My existing Acer Aspire 5, A515-54-51DJ (2019) has been serving me well for almost one year. But it suffered an unfortunate accident: Grub was updated (grub2-2.04-17.1.x86_64 installed 2020-09-22), and it was unable to boot. My plan was to put the OpenSuSE Tumbleweed rescue disc on USB flash memory, boot from it, and either find and fix the problem, or revert to the previous Grub version. This method worked previously to boot the SuSE net installer.
However, this time it was not able to recognize the rescue disc. In fact,
ls command could not find any discs. (Forum postings suggest
that this symptom is common and should not prevent EFI booting.)
I tried editing the Grub stanza before letting it boot,
because notes from installation indicated that grub-install tended to use the
inoperative NVMe M.2 drive, whereas the OS is actually on the SATA SSD.
Indeed, it was using the wrong major device number. But fixing that (several
places) did not bring it back to life.
More invasive interventions:
Security Boot Fail.
A typical forum post suggests to turn off Secure Boot and EFI, i.e. revert to Legacy Boot. But the BIOS that Acer uses [in this model] does not let you do either of those. Older forum posts indicate that their BIOSes will let them disable Secure Boot if you set a supervisor password (also sometimes called master password). But the A515-54-51DJ was manufactured 2019-05-20 and has a newer BIOS than that, and there is no option to disable Secure Boot even with the supervisor password. Also nobody mentions success with Legacy Boot and an Acer rep replied to a forum post that the BIOS does not support it.
In addition, some time during my attempts to get the BIOS to recognize the USB memory as bootable, it got into a mode where you can't get into BIOS Setup. You press F2 while the Acer splash screen is showing, and it shows a text cursor and nothing else. F10 for the boot menu is ignored. (If you press no key, Grub will be loaded and will fail to boot Linux, same as before.)
(The issue with the
inoperative NVMe M.2 drive is that it is in a
RAID or RAID-like configuration, possibly having to do with the
option which I didn't buy, and the Linux driver needs to access it through the
AHCI API. A normal BIOS, including ASUS' one, would let you do that, but not
the BIOS in the A515-54-51DJ.)
So what is the way forward?
Keep digging through forum posts. I've already seen a lot of them including faking it in Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesia and Vietnamese, and am not learning anything new. It's hard to pick keywords that match the descriptions in the postings, particularly when the behavior is so weird.
Extract the disc and repair it on another machine, using a USB to SATA adaptor (a non-enclosing enclosure) that I have. This is moderately likely to get it booting again, but it doesn't fix the BIOS, and I don't like a ticking time bomb like that. Update: interventions made the problem worse, see above.
Send the machine in for depot repair, and see if they can re-flash the BIOS using JTAG or something like that, which is out of reach of an ordinary user. This is going to be expensive and uncertain. Plus it's a plague year, and biological security is a problem, particularly in this elderly family. I think the depot repair strategy is not going to fly.
Write off a $500 laptop; select and procure a new one. This galls my Scotch ancestry. Also in a plague year a lot of kids are trying to get equipment for distance learning, and laptops are in short supply. But I'm afraid this is the strategy I'm going to have to use.
For this laptop the selection criteria are almost identical as I used for the A515-54-51DJ. They are listed in approximate order of importance.
What killed the A515-54-51DJ was that in the BIOS you couldn't turn off Secure Boot, nor could you put the disc controller in AHCI mode (vs. RAID; why do they bother with this?), making the provided NVMe M.2 SSD inaccessible to Linux. The Acer BIOS is blacklisted, which implies that the entire Acer product line is blacklisted.
Display issues are at the top of the list. I now insist on an IPS display, no exceptions. LED backlight is much preferred. (WLED, White Light Emitting Diode, is the current acronym to make the tech sound new.)
The "HD" display size (in pixels) of 1920x1080px is satisfactory. Smaller displays won't be; the 1Mpx displays (866x1154px or thereabout) are rejected out of hand. I'm not interested in steroidal resolutions, 2400x1350px or whatever; I expect they would give more trouble and use more machine resources with not much benefit for my eyeballs.
My eyes are getting worse. Making fonts bigger is of course one excellent way to deal with that, but I'm also looking very seriously at a 44cm (17.3in) diagonal display, upgrading from the existing 40cm (15.6in) one, about a 11% linear expansion or 22% display area expansion.
Power management is a problem. The E5-573G had a battery life of about 2.4 hours (on light web surfing or document editing, when new, less when replaced), which is useful but still excludes it from a lot of off-grid use cases like a long wait for car repairs or my wife's doctor appointment. It uses about 0.6W when asleep in S3 (suspend to RAM). I would like the new one to behave like a Chromebook: 10 hours battery life in light operation and with a really low power S3 state.
The A515-54-51DJ was much better: 6.2hr on light web surfing and 5.1hr playing MPEG-4 1080p video in a loop. I hope the new laptop will do similarly well.
In customer reviews, the quoted battery life varies wildly, and obviously depends on the workload, power management settings, and user habits.
For communication I would like IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi (2.4 and 5 GHz) and IEEE 802.3 wired Ethernet. Bluetooth 2.x at least (latest is Bluetooth-5). No WiMax, cellular data, WiDi (wireless display interface).
About 802.3 (RJ45): I only use it for initial setup and when Wi-Fi is broken. An acceptable alternative is a USB NIC; I already have a spare one in storage.
A civilized touchpad is required, capable of being set up with good stray touch rejection. I don't know good specific criteria to get what I want; I'll have to read reviews and/or try out the hardware at a brick and mortar store. Similarly for the keyboard. I would prefer a backlit keyboard.
Customary wisdom is that Windows is a memory pig. Linux isn't. 8Gb RAM will be plenty for me. But I expect that the available options will be designed for Windows and will have 16Gb RAM. Trying to run Windows 10 in 8Gb causes numerous adverse product reviews by frustrated users. Update: ASUS machines with 8Gb RAM don't have these frustrated users. Perhaps the issue is that Acer loads up the (Windows) machine with bloatware that gets started at boot, while ASUS doesn't.
The CPU should be reasonably fast but its role is not a compute server. An Intel Core i5 is a likely choice. i7 is definitely not justified: in 2020, around $200 more than an i5. i3 is acceptable but I think the extra cost for i5 will be modest and worth it: in 2020, about $70 more than an i3. Celeron, Pentium and Atom are probably too slow for me, and many lack virtualization. The Intel product line is not an official requirement but I'm looking ahead to how the selection campaign will probably play out, and there are issues with ARM (used in many Chromebooks) which probably will be hard to work around, even though power management on ARM is expected to be superior.
The Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD (SATA) in my old laptop has been very satisfactory, Current disc usage on the old laptop:
|Role||Used (GiB)||Size (GiB)|
1GiB = 230 bytes. The misc space is mostly for a virtual machine for development. 35% of the available space is used; I'm rattling around in that disc. My tentative plan is to move this SSD directly to the new machine. They will probably give me (require me to pay for) a 1Tb rotating disc, which I will put in storage, just like the one that came with the old laptop.
I would like these ports:
Miscellaneous features in approximate order of importance:
The Acer Aspire E5-573G was crow color (black) with a gray deck around the display and keyboard. I hope the new one will be a little more attractive. The A515-54-51DJ is nice silver colored plastic.
Weight: The E5-573G is 5.3lb = 2.4kg; 2.5kg is a hard upper limit. My wife would like something lighter, but I worry about fragility.
Reseller: I have a fair amount of confidence in Amazon's competence in
handling payments and delivering the product. Thus I'm looking for offers
fulfilled by Amazon. Amazon's customer service and return policy are
excellent (though I hope fervently to not have to use them), and so I'm
looking for products sold by Amazon, ahead of those sold by Amazon
affiliates (outside vendors). Amazon is definitely not the low price
leader, because you're paying for things like
free shipping, web
site maintenance, and returnability, but in my experience the additional
cost of buying from Amazon is worth it.
Results of a search on Amazon with these parameters:
Informal search criteria, not achievable with their filter:
The 99 hits on Amazon:
I'm rejecting out of hand a lot of gaming and business laptops, being way beyond what I want in features and/or price.
Restricting to Intel core i5 with their filter: 5 hits, all gaming or premium laptops. Reverting to no processor limitation. Evidently even when the title line lists an i5, it doesn't get into a database field where the filter can recognize it.
Restricting by price, maximum $800. 3 hits. Max $900, 8 hits, but all the additional ones would be excluded per the informal criteria.
ASUS VivoBook 15 Thin and Light Laptop, 15.6in FHD, Intel i5-1035G1 CPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Backlit KB, Fingerprint, Windows 10, Slate Gray, F512JA-AS54
$600, SBSF Amazon.
aluminum, shocking pink.)
Looks like the equivalent ones with i7 cost $200 more. Also available
is an AMD
Ryzen R5-3500 CPU, $120 less.
This laptop isn't visible on the Asus website. On Amazon, the
S532FA-DH55 (next item) is listed as a
newer model of the
Asus VivoBook S15 S532 Thin & Light Laptop, 15.6in FHD, Intel Core i5-10210U CPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM, 512GB PCIe SSD, Windows 10 Home, Ir Camera, S532FA-DH55, Moss Green-Metal
$799, SBSF Amazon. There's a lot of similarity to the F512JA-AS54 (previous item, likely last year's model).
Transparent Silver. Prices vary $799 .. $776 with colors.
up to4.2GHz turbo); i7 also available
The S533FA-DS51 (family?) at $700 is
Can the Asus VivoBook S15 run Linux? Consensus of forum posts:
On Reddit around 2018-3Q. OP Zalo. He's a newbie proposing Ubuntu. No model number. Respondent says sure it works, but the 2yr old model has Realtek Wi-Fi and is going to take some fiddling to get working, so he says.
On community.clearlinux.org , 2020-02-10. OP RYHANium. He has a ASUS VivoBook S15 X530UA (Xenbook?) Respondent has a Asus VivoBook S15 X510UA and it works fine.
On notebookcheck.net. Not a word about Linux. But the page does have specs.
On Techradar, 2020-03-13. Review by Cliff Joseph. Battery life: A CPU pig benchmark lasted 4.5hr; playing some video in a loop lasted 7.8hr; this was with an i7. He liked the machine and thinks it gives good value for the price. But not a word about Linux.
Conclusion: there is no article accessible to a Google search that combines the words ASUS, S532FA and Linux. In other words, there's no positive confirmation that Linux runs (and the touchpad works) on this machine. The closest I can come is someone struggling to install Mojave (the 2nd most recent Apple OS edition for Mac) on the S532FA, with partial success. However, less restrictive searches reveal more positive outcomes.
Trying a less restricted search:
Linux Asus VivoBook 15 within
the last year, on Google.
Arch Linux wiki, Laptop/ASUS page. The most recent line item is for the VivoBook F510UA from 2018-07-01, graphics: Intel UHD 620. These aspects work: sound (PulseAudio), wireless, bluetooth, About 6hr battery life (doing what?) He could disable secure boot in BIOS as signature was rejected. Another from 2018-05-01: VivoBook 14 X442UA-GA139T with similar results.
Respondent Gabriel Coutinho de Miranda says he successfully installed Xubuntu 19.10 on a VivoBook S15 X530UF with GeForce MX130.
OP Sushiarkt (2020-02-11) has a VivoBook 15 with Ryzen 7 3700U and had trouble installing Ubuntu 19.10. Not much detail about what the trouble really was. No responses. (Page removed by moderator.)
OP Zak_Preston (about 2020-08-01)
reviews a S15 M533IA with Ryzen 7 4700U; he has Manjaro Linux on it.
Several categories got 10/10 scores, but his major complaint is about
Leagues ahead of cheapo TN panels, but nowhere as
good (in color gamut) as in premium products. Battery life
is 3-3.5hr on
typical office workload. With kernel 5.8
this improves to 4.5-5hr. Better, but still below his expectations.
Good categories: Build quality 10/10; temperature and fan 8/10;
ports 7/10 (he'd like a RJ45 and charging from USB-C); keyboard 9/10;
performance 10/10; gaming performance 7/10; wireless 7/10 (has 802.11ac
from RTL 8821CE; he plans to upgrade).
Another search for
Linux Asus ScreenPad VivoBook:
ASUS VivoBook S15 S532 Review, by Manoj Nagendra, 2019-12-17, on
Jimc has supplemented the S532 specs above with tidbits from this
review. It has a metal chassis which Manoj says gives it a premium
look and feel; good build quality. He thinks the display has good
color rendition, but he wishes it were brighter.
SSD speed about 870Mb/s, fast. CPU is fast.
nVidia GPU is fast. With the silver color the keycap labels were
hard to read in poor lighting. Keys give good feedback when clicked.
Speaker sound quality was disappointing. In Windows with the ScreenPad
off, he gets 6hr battery life with
continuous usage, whatever
that is. (Jimc says: ScreenPad can use significant power, per other
blog posts.) Nothing about Linux. Price: 6.8e4 rupees. Recommended.
OP DarkSouth (about 2019-11-xx) is considering buying a ZenBook UX434FL and asks if the ScreenPad will work (even just as a touchpad).
it turns on and I always have to turn it off manually.I wonder what he means by that.
standby on lid closeset (in BIOS?) the main display content will migrate to the pad, with the main display empty; you need to reboot to fix it. His update: set to
Single Display(in BIOS?) and the main screen content will stay put across suspend.
Interim conclusion: the Asus VivoBook S15 product family is successfully used for Linux, including the ScreenPad (reported on XenBooks).
Repeating the search without a vendor restriction, i.e. not only Amazon. Criteria: prime, $300 to $900, display size 15in and up, resolution 1920x1080px. Acer is blacklisted due to BIOS problems. 285 hits. These are in addition to the hits from search #1.
HP 17z 17.3" FHD IPS Anti-Glare WLED-Backlit Laptop Bundle Woov Accessory | AMD Ryzen 5 3500U | 12GB RAM | 256GB SSD | DVD-Writer | AMD Radeon Vega 8 Graphics | Windows 10 Home 64 | Black
$700 SBSF Holiday Electronics Deals (but is Prime eligible even so).
HDwebcam with mic.
Accessories:USB extender, mouse pad, HDMI cable.
HP 15-Inch FHD Laptop, 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1, 8 GB RAM, 256 GB Solid-State Drive, Windows 10 Home (15-dy1036nr, Natural Silver)
$687 SBSF Amazing Warehouse Deals (but Prime eligible). I'll write down detailed specs if others are clearly unsuitable.
Dell Inspiron 15 5593: 10th Gen Core i5-1035G1, 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 15.6in Full HD Display, Backlit Keyboard, Windows 10
$645 SBSF Rainin Tech (non-Prime), $599 SB Flashing Deals FBA.
it doesn't read well.
Not too many reviews, and not detailed, particularly the bad ones. I get the impression of an OK (not brilliant) machine with quality control problems.
I'm seeing a lot of repetition, presumably slightly different variants of the same model from different resellers. None are outstanding. It seems there are 15.6in Chromebooks with Intel processors, reduced specs at seeming inflated prices. There are a lot of machines with AMD Ryzen 5 3500U CPU and AMD Radeon Vega 8 Graphics; I should find out how they really compare with the Intel i3 and i5 CPUs. I read through page 6 (of 12).
As the selection seems to be trending toward the ASUS S15 S532, I need to check that the CPU supports my required features, specifically virtualization. Some lesser products don't. Here are specs from Intel's product page; * indicates that the motherboard of the ASUS S532FA probably doesn't support the full capability of the CPU.
|Code name||Comet Lake|
|MSRP||$297 (list price)|
|Cores||4 (and has hyperthread)|
|Frequency||1.6GHz, turbo 4.2GHz|
|TDP||15W (max dissipated power for package)|
|Tj||100C (junction temperature max)|
|RAM address limit*||64Gb|
|RAM types||DDR4-2666, LPDDR3-2133, LPDDR4-2933 (not ECC)|
|GPU type||Intel UHD for 10th Generation|
|GPU frequency||300MHz up to 1.1GHz (dynamic)|
|Video RAM||up to 32Gb|
|4K support||At 60Hz|
|Max resolution||4096x2304px (24Hz for HDMI, 60Hz for others)|
|Device ID||0x9B21/0x9B41/0x9BAC/0x9BCA/0x9BCC (what's this for?)|
|General:|| vPro (none); hyperthread; Virtualization VT-x
plus directed I/O VT-d and extended page tables EPT;
Transactional Synchronization Extensions (none);
|Graphics||DirectX vers 12; OpenGL vers 4.5|
|Security:||AES acceleration; Secure Key (random number generator)|
|Instruction set extensions:||Intel SSE4.1, Intel SSE4.2, Intel AVX2|
The Asus VivoBook S15 S532FA-DH55 looks like a machine that I'll be happy with. There's a 17.3in HP model in second place, but it doesn't look attractive enough to pull me away from the S532FA.
Ordered from Amazon:
|Order date||2020-10-01 (Thu)|
Snooping on www.asus.com. The ZenBook product line (14in featured, available in 13in and 15in also) is a small and light laptop with premium features. Their hype says it passes MIL-STD-810G; find out what tests it includes.
Environmental Engineering Considerations and Laboratory Tests(jimc says: that can't be the complete title)