How the Coolest Laptop That Ever Was Got a New Lease on Life

A hacker is trying to bring back IBM’s 701C folding keyboard laptop

  • The IBM 701C laptop sported an innovative folding keyboard but was discontinued in 1995. 
  • A hobbyist is trying to bring back the 701C by updating its internal components. 
  • Enthusiasts are eager for a modern laptop with a folding keyboard.
IBM ThinkPad 701C with folding butterfly keyboard.

Wikipedia / Raymangold22

One of the most innovative laptops ever created might soon be usable again if you're willing to put in some DIY. 

IBM's Thinkpad 701C launched in 1995 and featured a folding 'butterfly' keyboard that was praised by tech reviewers but quickly discontinued. Hobbyist Karl Buchka has discovered how to give the laptop modern components by replacing the mainboard, ports, and display while keeping the iconic keyboard. The news is making some Thinkpad enthusiasts nostalgic for the discontinued model. 

"The folding keyboard was cool because the user could basically use a full-sized keyboard on a small laptop," Michael Seidner, the CEO of  M5 Systems, an IT company that previously sold the 701C, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Sometimes the keyboard would get jammed, but it was nice to have a regular-sized keyboard on a smaller laptop because it was easier to use than smallish keys."

Vintage Cool

The 701 played a magic trick on users as it appeared larger when opened than closed. The folding keyboard allowed the frame to be relatively small at 9.7 inches wide with a depth of 10.4 inches. 

Early computer users, who were always on the go, appreciated the keyboard's compact size.

I owned this model, and the butterfly keyboard was an immensely satisfying piece of machinery. The keyboard splits into two triangular pieces that slide as the laptop's lid is opened or closed. As the lid is opened, both pieces slide out to the sides, followed by one piece sliding downward. The two halves combine to form a keyboard that is 11.5 inches wide, which spills over the sides of the laptop body.

Unfortunately, the 701 series was short-lived. It was developed in 1993, sold from March 1995 until later that year, and priced between $1,499 and $3,299. Even after the 701's demise, IBM reportedly experimented with new laptops with a butterfly keyboard. And In 2021, Lenovo filed a patent for a keyboard that looks much like the one used in the 701.

A patent drawing for a Lenovo folding keyboard.

US Patent Office

Now, Buchka is trying to revive the 701C model, which has an active matrix screen and can be found often on eBay for relatively modest prices. He used a Framework Mainboard manufactured by the same company that makes the modular, repairable Framework Laptop

"I also wanted a modern display to go with the modern processor," Buchka wrote on the project website. "I discovered that the iPad 7 panel is an almost perfect match to the original screen, so I adapted that to work with the eDP connector on the mainboard. I posted about that here: 10.2" iPad 7 display on the internal eDP connector."

Since there was no room for expansion ports in the 701C, Buchka had to leave the two right-side USB-C connectors exposed. He connected one of the left ports to a custom USB-C port replicator that exposes two external type-A connectors, one internal type-A connector, and one external gigabit Ethernet connector. 

Getting the keyboard and TrackPoint to work took even more ingenuity. Buchka figured out how to connect the devices to a Teensy 3.6 microcontroller that runs a customized build of the open-source firmware QMK, so they function as USB input devices.

The IMB ThinkPad 701 with accessories.

Wikipedia / Ged Carroll

A Future for the Butterfly? 

The project to revive the 701C is giving hope to some users who loved the laptop's unique butterfly keyboard. 

The 701 keyboard's strengths were primarily in its portability and ergonomic design, Jonathan Brax, the founder of, said in an email. "Early computer users, who were always on the go, appreciated the keyboard's compact size, making it a breeze to carry and store," he added. "Moreover, the ergonomic design reduced the risk of repetitive strain injuries and made typing on it a dream."

Data engineer Benjamin Okyere said in an email to Lifewire that what he liked most about the ThinkPad 701 was that the butterfly keyboard made the laptop very small and lightweight, which was great for portability.

"It also provided a more comfortable typing experience as the keyboard was full-sized and ergonomically designed. The folding movement also made it easier to access ports and cables. I would love to see a folding keyboard like the 701 in tablets because it could provide a much more productive typing experience than the current virtual keyboards."

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