Setting up my new ASUS UX301LA

Luke Bigum

Luke Bigum

I spoilt myself in 2013 for my Birthday and Christmas and bought the beautiful ASUS Zenbook UX301LA. The model I ordered comes with a touch screen WQHD (2560×1440) display, an Intel i7 4558U CPU, 8GiB of RAM and 2 internal SSDs. Needless to say it’s very cool!

The laptop comes with OEM Windows 8, which despite all the bad geek press online I actually like it. Without a touch screen though it would be useless but with a touch screen it works quite well. The 2560×1440 screen is almost too small – I find myself squinting at certain things, so I run the display at 1080p instead.

Regardless of all this my new toy was designed to encourage me to get back into developing on my own time, so a Linux distro is needed. The stock controller setting joins the disks into one RAID 0 volume, but I want independent disks for Windows and Linux, so first step was to change the controller mode from RAID to AHCI.

My Linux distro family of choice is Red Hat. Trying a Fedora 20 Live CD is very unstable – it constantly freezes, the Fedora installer gets python crashes, haven’t been able to get through the installer once after several attempts. I generally get about 5-6 minutes in the disk partitioning area before it freezes again. Even with the ATA controller in AHCI mode (broken RAID) Fedora must be reading a few sectors into the disk because it still thinks the disks are part of a RAID disk. Trashing the partition table on /dev/sda, Fedora now allows me to try partition that disk, but it’s still too unstable to install.

Faced with no operating system on my lovely Gorilla Glass encased toy, I torrent down a Win 8 ISO, preying there’s no keyloggers buried in the image. Microsoft in their infinite wisdom don’t make it easy for OEM users to download install media, and no activation key I could find on the Internet would either. I actually own a valid copy of Windows and still have to download an ISO. Go figure.

The Windows 8 ISO could only install onto sdb, said sda was an “unbootable disk”. Strange, but that’s what I want anyway – sda will be the Linux install – so away we go and Windows 8 re-installs perfectly fine. I need to put all the OEM software and drivers back on. ASUS are always good with this kind of stuff and the downloads are easy to find. Once they are all installed I’ve pretty much got a usable laptop back, and not just one very expensive mirror.

The Fedora Live CD is still freezing the laptop – I hoped it was a blue moon thing but I guess not. I tried Ubuntu 13.10 seems a bit better, but still get the odd freeze. This could be due to the virtual CDROM drive I’m using, but I got a working Ubuntu 13.10 install eventually. The touch screen and video support on Ubuntu is good, it supports the native 2560×1440 resolution out of the box.

I’m still such a Red Hat fan and feel lost on Debian systems, so went to try Fedora one last time. It got through an install. It’s no where near the partition layout I’d like but I’m just glad to have an RPM based system at my fingertips again. First thing I discover is I can’t lower the screen resolution on Fedora 20. Looks like the EDID for the laptop screen is not being picked up. I need to dive into X11 to force some different resolutions. Wow, haven’t done this in 7 years… The ArchLinux wiki is always helpful but trying to force 1920×1080 crashes Gnome Shell.

I’ve also noticed that Fedora 20 and Ubuntu 13.10 activates some crazy power saving when the laptop is running off the battery which pushes the fan speed up to the highest setting. It’s not completely unusable, but definitely noisy and annoying. The ArchLinux wiki has more information on the Intel Graphics drivers, but this post says not for Fedora 20 yet, in a few weeks perhaps.

The Fedora GRUB installation picked up the Windows install but the boot parameters are not enough to boot Windows 8 on the second disk. This Stack Exchange post contains exactly what is needed:

menuentry ‘Windows 8.1 Pro’ {
insmod part_gpt
insmod fat
set root=’hd1,gpt2′
insmod search_fs_uuid
insmod chain
search –fs-uuid –no-floppy –set=root –hint-bios=hd1,gpt2 –hint-efi=hd1,gpt2 –hint-baremetal=ahci1,gpt2
chainloader /EFI/Microsoft/Boot/bootmgfw.efi
}

The touch screen is not as good on Fedora as well, so combined with the screen resolution I decide to swallow my Debian bigotry and go back to Ubuntu. For now.

There are two remaining problems. The first is on Linux and Windows: when the laptop is left untouched for some amount of time, sometimes it gets into some strange hibernation state and nothing I do can wake it up – it has to be power cycled.

The second is just in Linux – every few hours it freezes. Some times running videos or sound seems to trigger it a lot more frequently. Not sure how I’m going to track down what is most likely a driver problem. Suggestions are welcome.

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