linux on the texas instruments extensa 900cdt
by daniel james


  • 133MHz Pentium
  • 256K L2 cache
  • 16MB-48MB EDO RAM
  • 1.36GB hard drive
  • 11.3-inch active-matrix display - 800x600 resolution - 64k colours
  • 2MB VRAM on standard Chips and Technologies video card
  • Two Type II PC Card slots (both support 32-bit CardBus)
  • Infrared port
  • Integrated microphone/speakers
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • Touchpad mouse (PS/2)
  • Base unit with cold-swap eight-speed CD-ROM drive (bootable) and floppy
This P133 powered laptop came out in 1996 and was one of the early 'slimline' models. It's got a good quality 800x600 active matrix screen and a lithium-ion battery. It achieves it's relatively low travelling weight of 4.9 pounds by separating the base into two - the lower half contains a floppy/CD-ROM port and an optional second battery. It also duplicates the ports found on the top half for desktop cabling requirements. With both units locked together it weighs 7.1 pounds.

My 900CDT has worked well with the default installations of Linux Mandrake 7.2 through to 9.0 - except for power management. The APM implementation on these machines is non-standard, and after a resume you'll get a kernel oops and a locked up laptop. This wouldn't be much of a problem unless you have to close the lid a lot while travelling, as this triggers a suspend if you haven't shut down first. The only cure I'm aware of is compiling a kernel with software suspend enabled. Standby mode works with a default kernel and will save battery (press Fn and the blue hand on the F keys), but if you close the lid during standby it will suspend and cause the kernel oops.

There's a similar sounding but different APM problem in Acer notebooks, the fix for which does not solve the problem on the 900CDT. Acer took over the Extensa range from Texas Instruments, so there is some scope for confusion here.

The only other (minor) problem is the occassional funny message in the console from the CD-ROM drive. It doesn't stop the drive working.

The CD-ROM and floppy are not hot-swapable, but since the CD-ROM drive is bootable this isn't a problem at installation time. Press Fn and F1 to access the BIOS.

Overall it's a good machine, but if you're looking to buy one, consider if APM support is important to you, assuming you don't want to build a customised kernel.

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