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Compaq Presario 700

My father recently found a steal of a deal on a Presario 705CA. Being a kind soul, he passed this deal on to me. This laptop (or variations on it) is selling at Business Depot and Future Shop for between $1800-2400CDN depending on the options. This is actually pretty reasonable for what it is. (Okay, I managed a better price than this..)

Anyway, here are the specs:

  • Athlon4 1.0 GHz processor (other models are 900-1100 Duron or Athlons)
  • 256MB RAM (128MB on-board, 128MB in the one available slot, max 384MB)
  • 20GB HD (30GB on newer models)
  • DVD/CD-RW combo drive (Just DVD on some models)
  • AC97 sound (Sorta.. we'll get to that.)
  • Realtek 8139 10/100 NIC
  • 56k (W|L)inmodem
  • Integrated S3 TwisterK (Savage4) video, 16MB shared memory
  • Synaptics Touchpad with scroll thing
  • 2 USB ports, 1 Parallel, 1 Firewire, 1 PS/2, SVHS out
  • 2 PCMCIA slots
  • A floppy drive

At the time of writing, April 12 2002, these specs are pretty darn good. In fact, it is better than the main workstation I had been using.

I am running Libranet Linux 2.0 on it. Pretty much everything works now, but this wasn't the case out of the box. In reading the net you may get the impression that Linux doesn't work very well with this machine. It's true that it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to get working, but overall it wasn't too bad.

Getting things working:

Libranet 2.0 is a Debian Woody/Sid based Linux distro using Kernel 2.4.16 and XFree86 4.1.0. It correctly configured the Video (pick the savage4) as well as the ethernet (rt 8139) but out of the box the power management didn't work, neither did the sound.

To get the power management working I upgraded to 2.4.18 and compiled ACPI into the kernel. (I didn't do it as a module, I compiled it right in.) At this point X was working, the network was working, and I could shut down the machine correctly. On to sound.

This proved a little trickier. While Via's sound chipset is well supported in Linux, it seems that this variation didn't want to work well. The module would load, xmms would say it was playing, but no sound could be heard. What was particularly annoying was that all of the sites I had visited (listed below) had no solutions available.

After poking around some more I found this message.

I patched the ac97_codec.c file in /usr/src/kernel/drivers/sound/ recompiled it, and was off to the races. Sound now works perfectly for me, so I'm pretty happy about that. To save you the bother of manually patching the file, here's a copy of the patched file. This is for 2.4.18 only, if you try it with any other kernel version you may be in trouble. I'm sure this patch will get merged into the main source tree, so if you're reading this 3 months from now and version 2.4.19 or 20 is out, you may wish to try the clean kernel first.

Outstanding Issues:

I haven't bothered with the modem yet. I won't use it, so I may not. While it is a software modem, Linux drivers do exist. I have a copy of them here.

The DVD playback is fine under Videolan, but Xine seems to lock up the laptop. So don't use Xine. :-) This seems to be a rather longstanding issue with the S3 Savage card. In fact, it turns out that the video is the weakest part of this laptop. While the 2D performance seems fine, there is absolutely _no_ 3D under Linux. Rumor has it that Glx development was started and then halted. Xi sells a driver that does OpenGL, but it is $80 USD. For a video driver. No, I'm not kidding. For now I guess there will be no Tuxracer for me. 2D seems to work quite well, though. All in all I guess this is a fairly minor gripe. Even the 3D in Windows XP was pretty poor. Direct3D was okay, but OpenGL acceleration was awful. The RTCW demo ran at only a few frames per second. This is certainly not a gamer card.

Other issues with the video are that XScreensaver's Blaster and Critical modules crash the laptop for me. Odd, but just disabling these seems to clear up all the hanging issues I've run into. Finally, if you're using the stock X4.1.0 driver, StarOffice/OpenOffice will also lock it up. The patched video driver found here fixes this and other problems.

I'm kinda annoyed that there is no serial port. I have a Palm IIIc and now I'll have to look into getting it to sync over irda, or at least getting a USB adaptor. What a pain.

Past getting it to shut the machine down properly, I haven't yet delved into ACPI support in Linux yet. It sounded shaky to me, but it also sounds as though it is improving quite quickly. This is good, as I'd like to know what the bettery level is..

The touchpad works well, but I wanted to disable the tap-click. This can be done with a utility called tpconfig. You can install it in Debian by running "apt-get install tpconfig" Now that works well too.

Finally, this laptop, being a fairly powerful machine, gets very warm after extended use. Apparentlty the LVCool utility linked below will help with this, though it looked like some fairly complex kernel patches would be required to get it working correctly. I haven't done this yet, as I'm busy studying for exams. If I get it working I'll post more info here.


This laptop is almost new. It should come as no surprise that there are still some outstanding issues. Personally, I'm shocked that it works as well as it does. I've already used it to do some real work. The TV-Out reportedly works, and I'm sure that things like the sound and ACPI support will only get better over time. While I may not choose this laptop as a perfect Linux laptop, it's quite affordable (even at list price) and with a little work, can be made to work very well under Linux. In another few months I'm sure that the rest of the kinks will be ironed out. If you're buying one past the summer of 2002 I would have no reservations. For now, as long as you are comfortable applying some light kernel patches it will work very well.

If you have any questions or would like help feel free to mail me. If you are trying to use my patched ac97_codec.c file with a kernel other than 2.4.18 you're on your own.

2002 04 29 Update: ACPI battery monitor

Apparently the ACPI people have changed the battery status from /proc/acpi/battery/BATT#/status to /proc/acpi/battery/BATT#/state. Hurumph. This rendered the GNOME panel applet battery monitors useless. What's worse is that I can't find the source for any applet that has ACPI as an option. This despite the fact that I have a binary that almost works.

Anyway, the only way around it that I found was to use an ACPI monitor for Gkrellm but this too had issues, as the source has a hard-coded path to /proc/acpi/battery/BATT1/state, and the Compaq uses BATT0. Anyway, this was a super-easy fix, I had to change two characters in one file. I built a DEB package of it in case anyone else might find it handy. You can find it here.


The following are links that I've used to get me this far:

Specific Models:

Other Good Links:

Related Links On My Site: