Prepare my new Asus X540S notebook for Linux

The Asus X540SA laptop I am trying to run Linux on.

Image: Asus

A number of my laptops and netbooks have recently moved on to other homes and other purposes, so I’ve been looking for something new.

Last weekend I saw an advertisement for an Asus X540SA for a ridiculously low price (CHF 299 / € 280 / £ 245 / $ 300), which is still one of my criteria. Another criterion in this case was a 15 “screen, and this ASUS is 15.6”, which made the decision for me.

This Asus specification page for the X540S lists a variety of CPU, memory and disk configurations, so this is obviously just the latest in a long line. The detailed specs of the one I received are:

  • Intel Celeron N3060
  • 8 GB DDR3 RAM
  • 500 GB / 5400 rpm / SATA hard drive
  • 15.6 “1366×768 LED display
  • Intel HD Graphics 400
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 b / g / n and RJ-45 wired network
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • USB 2.0 / 3.0 / 3.1
  • HDMI and VGA
  • SD / SDHC / SDXC card reader
  • 8x Super-Multi DVD
  • Weight 2Kg

These look like pretty good specs for such a cheap laptop. You don’t get anything for nothing, and while I found it at a great price, there is also some clear evidence of this laptop’s low-cost design and build. First, the case looks rather plush, it has a sort of brushed metal finish – but is it all plastic and does it look like relatively thin plastic.

The keyboard doesn’t have a very positive feel. Oh, and something I’ve never seen before, the power button is actually the button at the top right of the keyboard. After watching this and scratching my head for a while, I finally realized that the end key was missing. Seems like a pretty extreme decision, how much money can you save by not having a separate power button?

The variety of external connections is good, but there’s exactly one of each – USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and USB 3.1 (Type C) – it’s not much. Finally, the 1366×768 resolution is not very impressive for a 15.6 “screen.

Oh, and one more thing. I don’t know if it was a cost decision, but this thing has a “clickpad” style of touchpad, which doesn’t have any inconspicuous buttons, just a little line down the middle of the bottom of the touchpad that demarcates itself. – saying left and right click areas.

There are also some bright spots about this laptop (beyond the low price). For example, 8 GB is an above average amount of memory, the inclusion of Bluetooth is not always the case, as is the DVD player. I’m not familiar with the USB 3.1 (Type C) connection, but I guess if you have something that can take advantage of it, that’s a big plus.

So at the end of the day, I guess you get what you pay for, and if you’re looking for a budget laptop, you need to decide what tradeoffs you’re willing to accept. So far I think this one looks promising, but now is the time to set it up and use it.

Windows 10 Home setup

The first step, as always, was to go through the initial setup of Windows 10 Home. Sigh. If I didn’t love Windows so much, it might not be so bad. But I do, and it is. Here are some of the questions he asked:

  • Want to share your personal data with Microsoft? Uh no.
  • Want to share your browsing history with Microsoft? Uh no.
  • Would you like to automatically connect to WiFi networks to which your “friends” have already connected? What??? Absolutely not.
  • Do you want to automatically connect to other networks preselected by Microsoft? Sigh. No.
  • Would you like to automatically connect to otherwise unknown public access wireless networks, just to check and see if they need another type of authentication? Gaaa …

There were probably more like this that I don’t remember, but really, are other people really answering “Yes” to some of these questions? I guess “Yes to all” is what you get if you take the express setup option …

After going through the initial setup, the second step is to find and remove the preloaded bloatware.

  • Drop box
  • McAfee LiveSafe (limited trial version)
  • Microsoft Office 365 (limited trial version)
  • Microsoft OneDrive
  • TeamViewer (at least two obsolete versions)
  • ASUS Cloud Web Storage
  • WPS Office
  • ASUS Gift Box (this one contained a number of other “offers”)
  • ASUS HiPost (never found an explanation of what it really is)

There are more that I haven’t found or identified yet, I’m sure. But at least removing all of the above and then restarting made the laptop noticeably more responsive and significantly reduced the amount of disk noise it made after booting.

Unfortunately, the clickpad turned out to be just as awful as I had feared. It seemed like half the time it didn’t recognize a normal left click, and more than half the time a right click. Two-finger scrolling was intermittent at best. Oh, how I hate clickpads.

Linux installation

At this point, I was pretty much ready to start “using” the laptop. Honestly, I’m still happy and hopeful for this laptop, it looks cool. It’s not a speed demon (duh, it’s a Celeron processor), but it’s fast enough to be comfortable using; the screen resolution isn’t great, but it’s good enough.

Of course, using the laptop for me starts with installing Linux on it. The first step is to reduce the size of the Windows partition to make room for Linux.

Although most Linux installers are now able to do this, I prefer to do it using the Windows Disk Management utility so that there is no problem as to whether it has been done ” correctly “or not.

In this case, I found out that Windows was installed on a single partition of about 465 GB, and the Disk / Partition Management utility reported that the maximum I could shrink it to was about 260 GB. C is enough for me right now.

I then booted a Linux Mint 18.1 LiveUSB stick, and it didn’t cause any problems. This is a nice surprise, because of course this is an UEFI firmware system and I didn’t have to go into firmware / BIOS setup to change anything. On other systems, I had to make changes to enable USB boot or disable UEFI Secure Boot, which required setting a BIOS password, but not this time.

Linux Mint 18.1 seemed to recognize all hardware, including wired and wireless network adapters. The screen resolution was okay (it’s been a while since I’ve seen a Linux installer go wrong, anyway), and the clickpad at least worked (it’s not been very long since I last saw a saw a facility get this wrong).

I used gparted to configure some partitions for the Linux installation. I’d rather do it that way rather than struggle with a bunch of different Linux installers to get the disk layout and partition sizes exactly the way I want them to be. If you just had to boot a Linux distro multiple times with Windows 10 Home pre-installed, you wouldn’t need to do this type of pre-partitioning.

And after?

So, I am now ready to start installing a variety of Linux distributions. This will be the subject of the next post. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to install, but at least it will be:

  • openSUSE Tumbleweed
  • Manjaro
  • Debian
  • Felt
  • mint

In summary, so far this is not the best laptop I have ever bought. It has a number of negatives, but it also had a very low price tag. But if things continue to turn out the way they have so far, this could very well turn out to be the best price / performance laptop I’ve ever bought. Then it will just be a question of sustainability: it should be interesting.

PS For those who have been following my latest Raspberry Pi articles, this new laptop has been just a temporary diversion. I will continue with the Pi in parallel with setting up Linux on this laptop.

Learn more about Linux from JA Watson

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