Testing a new laptop with openSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint and more

Testing a new laptop with openSuSE, Fedora, Linux Mint and more

Summary: With Windows 8.1 (Update) out of the way, I'm ready to install Linux - if I can get the UEFI firmware figured out...

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I recently got a new Acer Aspire V5-131 sub-notebook. In the previous post I went through the process of configuring Windows 8 and then upgrading to Windows 8.1 Update. 

With that done, I'm ready to start testing and installing Linux on it. I'm planning to try all of my usual distributions - openSuSE (13.1), Fedora (20), Linux Mint (16), Debian (Wheezy/7.5) and Ubuntu 14.04.

In order to install Linux from a bootable USB stick I need to be able to get to the Boot Selection menu, but on Acer systems with UEFI firmware, this is a bit tricky. The Boot Menu key (F12) is disabled by default, so I first have to boot to the BIOS Setup Utility, by pressing F2 during the power on or reboot cycle. Then in the Main setup screen there is an option to enable "F12 Boot Menu".

That's one trick down, but there's another one which might be required. Depending on what version of Linux you want to install, and perhaps how you feel about Secure Boot, you might want/need to disable that. In the BIOS Setup Utility, on the Boot menu there is an option to disable Secure Boot - but I can't get to it: moving the cursor down just skips over it! 

I can change boot mode from UEFI to 'Legacy BIOS', but that isn't what I want to do. I learned (the hard way) with my previous Acer Aspire One, that I have to go to the Security menu and set a "Supervisor Password" before it will let me disable Secure Boot mode. I'm sure this makes sense to someone, but whoever that is, it isn't me. 

In this case I am going to start by installing Linux with Secure Boot still enabled, so I don't really have to do this, but I went ahead and set a supervisor password anyway, because I will eventually want to turn off Secure Boot anyway.

openSuSE
openSuSE 13.1 KDE Desktop

I always install openSuSE first, but that is just a matter of taste, I could just as easily install one of the other distributions which has UEFI support. 

The current version of openSuSE is 13.1, which was released last fall.  I booted the Live USB image, with UEFI Secure Boot still enabled, and it came right up. I poked around a bit, and everything looked good - display resolution, wired and wireless networking and such. So I went ahead and installed it, which took about 15 minutes and had no problems at all.

However, by Linux standards this release is getting rather long in the tooth, since it was released last November. That means there are a lot of updates, so when I let it install updates after the initial boot, there were more than 500 of them, and it took quite a while to download and install - but it all worked very smoothly.

Then came the next stumble: when I rebooted after the installation finished, it booted Windows 8, not openSuSE. Another round of fighting with UEFI configuration. I scratched my head over this one, and booted openSuSE manually by using the Boot Selection key. 

While poking around with the Linux efibootmgr utility, and then looking directly in the Acer BIOS setup, I rememberd that Acer has one of the best and most flexible UEFI Firmware implementations I have seen.

I went back to the BIOS Setup Boot screen, and there was a list of bootable objects there, including Windows 8 and openSuSE, and a description of using the F5/F6 keys to move items up and down in the boot priority list - very much like traditional BIOS boot priority configuration. I moved openSuSE to the top of the list, and then rebooted... and it booted GRUB and then brought up openSuSE!  Hooray!

I have now gone through and checked everything I can think of, and it all works. Display, graphics, sound, USB and SD slots. Nothing special to install, download, compile, or whatever.  When I plugged in an HDMI display, with the system already running, it was recognized and configured at the optimum resolution as an extended desktop, all without disturbing the laptop display.  Very, very nice.

Fedora
Fedora 20 Gnome 3 Desktop

The next distribution I installed was Fedora 20. I once again booted the Live USB stick with UEFI Secure Boot enabled, and it came up with no problem. As with openSuSE, everything looked fine when running the Live USB version, so I went ahead and installed it to the hard drive.

This time when I rebooted, it came up running Fedora - now was a bit strange, as I hadn't changed the UEFI configuration yet. I went back to the ACER BIOS config utility, and found that now it listed Fedora first, WIndows 8 second, and openSuse was nowhere to be seen.  After further investigation, it looks to me like as far as the BIOS configuration is concerned, it boils down to "Boot Windows" or "Boot something else", where "something else" is defined as whatever happens to be first in the EFI boot order list. 

So when Fedora was installed and added itself to the beginning of that list it didn't matter that the complete list was "Fedora, openSuSE, Windows", the BIOS config just picked that up as "Fedora, Windows".

This proved to be the case later, when I installed Linux Mint and the boot list became "Mint, Fedora, openSuSE, Windows", but the BIOS config just listed the options as "Linux Mint, Windows". 

Well, that's good enough for me; at least it is consistent and stable, it doesn't keep changing it back to Windows first unexpectedly, and if I really want to I can still get the complete boot list by pressing the Boot Selection key (F12) during POST or Reboot.

Fedora 20 was released in mid-Decemer 2013, so it is about a month newer than openSuSE 13.1. If anything, though, there have been even more updates released for Fedora than openSuSE; in particular, Fedora has been tracking Linux kernel releases much more actively than openSuSE. So the bad news is that there are a lot of updates to download and install; the good news is, as usual with Linux distributions, they all get done with one pass, and when it is done you will be running Linux kernel 3.14.2.

I went through again and tested everything I could think of, and it all worked. As with openSuSE, I could plug/unplug the HDMI display and the desktop would be reconfigured and expanded/reduced dynamically with no action or input from me. I also tested Bluetooth connectivity, and my Logitech Bluetooth mouse was recognized, paired and worked with no problem. I tested the Fn-keys for sound up/down/mute, display brightness up/down and wireless networking on/off (affects both WiFi and Bluetooth), and that all worked just fine as well. I am starting to get quite impressed with this little system running Linux!

LinuxMint
Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon Desktop

Next I installed Linux Mint 16 (Petra) Cinnamon. The process was the same as for openSuSE and Fedora, this is getting to be pretty routine by now. Boot the Live image, check that everything is working normally, and install to disk.

Testing produced the same results as for openSuSE and Fedora, everything works. Update installation also completed without problem. We're actually getting pretty close to the release of Linux Mint 17, expected at the end of this month, so I am looking forward to trying that out on this new system.

Further reading

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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21 comments
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  • Well...

    So much for the "Secure Boot" end of the world as we know it scenario. Sounds like several Linux installs and all was well and nowhere did you mention turning it off. That's the beauty of Linux - find a problem and fix it. Of course, that's much less interesting than spending precious time grousing about it in the media (directed at one of your ZDNet colleagues...).
    jwspicer
    • Secure Boot, Sigh

      I have very mixed feelings about Secure Boot. The strongest of those is still that it is a very large solution for a very, very small problem. Another is that it introduces a lot of difficulty, inconvenience and potentially even cost as part of that solution. But at the end of the day, it is what it is and it is obviously here to stay, so we might as well learn to live with it and move on. That is why I have tried very hard to concentrate on solutions, and how to get things done either with it or in spite of it. After all, the net effect of writing about Secure Boot being the end of the world as we know it really ends up just discouraging people from trying Linux, isn't it? I certainly don't want to do that, and in fact one of the things that I wanted to write at the end of this post was that with this system, this UEFI firmware implementation and these first three Linux distributions, it is finally possible to install Linux and set up dual-boot with Windows 8 without having to either disable Secure Boot or do a lot of extra work to get around it.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
      • UEFI is an eyeroll

        Not only is it "a very large solution for a very, very small problem," I'm skeptical that it's any sort of long term solution. Worst, it might actually be become a huge security risk threat down the road as digital certificates become more and more problematic. UEFI might have made sense a decade ago when digital signing seemed a secure way for eventually marking tested and registered software and devices as being safe, but in recent years, not so much....
        JustCallMeBC
    • I got windows 8 to be in the grub menu

      instead of pressing f12 everytime to get into windowz , you can add it to the grub screen.
      I got this answer from here:
      https://ask.fedoraproject.org/en/question/41984/uefi-dual-boot-windows-81-and-fedora-20/
      linuxisgreat
  • The "end of the world"

    is still there - you cannot compiler your own grub and have it work. And there can still be failures if you do experimental kernel testing...
    jessepollard
  • really need an edit...

    Its "compile" not "compiler".
    jessepollard
    • Amen

      Amen to that... many a time I have wished that I could repair a comment.

      As for Secure Boot, I have very mixed feelings about it, as mentioned above. But don't you think that someone who is technically capable of compiling GRUB and/or testing a Linux kernel is likely to be capable of dealing with the shortcomings and inconveniences of Secure Boot as well?

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
      • Well you just took

        jessepollard's whole reason to exist away, to complain about something that isn't that big of an issue except for him to go troll on any article about Microsoft.
        hoppmang
        • I suppose you didn't notice this wasn't an article about Microsoft.

          reading comprehension problem?
          jessepollard
      • No.

        You can't get your own version of grub signed.

        I believe it was $99 to get that ONE version signed - and several tries... and a MS developer registration.

        The problem isn't secure boot - but the political process MS created around it.

        Its primary purpose is to make things more expensive on the user and to exclude anyone other than MS from working with it.
        jessepollard
        • Good point

          That is a valid point. Adam Williamson has posted here several times saying that it is "supposed to be possible" to register your own certificates within the UEFI firmare configuration. I have never seen an actual UEFI implementation that supports this, have you? If you were to have one, would that solve this problem?

          jw
          j.a.watson@...
  • Slow news day?

    I guess I missed the whole point of this article. Could it not have been stated fairly simply as

    "I was able to install all major Linux distros on my new Acer laptop without any issues" ?

    Does anyone really care about the Acer BIOS? or Acer in general? If this is an article about Acer then the discussion of the various Linux distros doesn't really make sense. If its about Linux, then one line could have saved a lot of time and energy.

    Seems to me that ZDNet is really stretching for "news" these days. :(
    ccs9623
    • In case you hadn't noticed...

      ...the title of this blog is "Jamie's Mostly Linux Stuff" and one of the things Jamie does is to write about his efforts to install various Linux distros on various machines As many of us end up "Linuxing" PCs that originally ran Windows at one time or another, he's performing a valuable service by doing so.
      John L. Ries
  • Acer laptop with openSuSE, Fedora, etc

    Mr. Watson, your blogs on setting up various Linux distributions on your UEFI Acer are excellent reportage. Your method for each distribution, your trouble shooting and your eventual success are clear and eminently readable. And repeatable with many other laptop brands as well as your often underrated Acers.
    I always hope to find this kind of experimentation description from other ZDNet writers because it's what makes our technology rich. And you don't give us a diatribe about UEFI. You simply make this secure boot system work for you, Linux and Windows working together.
    Please give us more. Full disclosure: I have never met or corresponded with J. A. Watson until this note.
    denwilgor
    • Negative reviews are allowed

      If Jamie finds Secure Boot or any other implementations of UEFI to be a nuisance, then he should say so and say why. MS is a big enough company that it can afford to take the heat; and Secure Boot *is* an MS mandate, so it gets partial responsibility for implementations that give Linux users fits.
      John L. Ries
      • More Positive, but not exclusively

        I try very hard to write a lot more positive than negative, because I think that is what people want to read, and that is what helps them learn to make the most of what is available, solving or avoiding problems and obstacles, rather than just moaning about them. But I do write negatively sometimes, and UEFI firmware implementations have been the target of some of that - especially the ones which are inconsistent or unpredictable. I have also been known to write negative reviews or opinions about specific Linux distributions - I was not very kind to Zorin OS recently, for example.

        I like to stress the positive, because I think that is what people appreciate and benefit the most from. But concealing the negative would be very counter productive.

        Thanks for reading and commenting.

        jw
        j.a.watson@...
        • More positive

          I enjoyed you article and found it relevant and interesting. I'm pro Microsoft and strongly anti-Mac and Linux.

          I'm currently having problems with UEFI on an Acer/Gateway LT41.
          I can't image with Paragon software because it's not 64 bit compatible and Paragon does not have 32bit UEFI compatibility. I recently sold an AOD270 because the GMA3600 graphics crashed with Sandboxie but have a 722 as well as the LT-41.

          Not sure why people are beating you up perhaps they are jealous or snobby, I don't know what's up with this negative V positive the articles should be neutral and the review turns out negative or positive relative to the subject, it's rather difficult to write a positive article about a plane crash, Or a fatal accident on the way to a wedding, or a negative article about someone who had their legs blown off and became an Olympic runner, er wait well you know what I mean.
          gregzdnet
  • UEFI is a lot of problems for some people

    I seams that Fedora 20 and Virtual Box are not compatable with UEFI boot.
    Could you test and see
    GrayGhost!
    • Fedora 20 Is Definitely UEFI Compatible

      Fedora 20 is probably the most UEFI compatible distribution I have installed. I haven't tried it with Virtual Box, so I can't comment on that. For more details, refer to my original posting about Fedora 20, last November/December.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
  • Did you test the Sleep/Suspend function?

    I have tried a few different Linux distributions alongside Windows 8 and my favourite Linux distro: Mint KDE. All worked fine. The only thing that I just can't get working properly is sleep/suspend. It seems to suspend ok when I click the power button or select sleep / suspend from the menu. But when I wake it up with the power button, it goes into a reboot cycle.

    Perhaps an incompatibility issue with my Sony VAIO S-Series laptop? There's various suggestions on the Linux forums on how to fix this, using complex under the hood configurations that I don't really want to go near. So sadly, it is the one thing where Windows 8 absolutely shines over Linux; for me anyway.

    So I just wondered whether you tested this with your various Linux distributions?
    ron.beernink@...