Aged vintage notebook

Years ago I bought an IBM Thinkpad laptop as a gift for my loved one. Granted, it was a good few years ago, when IBM still owned their laptop business, well before Lenovo acquired their Thinkpad line of portable computers. The laptop, an IBM Thinkpad 600, equipped with an Pentium II processor, 64 MB of RAM and a 6GB hard drive, has worked consistently and surprisingly well.

Until a few days ago, when it started to report BIOS error codes 161, 192, 163 on bootup.

What's a man to do, if not disassemble the machine open and fix the problem? Read on for an account of what was wrong with the laptop and how the problem was fixed.

In BIOS POST checks parlance, error 161, 192, 163 mean: dead battery, fan error, time and date were not set. A quick search returned a number of documents hosted on Lenovo's website, detailing the meaning of the error codes. It also linked to documents intended for authorised computer repair personnel, containing detailed instructions on how to order replacement parts and carry out repairs.

My approach to fixing the problem was straightforward: find a reference to the location of the BIOS battery in the document, in order to locate the battery on the laptop and a means to access it, and fix the problem by replacing it.

As it turns out, the BIOS backup battery is very easily accessible. It is located in the same bay as the memory expansion slots. It is slightly hidden under the chassis, but the lead connecting it to the mainboard clearly reveals its position.

At first glance, the battery appears to be a custom built component. In reality, it is just a common 3V CR2016 battery, which can be had for around 5 euro at any shop.

I shudder at the thought of how much IBM would have charged for an official replacement part. I did not check to see whether replacement parts for this laptop are still available from Lenovo, but I think that if they were, the cost of ordering a new BIOS backup battery would probably be higher than the value of this laptop.

Replacing the custom IBM battery with an off the shelf battery is as easy as cutting away the plastic wrapping around the original battery (paying extra care as not to cut the cables), prying the soldered leads away from the surface of the battery (using a sharp object, such as a knife or a screwdriver's head), and attaching the leads to the new battery (making sure to get the polarity right).

I did not bother soldering the leads to the new battery; electrical tape achieved the same result with a minimal amount of fuss. I secured the leads to the battery with some small bits of tape and then wrapped the entire battery to avoid any chance of unwanted electrical contacts.

Once the new battery is reattached, turn on the laptop. You will be greeted by a BIOS error, but this time it will only be the time and date not set error.

You will be prompted with a bright screen prompting you to set the date and time. Use your trusted atomic clock to set the time to infinitesimal precision (optional step), then click ok.

Your laptop will now boot up correctly and load up your operating system.