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Asus VivoBook S15 S532FA (2020)

Jim Carter, 2020-09-30

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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, Grub's 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:

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 Optane 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?

Selection Criteria

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.

Searching for a Laptop (#1)

Results of a search on Amazon with these parameters:

Informal search criteria, not achievable with their filter:

The 99 hits on Amazon:

Can the Asus VivoBook S15 run Linux? Consensus of forum posts:

Trying a less restricted search: Linux Asus VivoBook 15 within the last year, on Google.

Another search for Linux Asus ScreenPad VivoBook:

Interim conclusion: the Asus VivoBook S15 product family is successfully used for Linux, including the ScreenPad (reported on XenBooks).

Searching for a Laptop (#2)

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.

CPU Specs

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.

Processor number i5-10210U
Code name Comet Lake
Launched 2019-Q3
Lithography 14nm
Package size 46x24mm
MSRP $297 (list price)
Cores 4 (and has hyperthread)
Frequency 1.6GHz, turbo 4.2GHz
Cache 6Mb
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)
Channels* 2 max
RAM bandwidth 45.8Gb/s
GPU type Intel UHD for 10th Generation
GPU frequency 300MHz up to 1.1GHz (dynamic)
Video RAM up to 32Gb
Output format eDP/DP/HDMI/DVI
Execution units 24
4K support At 60Hz
Max resolution 4096x2304px (24Hz for HDMI, 60Hz for others)
Max displays* 3
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); Intel 64 (64bit?);
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:

Computer $799.99
Shipping Free
Sales tax $76.00
Environmental fee $5.00
Total $880.99
Order date 2020-10-01 (Thu)
Promised 2020-10-06 (Tue)

Tidbit about MIL-STD-810G/H

Snooping on 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.

Jaguar: Portrait of Xena