Testing Ubuntu, Debian and LMDE on my new notebook

Three more popular Linux distributions (and one failed attempt), and finally my overall impression and evaluation of my new Acer V5-131
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

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!

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