Hands-on: My new laptop and two more Linux flavours

Two more Linux distributions, and a solution to the wi-fi problem
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor on

It has been an interesting few days since my first post about my new laptop and my experiences with various flavours of Linux. 

First, and most pleasing, was the comment from 'glenn4uk' to my previous post, describing a solution to the wi-fi problem. I have tried it with openSuSE 13.1, Fedora 20 and Mint 16, and it works like a charm on all three of them. It's not difficult, you just have create a file called /etc/modprobe.d/asus_nb_wmi.conf, with the contents "options asus_nb_wmi wapf=1". Then reboot and the wireless network will come right up.

I would just like to say to him once again here, thanks very much for giving us this extremely useful tip.

Linux Mint Debian Edition

I have also continued with loading the last couple of Linux distributions on the Asus, and that has proceeded very smoothly. Linux Mint Debian Edition (Cinnamon) was the next to be done, and I had no problems with it. 

By the time I was loading it I had already seen and tried the wi-fi fix, so when I booted LMDE and the wireless didn't come up, I just applied the fix and rebooted, and that took care of it.

Everything else works normally, and it is quite fast. Unfortunately, the other thing I am starting to realize is that I still have a significant dislike for the clickpad style of touchpad, for exactly the same reason that I used to dislike it so much in my HP system.

It is over-sensitive, and far too difficult to do any kind of precise clicking. Trying to highlight specific words or phrases in text, for example, is an exercise in aggravation, so I use this laptop almost exclusively with some kind of mouse now.

Debian GNU/Linux

The final distribution I wanted to load on the new ASUS was Debian 7.4 (Wheey). After having everything go so smoothly with all of the others, I got several surprises when loading Debian.

First, I was going to install from a Live image rather than the netinstall image that I normally use for Debian. I was forgetting that the Debian Live images are not UEFI-compatible, if you want/need that, you have to use either the netinstall or the full DVD installer image. So I used the netinstall after all.

Installation was smooth and easy, and actually seemed a bit quicker than I have been used to with Debian. When I was done, everything worked - and I mean absolutely everything, including the wireless networking!

I hadn't bothered to check this when running the Live image, I just assumed it didn't work. Assuming is never a good idea.

I suppose this is related to the difference in the Linux kernel between Debian Stable (3.2.x) and the other distributions I have loaded on this laptop (3.11 and later). Something must have gotten changed either in the ath9k driver, or in the kernel itself that causes this problem. That's actually encouraging news, because it means that it will most likely be fixed again in some (near) future release.

The other surprise that I got with this installation was that the ClickPad didn't work very well at all. I can't right-click with it at all, I can't click-and-drag at all, and even left-click is so wildly unstable that it is almost useless. Again, I suppose that this is related to the older Linux kernel and X.org release that in Debian Stable.

Finally, I would like to add a few words about the UEFI firmware and the BIOS implementation on this laptop. It is by far the best that I have seen yet, literally miles (or kilometres) better than the HP/Compaq UEFI systems, and even a bit better than the Acer.

This is first because the boot configuration is changed for Linux, it stays that way, rather than "magically" changing back to boot Windows. Second, the Boot Configuration screen presents a list of boot items, in which you can edit to change the order, add or delete items, or just disable (temporarily) an item.

There have been several comments posted to my UEFI articles saying that it should be possible (or would be nice if it were possible) to add/modify/delete Secure Boot keys. 

When Secure Boot is enabled on the Asus, there is another screen associated with it which lets you add/modify/delete keys. In this Key Management screen you can manage the Platform Key (PK), Key Exchange Key (KEK), Authorized Signature Database (DB) and Forbidden Signature Database (DBX). 

That's not something that many people are going to want/need/know how to do, but for those who do, it will be a huge win.

I am absolutely convinced that if all UEFI firmware systems worked as well, and as consistently as this one does, there would not have been such a strong backlash against UEFI in the Linux community, and there would be almost none of that left today. 

But when I look HP and Acer UEFI firmware systems now, I just shake my head with regret for the amount of time that I have wasted fighting with them, trying to get them to do what I want, or at least to be stable and consistent.

In summary I would say that this is an exceptionally good laptop for Linux, probably the best I have looked at in quite some time. 

Absolutely everything in it works with Linux, with the caveat that at least for the moment, you have to create a one-line file to get the wireless networking. All of the auxiliary functions work as well, such as Suspend/Resume and the Fn-keys for Sleep, Display Brightness up/down/off, and Volume up/down/off (mute). 

A second display connected to the HDMI port is recognized and configured as an extended desktop automatically. All in all it is very nice, and I would recommend it without hesitation. I would like to keep this one and use it for a while, but I'm not sure that will be possible, because several of my friends seem to have their eyes on it already.

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