Two Wrongs

(don't make a right)

Debian Linux On My Asus Transformer Book Flip (TP300LA)

by ~kqr

The laptop I've had for over five years now finally gave in. The hard drive just crashed on me while I was working with it, rendering the OS unbootable. Sure, I could have tried fixing it. I could have tried switching out the hard drive, but given how tired all of the machine is I decided it was time to get a new laptop.

What can I say? The market is terrible right now. I'd like something weighing not too much more than 2 kg (4.5 lbs) (which in reality translates to being smaller than 15 inches), with a higher vertical resolution than 768 pixels, and with an SSD drive. Ideally, the performance should be decent, but importantly, it can't cost much more than 8000 SEK ($1000-ish, hard to compare since electronics is generally expensive in Sweden.)

There's two computers that fit into these requirements, one by Lenovo and then the Asus Transformer Book Flip (TP300LA). The Asus one costs roughly 700 SEK ($90) more, but then it also has quite a bit better performance. So I got the Asus.

Without knowing whether Linux would work on it, because literally nobody could tell me – it's too new!

Booting on a USB stick

I used Rufus in Windows to create a bootable USB stick from a Linux ISO image. I plugged in the USB stick and rebooted. Before I had time to react, I was at the Windows log in prompt again.

To be able to access BIOS at all, I went into the right-hand-side slide-in menu thing in Windows (you activate it by hovering in the lower-right corner, I think, or by dragging a finger onto the screen from the right if you have a touchscreen.) Then I clicked "Settings" at the bottom, and "Change PC Settings" at the bottom again. Finally, I used the bottom option "Update and Recovery".

Then I got a panel where "Advanced Startup" was an option, so I clicked it. Remember how I got here, because I will refer to this once more.

To get into BIOS, I just clicked the "Turn off" option and then started the computer again. This time it went through the normal ("advanced") boot procedure, which gave me time to mash F1, F2, F4, F5, F8, F10, F12, Delete, Escape and any other common "Please let me into BIOS" buttons.

When I got into BIOS, I turned off anything related to the booting procedure that sounded modern and UEFI-like, including "secure boot" and such. Then I switched the USB stick to have the highest boot priority, saved the settings and rebooted the computer.

Aaaand I was back in Windows. Apparently the BIOS boot order doesn't matter nowadays, because there's some other boot loader that does whatever it damn well pleases. So to boot from the USB stick, I had to log into Windows again, and go back to the "Advanced Startup" view. Instead of clicking "Turn off" I went with "Use a device" and selected the USB stick.

Blam! The Linux installer started up!

Getting Wifi During Installation

What worried me the most was the wifi. I've had Broadcom cards before, and those just will never work with Linux. As it turns out, though, the TP300LA has an Intel wifi card, namely an "Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 7260" (this information is absolutely nowhere on the internet), which reportedly works with kernel 3.13+. So I went with Debian Jessie (currently their testing release).

During the installation I decided to keep as much as possible of the existing partition structure on the SSD. The recovery partition stays, and I re-used the Windows EFI partition as an EFI partition in the Debian installer.

Since the default Debian installation is completely free, I needed to download some proprietary firmware files for Intel to get the wifi working during the installation. The Debian installer helpfully told me that it was missing iwlwifi-7260-8.ucode and iwlwifi-7260-9.ucode.

I dumped those two files on the USB stick I installed from, which should be enough for the Debian installer to pick them up and use them, but for some reason it didn't. A friend helpfully pointed out that I could try the following:

# cp /cdrom/iwlwifi-7260-{8,9}.ucode /lib/firmware/.
# rmmod iwlwifi
# modprobe iwlwifi

These are all executed in a TTY, which you can switch to with ctrl+alt+F2. Switch back to the (graphical) installer with ctrl+alt+F5.

By manually copying the firmware files and reloading the kernel module, the installer happily connected to my access point and continued with the installation.

To Be Continued...

This was just a quick summary of how I got the basic installation working including wifi. I haven't gotten much further myself (other than confirming that Debian installed successfully and basic usage works.)

When I've configured everything to my liking and used it for a while, I will probably post a follow-up and include a link to it here.


First follow-up: unfortunately, I quickly ran into some problems while configuring.

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