IBM ThinkPad Power Series 850

This rare ThinkPad computer was a really new thing in its times. Let's just cite IBM's press release about it:

With the body of a ThinkPad(R) and the soul of a PowerPC(TM), the IBM ThinkPad Power Series 850(TM) allows you to carry collaborative and conversational computing wherever you go. This premium-function mobile product extends IBM's ThinkPad family, with advanced features and blazing performance provided by its PowerPC 603e(TM) 100MHz processor.

Yes, it was PC with PowerPC processor! Unfortunately incompatibility killed it, but it was one of the first notebooks with optional webcam installed in a lid, as in today's notebooks, true multisession optical disk drive and SCSI. Yes, for HDD too, it was a 1.2GB special IBM drive. Today only ADTX converter module can be used to run it with IDE disk drive if you don't have a SCSI one.
Power Series was a series of  at least 5 computers: Desktop Power Series 830 and 850, and ThinkPad Power Series 830 and 850. There was also ThinkPad Power Series 860 with 166MHz processor. I can't say more about other models I haven't seen, such as ThinkPads 800, 820/21/22/23, 851.
All of these computers could be used with Windows NT for PowerPC (barely compatible with 16-bit Windows programs with emulation, other software had to be re-compiled for PowerPC) or IBM AIX up to 4.1.5. There were two other OSes in plans: First was OS/2 Warp for PowerPC, a Warp's shell and Presentation Manager fitted to Mach kernel (unstable and without network support as it required too many hacks in OS/2 kernel to make it work in Mach), and its ISO is known by beta collectors. The second one was Solaris 2.5.1, but it was never released in any stage except early development version, yet it was announced in February 20 1996. ISO and boot floppy can be found but is rare even in old software websites.

Because of these incompatibilities and its price - $12000 for model 850, these machines weren't popular and I have no idea how my unit got to Poland (probably through some military applications). In July 1997 IBM withdrawn all PowerPC ThinkPads and idea of PowerPC-based PC came back to high-performance computational workstations.

Manufacturer IBM

Origin USA
Year of unit 1996
Year of introduction 1995
Type Laptop, PC
CPU Motorola PowerPC 603e, 100MHz
RAM 32MB OnBoard, expandable by 2 cards to 96MB
Floppy Disk 3,5" 1.44MB external or internal
Hard Disk 1.2GB SCSI 2.5"
Other media Internal SCSI 2x CD-ROM.
Graphics and display: 800x600 TFT LCD
Sound: PC Speaker, Stereo sound card with Mic and speakers
Keyboard and pointing device: Small PC keyboard without numeric part, numeric part on letter keys.


OS: Windows NT 4.0
OS/2 Warp for PowerPC
AIX up to 4.1.5
Solaris 2.5.1

Power supply:

Male proprietary connector. Single goldpin connectors fit well.

1 - S???
2 - +20V DC
3 - GND
4 - G???
You can leave 1 and 4 unconnected


I/O:  - Serial port
 - Parallel port
 - VGA video out
 - External FDD connector
 - External SCSI
 - Sound input, output, headphones, mic connectors
 - 2x PCMCIA
 - PS/2
 - Composite video in/out
 - Camera connector
 - External ISA bus connector
Possible upgrades: Memory by two cards (WITH parity!).
Additional peripherals:  External FDD
Power supply (non-original)
An external SCSI HDD to boot it from something :)
ADTX module for HDD - maybe I'll get ribbon cable somewhere


Contents: Files needed Batteries CD-ROM Boot, SMS Setup Firmware upgrade Setup options OS install Links

Files needed to start
Windows NT 4.0 comes on a CD with all needed drivers for ThinkPad 850, so there are no drivers here. IBM released sound driver for Windows NT, but I've never used it and got sound. Here are all needed downloads

Power Series 8x0 redbook - technical manual for Power Series computers
PowerPC 603e Fact Sheet
Power Series 850 sales announcement
ARC loader v. 1.51 - when you install Windows NT 4.0 you need this
ARC disk I found in my TP - some things are briefly translated to Polish, probably to make setup easier.
Windows NT 4.0 sound driver

Replacing dead batteries

ThinkPad 850 has 2 small batteries: One for keeping BIOS settings and RTC, one for standby mode. Standby battery may leak. Both of these batteries are under CD-ROM drive, you should look to the left near CD-ROM connector, there should be 2 small connectors on the underside of board. 2-pin connector is for BIOS battery (CR2032), 3-pin is for standby battery (3.6V rechargeable). pinouts are as follows:

  ___    _____
 |+ -|  |+ . -|
  ---    -----

 BIOS    Standby battery

Here's a photo:

CD-ROM compatibility
If you don't have a CD-ROM drive you may try with SCSI external one, but don't expect that every drive will work. If you have RS/6000 with IDE, not many drives are compatible, especially when booting OS/2 or AIX installation CD-ROM, as they need to support a 512b/s sectoring when booting. Some IBM, Plextor and Toshiba units work. If you have a SCSI external drive, you can try it with external case.

Booting, No SMS for ThinkPad 850

ThinkPads with Power Series have no SMS disks, everything was done through Easy Setup, a built-in setup program.

If you don't know what it is: System Management Services is a bootable floppy which allows to boot something like BIOS setup. In desktop Power Series computers it's normal, ThinkPads had optimized firmware to avoid need of connecting FDD to change for example boot device order.

Booting itself can be described as follows: Microcode boots Dakota, Dakota loads all other things. All other things boot HDD, usually ARC, ARC boots Windows Loader, Windows Loader boots Windows NT kernel and from this moment it boots similar to most WinNT PCs.

Boot screen

STAGE 0: Hardware (ROM) initialization:
0.0 Power on, PSU giver good signal, supplies power to m/b and PCI devices.
0.1 Initializing CPU registers
0.2 Initializing memory controller
0.3 Setting RAM area in use
0.4 Decompressing code to RAM
0.5 Setting environment for code execution
0.6 Mount and boot VDISK (Dakota OS).
In desktop RS/6000, now it waits for F keys. F2 - shows boot menu, F4 - boots SMS from floppy.

STAGE 1: Driver loading:
1.1 as - Async serial console drives - now it can ask for help through serial port.
1.2 wd - IBM G10 Display Driver - from now display may be used
1.3 s3 - IBM GT20 external VGA card (86CM65) driver - from now display may be used if PCI graphics is present (not this ThinkPad).

STAGE 2: Prepare console:
2.1 vinit - run console on display without visible text or cursor (2 parameters are for it)

STAGE 3: Splash screen
3.1 bmp - put a bitmap startup.bmp to screen. In some systems POST graphics are loaded now too.

STAGE 4: Input devices
4.1 keybd - load keyboard driver
4.2 mouse - load mouse driver.

STAGE 5: Devices
5.1 iat_dskt - ??
5.2 iat_mem - Memory test. Very ensitive to errors, I/O activities such as drawing bitmap or playing sound will make it fail.
?5.3 iat_scsi? - SCSI test, not present in TP 850, external module used for it
5.4 wave - play startup.wav file
5.5 scsi - initialize SCSI and boot.

STAGE 5a: Unexpected exit from Easy Setup (you should get here only if "eatabug" is introduced to Easy-Setup)
5a.1 Go to drive a
5a.2 Terminate all playing sounds
Prompt is ready for operation.

Booting is usually made as boot record -> boot image is loaded to RAM -> transferring system control to boot image. Because the image must be read completely before actual boot, notice that for example ARC is loaded extensively from floppy BEFORE even running it.
Boot record is a strange thing, it looks like engineers wanted to remain compatibility with IBM PC boot record. There's a 446-byte code block and 4x64 bytes for partition table, one partition bootable. One disk - one bootable partition, so forget about multi-OS without other complex boot managers (OS/2 Warp for PPC has unfinished and inoperable boot menu system) or few hard disks (I'm doing it that way in my desktop Power Series 850) when all not needed are physically disconnected when installing OS.
For other devices such as floppy disks or CD-ROMs it's needed to use image on partition and it's not so easy as in HDD, where geometry may be used. For CDs and floppies there's a partition-type boot loader reading RTC entry (as in manual RTC is for Real Time Clock, don't ask me why it's called this way), then the block address may be determined and image loaded to memory. 

RAM error Easy setup shell

Firmware update

I'm posting it here for backup purposes, as IBM seems not to offer it as all ThinkPad Power Series files vanished. Remember that you can damage this hardware by bad flashing. It's password-protected, password is in license file.

This file upgrades BIOS to 1.01 version and it's the last official version.

There's an UNOFFICIAL and NOT TESTED way to flash 1.10 BIOS of Desktop Power Series 850 to ThinkPad machine. I don't recommend it as for Windows NT or OS/2 it works with 1.01 without problems and only if you plan to put Linux on it it may be needed. The only thing you MAY get with this flashing would be better setup program with SMS disk.
Remember, Linux with X-windowing is memory-hungry, and I think putting Linux on this machine is a waste.

Setup and its hidden functions, DAKOTA drive

PowerPC-based ThinkPads had better GUI-driven Setup application called "Easy setup". This application is built into ROM. And if you played computer games with key combination cheats, and you had fun discovering them, this setup is full of these! There are hidden options, some destructive, some not, advanced tests, and even a hidden command prompt! Here I'll show some basic hidden moves not covered in manuals.

1. Supervisor password and Super Test
Just press Ctrl-A when in Password or Test menu to make them active.

2. SCSI format, Serial No.
Activate Super Test as in 1. Go to Super Test menu.
Press Ctrl-V.
You'll land in Maintenance utility, it allows to change system serial number and low level format SCSI devices.
WARNING! Low-level formatting may destroy your drive.


3. Dakota prompt
Go to Easy Setup. Type blindly: "eatabug". If doesn't work try with "topsecret", "beammeup", "overthetime", "overthehill", "overthetop".
You should land to DOS-like environment running from computer's ROM, it has nice capabilities. Let's start with drive letters:
 - A and B are usually floppies
 - C and so on are hard disks, then CD-ROM
 - V: is the virtual Dakota disk.
It can read and write FAT floppies, read ISO 9660 CD-ROMs, has simple DOS commands (use "help" to see what can be done).
The interesting thing is virtual ROM drive V, as it's Dakota Operating System disk, where all BIOS-level programs reside in 6MD (script) or 6XE (code) format. You can run them, but remember to know what you're doing with FLASH and FUPDATE programs, they're for flashing Dakota drive image. As Dakota runs every system boot and Easy Setup is only a GUI of it, modifying Dakota drive may damage your hardware.
Blocks command just draws random blocks on screen. WAVE.6XE program plays wave sounds while BMP.6XE shows bitmaps. DESKTOP is Easy Setup environment.

Installing OSes:

Installing Windows with ARC
1. Connect external floppy if you have one, or use internal instead of CD-ROM
2. Boot ARC boot disk. Menu will appear. Select "Installation and setup services"
3. Simple setup
4. Full Install. This will erase HDD and install Windows from the beginning.
5. When ARC is loaded to HDD, it needs Windows NT CD. If you have a CD-ROM drive installed you can just put CD in and press a key.
6. If you don't have a CD-ROM but FDD in its place, you can, but it's not recommended, hot-swap FDD to CD-ROM. I tried, it worked, but I have no idea won't it damage your hardware.

Remember: There are 3 partitions needed: ARC's partition, Windows Loader FAT partition and finally Windows NT's partition. They should be all created in installation process.

P.S. You can take "the tour" in ARC by peeking here.

Some photos from installing Windows NT:

Booting ARC Windows NT in menu Setup starting
SCSI detected System parameters HDD partitioning
As in PC Windows Copying, next will be reboot After reboot, loading OS.
Setting drives to NTFS GUI setup GUI
Finishing About box  

Installing AIX
1. AIX 4.1.5 comes with 2 CDs, use first one to boot machine from it.
2. Now it uses text mode installer to install base system + X windows. Notice that selecting Polish locale will make Polish keyboard like typewriter keyboard, not "Programmer's keyboard" with Alt and I don't have any idea how to change it.
3. Installation process is quite straight-forward. After rebooting it'll boot X and you can set all other settings with graphical installer. Users and packages are added with GUI-based user and package manager.
4. After confirming settings it should now boot properly.

Remember that if you select Polish version you may have help in English. That's normal.
You can always run system configuration GUI by running terminal, logging to root (su and root password) and announcing command smit.
Proper shutdown procedure: Log out CDE, then slide power switch, Power LED will start to blink. Wait until it turns off.

Here are some photos:

Setting language Simple set-up Installing
Copying packages First boot - Polish Init! Impossible in Linux Loading GUI
No Polish GUI installer, you can use text English GUI installer Setting date
User Editor Package manager Installing packages...
Screensaver Login prompt CDE after boot.

Installing OS/2
1. Insert OS/2 Warp for PowerPC CD to drive, boot computer from it.
2. It should display quite straight-forward installer.

Photos will be with desktop Power Series 850 as I have OS/2 there.

Installing Solaris
1. Insert boot floppy to floppy drive, insert CD to CD drive. Boot system from floppy
2. When it won't go and stay with "ok" prompt, type "show-devs"
3. Find path to CD-ROM drive in this tree view by finding "cdrom@x" item. 
4. The boot command is: boot /path/to/cd:,\solaris.elf
In my unit it's:  boot /pci/pci1000,1@c/cdrom@3,0:,\solaris.elf

Next steps are similar to AIX.

Links - ThinkPad 860 and other Power ThinkPads page, history, technical parameters, some documentation. - Linux on Power Series 830/850 - resource collection. - Linux on PPC/850, Dakota OS commands - Windows NT on PowerPC