Jaguar: Portrait of Xena
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Acer Aspire E5-573G

Jim Carter, 2016-02-07

Table of Contents

See also:

Beware in Google searches: This model is the E5-573G. There is also a V5-573G and Google will return items mentioning this model. It is a completely different, older machine, and you need to filter out such false positive hits.

In the Box

To do upon receipt:

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

The goal here is to make it possible to reinstall Windows on the SSD if I need it, but I hope to completely delete Windows from my machine. The Windows 10 Specifications page says 20Gb is required for the 64bit OS. I'm sure you need more to actually do something. I ended up allowing 50Gb.

In this I'm following the review by TekSyndicus (2015-09-01) on the Amazon product page.

Quick Checkout

Outcome of the quick checkout, combining both Windows and Linux:


Size is 1920x1080px. Assessing viewing angles: Vertical: there is not really a range where the display colors are constant. Decent rendition +30deg to -20deg. Legible: +45deg to -35deg. (+ is above.) Horizontal: Colors are reasonably constant in ±20deg. Legible in ±60deg.

Other laptop, mobile and desktop displays have richer colors. My judgment isn't quantitative, but it looks like the lightness component (in CIELUV and friends) is turned up a little, which necessarily turns down the saturation. For example, suppose you displayed green = rgb:0/100/0. You would see something more like rgb:20/100/20. I would want to get into CMS and tweak this display's colors. The reduced saturation is seen on both OS's. Tweaking apparently is on Linux only; on Windows the color tweaker just tells you how to do it on a well-equipped separate display.

You won't do digital artwork on this screen. An IPS screen would be a lot nicer. But for my mode of use I think the screen is going to be acceptable.


Keys are acceptable in feel. But they are far from silent and I think my wife is going to complain. It's like something in the keyboard structure is rattling when I tap the key. In a short test using Windows Notepad I didn't get any failures to activate, There was one double strike but it's probably my fault. On Linux I did a formal test, typing 100 words of sample text on both the Acer and the Vaio. They are equivalently responsive and acceptable in feel. Again, no failures to activate, and no double strikes. The text was byte for byte identical except for whitespace and for one typo which was my fault.


Does it feel flimsy? Definitely not; it feels normal. Is it really twitchy like some reviewers say? Out of the box in Windows 10, I do not get the swoopy behavior one reviewer complained about. A quick swipe corner to corner on the pad moves the cursor from corner to corner of the display with room on the pad to spare. Slow motion across the pad takes you corner to center: acceleration apparently is set for 2.5 to 3.0. This is pretty much how I normally set up a touchpad, but you can configure it to your own taste.

Using a GUI text editor to test both the pad and how well the OS's graphic libraries use it -- Notepad on Windows and Teddy on Linux. Click and drag works as expected, selecting a range of text. A two finger gesture scrolls the text, but in Windows the metaphor is grabbing the text: move your two fingers up to see text that is lower. In Linux the metaphor is moving the viewport: move fingers down to see text that is lower. The pad (in both OS's) is very resistant to palm hits (explicitly tested). You need to actually touch the pad to be recognized; nails usually don't count, as they do on the Vaio's pad. In a modest test on Notepad I had no false activations due to stray touches, while I had quite a lot on the Vaio during the same time, taking notes on this outcome. During a lot of typing on Linux I got a few stray touches, but way fewer than on the Vaio's pad.

To adjust the touchpad properties in Windows: Right click on the display background. Pick Personalize, Themes, Mouse Pointer. Switch to the Pointer Options tab. Set the (fast motion) speed to your taste; default is in the middle of the scale and it will take you across the screen with some spare room on the pad. Turn on Enhance Pointer Precision (on by default), which reduces mouse motion when you move slow. You can't choose how much it slows down, but like I said, the values out of the box are reasonable. The reviewer who was constantly bothered by fast pointer motion should have done this.

The only nasty issue is, there is a pair (at least) of bugs in the pad's firmware, which surface from time to time and prevent multitouch mode. Reported fixed in kernel 4.0.8, not working for me in 4.1.5 and 4.1.12, reported failing in 4.4-rc4, fixed (and working for me) in 4.4.0, still working in 4.4.3. Simplify your life: in BIOS set it for Basic mode and it will work in 4.1.x (and likely all the rest), including acceleration and scroll gestures.

Wired and Wireless Network

In Windows, both of them can get the machine's assigned IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Wired Ethernet could download Windows updates and do other off-site activities (including web browsing), once the machine was registered with the gateway's firewall. (Later, web browsing stopped working.)

But Wi-Fi could not connect to any site, on or beyond the local LAN. The gateway's firewall is not rejecting packets. See below for imprecations about McAfee Personal Firewall, which is to blame.

On Linux, wired and wireless networking worked in the normal way, due to some preliminary research on what kernel version has a ath10k_pci driver that supports the Qualcomm-Atheros QCA9377 wireless NIC -- kernel 4.4.0 and above, for SuSE, though Ubuntu 15.04 Vivid Vervet supposedly has the driver backported to whatever back-version kernel they're using. There is also a firmware file needed.

I found the civilized way to discover the MAC address in Windows: Settings, Network+Internet, Wi-Fi, Advanced Options, the MAC address is on that page. For wired Ethernet, click on the Connected line.

USB ports

A USB flash drive with FAT-32, inserted into any of the three USB ports, was mounted successfully. On Windows, McAfee offered to scan the drive each time (which I declined).

On Windows, the firewall service is being handled by McAfee Personal Firewall. It blocks the user from all network access on the local and global network. (Windows Update can get through though.) This applies apparently both on wired and Wi-Fi. I found that it was on the Private profile but I couldn't figure out how to change the access mode. I tried various settings pages which have worked on previous versions of Windows, to no effect. I'm sure an experienced Windows sysadmin would know what to do, but I'm a Linux guru, not Windows, I need to download the Media Creation Tool a lot more than I need to protect Windows. My gateway machine has a very aggressive firewall and should be able to keep the global hacking community out of the Windows machine. So I just turned off the McAfee firewall, hiss, boo! That took care of it.

For the ath10k_pci driver for Qualcomm/Atheros QCA9377 Wi-fi NIC, in the likely case that you're using a kernel earlier than 4.4.0 and want to continue to do so, see this wiki page for ath10k backports. However, I tried to make the backported driver work in my distro's kernel 4.1.12, . Details here on the ath10k backport (failed).

BIOS Upgrade

To get into BIOS setup, press the power button and immediately press F2 (suggested: several times). You need to hit it in the about 2 second interval while the Acer splash screen is showing. It promptly drops into Setup.

Various forum posts give a procedure if you've already booted Windows and don't want to power cycle (this one is for Win-8.1): open the Settings Charm (Windows-I key combination), pick Change PC Settings, pick Update and Recovery, pick Recovery in the left pane and Advanced Startup + Restart Now on the right. Give it a few seconds. On this screen pick Troubleshoot, then Advanced Options, then UEFI Firmware Settings. Hit Restart. It will shut down Windows and boot directly into Setup. (Wouldn't it have been easier to just power cycle the machine?)

BIOS settings on initial receipt:

If the BIOS is before 1.31, i.e. 1.25 or 1.15, I will unconditionally upgrade it to 1.35, to avoid a bug reading the partition table if it includes Linux types. Suppose I got 1.31; should I upgrade to 1.35? Probably yes. I should do my best to upgrade without involving Windows.

See the Selection page for how to find the BIOS updates. Expand the BIOS/Firmware tab and pick the latest update, currently version 1.35. Click on Download. Use unzip to unzip it (in the current directory); you get a very short README file and the payload, called ZRT_135.exe . The readme says to execute (click on) it in Windows. I'm going to try to avoid that.

Procedure (failed):

Procedure (successful):

How to boot the USB drive, which will be needed to run the Linux installer: see this article on HowToGeek about UEFI by Chris Hoffman (2013-11-16, updated for Win10).

Microcode Update

Modern CPUs contain microcode, that is, tables settable at boot time to control complex instructions. Frequently the microcode has to be updated due to errors (errata) in the hardwired defaults. The BIOS generally contains a copy of the microcode, but there may be a more recent version, which you need to load every time you boot.

Spoiler alert: BIOS 1.35 apparently contains the latest available microcode, judging from the code's publication date. However, I did the research to (not) install it, so I'm recording the steps here. Interesting tidbit: Iris (my new NUC) has CPU 06-3d-04, same as the Acer, but revision 0x21. So in principle I could dig on Intel's site and maybe come up with this revision, and put it on the Acer.

On OpenSuSE 42.1 all you need to do is install the most recent version of the ucode-intel package. For an AMD CPU it would be ucode-amd. The package's post-install script will rebuild your initrd and the microcode (for the specific machine where it's running) will be included. Or you, or other package installations, can run mkinitrd.

To determine if you have a microcode patch (for Intel), look in /proc/cpuinfo and find your CPU family, model and stepping. Convert them to 2 digit hex numbers; the result for my CPU (Intel Core i5-5200U) is 06-3d-04, Then within /lib/firmware/intel-ucode look for a file with that name.

To determine the currently used firmware version, look at the microcode item(s) in /proc/cpuinfo; it will say something like revision=0x1f. To determine if an update happened, look at /var/log/boot.msg; there will most likely be a note in the first few lines, or if not, search for the word microcode; the driver announces when it applies an update. However, the driver is silent when the CPU already has a revision equal to or greater than the available patch, or if there is no patch for your CPU. So it' hard to be sure if the update procedure is potentially working.

Different distros use a range of techniques to get the microcode into the initrd. SuSE concatenates one initrd containing only the firmware file, followed by the real initrd. Other distros use two initrd commands to Grub, or one command listing both files. Adapt to the style that your distro uses.

The initrd is a mini installation, which the booter (Grub) preloads into memory, containing just enough kernel modules and utilities (and firmware) to mount the real root filesystem, after which service daemons can be started.

Installing Linux

The initial plan was to install a minimal Linux system, then install the additional memory and SSD, and finally install the production Linux system. It didn't quite work out that way, and there will be only one Linux installation. But before that, I need to decide on some policy issues.

Disc Partition Table

When I install Linux the first issue is going to be partitioning. Almost certainly the machine will have a GPT (GUID Partition Table, versus BIOS/MBR) and the BIOS will be configured for UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) booting. As a holdover from the Jurassic era, normally I use the MBR partition table and what they call legacy booting. Is it time to evolve into the Cenozoic, on these issues?

As a partition table the MBR is a multi-layer kludge. One forum poster pointed out that Grub code is spread among the MBR code area, the unallocated space after the MBR, and the Linux boot/root partition, like spaghetti thrown by a baby. Also for people with huge RAID arrays, the MBR has an addressing limit of 232 blocks or 2 terabytes (2e12 bytes). On machines whose BIOS is capable of reading a GPT, my policy is now to use the GPT, not the MBR partition table.

With non-UEFI (legacy) booting and a GPT, the first partition needs to extend from the end of the GPT header to at least the first cylinder boundary (1Mb is recommended in Grub docs), and its type needs to be 0x00 bios_grub. The filesystem type is irrelevant (don't format, or use FAT32). With UEFI booting you need a EFI partition. It should be the first partition (the Acer's BIOS will find it even if not first), it needs an actual FAT32 filesystem, and it needs the boot and ESP flags (gparted flag names). Windows installs it with a legacy (MBR) partition type of 0xef (and it boots), whereas SuSE gives it a type of 0x00 (and it doesn't boot). Given that the new machine has Windows pre-installed, the rotating disc is going to already have a big enough EFI partition. But I'm going to have to create it on the SSD.

How big does the EFI partition really have to be? While the relevant Grub files should fit in 1Mbyte, if you're going to dual-boot Windows. the pre-installed Windows allows 100Mb, and 150Mb in a new installation, and the reference given below recommends 200Mb. I provided 150Mb. But actual usage ended up like this: Boot 1.13Mb; OpenSuSE (grub) 0.12Mb; Microsoft Boot Manager 18.7Mb, total 20.0Mb. Next time around I'll give it 30Mb.

Assuming that dual booting is going to be necessary, for a procedure see this AskUbuntu forum thread, O.P. GhostMotleyX (2014-07-20) and particularly the reply by Rod Smith. He recommends using efibootmgr (package efibootmgr on SuSE and Ubuntu) to clean up cruft (avoid deleting important entries though) and particularly to change your boot order so Grub boots first.

UEFI includes integrity management, referred to as Secure Boot. The kernel must be signed with a key known to the BIOS, and a fraudulently altered kernel cannot be booted, including a kernel created from scratch by the user. Microsoft Windows, and modern Linux distros, have access to a pre-installed acceptable key, but ordinary users need to forge a key and register it with the BIOS. This is feasible (in theory), but I really don't want to get tangled up with that kind of security, so I am going to turn off Secure Boot. However, if you run a public computer lab, or otherwise are likely to get malware installed on your machine, or if the KGB, Peoples' Liberation Army or NSA would be interested in monitoring your activities, and if you always run the distro's unmodified kernel, you are advised to use this security feature.

Assuming I can turn off Secure Boot, I am going to use UEFI, whether or not I'm also dual-booting Windows. Yeah, sure. How am I going to boot the installer if I have UEFI? I need installation media with a EFI partition -- and I have it, the OpenSuSE installation DVD on USB.

On a related topic, what filesystem type should I use? The contenders are ext4 and btrfs, which is now the default for OpenSuSE's root partition. They use XFS for /home, though, and I've had bad experiences with XFS. Btrfs has a lot of great features like copy on write, snapshots, and de-duplication (identical blocks in different files are stored only once). However, it has two disadvantages: I would need to learn a lot about its care and feeding, and it is slightly slower than ext4, which I am familiar with. I think I'm going to defer the transition to btrfs to the next machine, and stick with ext4.

Procedure to Install Linux

The production Linux system, OpenSuSE Leap 42.1, is being installed on the rotating disc. OpenSuSE ISO image here. discrepancies:

After installation:

Qualcomm-Atheros QCA9377 Wi-fi Firmware

Even on kernel 4.4.0 which supports the wireless NIC, syslog reports Firmware upload failed! The driver looks for several files (alternate names or versions for two firmware files, I think) in /lib/firmware/ath10k/QCA9377/hw1.0 , not found. See this forum post on Ubuntu about QCA9377, Get firmware for hw1.0 from the ath10k firmware site on Github. Change directories through ath10k-firmware/QCA9377/hw1.0 and you will find a set of 3 files: board.bin , firmware-5.bin_WLAN.TF.1.0-00267-1 , and notice.txt_WLAN.TF.1.0-00267-1 (a license file). Click on the first two links and on each page at the bottom is a button titled View Raw. Click on it. The browser should offer to save the binary file. I didn't figure out how to snarf the license file. Make the directory tree /lib/firmware/ath10k/QCA9377/hw1.0 (mkdir -p). Now copy the firmware files into this dir.
Also do: ln -s firmware-5.bin_WLAN.TF.1.0-00267-1 firmware-5.bin
Now: modprobe -v -r ath10k_pci (it also removes 4 dependent modules),
And: modprobe -v ath10k_pci (reloads the same 5 modules).
It tries to load 2 nonexistent firmware file names, but apparently is satisfied with the ones it was given, and /sys/class/net/wlan0 appears.

The Ubuntu post linked above mentions that there as many as 11 variants of the QCA9377 chip sharing the same PCI ID (168c:0042), A major transition is said to have occurred about 2015-08-xx (my manufacture date is 2015-08-19). However, I don't see any evidence of alternative firmware files, or of people complaining that the hw1.0 files don't work on their machines.

Failed UEFI Setup

I tried various ways to install Linux and to have it booted via UEFI. The installation DVD will UEFI boot; why won't the installed system?

Reinstalling Windows

Various steps, presented separately in this document, were actually performed in parallel, and a key step in diagnosing issues with S3 (suspend to RAM) reliability was to reinstall Windows and test S3 there. Also I want to take the time to at least attempt to activate UEFI booting. Here's what I did:

Installing the SSD and Memory

The next step in the plan is to replace the rotating disc with the SSD, and add the second stick of memory. The first sub-step is to disassemble the laptop to gain access to the memory sockets and the drive bay. It would be a good idea to review the procedure, before purchasing the memory and SSD.

I was not able to disassemble the laptop. Thanks to my friend Charlie Chen, who knows a lot more about the insides of laptops and was able to make it work. Here is a summary of the procedure (from memory):

Transfer the Flag

While I was exchanging Xena and Orion, i.e. moving into the new laptop, editing these notes was not possible. Basically I did these steps:

Nasty fly in ointment: I'm using LightDM's webkit greater, which has advantages in my situation but which is not as idiotproof as I would like. When I logged in the greeter said Logging in jimc and just sat there. It turned out that if you auto pick the session type, it picks something (I think icewm) that isn't installed, and things go downhill from there. If I picked the session type explicitly the first time, it let me on and I got a correct ~/.dmrc so I don't have to pick the session type on subsequent logins. Various stuff on my system, including X session startup and package management, are customized, and I'll bet this wouldn't have happened on a showroom stock SuSE installation.

Remaining Items (Unfinished and Finished)

items that need to be finished:

Finished items:

Jaguar: Portrait of Xena