IBM Thinkpad T21
Best retro purpose
Late DOS era gaming and Mid Windows 98 era gaming for titles released before 1998 or as office computer. This is part of the last laptop series to have true Soundblaster compatible DOS support as well as limited Windows 3.1 support due to the classic soundcard compatibility. Windows 98 support is quite good, having full Direct3D acceleration although it is realistically limited to DirectX7 and OpenGL 1.1. Screen scaling is good for a laptop of its time, but there is no special text scaling as in the Thinkpad 600E and 600X line. Games run fast on 640x480 resolution only if they do not require heavy 3D acceleration, then, the graphics chipset is limited to 512x384 or 400x300 resolution. This means that you can run Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament but at most in 640x480 resolutions and Need for Speed III should be run at even lower resolutions.
Durability and Repair-ability
The plastic quality of certain parts is not so great but the chassis is quite durable. Access to the hard-drive is straightforward, requiring only a single unscrew. LCD screen lamp is mounted horizontally and it is not very difficult to replace, but it requires a partial disassembly of the display. The electronics circuitry is fairly durable and the laptop should have some lifespan remaining if properly maintained. The rubberized coating that flakes over time is one of the most annoying feature of the laptop, as the smell, dirt and stickiness of its gets worse as the laptop aged. It can be cleaned with careful wiping using a smooth sponge and mild concentration iso-propyl alcohol or another alcohol solution.
Greatest features & flaws
|Somewhat decent Windows 98 3D Gaming platform||Poor performing, infamous S3 Graphics Drivers|
|Good MS-DOS SoundBlaster compatibility||Quite bad LCD display screen scaling at lower resolutions|
|Durable, comfortable keyboard and trackpoint||No trackpad, fragile, laptop upper case and display bezels, prone to many cracks|
|Good cooling, CPU downclocking possible in BIOS||Single USB port|
A midrange, quite slim, business laptop, released in 2000. It had quite a good mix of parts and a slim chassis. The choice of PC-100 SDRAM and dual RAM sockets, make for a good all-around laptop although the graphics chipset was quite on the low-end side. The lack of an ATI or NVIDIA graphics integration meant that 3D hardware rendering support was limited, especially at the native 1024x768 resolution. The system runs reasonably well Windows XP, if you really need it, but Windows 98 SE is the best choice, especially due to the good DOS sound emulation support.
Compared to the previous Thinkpad T20 series laptops the largest improvement comes from the slightly faster CPU. The graphics chipset is already outdated.
The graphics chipset is below average for such a great CPU. Running in 32bit colour is nearly impossible due to the 8MB of video ram and most games already used more than that amount when the laptop was released on the market. Unfortunately, the graphics chipset limitations will linger on upto the end of the T2x line, the T23 model still having the old S3 Graphics chipset. Also, the S3 Graphics chipset has serious limitations due to poor drivers so graphical glitches are quite common in 3D games, making quite a bad, although entirely true, experience of early 2000 low-end gaming.
The LCD TFT screen is alright, using a reasonably modern technology that offers relatively good contrast and response times. High resolution screens are pointless with such a weak video chipset, that struggles even at 1024x768 resolutions. Expectations should be according to the laptop's timeline with added odd failures on some models such as fluorescent lamps that absorb mercury and run pink for a few moments on startup.
The typical CPU implementation is very good. The Pentium III CPUs are quite powerful and also release more heat than previous generation Pentium IIIs. Fortunately, however, the CPU speed is slightly reduced in Windows 98 and DOS, limiting somewhat the stress of the system when the top CPU performance is not require. The active cooling is quite good, not overly noisy, reliable, relatively easy to clean. The inclusion of an USB 1.1 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 DVD-ROM and CD-ROM drive support. The rechargeable battery can be easily removed or replaced. The BIOS and timekeeping battery is a standard CR2032 3V button cell.
The chassis was slim, light, comfortable due to rounded corners although the lower palm-rest side is not the best. The laptop's case is quite durable except for the rubberized coating. This is the single most annoying feature of the laptop, as the smell, dirt and stickiness of its gets worse as the laptop aged. Unfortunately, parts of the chassis may crack due to brittle plastics, especially in the case of the the screen's frame. The lid closing latch somewhat well designed and durable but it may break when poorly operated. The display hinges are very well engineered even if they may not look to be anything special. The integrated speakers are only mediocre, having a poor performance also due to their downfiring position.
The standard HDDs are quite a very good choice for any Windows 98 SE installation supporting the UDMA66 interface that allows a typical top performance of around 33MB/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 Crystal Audio chipset that is Sound Blaster compatible but it is somewhat less refined for older MIDI and software support in MS-DOS, as it is slightly difficult to configure out of the box.