Testing Ubuntu, Debian and LMDE on my new notebook

Testing Ubuntu, Debian and LMDE on my new notebook

Summary: Three more popular Linux distributions (and one failed attempt), and finally my overall impression and evaluation of my new Acer V5-131


I recently picked up an Acer V5-131 at a good price here in Switzerland. In my previous two posts about it I have described configuring and upgrading Windows 8, and installing openSuSE, Fedora and Linux Mint on it. There is at least one obvious omission from that list of Linux distributions — Ubuntu. So this post will focus on installing that, plus Linux Mint Debian Edition (MATE) and the Debian testing distribution (jessie).

Ubuntu 14.10 LTS (Trusty Tahr)

Since Ubuntu 14.04 LTS was just released a couple of weeks ago, I didn't expect to have any problem installing it, and that is just the way it turned out.

Once again, I was able to boot the Live USB stick with UEFI Secure Boot enabled, and the installation process was completely uneventful.

There is one thing concerning UEFI boot configuration that I would like to mention. Ubuntu was one of the first Linux distributions that could be installed with UEFI boot, which was commendable — but they accomplished that with a rather complicated procedure after installation which used a "Boot Repair" utility to rewrite parts of the configuration. 

I have to admit that I have never used that procedure, or that utility — and that is exactly the point I want to make. It is not necessary to follow that procedure any more, the UEFI boot configuration can be set up to dual-boot (or multi-boot) Ubuntu and Windows 8 using nothing more than the system BIOS configuration and the standard Linux efibootmgr utility. I did just that for this installation, and it worked perfectly.

When I rebooted after the installation was finished, the system came right back up running Ubuntu. Once again I went through everything I could think of to test, and once again everything worked. It's so nice to be bored! (Seriously)

At this point I finally had to disable UEFI Secure Boot, because the remaining distributions that I want to test don't support it. In my opinion this is not a big deal, and it's something I would eventually have to do anyway because of the way that I set up multiboot under UEFI (with openSuSE controlling everything else — if there is sufficient interest I'll write a post only about that some time).

But keep it in mind if you are determined to use Secure Boot. That sounds like a pretty basic contradiction, doesn't it? Wanting to install Linux and being determined to use Secure Boot. I suppose there might be a few people in the world who fit that description — feel free to speak up if you are one.

The next Linux distribution I wanted to install was SolydX, because I had just seen the announcement of a new set of ISO images with the latest Update Pack included, and with UEFI boot support added. Unfortunately, it didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped. First, the Live USB image wouldn't boot at all. That turned out to be my own fault, I had managed to overlook the note in the release announcement that said for UEFI boot you have to use unetbootin to create the USB stick.

But then I went back and did that, and it still fails to boot. At least it tries, but there seems to be something wrong with the boot configuration, and it just comes up with a GRUB error. Oh well, move along, there are plenty of other interesting possibilities.

Linux Mint Debian Edition (201403/UP8) MATE Desktop

Another popular Linux distribution that I didn't get to in the first post was Linux Mint Debian Edition. I wanted to install this one in addition to the "standard" Mint 16 for two reasons — first, because I am still partial to LMDE even after all of the struggles I've had with Update Packs over the years, and second because it gives an indication of the compatibility of Debian Testing (jessie) and other derivatives of that such as SolydXK, Makulu and Tanglu.

Once again the installation completed with no problems. More boredom; so let me just add a few words about the LMDE installer. 

It is really nice. Gorgeous graphics, simple to use, a minimum of questions, and still very flexible. For example, it is one of the few Linux installers I have seen that lets you choose the EFI boot partition to use, and it does it in a very simple and logical way. I really wish that other distributions would take advantage of this excellent resource.

I chose to install the MATE version of Mint Debian, since I already had Cinnamon installed with Mint 16. Do I need to say again that "everything works", just as it did with all of the previous distributions? Well, it does. Perfectly. I can't find a single thing that isn't working properly, or isn't supported, or needed any kind of extra downloading, compiling, installing, configuring, or anything else.

Debian Jessie
Debian GNU/Linux (jessie) Xfce Desktop

On the spur of the moment, while writing about LMDE, I decided to install Debian GNU/Linux as well. To keep things interesting, I chose to use the Testing branch (jessie), installing from the Alpha-1 release that was made last month.

I had to leave Secure Boot disabled, because Debian, like LMDE, does not include Secure Boot support. It's kind of interesting to run through the Debian installer right after having gone through the LMDE installer. They could hardly be more different, where the LMDE installer is aesthetically beautiful and is simple and elegant, the Debian installer is very "minimalist", with essentially no graphics. I can just about imagine running the Debian installer on an LA-36: but the important thing is that they both get the job done, reliably.

When I decided to install Debian, I wondered if there might be a driver missing or requiring separate installation because of the FOSS-only policy in the base distribution, but there wasn't anything missing. Even the Broadcom wi-fi adapter was working out of the box. Great stuff!

Okay, that's enough. Six Linux distributions, and six different desktops:

  • openSuSE / KDE
  • Fedora / Gnome 3
  • Linux Mint 16 / Cinnamon
  • Linux Mint Debian Edition / MATE
  • Ubuntu / Unity
  • Debian Testing / Xfce

I've had this little notebook for less than a week, and I really like it. It has been by far the easiest to install a variety of Linux distributions on that I have ever tried. It is noticeably faster than any of the other sub-notebook or netbook systems that I have around here, and speaking purely subjectively I would say that it is at least as fast as either of the full-size notebooks I tried recently (Compaq and Asus). 

It has the same screen resolution that those two 15-inch notebook systems have, but with an 11.6-inch screen that makes for a higher pixel density, and I think a better looking display. It has Bluetooth, which is often omitted from smaller / less expensive systems like this. It has an HDMI port, which is a must for my use, because I connect to my TV for slide shows.

Honestly, I can only think of two things which I am not very pleased about. It doesn't have any USB 3.0 ports. That doesn't bother me much, because I don't have many USB 3.0 peripherals anyway. But that might become more significant in the future. 

The only really significant problem is that it has the blasted 'Touchpad' pointing device. I really dislike that. Maybe that's just me, maybe not. But at least I have a good solution — we have been using the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 that I wrote about in January, and it has two Bluetooth channels selectable with a switch on the bottom. So I can leave it paired to the Samsung on one channel, and pair it to the new Acer on the other. Than I can disable the clickpad with Fn-F7 (yes, that works on Linux too!), and I'm once again a happy camper.

The bottom line is that I like this sub-notebook so much that it is likely to replace the Samsung netbook we have been using downstairs for a couple of years now. It will help me get my partner transitioned from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 Update, and it is much better running Linux than the Samsung ever was. That sounds like a winner to me!

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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  • /

    description on your picture says ubuntu 14.10 which doesnt exist yet
    • My bad...

      Sorry. Brain fart.

      Thanks for the correction.

  • Ubuntu updates

    Just curious if there was a kernel updaate for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS after the installation ... On my 12.04 LTS system I use apt-get for updates and kernel updates always get held back. Which means that I first run:

    $ sudo apt-get update

    And have to follow-up with:

    $ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

    to get the kernel updates. That's two passes for updates.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Re: $ sudo....

      Whatever you do leave out the Terminal talk as it will undo all the hard work that has been done by the distribution developers to encourage people to move to Linux.
      • $ sudo deluser 5735guy

        $ sudo rm -r /home/5735guy

        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • RHM

          Got laugh out of that one.

          • RHM

            Sorry, I hit flag by mistake.

    • No kernel updates

      No, there were no kernel updates after the installation completed. Ubuntu seems to be very conservative when it comes to kernel updates. The positive side is that there is less risk of something breaking, I suppose. The negative side is that they are always way behind the latest kernel by the time their next release comes out and they make a huge leap forward again to catch up.

      I suspect that my feelings are the same as yours, I don't like having it fall so far behind.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • There are kernel updates

        I believe the released kernel is "i A linux-image-3.13.0-24-generic - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP."

        The newer kernel:
        oracle@U1404LTS:~$ uname -a
        Linux U1404LTS 3.13.0-26-lowlatency #48-Ubuntu SMP PREEMPT Thu May 8 00:00:10 UTC 2014 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

        oracle@U1404LTS:~$ aptitude search linux-image
        v linux-image -
        v linux-image:i386 -
        v linux-image-3.0 -
        v linux-image-3.0:i386 -
        i A linux-image-3.13.0-24-generic - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.13.0-24-generic:i386 - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        i linux-image-3.13.0-24-lowlatency - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.13.0-24-lowlatency:i386 - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.13.0-26-generic - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.13.0-26-generic:i386 - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        i linux-image-3.13.0-26-lowlatency - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.13.0-26-lowlatency:i386 - Linux kernel image for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-3.4.0-3-goldfish:i386 - Linux kernel image for version 3.4.0 on Android touch emulation
        i A linux-image-extra-3.13.0-24-generic - Linux kernel extra modules for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-extra-3.13.0-24-generic:i386 - Linux kernel extra modules for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-extra-3.13.0-26-generic - Linux kernel extra modules for version 3.13.0 on 64 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-extra-3.13.0-26-generic:i386 - Linux kernel extra modules for version 3.13.0 on 32 bit x86 SMP
        p linux-image-extra-virtual - Transitional package.
        p linux-image-extra-virtual:i386 - Transitional package.
        pB linux-image-generic - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic:i386 - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-quantal - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-quantal:i386 - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-raring - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-raring:i386 - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-saucy - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-saucy:i386 - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-trusty - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-lts-trusty:i386 - Generic Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-generic-pae:i386 - Transitional package
        p linux-image-goldfish:i386 - Linux kernel image for the goldfish kernel.
        p linux-image-lowlatency - lowlatency Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-lowlatency:i386 - lowlatency Linux kernel image
        p linux-image-lowlatency-pae:i386 - Transitional package
        p linux-image-server - Transitional package.
        p linux-image-server:i386 - Transitional package.
        p linux-image-virtual - This package will always depend on the latest minimal generic kernel ima
        p linux-image-virtual:i386 - This package will always depend on the latest minimal generic kernel ima
        • Re: There are kernel updates....

          And there you go. For any prospective user they have just been turned off Linux. Remember not everyone are like you and I knowing our way round the Terminal.

          For the average user they would not know where to start in the Terminal. It was an unnecessary post completely clouding the issue for newcomers, even off-putting.

          In the popular Linux distributions the Terminal should be all but banished as it is in OS X. Sure its there but for rare occasions and how often is it you use the command line in Windows. Pretty much never.

          Quit confusing the Linux issue.
  • Broadcom wifi works out of the box?

    Excellent. All hail to the Debian gurus.
    John L. Ries
  • Mr. Watson, Acer Bios has an option to disable the touchpad

    I'm not sure how it works in your Acer version, but in mine, one of the startup options is to have the touchpad disabled. So it should also be an option in your Acer Bios at Setup. Thank you for your review on setting up Linux on your machine.
    • Thanks

      It hadn't occurred to me to look in the BIOS for a permanent clickpad disable.

      Thanks for the tip.

    • Turn On/Off Touchpad

      If you are using gnome-shell desktop, there is a gnome-shell-extension:

      Touchpad Indicator by orangeshirt
      Switch the touchpad, trackpoint, fingertouch, touchscreen or a pen device on and off easily from the top panel. Optionally, automatically disable some or all devices when a mouse is plugged in, and reenable it when unplugged.

      I did not try it myself, I know not whether work or not.

  • I can't believe you mentioned the old DecWriter.

    I can remember when a day didn't pass that I worked on one of those beautiful workhorses. Heh. It's been decades.
  • re touchpads

    I share your dislike of touchpads, but I found that it was not their functionality that I disliked, it was the fact that they tended to move the cursor when I did not want it to move. My solution was to create the following little shell script, put it in /usr/local/bin and assign it to the hot-key Ctrl-Alt-P. Now, Ctrl-Alr-P toggles the touchpad on and off. (The program synclient is a handy command line program for managing the touchpad.)

    +----[ cut here ]-----------------------------------------------------------+
    # tptoggle

    # find the current state of the touchpad

    STATE=$( synclient -l | grep TouchpadOff | cut --fields=2 --delimiter="=" )
    if [ $STATE = "0" ]; then
    synclient TouchpadOff=1
    if [ $STATE = "1" ]; then
    synclient TouchpadOff=0
    +----[ cut here ]-----------------------------------------------------------+
    • Another good tip, thanks

      It turns out that Fn-F7 does the same thing on the Acer, and that works on every version of Linux that I have tried on it so far. But there are other laptops where some of the Fn-keys don't work, so I will keep this script for use in those cases. I like it.

      My objections to the clickpad/touchpad are twofold. First, as you say, the cursor tends to jump to wild places on the screen while I am typing, and i would SWEAR that I wasn't touching the touchpad. Beyond being irritating, this can actually cause significant problems, depending on where it jumps to and how long it takes me to notice that I am not typing in the place that I thought I was.

      Second, I still absolutely hate the "Clickpad" with integrated "buttons". I still claim that it is one of the worst ideas that anyone ever came up with and succeeded in foisting on an unsuspecting world. Bleah.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • Does anyone under age 50...

    even know what an LA36 is?
    Media Whore
    • Probably not...

      But it's their loss. There are some poor souls who only started with the LA-120. Some who never used either one, and think those of us who remember them are "dinosaurs", or "past our sell-by date". They are probably right.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.