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ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

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ThinkDan
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ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#1 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:03 am

Prompted by the reference to a Framework retro-fit in the Project Monarch thread, the question occurred to me: "when were the 701's actually manufactured?"

The 701 was announced on March 6th 1995, discontinued in December of 1995, and not a great sales success, despite the keyboard, due to being late to market with older technology (486 DX2 & DX4's vs 1st gen pentiums).

These are the sales dates, though. I'm guessing that production would have halted earlier if orders were not up to expectations. Clearly, though, there would have been some production at the plants producing the 701 - Raleigh (23-), Greenock (55-), and probably Fujisawa (97-) - to build up stocks ahead of announcement. Just how many 701's could each plant make in a week? In Q1 1995, the 355C/Cs, 360C/CE/CSE/P, 730T, 755C/Cs, 755CE,CD,CSE were all available globally, plus Raleigh would be manufacturing the 510Cs and run-out 500 models. All of these models were mid-life, so production would be based on ongoing sales orders rather than ramp-up for announcement.

Looking through my 701's, I have a couple of Raleigh manufactured units that show no external date codes, but three Greenock manufactured units that show date codes below the serial number.
Image

Two are 05/95, putting Greenock production at running at least from May 1995. It's easy to guess that 5500196 is the serial of the 196th machine made, but the other one made in May 95 shows 551C2F7. I don't know how the serial numbers were sequenced. Clearly not decimal or hex, and no continuity between my two 05/95 units. The bottom machine was made in Raleigh (23-), and shows no date code by the serial number.

So, can any of you with 701's please post your serial numbers and any corresponding date codes, if shown? I think it would be nice to try to hunt down the youngest and oldest surviving models.
Last edited by ThinkDan on Mon Jul 24, 2023 10:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#2 Post by RealBlackStuff » Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:19 am

The production dates used by IBM are shown as: MM/YY, so 09/95 is September 1995.

Looking at the label pics:
the first four show: COPYRIGHT 1981, 1994 IBM CORP. DP
the last one shows: COPYRIGHT 1981, 1995 IBM CORP. SP

See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_ThinkPad_701
Lovely day for a Guinness! (The Real Black Stuff)
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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#3 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:42 am

Thanks RBS. Wikipedia quotes the same announcement and withdrawal dates published elsewhere, what I'm getting at is the actual manufacturing window for these. Reading 'A Different Shade of Blue' and 'How the ThinkPad Changed the World' it was of course common practice to stockpile parts to match sale forecasts, and to build up machines prior to announcement. Some models - e.g. 700C - vastly exceeding expectations and manufacturing constantly playing catchup, or others - e.g. 701 - failing to meet expectations, leading to early withdrawal from sale and discounting of stock to clear inventory.

So whilst the 701 was available to buy from March - Dec 1995, I'm guessing it was only built from say Mar - Nov 1995. Given that it is a very identifiable model with a narrow availability window and a collectable kudos now, I though it might be fun/interesting to see what range of serial numbers and build dates were knocking around on the underside/innards of surviving machines.

I take the copyright on stickers with a pinch of salt, for example the number of ebay sellers listing Model M keyboards that state it's a 1985 keyboard due to the (C) date, but the label clearly shows a later build date. Also, the 3x (C)1994 stickers were applied at Greenock for machines built in 1995, the (C)1995 sticker at Raleigh. The 701 was notoriously at least 6 months late into production due to design & manufacturing issues, so was this just a case of different plants ordering label stocks at different times, based on slipping production targets?
Last edited by ThinkDan on Mon Jul 24, 2023 10:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#4 Post by goldeneagle » Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:53 am

I bought my 701CS new sometime in 1996, so they were still being sold past 1995, albeit at a lower price and by resellers. It wasn't a bad machine, but did have some faults. The keyboard puts A LOT of stress on the left hinge, and the processor speed seems way underclocked. Like, running benchmarks against a 755C shows the 701 to be a lot slower (with both being 486DX4-75). In fact, a desktop 486DX2-50 clocks higher for a CPU test than the 701. Now what's really a shame is that IBM didn't put the same ESS Audiodrive 688 into the 755 series... I guess for IBM, mwave for the ThinkPad was like OS/2 for operating systems.
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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#5 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 8:29 am

goldeneagle wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:53 am
I bought my 701CS new sometime in 1996, so they were still being sold past 1995, albeit at a lower price and by resellers.
Yes, I bought my first one early/mid in 1997, IIRC, which seems particularly late but was when they appeared very cheaply on the IBM Employee Purchase scheme - a classic method of shifting excess stock at the time - so IBM still had stock to dispose of some 15-18 months after official withdrawal.

The withdrawal dates publicly cited were known internally as WDFM - 'withdrawn from marketing'. The Announcement Letters are quite well known, but there were corresponding Withdrawal Letters, which were circulated around both the internal IBM salesforce and externally to dealers. My recollection is that withdrawal meant they could still be ordered whilst stock remained, but IBM were not advertising (i.e. paying for magazine pages or newspaper space) or otherwise actively promoting them, and clearly not manufacturing any more. We used an internal mainframe system called SMOL (Sales and Marketing Online) to access these letters; the announcements were very good for definitive specifications and for tracking down obscure options details & part numbers. No PDF manuals back than, no internet, we either had a physical manual or brochure on the shelf or dug around in the mainframe systems!

Parts stock could be available for years; anecdotally one of the HelpCentre agents spent a particularly quiet nightshift pricing up a 5150 PC from HMM and the still available parts, coming to roughly £10,000 in 1994.

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#6 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 8:43 am

goldeneagle wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2023 7:53 am
Now what's really a shame is that IBM didn't put the same ESS Audiodrive 688 into the 755 series... I guess for IBM, mwave for the ThinkPad was like OS/2 for operating systems.
Yes, a far better audio solution, especially for DOS games, due to hardware support for SoundBlaster emulation IIRC.

I don't know the derivation of Mwave, but it was noticeable that it appeared as a general DSP chip at the point that IBM ceased development of the dedicated VoiceType DSP cards. Mwave was a PITA for ThinkPad support as it promised more than could be possible given resource limitations under DOS/Win3.1 (notably interrupt allocations, IIRC) in the 755CD era. Try explaining to a customer who had just spent £4,000 on a new top-end laptop that he couldn't have all the toys at once, he had to faff around enabling and disabling features through the ThinkPad configurator tool... fortunately the Aptiva owners were less adventurous, rarely straying beyond fax/modem support, although the bundled answering machine software (RingCentral?) did cause a number of support calls.

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#7 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 8:52 am

Just noticed that the 701 batteries also had datecodes on them. OK, yes, how many still have their batteries fitted, but I store all my ThinkPads with their batteries alongside in sealed bags, for when I want to work with or photograph complete machines.

Here's an example from ThinkWiki.de, using the format of YYMM so it's Sept 1995:

Image

They also show a March 1995 battery with less distinct markings:

Image
Last edited by ThinkDan on Mon Jul 24, 2023 10:34 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#8 Post by RealBlackStuff » Mon Jul 24, 2023 9:51 am

I joined IBM in 1968.
AFAIK IBM never used the WW/YY or YY/WW or YYWW (where WW=Week??) that you insist on using!
It's either MM/YY (as on above 701 labels) or YY/MM (on most later models) or YYMM (as on above batteries) where YY=Year and MM=Month.
Lovely day for a Guinness! (The Real Black Stuff)
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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#9 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 10:26 am

RealBlackStuff wrote:
Mon Jul 24, 2023 9:51 am
I joined IBM in 1968.
AFAIK IBM never used the WW/YY or YY/WW or YYWW (where WW=Week??) that you insist on using!
It's either MM/YY (as on above 701 labels) or YY/MM (on most later models) or YYMM (as on above batteries) where YY=Year and MM=Month.
I left in 1997! You're right, I've just been to check the 755s and 760s in store, and it's month not week. Greenock worked week by week, as it were; I was sure that week codes were recorded on some items, but clearly these are months and years by the serial numbers.

So the machines I have were made in May and September 1995, and the Framework one in September also.

I'll edit what I can to avoid setting nonsense running amok. Still interested to see what serial numbers are out there! Do you know anything of how the serial numbers were sequenced for PC products?

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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#10 Post by RealBlackStuff » Mon Jul 24, 2023 12:16 pm

I joined as a junior to become a systems-analyst/programmer on their mainframes.
After a few years I became a freelancer and also worked on Sperry/Univac/Unisys, ICL, Honeywell etc. machines, whatever they had.
Since I lived in Switzerland in those days, I mainly worked for Swiss banks.
My most used computer languages were Assembler and Cobol, but I also did RPG II, Fortran, ADA etc.
I retired in 2001, which is when I started playing with Thinkpads.
Before that I had Sinclair, Z80, Commodore 64 and things like that, followed by early Sperry, Tulip, Hewlett Packard and IBM PCs, plus a few towers of now long forgotten brands.
I did not keep track of Models, S/N etc. until about 2008.
The way IBM used their S/N is quite muddy.
I had quite a few T23 machines, most S/N starting with 78-xxxxx but also a few with 99-xxxxx
Among other S/Ns, these machines used (from my notes):
T23: 78-, 99-
T30: 99-, KP-, 78-
T40: 99-, KW-, KB-
R52: L3-, LV-
R51: 99-
T60: L3-
T43: L3-
R60: LP-
X41t: LV-
TransNote: 97-
T61: L3-
X31: KP-, 99-
X60: LV-
And about another 100 to go, so those S/N groupings make no real sense...
Lovely day for a Guinness! (The Real Black Stuff)
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Re: ThinkPad 701 manufacturing dates - post your serial numbers please

#11 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jul 24, 2023 12:49 pm

Thanks for the background info :) I was with IBM from May 1994 - Sept 1997, working in support for the PC Company, the latter two years being based at the Greenock manufacturing plant. PS/1, PS/2, Aptiva, ValuePoint, ThinkPads, PC Server, all with DOS/Win3.x, Win95, or OS/2 2.x - 4.x. I was working on the 'golden age' of 700 - 760 models when they were current.

I'm sure you know that the prefixes indicate the manufacturing plant. Some of the common ones on older ThinkPads:

23- Raleigh, USA
55- Greenock, UK
78- ???, Mexico (possibly Guadalajara?)
97- Fujisawa, Japan
99- ???, China

Interestingly, the majority of your older machines were produced in China & Mexico. Switzerland was covered by EMEA as far as I know, so would have been ordinarily supplied from Greenock. No surprise that an oddball like the TransNote was produced in Japan, though.

I've read that the Mexican plant began making ThinkPads in mid 1990's to address the North American demand for the 720-750 series machines, which was presumably beyond the capacity of Raleigh, which was making most (all?) PC Company products for North America at the time. Maybe also it was cheaper to manufacture there!

By chance I have an X40 here on the desk which was a pre-sale model, badged and labelled entirely as IBM (e.g no Lenovo script under the screen), but with Chinese text on the labels, 'Made in China' and a 99- serial prefix - and a datecode of Feb 2002. There were transition models from 2005-2008 that bore both Lenovo and IBM branding. I believe the Kx and Lx prefixes reference Legend/Lenovo plants in China, after the sale of the PC Company to Lenovo. Certainly the numeric prefixes have gone from all the post-IBM Lenovo ThinkPads.

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