IBM Thinkpad 390X

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IBM Thinkpad 390X Overview


  • One of the following CPUs (placed on a CPU card):
    • Intel Mobile Celeron 400MHz
    • Intel Mobile Pentium II 400MHz
    • Intel Mobile Pentium III 450 or 500MHz
  • 64MB PC-66 DRAM typically, 512MB max with 2x256MB modules(Intel 440BX chipset)
  • 12.1, 14.1, 15.0 inch laptops share the same model name using different display chassis:
    • 12.1" TFT display (800x600 resolution, 150:1 contrast ratio)
    • 14.1" TFT display (1024x768 resolution, 150:1 contrast ratio)
    • 15.0" TFT display (1024x768 resolution, 150:1 contrast ratio)
  • NeoMagic MagicMedia256AV video controller 2.5MB VRAM
  • ESS ES1946, SoundBlaster 2.0/Adlib capable emulation
  • 4.8, 6.4 or 12GB 4200rpm 9 or 12.5mm height PATA HDD
  • Ultrabay FX with CD-ROM and Floppy Drive (combo dual unit)


  • Stereo speakers (placed on the front of the chassis,just below the screen, except on the 15 inch model)
  • 2xPCMCIA Slots
  • VGA Output
  • Li Ion or NimH rechargeable battery
  • USB 1, Dual PS/2, Serial, Parallel ports
  • 16V power supply (separate)
  • Windows 3.1, IBM OS/2, Windows 95/98, Windows 2000 support (slightly slow on Windows 2000)

IBM 390X 12"

Best retro purpose

Early Windows 98 era gaming released before 1998 or as office computer. Unfortunately, despite the somewhat adequate CPU speed, the video chipset lacks any 3D capability, with great DOS games support and mediocre Windows support (DirectDraw only). However, screen scaling is very good for a laptop of its time, including a great character resizing that makes text very nice on a full screen display. Games run fast on 640x480 resolution. The good RAM expansion capability and good VRAM size create quite a powerful mix for great retro gaming with excellent compatibility.


Durability and Repair-ability

The mediocre plastic quality of most of the chassis means that cracks of internal plastic screw stands as well as entire cracks of the display's casing and bottom parts are extremely common, making disassembly and assembly operations quite difficult, with screws that are difficult to remove or tighten. Access to the hard-drive is straightforward, requiring only a single unscrew. Unfortunately, the LCD screen lamp is mounted vertically and it is very difficult to replace, requiring a different size than the typical one for such a screen. The case's fragility is also hinted at with a small glass capsule installed by the manufacturer and that changes color if a slightly crashing event occurred.

Greatest features & flaws

Features Flaws
Great Windows 98/95 3.1 2D Gaming platform Annoying, high speed CPU cooling fan
Good MS-DOS SoundBlaster compatibility, good speaker output Quite poor LCD screen for Pentium II/III laptops
Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackpoint Entire laptop case is extremely fragile, prone to many cracks
Great Floppy, CD-Rom, Harddrive access Very bulky, very heavy laptop


A midrange, bulky, business laptop, released in 1998. It had a good mix of parts and a large and heavy chassis. The choice of PC-66 SDRAM and dual RAM sockets, as well as graphics chipset, make for a good all-around laptop. By 1999 the laptop was just quite obsolete due to the video chipset choice but this was standard for IBM laptops of its time, with no 3D hardware rendering support, no matter how rudimentary. The system runs reasonably well Windows 2000 or Windows XP, if you really need it, but Windows 98 SE is the best choice.

The graphics chipset is quite alright. The great scaling support make it possible to have very sharp output on the internal or external display, although less smoothly than on modern computers. It depends on taste if you like or hate this scaling mode without any blur but some small rough edges. Overall, the Neomagic graphics chipsets were very fast for 2D operations, definitely faster than Trident or Cirrus Logic Chipsets and Chips&Tech 6555x chipsets in just about every respect. The Neomagic graphics is the top performer on 2D graphics both for compatibility as far back as Windows 3.1 and DOS as well as competitive with Chips&Technology or S3 Trio 64 videocards.

The LCD TFT screen is somewhat alright but it uses a dated technology that results in low brightness due to the vertical rather than horizontal, higher power CCFL sidelight.

The typical CPU implementation is very good. The Pentium II and Pentium III CPUs are ver powerful for such a machine while the Celeron option is decent enough. The active cooling is quite good, not overly noisy, reliable, relatively easy to clean. The inclusion of an USB 1.0 port is a major feature. The keyboard is durable and with good tactile feedback. The trackpoint is very good, being quite smooth, predictable as well as with quick response at the classic, renowned IBM quality. The palm rest is also very comfortable.

The removable drive tray is a nice feature, offering both CD-ROM and Floppy drive support, which is rare, a staple feature of the IBM Thinkpad 380/390 series so if you need both functionality and can accept a bulky chassis, it is a good choice. The rechargeable battery can be easily removed or replaced. The BIOS and timekeeping battery is a standard CR2032 3V button cell.

The chassis was large, heavy but more comfortable than the previous Thinkpad 380 line, due to rounded corners. The laptop's case does not have any rubberized coating but it is very fragile. This is the single most annoying feature of the laptop. The entire chassis has problems due to the brittle plastic that frequently cracks due to age or shocks. The lid closing latch is well designed and durable. The display hinges are very well engineered even if they may not look to be anything special. The integrated speakers are very good for a laptop, especially loud, with no special audio quality features.

The standard HDDs are quite a good choice for any Windows 98 SE installation supporting the UDMA33 interface that allows a typical top performance of around 15MB/s transfers, if the harddrive can keep up. Replacing the harddrive is straightforward as the system accepts most late Pentium III era drives for a real speed boost.

Software support is great for reasonably modern (for its time) operating systems. Due to the video chipset Windows 98 is the best choice of operating system. Good DOS sound support is present due to the ESS chipset that is Sound Blaster compatible, offering good MIDI and software support in MS-DOS.