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

With Windows 8.1 (Update) out of the way, I'm ready to install Linux - if I can get the UEFI firmware figured out...
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

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 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 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!

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.

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