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Installing Aptosid on the Asus A53E-XN1

This is a quick review of my experience installing Aptosid on an Asus A53E-XN1 laptop. There wasn’t much info on how Linux would cooperate with some of the newer hardware in this machine so I thought I’d enter it in the record that it works great, providing you’re using a newer kernel and drivers.

The Asus A53E-XN1 is a budget laptop (under $400) with very decent speed. It uses an Intel B940 dual-core processor which also serves as its GPU. From what I read, it doesn’t include 3D acceleration (B940 is i915 with 3D accel disabled), so it’s definitely not for gamers. But I found it does have OpenGL support and does handle basic OpenGL 3D games smoothly. For video playback, it plays smoothly, except for some minor tearing when playing HD video (this was no great concern to me so I didn’t try tweaking it). Display is decent – glossy but not glass-flat, so reflection isn’t a problem. Its aluminum body keeps it very cool, including palm-rests, and it has a well-made feel overall. The touchpad is one of the best I’ve encountered, and the keyboard is well-made. The built-in card reader works. Its weakest point is a typical 5400 RPM hard drive. All-in-all it’s a nice machine which includes a 1 year spill/drop/surge/fire damage warranty. (I have no affiliation with Asus other than being a long-time customer.)

Specs

    Model:          ASUS A53E-XN1
    Provided OS:    Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
    CPU:            Intel Pentium B940 2.00GHz 2MB L3 Cache
    RAM:            4GB 204-Pin DDR3 SO-DIMM (2 slot total capacity 8GB)
    Hard Disk:      320GB 5400 RPM
    Optical Drive:  DVD Super Multi [ burning not tested ]
    Graphics:       Intel HD3000 Graphics (Sandy Bridge)  [ i915 ]
    Video Memory:   Shared memory
    Communication:  Gigabit LAN [ atl1c ] and 802.11b/g/n WLAN  [ rtl8192ce ]
    Screen Size:    15.6" wide glossy 1366x768 LED backlight
    Ports:          USB x3, HDMI [ untested ], VGA [ untested ]
    Card Reader:    5-in-1 card reader for SD, MMC, MS, MS PRO, SDHC (SD 2.0) [ works ]
    Webcam:         0.3MP [ uvcvideo - untested ]
    Warranty:       1 yr ASUS Accidental Damage Warranty - Drops, Fire, Spill, Surge

Installation

I booted an aptosid-2011-02-imera-xfce-amd64-201107131632.iso CDR, then copied the 11GB contents of the /dev/sda1 fat32 recovery partition to a usb stick just in case. (The recovery partition is 25GB but only 11GB is used – wasteful Asus! Windows 7 consumed about 30GB and was on a separate system partition from the large data partition. Note that there is some unusued space before the first partition – not sure what they used this for.) And I backed up the MBR and partition table. Then I ran cfdisk and deleted all the partitions and created three 10GB system partitions and a data partition. I had to format the new /dev/sda1 partition myself because for some reason Aptosid’s installer won’t install to an unformatted partition (they tell me this is by design).

Note that kernels older than about 2.6.38 or .39, and xserver-xorg-video-intel drivers older than 2.15 may not work with Sandy Bridge, or may work poorly. Since Aptosid is up to kernel 3.0 this wasn’t an issue.

I found some odd settings for the drive checking so changed them to more reasonable defaults (check drive every 20 days or 40 mounts):

    tune2fs -i 20d -c 40 -T now /dev/sda1

On the first dist-upgrade, I got an error that the firmware couldn’t be loaded and that I needed to add contrib and/or nonfree repos. So I did so and installed the firmware:

    apt-get install firmware-realtek

On a reboot the wireless then showed up. I installed lxde, which didn’t include a network manager, so:

    apt-get install network-manager network-manager-gnome

Network Mananger picked up both the wired and wireless and connected fine. The built-in function key which dis/enables the wireless hardware worked (as expected).

The built-in function keys for mute and volume worked out of the box with XFCE. For LXDE the keys didn’t work, so I mapped them in openbox to my own volume script. (I didn’t test lxpanel’s volume control.)

The screen brightness built-in function keys work in both desktops (hardware driven?) There is also a key that turns off the display. Other function keys didn’t seem to have functions assigned.

Suspend did not work (went to a text display and hanged), but this could be because I have no swap setup. [Update: suspend is reported to work with this fix.]

Pressing the power button in LXDE goes into immediate shutdown (which personally I like). The LXDE and Openbox menu options for Shutdown bring up LXDE’s shutdown menu. With XFCE, I think pressing the power button brings up a menu.

The lxpanel battery and CPU monitors work normally (although the time to recharge is given as 0:00, but they seem to be having general problems with lxpanel’s battery monitor in that regard). The temperature monitor read “NA”, but I haven’t investigated what sensor packages may be missing.

The 5-in-1 card reader worked without configuration when tested with a Sandisk 16GB SD-HC card. (By then I had devmon running and it mounted the card as a drive and opened the file manager.)

X11 ran fine for video – no messing with any configuration or manual installation of drivers required (good job Intel!) DVD playback in vlc was good, as was most AVI playback and Flash video. Playback of HD video revealed some minor tearing.

The touchpad had a double-tap problem – unless one double-tapped VERY quickly and precisely, it was ignored. Single and triple taps worked okay. I resolved the double-tap problem with the following:

    mkdir /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d
    nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/synaptics.conf  # creates missing file

I put these contents into /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/synaptics.conf:

    Section "InputClass"
        Identifier      "Touchpad"                      # required
        MatchIsTouchpad "yes"                           # required
        Driver          "synaptics"                     # required
        Option          "LBCornerButton"        "8"     # browser "back" btn
        Option          "RBCornerButton"        "9"     # browser "forward" btn
        Option          "MaxDoubleTapTime"      "130"   # corrects double-tap problem
    EndSection

In addition to correcting the double-tap problem, this also enabled corner taps for back and forward in a browser. This takes a little getting used to, but did work marginally.

Aptosid’s default audio setup (alsa) worked without further installation or configuration. Built-in speakers are Altec Lansing – typical laptop quality and not particularly loud.

I have not tested the webcam, HDMI port, or VGA port. The ethernet and power ports are in the middle of the left side. The VGA and HDMI ports are along the left side toward the front. There is one USB on the front left, and two on the middle right. The speaker and mic jacks are on the front right side.

As for games, I haven’t tried much, but FlightGear flight simulator installed without issue from the Debian repos, and seemed to run normally. I also tried billard-gl (3D billiards game), whose 3D effects were smooth.

Overall, it was a breeze installing Aptosid on this machine – one of the easiest Linux installs I’ve ever done, especially on a laptop. Kudos to the Aptosid team and Debian!

For more info on Aptosid, see my previous post: My Move From Arch To Aptosid

August 13, 2011 - Posted by | reviews

9 Comments

  1. Hi Guru,

    I’ve got this laptop too, and running Ubuntu 11.04 on it under a Wubi installation, which works really well, but I’m also experiencing the issue you had with suspend / resume, and I also do not have a swap partition, however on a Dell XPS M1330 I had no issue with suspend / resume, regardless of installation method (Wubi or directly).

    I’m thinking it’s possible that it’s a hardware issue, but your blog is pretty much the only thing that comes up when I google, I don’t think many people are running linux on these machines.

    On another note, two finger scrolling on the touch pad doesn’t work as expected, and neither does panning / zooming. Do you know how I can enable the touch pad features?

    Comment by Robin Duckett (@robinduckett) | August 14, 2011

    • Hi, I might take a look at the suspend in a few days (I actually setup this machine for someone else) – if anything changes I’ll post a comment here. Sometimes the newer hardware takes a little time to get supported, so it could just be a wait. Or maybe a bug report should be filed (with whom?) As you say, not much on google yet about this hardware. Frankly I never expect suspend to work well – I’ve rarely had success with it in the past. And the boot and shutdown times are so short it’s not a priority for me, but is convenient.

      On my touchpad the right-hand side is for scrolling. Not sure about the two finger, but it can probably be setup in synaptics.conf by adding some options. You can find some options relating to it in the following links…

      http://en.gentoo-wiki.com/wiki/Synaptics_Touchpad

      http://wiki.debian.org/SynapticsTouchpad

      http://linux.die.net/man/5/synaptics

      If you get it working I’d be interested – thanks.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | August 14, 2011

  2. I also have the A53E with Ubuntu 11.04, and suspend/hibernate crashes the box. As mentioned it is a quick booting machine, but not being able to simply close the lid and open it to resume tasks is trying.

    Comment by Anonymous | August 16, 2011

    • In case you’re not aware, what happens when you close the lid may depend on your power management settings, which in turn depends on your power manager (varies). In Aptosid with LXDE (no obvious power manager running), if I close the lid it just turns off the display and the machine keeps running. When I open the lid the display simply turns back on.

      I suggest filing a bug report with Ubuntu on the suspend crash just to get the ball rolling.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | August 16, 2011

    • Of course the minute I posted here, my next google found the solution!

      The full thread is on http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1444822

      The shell commands in post #7 will do exactly what is needed. For the record here’s the content of my /etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ehci_hcd file:

      #!/bin/sh
      # File: "/etc/pm/sleep.d/20_custom-ehci_hcd".
      case "${1}" in
              hibernate|suspend)
                    # Unbind ehci_hcd for first device 0000:00:1a.0:
                     echo -n "0000:00:1a.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/unbind
                    # Unbind ehci_hcd for second device 0000:00:1d.0:
                     echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/unbind
              ;;
              resume|thaw)
                    # Bind ehci_hcd for first device 0000:00:1a.0:
                    echo -n "0000:00:1a.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/bind
                    # Bind ehci_hcd for second device 0000:00:1d.0:
                    echo -n "0000:00:1d.0" | tee /sys/bus/pci/drivers/ehci_hcd/bind
              ;;
      esac
      

      Here’s /etc/pm/config.d/usb3-suspend-workaround

      #File: "/etc/pm/config.d/usb3-suspend-workaround".
      SUSPEND_MODULES="ahci"

      Now clicking on suspend works!

      Comment by Anonymous | August 16, 2011

      • Great -thanks for sharing your solution. I may not try this out immediately because I don’t currently have swap setup, but it’s good to know. From what I’ve looked at, neither suspend nor hibernate will work without swap.

        Comment by IgnorantGuru | August 16, 2011

  3. Regarding the volume fn-keys. I know you solved it already, but aptosidux-xfce comes with xfce4-volumed (a daemon), which you could add to LXDE’s start file (I assume it’s similar to the autostart.sh one would use in standalone Openbox?). MIght be worth a look

    For the record, 2.6.39 kernels work fine with Sandy Bridge, in my experience, though 3.0 works better.

    If you’re getting poor battery life and/or higher than normal core/acpi temps, you might be suffering from that infamous power regression, which can be negated to a certain extent by adding “pcie_aspm=force” (without quotes) to your grub kernel parameters.

    Comment by Litho | August 21, 2011

    • Thanks for the info! I’ll take a look at those temps next time I work on it. Thus far it has been running reliably. As for LXDE, its start file is a little odd (simplified from Openbox I guess), but it works.

      Comment by IgnorantGuru | August 21, 2011

      • I.G,

        Just to add, the “pcie_aspm=force” alone might not be enough for Sandy Bridge (i915) based systems (if you’re experiencing power regressions, that is). One might also need to add “i915.i915_enable_rc6=1″ (sans quotes) to the kernel command line as well.

        Seems the issue won’t be fixed by the 3.1 kernel release like we previously predicted.

        Some links for you the check out:

        https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=727579

        http://phoronix.com/forums/showthread.php?59524-Linux-3.1-Kernel-Draws-More-Power-With-Another-Regression

        By the way, I’ve since converted all my rigs to either Aptosid or GRML based installs, partly thanks to you and another acquaintance of mine. Been great so far. Still keep Arch on one partition on an older desktop, just for playing with. Next stop will be OpenBSD for my server.

        Comment by Litho | August 22, 2011


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