Upgrade and repair diary: IBM Thinkpad T30

I picked up an IBM Thinkpad T30 this week. People ask me occasionally to keep an eye out for an inexpensive used laptop, and Thinkpads from 2005 or earlier are a good choice because they’re generally well built, easy to find, and most importantly, parts and information for them are plentiful if anything goes wrong.

In the case of this particular model, that’s a good thing.

The solder joints on the memory slot closest to the front tend to break due to stress and overheating. That was the case with this example. The solution is to remove a blue shock absorbing pad between the memory and hard drive (which is more effective as a heat trap than as a shock absorber) and re-flow the solder joints. Not many local shops have technicians capable of flowing solder joints on a SODIMM slot. Hammerhead Technology in Chico, CA is a reputable shop with a lot of experience doing Thinkpad repairs. They charge about $65 for the fix.

Officially, the T30 only accepts 512MB DIMMs, but 1GB modules work fine. A common fix for the memory slot issue is to just put a 1 GB DIMM in the slot that works, since most versions of Windows will run comfortably with 1GB of RAM. But if you make the repair, then you can put 2 GB of RAM in it. The undocumented (at least officially–Thinkpad enthusiasts seem to know it pretty widely) ability to expand to 2 GB is the most important thing you need to know about the T30.

This particular T30 had been upgraded with a Western Digital Scorpion Blue HDD, a 2008 vintage 5400 RPM PATA drive. It’s very fast, able to boot Windows XP in well under a minute. It’s a very worthwhile upgrade for any laptop stuck at the PATA dead end.

Fill up the memory and upgrade the hard drive, and these machines don’t really need anything else except maybe a fresh battery. A fresh install of XP runs quickly on them. Windows 7 should behave similarly. They’re at least as fast as a netbook, and have bigger screens. They don’t make much of a gaming rig, but run MS Office, especially Office 2003, just fine.

And if you have one with a bad SODIMM socket, it’s worth fixing. You can’t get a better laptop for 3x the repair cost.

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