Updated: March 31, 2015
As you already know, I have bought a new laptop for the sole purpose of testing operating systems, mostly Linux. This is big step, as I have retired my older, simple BIOS-only machines and replaced them with a notebook replete with complications. UEFI, Secure Boot, etc.
Today's review is less of a proper distro test, more sort of an initial check how well Linux works in this magical world of restrictions and brand new technologies. We will see two examples, Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty and the latest Netrunner 15 Prometheus. Just to get started. Follow me.
Netrunner 15 Prometheus
I decided to start with this Plasma-happy distro. Wrote the ISO image to a USB drive, powered on the system using the tiny button near the power jack. Yup, that one replaces the ultra-convenient F2/12 and Del buttons that we normally used to have. Not all new things are necessarily good.
And Netrunner would not boot. The system simply flew past and booted straight into Windows. It took me a few frustrating attempts and pencil pushes to figure out what the source of the problem was. It's not the Secure Boot, which, by the way, can be turned off in the BIOS/UEFI menu. It's the cruel fact the system uses UEFI rather than the Legacy mode, which Prometheus does not seem to support, despite its Ubuntu heritage. Indeed, switching to the Legacy mode finally made things happen.
The hardware was properly detected and initialized, but my paranoia spiked when I tried to install the distribution. The wizard warned about me about the bootloader not being setup correctly. There seems to be a conflict with UEFI/GPT, which is not something that should happen in 2015. But because #YOLO, plus this is a test machine, I continued.
One more thing. Again, we have the window title artifact. Not sure why, but it's the second time it's here, and it showed up on two completely different platforms, including two types of graphics cards, so I guess this may not be a Nouveau fault, but rather a Netrunner bug of some kind. Or something.
However, despite the alarming messages, the distro installed just fine. I was able to boot into it without sacrificing any animals, and do all the necessary changes and tweaks and customization. The system is pretty fast and responsive. Battery life is quite impressive. Even after some 90 minutes of relatively moderate to heavy use, there was still enough juice left for another 2.5 hours of games. That's quite cool.
Resource usage remains very high, at about 0.9GB. However, the system is fairly responsive, and the CPU utilization isn't crazy like we saw on the LG laptop. But then, there's a whole of five and a half years difference between these two machine models.
What about Windows?
Well, there is a catch, I'm afraid. If you turn UEFI off, Windows 8 will stop working, as the platform expects a certain jump instruction, but instead it gets a different one from the Legacy BIOS mode. If you turn UEFI back on, Windows will boot just fine. But there will be no trace of Netrunner 15 Prometheus. Not even the GRUB menu. Nothing. As if it never existed.
Ubuntu 14.04.2 Trusty Tahr
Here, we have another story to tell. If you recall my partitioning efforts during the initial laptop setup, then you know that Ubuntu booted just fine into the live session, UEFI, GPT and Secure Boot notwithstanding. Everything worked. Everything there is. Well, with one small exception that we will soon mention.
Battery life - still needs proper assessment - but even in the live session, it's pretty good. With two hours left at about 60% charge, this means that the distro can most likely do a pretty decent four hours when installed, but that remains to be checked. Stay tuned.
I did some more partitioning, adding swap. Again, there were no problems. The distro installed quickly and without any warnings, errors, problems, hiccups, misgivings, doubts, or complaints. As it should be. Then, it booted fine, smoothly, elegantly, like an orca hunting baby seals. As did the other two operating systems.
In fact, using Ubuntu is a great remedy for all problems related to Linux distributions that do not support these technologies. I installed Trusty on the disk without a hitch. And now, it was the one in charge of the boot sequence, and it did this spotlessly. Both Windows and Netrunner showed in the boot menu, and both worked, with UEFI on.
This tells a lot. Even though Netrunner comes from the same family, the results are virtually opposite. Moreover, if you have Linux distributions that do not gracefully handle the initial piece of the boot sequence, you can use Ubuntu, and then launch the rest from its GRUB menu. And you can also retain Windows, especially since it may rely on UEFI to run. Ironically, the Secure Boot part is the least important component in this saga.
Resources wise, the memory consumption in the installed system is about 500 MB, which is quite reasonable. Half the value shown by Netrunner in fact. Lovely. The system is also fast and responsive. Just what you'd hope for. Excellent.
Now, the problem
As it turns out, my G50 comes with a Realtek Wireless card, and we have seen Realtek Wireless cards suck before. Likewise here, after several hours of work, I noticed that my pr0n bits were lagging. The culprit? The Realtek network device of course.
Luckily, there's a simple one-liner remedy to this foobar, or a long one that involves driver compilation and such, if you are so inclined. We will discuss this separately, but that sums the issue at hand. Solved with relative ease, caused by too much modernity in the card technology compared to what the kernel supports out of the box, which is why we didn't see this problem when testing Netrunner. You see? Lovely.
We may deride Ubuntu for being modern and newb-friendly and not pure Linux or whatever. But that's nonsense. This splendid distribution, especially in its LTS form, eats hardware platforms for breakfast. I have not yet found a single machine that it didn't support, and didn't support almost 100%. Nigh perfect. This last case is yet another example.
I guess the path for future testing has been laid out. I may have to play a bit with setting UEFI on and off, and definitely use Ubuntu bootloader to get things going, but from now, other distributions ought to be able to install. Or not. Either way, I shall copiously rant about it to your uttermost delight. Summing up what we saw today, Netrunner works fine, with numerous limitations and heavy memory consumption. Trusty is a perky little beast with no faults or problems, it's lithe and lean and cool, and purrs like a happy kitten no matter where placed or tested. Draw your own conclusions, dear readers. More distro testing coming soon. Mint, Kubuntu, for sure. Some others, too.