How a ThinkPad is born

Those poor ThinkPads

During Lenovo's recent ThinkPad 25th Anniversary Event in Yokohama, Japan, we were given an opportunity to learn a lot about the evolution of the ThinkPad brand over the years.

One of the most significant sources of pride mentioned by the Lenovo executives in charge of the ThinkPad division during this event was the team's Yamato Laboratory. Formerly located in Yamato City (hence the name) and relocated to Yokohama in 2011, the Yamato Labs have been responsible for every ThinkPad product, dating back to the IBM days and the original ThinkPad 700C.

This continuity from the earliest days of ThinkPad has helped provide a standard of quality and education passed down from engineer to engineer over the last 25 years of the ThinkPad brand. In fact, some of the original engineers from 1987 are still with the company and working on the latest and greatest ThinkPad innovations. It's impressive to see such continuity and pride in the Japanese development team considering Lenovo's acquisition of the brand back in 2005.

One of the most exciting things was a peek at some of the tests that every device bearing the ThinkPad name must go through, including non-notebook devices like the X1 Tablet.

Wireless and Acoustics

As users to come to depend more and more on wireless technologies as their sole means of connectivity, wireless performance and reliability are vital subjects for notebooks.

Here, we see a ThinkPad inside of a "dark room" used to measure radio antenna performance. The notebook is rotated 360-degrees while the test is running, making sure that the wireless performance is acceptable no matter the orientation of the machine.

Additionally, as devices get more powerful and run at faster and faster clock speeds, there has to be extra attention paid to interference inside the machine from components such as CPUs and GPUs. Here we see interference being measured on a demonstration ThinkPad with a nondescript model number.

Acoustics levels are measured in a hemi-anechoic chamber using high-quality microphones in several different scenarios, including in a human analog where the microphone placement emulates a human's listening patterns.

Electromagnetic Compatibility and Reliability

Have you ever wanted to see a freezer full of ThinkPads?

In addition to extreme cold temperature testing, Lenovo conducts a series of tests in different environments including extreme heat and humidity. These tests in part emulate conditions like shipping containers that they know the devices will go through, as well as fringe environments that only small fractions of consumers will ever experience.

To comply with agencies—such as the FCC—all around the world, all consumer electronics devices must go through extensive tests to determine that the amount of electromagnetic radiation emitting from their product is within acceptable levels. 

Robustness and Durability Design 

The Durability Design lab contains some of the more fun tests to watch and is where ThinkPads start to receive the most abuse.

Lenovo takes drop testing seriously with the ThinkPad line. In addition to a free-fall drop from about 5 feet or so, Thinkpads are also subjected to a direct impact to the corner of their chassis.

If you've ever experienced some wonkiness from a device after a small static shock, these tests will be of relief to you. In addition to testing static discharge directly on the device, a USB connector is also charged up and then plugged into the machine while running. 

To say that Lenovo is proud of their hinge designs would be quite an understatement. Both traditional hinges and the 360-degree Yoga hinges go through rigorous automated testing to ensure low failure rates.

Additionally, there are also several tests which apply pressure on both the LCD and notebook lids to make sure there are no distinct single points of failure for their devices.

Last but not least is the impact and vibration testing. This particular test you see above is designed to emulate a ThinkPad jostling around in a backpack while a student is walking to class. Additionally, weight is applied to the top lid of the notebook to mimic heavy textbooks pressing against the device at the same time.

While we were shown a lot of different testing procedures for the ThinkPad brand, please keep in mind that this is nowhere near the full array of testing that happens for every new device. Regardless, it was fascinating to see these tests in action and gain some context for how Lenovo thinks about the durability of ThinkPads and what the brand means to them.

Thanks to Lenovo for letting us have a look inside their labs and learn more about what makes a ThinkPad a ThinkPad!