Mon May 30, 2016 12:22 am

Image

Here are some of my TPs i use for retrogaming/computing. From left to right :
- 770 : Great for dos, pentium1 MMX @ 233Mhz, 160Mb RAM, solid machine, good sound, but low graphic chip with poor or inexistant 3D capabilities, poor quality full screen expansion, good with external VGA plugged in.
- 600X : A good compromise, Pentium3 allow + 576Mb RAM allow many DOS/Win98 games. Complete pure DOS sound support through CrystalSound driver. But no 3D acceleration under win98, no more than 256 colors when using my external VGA screen @ 1280x1024.
- 570E : bought this one recently, runs win98 and dos apps/games fluently. Still waiting for a decent joystick with gameport connector to test it with its ultrabase (see a few post below). Should get a Microsoft Sidewinder stick in the next few days, will post review.
- X21 : Very, very nice little machine, virtually silent, nice screen, enough power (Pentium3 700Mhz + 384Mb ram) to run all my games. Very good keyboard and decent screen. Has 3D acceleration available through its ATI gpu under win98 ! But, always a downside : no sound support under pure dos...Still, perfect to play win95/98 era games (I use it mainly for games like Fallout 2 and AgeOfEmpire 2). And most dos games run very well under win98 (i mean sound).

I also got a A31P, she handles win98 games very well with her 64Mb FireGL ATI Gpu, for instance Unreal Tournament 99 with graphic settings maxed out @ 1600x1200 is awesome and runs flawlessly.
Downside : no pure DOS sound support. High latency screen, a lot of tearing when playing fast-paced games.

This week I should receive a Thinkpad T21 ! Seller told me this TP should be working well, we'll see.
I hope this one will have the best pro/cons ratio. Will review it too when i'll get it.

I'm also looking for a 770Z, which seems to be a good compromise for my needs...Have to be patient though, those ones are pretty rare here in France / Europe.

About the selecta dock, I Think I'll buy one when I'll be moving to a bigger place in the next months. From what I read about this dock here and there, it looks so gorgeous and "fat" (if you know what i mean), I must get one !
Or build a dedicated retrogaming desktop ?
Or both ?

Oh well 8)

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#18 Post by kobalt » Sun Jun 05, 2016 2:10 am

My cousin finally sent me his old Sidewinder joystick with Gameport connector.
I tried it on my 570E's Ultrabase (see few posts below), but it won't work or won't be recognized by Windows 98.

I have doubts about this Ultrabase, cause the floppy drive isn't working either. It looks like it is partially functional, cause the 570E get electrical power through it.
Few questions :
- I have Windows 98SE installed in this 570E, does the Ultrabase needs specific drivers to work ? Win98 automatically created a "docked" profile for it, installing various passthrough ports drivers.
- Since the 570E has a P3 450Mhz, 192Mb RAM, could you advise a suitable Linux distro to perform more tests with the Ultrabase ?


And about the T21, I just received it yesterday, so far it looks promising, i'll post a review when my set up will be done.

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#19 Post by dr_st » Sun Jun 05, 2016 2:26 am

kobalt wrote:My cousin finally sent me his old Sidewinder joystick with Gameport connector.
I tried it on my 570E's Ultrabase (see few posts below), but it won't work or won't be recognized by Windows 98.
I imagine that the Gameport is handled by the audio chip. Are the audio drivers installed and working correctly? Any unidentified devices in the device manager?
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#20 Post by kobalt » Mon Jun 06, 2016 1:25 pm

hi dr_st

Sound is properly working, but there are a couple of unknown devices.

Image

Can't find how to display pci/vendor infos in win98...I don't remember if it was even possible.

Anyway, this Ultrabase may be faulty :
- Floopy drive isn't working.
- No sound form its speakers when docked, though I can use microjack output.

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#21 Post by Kasm279 » Wed Jun 08, 2016 4:22 am

kobalt wrote:Can't find how to display pci/vendor infos in win98...I don't remember if it was even possible.
http://rh-software.com/ is my favorite.
Main: Latitude E6430
Working ThinkPads: IBM 5155, 755C, 755CX, 760ED, 380Z, 600E (x3), i1420, 570E, X20, T23, T30 x3, T43, Z61t, T60p
WIP: 701c (Broken OS), 600 (LCD), PS/2 L40SX (HDD), 570 (No lid), X31 (HDD, LCD), R51 (HDD), Z60t (HDD), X60 (HDD), T400 (LCD), T43p (?)
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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#22 Post by kobalt » Thu Jun 09, 2016 11:55 am

kobalt wrote:hi dr_st

Sound is properly working, but there are a couple of unknown devices.

Image

Can't find how to display pci/vendor infos in win98...I don't remember if it was even possible.

Anyway, this Ultrabase may be faulty :
- Floopy drive isn't working.
- No sound form its speakers when docked, though I can use microjack output.
Using msinfo32, I found that the unknown devices were ACPI related, more specifically :
- ACPI/ibm0068
- ACPI/ibm0069

Still, I suspect the Ultrabase to be badly working, but I don't own another one to perform comparative tests...

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Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#23 Post by kobalt » Thu Jun 09, 2016 12:30 pm

Now about my Thinkpad T21 and retrogaming.
Basically I'm very happy with her, she runs Windows 98 and XP pretty well. Conf : PIII 750, 512Mb RAM, 80Gb HDD, 1024x768 disp.

Regarding my 1st post on this topic, here is what I can say :

Pros
+ Win98 perfectly supported
+ 3D / DirectX support
+ Sound working well in pure DOS mode (CS4624 chip has a dos driver)
+ Embedded optical drive to play games that requires CD
+ Quite silent, even with fan running @ max RPM in DOS
+ Able to run most games from DOS era to late 90's era, even though the S3 Savage GPU might be weak for some games.
+ USB port to plug a mouse or pad
+ WinXP runs smoothly for more modern apps.
+ VGA out supports 1280x1024@16bits
+ Headphones out is ok and almost no parasite sound is earable.
+ 14,1" display is bright and large.
+ As many IBM Thinkpads, building quality is great, machine is sturdy and very pleaseant to handle and use.

Cons
- No gameport for old pads and joysticks, PCMCIA Sound/Gameport card required (extremely hard to find nowadays). Or run the game with windows 98 and use a USB pad/stick.
- Poor screen expansion support, old games in 320x200 may look a bit sloppy. No problem for 640x480 and upper 4:3 resolutions. Note that when using external display, screen expansion is perfectly handled at 320x200 (Doom series is a good exemple)


So I think this T21 is sort of a sweet spot for retrogaming usage, very balanced, once again, regarding the criterias in my 1st post.
I got it for 20 euros, it is definitely a great buy. The machine is moderately easy to find here in France/Europe, but many are available on ebay and other websites.

Even though it won't replace a desktop machine from the same era for retrogaming purposes, it's a very nice compromise in my opinion if you can leave without a true dedicated sound card with a gameport.

Now I'm back to Fallout 2 and Descent... 8)

dr_st
Senior ThinkPadder
Senior ThinkPadder
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Joined: Sat Oct 29, 2005 6:20 am

Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#24 Post by dr_st » Thu Jun 09, 2016 3:32 pm

kobalt wrote:Using msinfo32, I found that the unknown devices were ACPI related, more specifically :
- ACPI/ibm0068
- ACPI/ibm0069
Power Management Driver for Windows 98 SE/Me/2000/XP (ACPI) may help you here. Dunno about the other problems with the base, though.
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

kobalt
Posts: 36
Joined: Tue Aug 11, 2015 8:22 am
Location: Lorient, France

Re: Legacy Thinkpads and DOS retrogaming

#25 Post by kobalt » Thu Jun 09, 2016 11:25 pm

dr_st wrote:
kobalt wrote:Using msinfo32, I found that the unknown devices were ACPI related, more specifically :
- ACPI/ibm0068
- ACPI/ibm0069
Power Management Driver for Windows 98 SE/Me/2000/XP (ACPI) may help you here. Dunno about the other problems with the base, though.
Thx dr_st, it was indeed the suitable driver needed here.

After installing it, a new unknown device appeared though. Msinfo32 says "ACPI\pnp0C15"
It seems to be related to docking....

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