Setting up my new notebook with seven types of Linux - and Windows 10

I try out another low-priced ASUS notebook that makes an excellent Linux platform.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The ASUS X441SA. Image: Asus

A few months ago I bought an ASUS X540SA notebook, which I was quite pleased with as a low-priced system.

The one thing about it that I was never really happy with was the 15.6-inch display, because the display size determines the overall system size (and indirectly the weight), and I prefer to carry smaller/lighter laptops in my backpack. In addition, the larger display consumes more power, thus shortening battery life. Despite that, though, I have been using that laptop quite a lot, and I've been very pleased with it.

A week or so ago, I saw another very similar ASUS notebook on sale here in Switzerland at about the same price (CHF 300.-), but with a 14-inch display. Not only does that smaller display avoid my complaints about the larger X540S, but because it has the same resolution (1366x768) I think the display looks better on the smaller size.

I wish that I could tell you for sure what the model number of the new system is, but I'm can't. I can say for sure that what is written on the box, and on the sticker on the bottom of the system, is R414SA. However, when I went to the ASUS website to verify the configuration, I couldn't find any mention of that model - or of any "R"-series model!


Then things got even more confusing, because while I was slogging through the Windows 10 setup, I happened to look at the System Info screen, and that identifies it as an X441SA.

So I went back to the ASUS web page, and I couldn't find anything about that model, either -- but at least there is an "X"-series.

Then, just to complete the confusion, I noticed that on the web page of the store that is offering this model in Switzerland, it says that it has an Intel N3710 processor, but the one that I got actually has an N3160.

Anyway, be that as it may and whatever this model is actually called, I still think it is better suited to my needs and use. Here is a more complete comparison of the specifications of the two systems.

R414SA X540SA
CPU Celeron N3160
Quad Core
Celeron N3060
Dual Core
Disk 500GB HDD
Display 14" 1366x768
Intel HD Graphics
15.6" 1366x768
Intel HD Graphics
Network Wired Gbit
WiFi b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
Wired Gbit
WiFi b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
USB 1x2.0 / 1x3.0
1x3.1 USB-C
1x2.0 / 1x3.0
1x3.1 USB-C
Memory Card
Optical Drive
8x Super-Multi DVD
8x Super-Multi DVD
Weight 1.6Kg 2.0Kg

Depending on your use, the smaller amount of memory could be a disadvantage -- but honestly, if you are doing something that needs 8GB of memory, this is probably not the right notebook to be using anyway.

As with all of my laptops (and desktops), the primary use of the notebook will be with Linux -- but I will at least make an attempt to keep Windows on it. Rather than make this a long drawn-out description of the installation process, I am just going to hit the high points:

Windows 10 Home

What can I say? It came pre-loaded, so I walked it through the setup and configuration process. It would be more accurate to say that I dragged it through the process, or I allowed it to crawl through the process.

It took an hour or so to answer the questions (no, I don't want to send my personal data to Microsoft, no, I don't want to send my browsing history to Microsoft, no, I don't want to connect to unknown WiFi networks just because someone I know connected to them once, or because Microsoft thinks they are nice) and then let it complete the setup and install the first batch of "critical patches".

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Then it immediately wanted to "Upgrade to Windows 10" (don't ask me what this means for a freshly installed Windows 10 system), so I let it do that. It downloaded 4GB of data, and then spent another hour and a half installing that. Once that was done it seemed to be quiet for a while - but the next day it once again said that it needed to install "critical updates", and it downloaded another 4GB and spent another two hours installing it. Now it seems to be happy about updates, at least for the moment. But every time I boot Windows, the performance monitor shows the disk access constantly running at a minimum of 40 percent.

openSUSE Tumbleweed (KDE)

As always with my Linux installations, this was the first to be installed and it will control all of the multi-boot operation from now on. Installation took about 20 minutes, and I had absolutely no problems with it. All of the hardware was recognized and properly configured, including the nasty ASUS "clickpad" pointing device.

Manjaro 17.0.1 (KDE)

Installation took less than 15 minutes, and everything works.

Debian GNU/Linux

Because we are getting close to the release of Debian 9.0, I decided to use the Stretch RC3 installer. This probably saved me some trouble, because when I installed Debian 8 (jessie) on the ASUS X540S it didn't handle either the display or the clickpad properly, but the Stretch installer had absolutely no problems at all. I chose the Cinnamon desktop for this installation - I think this is the first time I have used Debian Cinnamon, and it really is nice. Significantly nicer looking and easier to use than the standard Debian Gnome 3 desktop.

Fedora (Gnome 3)

Again, since we are getting pretty close to the Fedora 26 release, I decided to install 26 Alpha. Again, no problems and everything works.

Solus (MATE)

Because I already have Solus with the Budgie desktop installed on the other ASUS, I decided to try the MATE desktop on this one. No problems with the installation, and the desktop looks very good. They have done a good job of integrating MATE with the Solus design philosophy.

Ubuntu 17.04 (Unity)

No problems. Just think, this might be the last time that I load a system with Unity!

openSUSE Leap 42.3 Alpha (KDE)

Again, because I'm loading the newest versions, and in hopes of avoiding problems, I went for the 42.3 Alpha instead of the stable 42.2 release. The installer didn't like the clickpad, so I had to use a USB mouse for the installation process, but the installed systems works with everything just fine.

The bottom line here is that I installed and configured seven Linux distributions in a lot less time than it took to setup Windows 10 - without even including the hours that Windows spent on "upgrades" after the setup was complete. More importantly, every one of those Linux installations boots faster and is more pleasant to use than Windows 10 on this notebook.

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