My impressions of the Toshiba Satellite Pro 480CDT

UPDATES January 26, 2006 and later

I've scanned in 11 pages from the User's Guide which may be useful to some people based on questions I've been receiving over the past couple of years. The pages I scanned contain the basic features of the laptop (info about processors, memory, ports), system resources (IRQ level, DMA channel, and I/O port address assignments), and video modes. I hope that helps. I've also scanned in a few pages about how to add memory to the laptop, since I received an inquiry from someone trying to do so, who was having trouble figuring out how to access the memory bays.

Paul Canavan wrote to me recently while he was trying to get an old 480CDT working. It wouldn't recognize a Belkin 54g wireless card under Windows 98, so he upgraded to Windows XP (he said it was slow but sufficient for web browsing, with 80MB of RAM and the 4GB hard drive). It still wouldn't recognize the card. After some searching, he says he found some info on the Toshiba web site which says that "the earlier Toshiba notebooks had a 5 volt spike problem on boot up which could damage 3.3 volt cardbus notebook cards". He's now using a Netgear 54g wireless card which is working; he removes the card when starting up the laptop just in case the above bit about 5 voltage spike was the problem. Anyway, I thought the above info might be helpful to someone.

There is a bunch of info over on TuxMobil about Linux on various laptops. They have a link to this page, as well as other pages with info about Toshiba Satellite Pro and other laptops.

UPDATE March 24, 2003

During the past several months, according to my weblogs many many people have been searching for information about this laptop, and I've received e-mail from a few of them with various questions. So I think it's time for another update. It seems many people are inheriting 480CDTs, so they are getting second lives.

My 480CDT is still alive and kicking, although yes it's old and slow and heavy compared to what's available today. Its battery has gotten pretty weak though; it can't hold a charge for very long, and I find that I'm usually not able to start up the laptop on battery power alone, although if I plug it in while starting up, it can run on battery power for a little while. I ordered a replacement battery from last summer (2002), which worked fine for several months, but then pretty much stopped working entirely -- the laptop would shut off even when plugged into AC power, when that battery was in it. When I tried to get it replaced (it was still under warranty), I shipped it back to them; they claimed it passed all their tests, and returned it to me. However, the battery still doesn't work for me, so I plan to pursue the matter further. [They eventually gave me a full refund for the battery. -DH]

Other than the battery, however, the laptop still runs fine. I still haven't upgraded the operating system, since it turns out the Chinese software I use (cxterm) doesn't work properly under newer versions of Linux, and I think some of the input method features in cxterm are better than any other more modern software I've tried under Windows or Linux.

One person wrote to me with questions about the modem. This laptop came out before so-called winmodems became common, so it has a real hardware modem. If you are reinstalling Windows (or have done so already), you should do fine telling Windows that it's a generic Hayes-compatible modem. One important thing you need to know, however, is that the modem is only a 33.6Kbps modem; it is NOT 56Kbps.

Other things -- I don't know anything about using external hard drives or CD-burners or things like that. A year or two ago, I tried to install a Linksys 100Mbps PCMCIA network card, but couldn't get it working under Linux, so I went back to my old 10Mbps card. I think the trouble was probably because I'm running a version of Linux from 1998, rather than a limitation of the laptop itself. To switch between internal display only, external display (monitor) only, or both simultaneously, hold down the "Fn" key and push the "F5" key. To switch between "normal" mode and "power-conserving" mode (which makes the screen dimmer, and spins down the hard driver sooner and blanks the display sooner when the computer is idle), use "Fn" and "F2" (the little picture of the faucet on the F2 key is to symbolize power flowing through the laptop).

Below is my original page about the 480CDT

I got a Toshiba Satellite Pro 480CDT on January 19, 1998. It was my first laptop. Here are some of my impressions and experiences with it. In summary: I really like it a lot.

  9. LINUX


This machine has a 233MHZ "Tillamook" Pentium processor, 10X CDROM, FDD, built-in 33.6 Kbps modem with standard RJ-11 jack and a cellular-phone cable port, 32MB memory, 3.8GB hard disk, 256K L2 cache, 2MB video memory, 12.1-inch screen, Yamaha OPL3-SA3 sound card, Accu-point "eraser head" pointing device. There's a serial port, parallel port, USB port, 4Mbps IrDA port, NoteDock port, microphone jack, headphone jack, line-in jack, external SVGA monitor port, PS/2 port for external keyboard/mouse, slot for one type III or two type II PC cards which claims to be "Zoomed Video and CardBus compatible" (but I don't even know what that means so I obviously never tested it). It uses a Li-Ion battery, and has an internal NiMH back-up battery which is used for suspending/resuming and the internal clock.


I ordered the notebook from Computer Discount Warehouse ( ), along with Linksys combo PCMCIA ethernet card and Targus Convertible Backpac carrying case. I later ordered a security cable which locks to the right-rear corner of the laptop to physically secure it. Prices were as follows:

CDW was pleasant to deal with, and shipped the machine the same day I placed the order (their web site indicated that everything I wanted was in stock, so that was to be expected).

I have to admit, I didn't use my own money to buy this. I was using some research equipment money from my graduate fellowship. But I still spent a lot of time researching what machine to buy, since I only had one chance to get a good machine, so I didn't want a dud.


I was originally planning to get the Satellite Pro 460CDT, but decided on the 480CDT for three main reasons:

  1. faster processor (233MHz versus 166)
  2. bigger disk (3.8GB versus 2.1GB)
  3. lower temperature and longer battery life

Those reasons definitely seemed worth the price difference (if you have the money). Reasons #1 and #2 were especially important to me; I practically never run on battery power.


I was glad there was a giant "quick start" card provided by Toshiba, since when I got it of course I wanted to turn it on right away, but had no idea how to begin with a laptop. Anyway, the thing started right up, running Windows95. The modem and networking card both worked fine under Windows95, using software and configuration instructions provided by my university. I seem to have 1 bad pixel stuck off (black), which I never notice unless I really look for it. I thought I had several white pixels, but they turned out to only be some dust on the screen. :-)

The machine came with Windows95 installed in the roughly 2-meg C: drive, with an empty 1.8 meg D: drive. It comes with a Windows95 CD-ROM, so you don't have to sit down and make the 30 system disks. There's also another Recovery Disk and CD-ROM with other stuff that Toshiba adds to the system.

The User's Guide seems pretty good. Much better than the one for the Toshiba Equium 5200D desktop, which is the only other one I have to compare with.


The keyboard feels very nice to me, although my "Tab" key was sticking down somewhat at first. But that problem has mostly gone away with use; it was never serious enough to be a real nuisance. I like the wrist-rest configuration of the keyboard. The right wrist rest gets a little warm if I'm working in a warm room, but not so much that it's uncomfortable -- just asymmetric, since the left side stays cool. I swapped the "Caps Lock" and "Ctrl" keys under Linux/X11, which works much better for me since I use Control a lot, and almost never use Caps Lock. The Escape key and backquote/tilde key are a little farther away than I'd like, but I'm pretty used to it now.

I absolutely love the pointing device, and the 2 mouse buttons are positioned well and have just the right amount of "yield" to them in my opinion. I barely have to move my finger and thumb in order to point and click with this layout. Now when I use other machines it sometimes seems like a pain to have to actually move my hand to use the pointer. (Gee, talk about lazy...) When I tried IBM laptops in stores, the pointer buttons felt like you had to push them much farther in order to trigger them. Mine are just right, quite easy but not so easy that I accidentally press it while typing. But for those who use the "right" mouse button a lot, it's quite a bit smaller than the "left" one, and farther down, so it's a little harder to hit (but not much).

The only real nuisance with the physical layout is that the SelectBay is right below the internal modem. So when I am using the modem, it's a pain to put in or take out a CD, because I have to maneuver around the phone cord.


One nice feature is that the FDD can be plugged in externally via a provided cable (this can be done with the machine running), or it can be swapped into the machine's "SelectBay" in place of the CD drive (you have to turn the machine off for this though). A second hard disk or battery can also be put into the SelectBay. One annoying thing is that you can't leave the SelectBay empty, i.e. they don't provide any cover to use with an empty case. I'd really like to make the laptop lighter when I don't need the CD or FDD, so this is my main disappointment. Well, I suppose you *could* leave the SelectBay empty, but then the bottom of the laptop wouldn't be flat, which isn't so nice, and the connector would be exposed so dust could get in there.


The internal modem works fine, although I always get connect speeds around 26-28.8Kbps. But my phone line goes through a couple of line splitters, and I suspect I may have a noisy line.

I got an external keyboard and 3-button mouse which I use at home. Actually I prefer the laptop's keyboard, but I got an external one because I always prefer to sit farther away from computer screens to relax my eyes. I bought a "Y" adapter to plug the external keyboard and mouse into the PS/2 port, and had no problems at all, didn't even have to tell the laptop about it, it just recognized them (under Win95 and Linux). One thing I notice, when I've got them plugged in, the "internal" keyboard still works, but the trackpoint doesn't -- I have to use the external mouse. I'm pretty sure this can be changed from within the Win95 control panel, but I never bothered trying.

I also plugged in an external 15-inch monitor (MAG Innovision dj530) just to try it. I only tried that under Linux, and again it worked automatically -- I just had to write a new X configuration file for the monitor. The internal display blanked out when I plugged in the external monitor, but I think there is a way to set it up for simultaneous display under Win95.

I also had access to a Toshiba desktop (Equium 5200D) with an IrDA port. That machine came with TranXit, whereas mine came with Intellisync. So I installed TransXit on my laptop, and it worked automatically, I was able to transfer files between the machines under Win95. The desktop has a slower IrDA port though, so it was a little slow. Later under Linux I used a 10baseT crossover cable to hook up the two machines directly through their ethernet interfaces (without a hub). That was really cool, file transfers were really fast, plus I could telnet to the other machine and run remote applications, etc.


I've only tested battery life twice. The first time, it lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes. But for the last 45 minutes, the battery gauge claimed only 1 minute of power was left (underestimated its own lasting power I guess). I was using the machine fairly regularly for about 70% of the time.

The next time, I started up some big simulations under Linux which kept the CPU entirely busy and did a lot of reading/writing to the hard disk regularly (every few seconds or so sometimes), and I also was using emacs and LaTeX to write a paper. And I was using the modem some of the time. I only lasted for 2 hours before getting the regular beeping indicating the battery was almost drained. I had the display set at medium (there's a special function-key combination you can use to select among 3 brightness/power levels for the display, which works under Linux as well as Win95). It also thought it was going to run out sooner than it did, according to the xapm gauge.


This was my first time dealing with Linux, although I've been using Unix on Sun workstations for a long time. I got RedHat5.0, which installed pretty easily (I split the 1.8 meg D: drive into a Linux swap, root, usr, and home partition, and left the C: drive as it was with Win95 on it). I followed some config files I found on the Linux on Laptops pages at I used the info for the 440CDX with some slight modification (e.g. newer C&T video chip) to get X11 running at 800x600 with 16bits/pixel (the initial RedHat defaults gave me 640x480 with a black border around the edge). Here is a copy of my XF86Config file for running at 800x600 with 16 bits per pixel.

PPP for networking over the modem worked, and Linux recognized the LinkSys ethernet card which worked fine too. The main problem I had was, I had to reboot to switch between using the modem and the ethernet card -- it was really odd. I finally figured out they were trying to use the same IRQ. Changing one line in the /etc/pcmcia/config.opts file fixed that. I had trouble getting the sound card configured under Linux too, but finally it worked when I figured out what IRQ, DMA, and IO address settings to use, although I still haven't figured out how to get the microphone working under Linux (it works great under Win95). So most of the trouble I had was just my own ignorance about how PC hardware works. I installed APM software, so I can suspend and resume, and the "shutdown -h" command will actually power off the computer after halting Linux.

This makes a great portable Linux machine. I pretty much never have to reboot. I work at home using the modem, then suspend and go to school and resume, and start using the ethernet. I use the machine on 3 different networks at 2 different schools (and with the modem at both schools plus a third location). I wrote some scripts so I just use one command to tell it where I am, and it reconfigures all the network files. I don't have to reboot to move from one place to another. I find this extremely convenient.

Emacs, X11, gcc, and LaTeX all run great. I installed some software under X11 (cxterm, cemacs, gb2ps, hz2ps) for reading/writing Chinese text, which works well. The simulations I do for my research run pretty quickly, and xdvi displays my documents almost instantaneously (except if there are a lot of big figures on a page). It took me 7 minutes to recompile the Linux kernel the first time (now it takes longer since I've added more stuff like APM, soundcard modules, etc.) It takes me about 31 seconds to boot up Linux, and another 17 seconds to start up X-windows. But to be honest, I almost never have to do that, since I always just suspend. Almost the only time I reboot is to run Win95 to play games.


This makes a great portable Linux machine, and I think the machine is overall very good. About all I could ask for is a bigger display. Later in the year I plan to buy an external monitor for when I'm using it at home, as well as another 32meg of memory (when I've got emacs, some xterms, netscape, ghostview, a chinese xterm and chinese emacs running under Linux, plus maybe some simulations, it sucks up a fair amount of memory). The main reasons I strongly considered the Toshiba Satellite Pro line were:

  1. I knew the C&T video chips were well-supported by XFree86/Linux
  2. Out of all the machines I had tried out in various computer stores, this line's keyboard/pointing device felt the best
  3. The machines just felt pretty solid and well-made.

I should point out that I haven't had to deal with Toshiba tech support, so I have no stories to tell there.

UPDATE November 11, 1998

I still love this machine. I recently bought another 128MB of memory, so the laptop now has its maximum 160MB. This is mainly because I have been running some simulations which were using a lot of memory. Not only can I run my simulations now (which before would pretty much grind the computer to a halt when memory and swap space filled up), but I also notice other benefits like netscape performs better, and when I run 2 copies of emacs (I often have one in English and one in Chinese) they both respond much faster than before.

UPDATE December 22, 1998

The 480CDT continues to live a useful life and work reliably. It now has a ZIP-Plus drive (which was trivial to make work with RedHat5.0 Linux, using the "imm" driver), and an external monitor which I use at home. Also, at home I am now connected to the internet via Time Warner Cable's Road Runner internet service through a cable modem (which was also very easy to get working under Linux via my ethernet card -- in fact, I never bothered to install the RoadRunner software under Windows).

I regularly switch between the external monitor (at home) and built-in LCD (at other locations), by keeping two separate X-windows sessions running, one for each display (so the 160MB of memory is really handy now), and switching between them with Ctrl-Alt-F7 and Ctrl-Alt-F8. I even plug into an "InFocus" external projector display at meetings pretty often, which works without me changing anything in Linux (I just hit the special key combination to activate the external display port). It surprised me, because when someone else used the projector from a Toshiba Tecra running Windows95, part of the display got chopped off. But with Linux, the whole picture was there, with no fuss, and without building a new X config file as I thought I'd have to do.

I regularly connect to the internet via the cable modem, the built-in modem, and by ethernet at the various offices and homes that I regularly spend time at. Switching between the various settings is very easy, via a couple of simple scripts I wrote which reassign various symbolic links for config files.

Hiebeler's little home page
Dave Hiebeler <> (change 'zzz' to 'umaine' to send e-mail -- sorry, but spam harvesters are out there)
Last modified: Tue Oct 16 11:10:14 2007