Linux on the IBM Thinkpad 765L

In this page, author Jean-Pierre Norguet presents informations about his experience in installing Linux on an IBM Thinkpad 765L and running an IBM "Turbo 16/4 TR" Token Ring PCMCIA network adapter. Other 765 models are very similar to the 765L ; these informations should be usable for those too.

Linux On Laptops

This document is licensed under the GNU General Public License []. Disclaimer : there is no warranty; use it at your own risk.

Linux Distribution

If you want to install Linux on your machine, you have the choice between several Linux distributions. All distributions are likely to install smoothly on the IBM Thinkpad 765L. As for myself, I installed distribution Debian GNU/Linux 2.0. Note that the Thinkpad 765L CD-ROM drive is not bootable. Floppy disks must therefore be used to install the distribution. If needed, an external floppy drive can be connected to a plug behind the laptop.

In the Debian GNU/Linux 2.0 distribution, there are two boot disk sets: normal and TECRA. TECRA is known to be used in preference with some laptops. With the IBM Thinkpad 765L, the TECRA disks must be used. Using the TECRA boot disks usually requires a "floppy=thinkpad" option to be typed at boot time. With the IBM Thinkpad 765L, the option must not be provided. Also, Bill Rouse reported: "I have installed Debian 2.2 on a IBM Thinkpad 765L with no problems. I did not have to use the TECRA bootdisks -- the standard Debian bootdisks worked just fine.

Debian distribution is not the only distribution that works with IBM Thinkpad 765L. Since this page is online, I have received successful installation reports with several versions of RedHat and Suse distributions. Other distributions should be fine as well. Finally, the informations on the rest of this page, especiallly X and kernel configs, are theoretically independant from the distribution. The distribution that you choose to install on your Thinkpad 765L should therefore not be a problem.

General Compatibility

The IBM thinkpad 765L is made of quite standard hardware. The standard built-in linux drivers support the floppy, the CD-ROM drive, the hard disk, the serial port, the parallel port, the pointing device, the keyboard, and all the inner components that you might have been afraid to be incompatible. The exception component is the video display.

The video-display graphic adapter of the IBM thinkpad 765L is a Trident Cyber 9385 with 2 Megabytes video memory. The monitor is a TFT active matrix LCD screen that can display a 1024x768 resolution at 75 Hz with a 16-bits color depth (65536 colors). This is good; I am sensitive to flickers and my eyes love such a screen!

Debian GNU/Linux 2.0's XF86Setup failing to its task, i.e. configuring the video display from a few user options, I wrote a special X configuration file working with XFree86 (Debian release 3) and theoretically with any newer version. According to man X, I usually place the file in /usr/X11R6/lib/X11/XF86Config/ or in /etc/XF86Config/. I use symlinks to avoid duplicates and precedence problems.

Note: during configuration, I tested a lot of parameters before having everything work fine. When running the X server, I often had the feeling the LCD was about to melt ... I do not know if such a "melting effect" is bad for the computer. Nevertheless, one year after, I had the graphic adapter to be replaced. I am not sure whether the configuration process be the cause of this replacement. Another possible cause is that my machine felt down broke at the rear. Moving the small break caused by the shock was giving a screen failure, exactly looking like the former melting effect. Who knows? Maybe you will want to play safe with the configuration options.

Tino Keitel wrote: I still have one question: Do You have accelerated graphics with XFree86? I use XF86 3.3.6 with 16 bits colour depth I dont have accelerated graphics. I also tried with 8 bits. I only got unaccelerated graphics on my Thinkpad. I asked on the linux thinkpad mailing list and someone told me that it seems that acceleration is not turned on by default with my combination of X server/chipset, although this should not be the case regarding to the documentation. In the X server output the XAA extension didn't appear. Adding an option "accel" in XF86Config solves the problem. Now I have accelerated graphics. :-)

Bill Rouse reported: "I used your "X" configuration files-thanks! Now to get gpm to co-exist wirh X is my next problem (the trackpoint does not work when gpm is installed.)".

Polar Fox: As for the modeline - with the one that you listed in your HOWTO I found that as X was loading (i.e. when u get the gray screen) I was getting sort of electrical disturbance across the screen, like when your mobile phone rings near your monitor. Someone else had a TP765 and had the same problem and listed that modeline I sent you. Thought it might be handy if u still had the old laptop. If u still use your laptop then you may be interested in this modeline - stops the interference that you get when X starts up. Modeline "1024x768" 72.23 1024 1056 1192 1280 768 770 776 806 -hsync -vsync
Thank you Polar. Here is a patched XF86Config file.

Kernel Compilation

I successfully recompiled and ran a custom 2.0.36 kernel with no efforts, with this .config file in the linux kernel source tree (/usr/src/linux/ on my machine).

Tino Keitel wrote: [...] Here is my .config file for the 2.2.18pre21-kernel, the one that is included in Debian 2.2. It works with my NE2000 compaible PCMCIA ethernet card and my IBM PCMCIA 56k-modem. Sound, floppy and cdrom is includes as modules. [...]

Note: Linux kernel compilation requires the config file to be named .config.

PCMCIA Network Adapters

I had an IBM "Turbo 16/4 TR" Token Ring PCMCIA network adapter successfully running on my machine. I wrote a separate page about it: IBM Turbo 16/4 TR Token Ring PCMCIA network adapter on Linux.

I also had an IBM EtherJet PCMCIA card successfully running. This adapter is not natively supported by the PCMCIA package. Nevertheless, Danilo Beuche has written a contrib module for it [].

Additional Contribs

Manoli Piperakis -- Senior IT Specialist, ATT Global Network Services SA (Pty) Ltd wrote: My TP765L was replaced by a TP390X on which I also ran Linux (Slackware 7.0) successfully. I did manage to get everything to work on the TP765L (including IBM Auto 16/4 TR PCMCIA card) so if there's anything I can help with regarding the Linux installation, let me know, I should still have all the relevant documentation.

Tino Keitel wrote: Hi, I think your thinkpad web page could mention that hot swapping the floppy and cdrom is possible. I just did a "ps2.exe fdd internal" and booted linux with the cdrom. I went into suspend mode and replaced the cdrom by the floppy drive and was able to use the floppy after resume. I can also put back the cdrom, no problem. I don't know if it matters but I have ide-cdrom and floppy drivers compiled as modules. Btw., I have a working XF86Config for XFree86-4.0.2. I can send it to you if you want.

A Bit of History

When I entered IBM in 1998, I have been given for the job an IBM Thinkpad 765L laptop. As nerd as I was at that time, I wanted to install linux on it. On the linux support page [], I found links for almost every model of laptop ... but not for the IBM Thinkpad 765L! Nothing could I find about this model on the rest of the Internet. I therefore decided to install linux on this machine by myself, with the help of some friends. It was difficult but we succeeded. Today, I share this information as a contribution to the open-source community. Epilogue: In 2001, I left IBM. I had to give back this wonderful machine, with regrets ...

Other Resources

Curiously surfing the web for other relevant information, I have seen Dag Wieers has written another great page about Linux on the IBM Thinkpad 765 laptop.


Gilles Chanteperdrix
Farzad Farid
Tino Keitel - tino.keitel at
Manoli Piperakis - MPiperakis at or ManoliP at
Polar Fox - polarfox at or phil_fox at
Bill Rouse - wrouse at

Your Contribution

Your feedback about this page is welcome. Please share with me how it helped you, how clear the informations are, etc. Also, if you have more informations about Linux and the IBM Thinkpad 765L, please feel free to send them and I will publish them in this page.

Jean-Pierre Norguet

About the author: Jean-Pierre Norguet

Jean-Pierre Norguet holds a Ph.D. in Information and Communication Technology from University of Brussels and a Master's degree in Information and Communication Technology from both University of Brussels and Ecole Centrale Paris. After three years of full-time Java development with IBM on mission-critical e-business applications, as team leader and coach, his areas of expertise grew to include the entire application development lifecycle. His research interests currently focus around Java technologies, ontology integration, and Web usage mining. In addition to several Java articles online, Dr. Jean-Pierre Norguet's publications include J2EE books with Prentice Hall and IBM Press, as well as several articles in international research conferences, the proceedings of which have been edited by major scientific organizations like ACM, IEEE, and Springer-Verlag. His outside interests include artistic drawing, French theater acting, and kinesiologie (Bruxelles).