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IBM ThinkPad R32
© Cornelis Bockemühl, 2003/09/26F

Overall rating:

Price: approx. € 2000 / USD 2000

1. Introduction

Since 1992 I am running OS/2 on notebooks; I never had a desktop computer since that time. By the end of 2002 my last Toshiba (166MHz, 48MB, 2GB...) was due for an update. Mainly two (maybe three) reasons triggered my decision for an IBM R32:

  • I like very much the little "button mouse" in the middle of the keyboard, because I don't have to take my hands from the keyboard when using the mouse, and I dislike the "mousepads" because they always tend to create "ghost moves" and "ghost clicks" - or at least they used to do that when I owned such a notebook a couple of years ago. This reduces the choice to Toshiba and IBM
  • Even though the R32 is not officially supported for OS/2 I somehow hoped that it might still be quite a good choice for that system. I would now say that this is not an argument: While most parts that I am using do their job, I do not think that the overall compatibility is better than with just any other unexpensive notebook
  • The "maybe" point: I still have the idea that an IBM product might be "a bit better" quality-wise - although the R32 is actually the low-price line of the Thinkpads

Buying a notebook for OS/2 is always a bit gaming, because most of the time the current systems are not yet tested by anybody, and nobody would guarantee for anything: You just have to buy blindly and cannot reckon on any support except from other OS/2 users!  The models that are already discussed in the forums etc. are normally not available any more, and also not what one expects currently in terms of performance. Since I normally got my notebooks to run "somehow" in the past, I dared the ordering step for the IBM TP R32.
The following report refers to an experience that is already half a year old - and not everything is now 100% present any more at this moment, so sorry for any unprecise informations or errors that might occur...

1.1. Versions

As one of IBM's habits, their ThinkPad devices come in a wide variety of choices. The notebooks are shipped with an Intel Pentium 4-M Mobile CPU with cache memory of 512KB and the speed (1.7GHz - 2.0GHz) depends upon the model.
All models ship with an ATI Radeon 7000 gfx card with 16MB of video RAM, 2 Type II or 1 Type III PC Card, Port Replicator Support, ergonomic keyboard with palm rest, TrackPoint pointing device, 2 USB ports, LPT port, S-Video out, IR, AC adapter, RJ-11 and RJ-45 ports (onboard), audio (head phone, line out, line in).
The KJU and KHU also offer an additional IEEE1394 (FireWire) port. All models (except 2658 HJU, KHU, K4U) ship with 256MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM. Hard disk drive capacity depends upon the model. All models come with an 8x Max DVD-ROM drive; however, the 2658 K4U only has CD-ROM, 2658 KJU and KHU have a CD-RW/DVD-ROM Combo drive. Battery lifetime varies with the model; the more expensive, the longer the life.
All models ship with an Intel 10/100 Mbps solution and a 56K on-board modem. The 2658 KHU, 2659-N4U, 2658-N4U also include WiFi wireless solution, and model 2659-N5U and 2658-N5U ship with Cisco 802.11b WiFi miniPCI solution.

2. The Ordering Experience

I ordered the Thinkpad R32 online from www.pcp.ch in Switzerland where I am living. I upgraded the memory from 256 to 512MB RAM (which turns out to be not necessary for most OS/2 applications I am running!) and I bought a port replicator (which also adds the serial port which otherwise is not present) and an external USB floppy drive. Finally I also ordered a warranty extension to three years: I would never buy any notebook without such a warranty extension any more!
Everything went fine, except for the warranty extension. The problem was that I am (was...) not an expert for "IBM speak" and what a "model" is etc.: I was actually so naive to think that "R32" is already precise enough... So I ordered something that was officially "for R32", and the order was accepted by the "quality control" of the online shop, so I thought that everything was ok...
After a short time (was it a week or so?) the whole hardware arrived ok, but the warranty extension seemed to be not ready yet; that only arrived end december, about two months later. When I wanted to register it with IBM, I clicked through a couple of pages and afterwards I didn't know any more whether "IBM 3 Jahre Kurier Collect&Return -Thinkpad" is indeed a 3 year warranty extension!? So I wrote another mail to the mail order shop and asked: Is this really what I intended to buy, i.e. a warranty extension? And the explicit answer was "yes, it is". Then I made my second fault (after not knowing "IBM speak" from the beginning): I forgot to register for another couple of weeks. But when I tried it - I got the message back: "These products to not fit together", i.e. the warranty extension was not for my notebook...!
I called back to the online shop and asked why they sold me the wrong part and not even realized their fault when I was explicitly asking once again, but their reaction was only: Not our problem,you ordered the wrong thing! We cannot take it back, and normally we couldn't sell you another warranty extension, because you have to order it together with the notebook. "But we can try our best"... Great! I would have to pay it twice, and maybe not even get the any extended warranty at all because IBM wouldn't accept the registration!(?) So I mailed directly to an IBM support address - and the miracle happened that I would never have expected: A competent woman explained me that IBM would take a wrong warranty extension back (as long as it isn't registered), and that I could of course still buy the right one if this was just an error! So again the information from my online shop was wrong... Finally they sent me the right papers and I registered it. I returned the wrong one and only paid the difference; they never managed to send me a correct bill, but they didn't complain either, so the story is finished now...
Bottom line of general interest: Things like "R32" are not enough for specifying the type of a notebook. Actually it's a whole product line, with new models every few weeks, and maybe even dependent on which country you live in, etc.! So my notebook is actually a "2658-G2G" - simple, isn't it? And for other "R32" models e.g. the warranty extension I bought first would have been valid!
I now had my notebook, but I didn't know yet whether a real operation system would ever run on it...

3. Specifications

This is a short specification of my R32 model:

P4-M 1.7GHz
256MB RAM (extended to 512MB)
14.1 XGATFT LCD (maximum resolution of 1024*768)
8x-3.3x DVD-ROM
Li-Ion battery
Ports: Parallel, USB, PC-Card, external monitor, audio stuff (plus serial via port replicator)

And here you can find a more complete documentation directly from IBM.
The output of PCI.EXE with many technical details is this.
The notebook comes preloaded with Windows XP Pro, and what is worse: It comes without the necessary installation CDs! There's a system restoration option at startup which makes use of a hidden partition on the hard disk, while most of the disk is taken by the one and only Windows XP partition. This is called the IBM PreDesktop Area. IBM will only send you recovery cd's if this part of the hard disk is damaged. However, if you enter the BIOS (referred to as IBM Setup Utility), and select that you want to Disable PreDesktop Area in the Security section, you can safely partition the ENTIRE disk. This allows you to use more than 2 GB more of disk space that would be lost normally. If you don't touch the BIOS for this setting, LVM nor FDISK will detect the partition (since it is hidden by the BIOS) and you can use it to restore your notebook to original factory settings later. If you plan to use only OS/2, go ahead and delete the PreDesktop area. If you want OS/2 and Windows to run on the notebook, the OEM license of WinXP Pro that is shipped with your notebook allows you to use any version of windows (XP Pro/Home, ME, 2000, NT4, 98SE, 98, 95) in any language. You cannot use PreDesktop area to install Windows, since it deletes all partitions and copies its own contents to the new partition. Instead, try to get a copy or original cd-rom from people you know, and install it from cd. This is completely LEGAL!!
Notice however that with SOME models of the R32; the hidden partition is immediately visible and reclaimable by LVM without the need to change this BIOS setting!

4. System Set-Up and Installing eCS 1.0 (german)

4.1. General

Since I did not intend to keep any Windows partition on the notebook, the first thing I did was repartitioning the hard disk using LVM after booting from the eCS 1.0 CD. I killed the Windows XP partition and kept the "hidden" one, making it visible: It's a simple FAT32 partition with some kind of DOS on it, which I can now read from my OS/2 system. I didn't try to burn the content on a CD yet, and I don't know whether I could install a Windows XP system that way. My first idea had been to sell the system to somebody who wants to "upgrade" from another Windows version, but without even a CD this doesn't seem to be feasible. Yes, it would be legal here in Europe, as far as I know: They cannot bind a license to the hardware: It would only of course be illegal if I would use it at the same time on my notebook. So in a way this is another case of "Microsoft tax" that I have paid...
Before I did the repartitioning I got three options at system startup: go to the BIOS settings (F10), reinstall the system (F11) or boot from any connected device (F12). After I repartitioned the system the F11 option had gone, even thought I did not kill the restoration partition. Maybe I would have to make the partition "bootable" and boot from there in order to get Windows XP installed - just in case I would want to do so? I didn't try it, and I don't intend to do it right now.
Somehow I got eCS 1.0 installed. However, it was not on the first try - but I am sorry to say that I cannot remember all the "adventures" I had to go through.  Immediately I applied also all available fixes to the base system and to MPTS and TCP/IP. These are now a number of SYSLEVEL states:

OS/2 Convenience Package Service Level, Current CSD level: XRGC002
IBM OS/2 TCP/IP Stack, Version 6.00, Current CSD level: WRG8706

INETVER produces the following output:

Version numbers of TCP/IP protocol drivers:
AFOS2.SYS:   6.3000
AFINET.SYS:  6.3100

4.2. Installing Device Drivers

I didn't even try all peripherals of my notebook; I only installed what I really needed. So I cannot say anything about sound, modem and LAN support: they are not installed here.

  • The first thing I did was the installation of the SDD display driver that comes licensed with eCS. The Radeon Mobility M6 LY graphics card is used in this R32 model, and is nicely supported by SDD. The display runs now with the "physical" resolution 1024x768 and full 16M color support.
  • The PCMCIA sockets are implemented with a Texas Instruments TI1410 chipset. This chipset is supported is supported by IBM's PC Card Director for ThinkPads, Daniela Engert's patched driver for TI PCMCIA solutions, and the commercial APSoft cardbus socket drivers. I installed the first driver(s) and that works for what I am having:
    • an old US-Robotics V.34 data/fax modem, which I only use for faxing: This doesn't work with my "ISDN modem" which I am using for internet connections (which is attached to the serial port of the port replicator)
    • a "Basics" SCSI II adapter, with a couple of devices attached: an external SCSI box with a HP CD-Writer and an old 2GB hard drive, or else an old "Vobis PerfectScan" flatbed scanner
  • 2 USB 1.1 UHCI ports: With the UHDC drivers of end 2002 it works generally, and more specifically I can use the external floppy drive, with certain precautions: It has to be attached on startup, even with a disk inserted. A memory stick with 512MB didn't work at all, while it used to work on my old Toshiba notebook, well with the strange effect of only addressing the first 256MB, so not really correct (together with a VFAT driver). Anyway, with IBM's latest USB basic device drivers, usbfloppy.exe and USB Memory Key device drivers, everything should work perfectly.
  • APM: What works correctly is the battery display and turning off the computer automatically after shutdown. What does not work is the "suspend" mode (which I would have really liked to use very often...): Many times it actually works, but then again it "hangs half-way down", with the consequence of a CHKDSK round during the next startup...
  • The CD drive works and even reads DVD data disks, like also the serial and parallel ports, the pointer (TrackPoint), and what else?? However, for performance reasons, it showed that installing the latest IBM idedasd.exe IDE drivers boosted overall performance, since the driver offers specific support for the Intel 82845MP ICH3-S chipset.
  • The Audio feature is an Analog Devices SoundMac AD1881A AC97 2.1 compatible solution. This driver is available from IBM webpages at LINK!!!! and is also supported by OS/2 Kiev's UniAud Project.

5. Installing Applications

The main applications I am using with this notebook are:

  • Internet applications: Injoy dialer, Mozilla 1.3 (just the browser - or the composer for writing this text...), PMMail, PMInews et cetera.
  • Text and bitmaps: Papyrus, PMView, ImpOS/2 - and not yet installed, but probably some time: Gimp/2
  • Programming: Visual Age C/C++ 3.08

Installing these applications was no issue at all, and working with them, after using them on the old Toshiba already, is now a real pleasure in comparison! Using "old" programs with modern hardware has really the advantage of getting all the performance for working, not for "feeding monster programs"...

6. The Bottom Line

I do not regret having bought the ThinkPad R32 as my main OS/2 work horse computer: I am content with the quality until now, and it doesn't cost too much. I was much less content with the online shop where I bought it, but IBM service compensated for the incompetence finally.
I am not very happy with the power management support because the "suspend" mode doesn't work as it should; while this seems to be an old story with OS/2, my last notebooks all worked perfectly well with APM. I am not content, furthermore, with the fact that I actually cannot sell my Windows XP licence because IBM doesn't even distribute the media with it.
Now there still is a couple of issues open that might be of interest for other users: sound, modem and LAN support. I wouldn't count on any possibility to get the modem running, but I don't need it anyway because it's not ISDN and I already have a PC-Card modem for faxing. Concerning the LAN support I do have the problem (or the advantage...?) that I don't have a LAN here, so there is no need for it anyway. Finally sound: Most of the time I am glad that my notebook is quiet, an the easiest way to achieve that is not installing the sound support! Maybe I am going to try it some day, but one point is also the fact that trying all these things does take a lot of time, and my priorities often have to be different ones, not only computers... Probably I am going to try XFree/2 long before I would start fiddling around with the sound. Or get a USB memory stick for data exchange - but I would have to find out whether it works fine first.
Installing the operating system was not just putting in the CD and everything was ok, but it runs now quite well. Since I am already an experienced OS/2 installer on notebooks over the years I didn't have the feeling that it was difficult to get there, but your mileage may vary!
So why did I write this report if my experience isn't complete yet? Well, I intended to write something from the very beginning, because I know myself how much this kind of reports is needed for any decision about buying an OS/2 notebook! It's more than with desktops because you cannot easily go and change a part if it doesn't work. But then I waited because I didn't install everything yet - and in the meantime I have already forgotten parts of the details about the installation etc. So when I read about the new Notebook/2 initiative in Belgium I decided to simply report whatever I know at the moment!
The many many models always flooding the market at an ever increasing rate makes it difficult to talk about prices or availability: When looking for a ThinkPad R series model you will probably only get the R40 by now, half a year later already. And then the many different variants: Also for the R40 there are already many many different types...

     Product Completeness - good
     Product Availability - very good
     Price - very good
     Hardware quality (modern, complete) - good
     Battery Lifetime
     OS/2 and eCS Compatibility
     Design quality (chock resistance, housing, ...)
     Manufacturer Support
     Overall Price / Quality Ratio - good

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Last modified: 2004/08/30, 16:30 | This site is sponsored by Mensys B.V.