Linux on Vivobook X202E

Ubuntu on Vivobook X202E
Ubuntu on Vivobook X202E

In January 2013 I bought a Asus Vivobook X202E, a small, budget class, touch screen laptop. It has now served me almost four and a half years – an eternity in ICT terms. For some time it has been upgraded from Windows 8 into Windows 10, which in principle operates rather well. It is just that the operating system eats almost all resources, and it is painfully slow to do anything useful, with contemporary web apps and browsers particularly. Even a Chromebook serves better in that regard.

Last night I tried installing Linux – Ubuntu 17.04 version – into multiboot configuration to X202E. There were certain hurdles in the setup: it was necessary to disable Secure Boot, get into the UEFI/BIOS (fast F2 pressing in boot sequence), disable Fast Boot, enable Lauch CSM (disable Launch PXE OpROM), and enable USB options, in order to make the system bootable from an USB installation stick. (Also, my first attempts were all failures, and it was only when I tried to use another USB stick when the boot from USB disk option came available in UEFI/BIOS.)

Currently, all seems to be ok in Ubuntu, and laptp works much faster than in the Windows side. The battery of this laptop has never been strong, and in its current condition I would say that 2-3 hours is probably maximum it can go, unplugged. Thermal cooling is also weak, but if run ‘indicator-cpufreq’ tool and drop the CPU into slower speeds, the system stays manageable. The reality is, however, that the realistic life cycle of this little machine is coming towards its final rounds. But it is nice to see how Linux can be used to breath some new life into the aging system. Also, the touch controls and gestures are better today in Ubuntu, than they were only few years ago. Linux is not a touch-focused operating system by design, and gestures work rather badly in e.g. Firefox – Chrome is better in that regard. Windows 10 is much more modern in that area, and pen-based computing is something that one can really integrate in one’s daily work flow only in Windows 10. But writing, coding, and various editing tasks for example can be achieved in a small Ubuntu laptop quite nicely. Chromebooks, however, are also making promising steps by opening the vast repositories of Android apps that is good news for hybrid devices and touch-oriented users. Linux remains strong as a geek environment, but when user cultures and mainstream users needs are considered, other software and service ecosystems are currently evolving faster.

Gaming station, next generation

As I wrote around Christmas 2011, I made my latest big PC upgrade then, going for Asus P8Z68-V, GEN3 motherboard and ASUS GTX 560 Ti DirectCU II TOP based system. This served me four, rather than planned five years though. Apparently the motherboard peripherals failed, and then BIOS upgrade went astray, plus botched CMOS reset attempt finally killed the motherboard completely – some nice components were left to my hands, but this system lives no more: https://fransmayra.fi/2011/12/28/the-five-year-upgrade-plan/.

I must say that while setting up your own PC is interesting in itself, the compatibility and driver issues are also bit stressful and tiresome (particularly now, having spent most of last night fighting to revive the old PC system). Thus, this time I decided to submit an order to a store that sells pre-configured, pre-installed and tested PCs that also have the operating system set up. After comparing prices and configurations a bit, I ended up with SystemaStore shop from Oulu. These are some of the highlights of this new gaming station:

Processor: INTEL Core i5-6500 3.2GHz LGA1151 6MB BOXED
Cooler Master HYPER 212 EVO
Motherboad: ASUS Z170-P LGA1151 ATX DDR4 (max. 64GB ram)
Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB(2x4GB) DDR4 2133Mhz
SSD: Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD SATA3
HDD: 1TB 7200RPM SATA3 (Seagate barracuda st1000dm003)
Graphics card: ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970 OC 4GB (0dB IDLE)
DVD drive: 24X DVD+-RW SATA
Case: Corsair Carbide 200R USB3.0 ATX kotelo
Power source: Corsair 650W 80Plus® Certified ATX (VS650)
Connections: USB2.0/USB3.0/USB type C
OS: Windows 10 64-bit home FI

Let’s see how long it takes before this arrives and I will be able to do the tests (and start working and playing with it – hopefully before my Christmas vacation is over!)

Some product photos:

ASUS-P170-sideways
ASUS Z170-P LGA1151 ATX DDR4

Asus-STRIX-970
ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970 OC 4GB

Asus-STRIX-970-box
ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 970, box

Cooler-Master-EVO
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Corsair-200r
Corsair Carbide 200R case

intel_core_i5-6500_32ghz_lga1151_6mb_cache_up_to_360ghz_fc-lga14c_skylake_box-34173680-2
Intel Core i5 processor box

Kingston-Fury
Kingston HyperX Fury DDR memory

Samsung-EVO-SSD
Samsung EVO 250 GB SSD
 

 

Corsair VS650 power source
 
More about the motherboard here: https://www.asus.com/fi/Motherboards/Z170-P/

More about the graphics card here: https://www.asus.com/fi/Graphics-Cards/STRIXGTX970DC2OC4GD5/

Time Capsule

Airport Time Capsule
Airport Time Capsule

Continuing to troubleshoot our persistent home networking problems: while we have got a high pile of various routers, last several years the heart of the network has been Asus RT-N56U dual-band model, which was awarded as the fastest router available in 2011. It was a slim device, and after I updated the firmware to the Padawan version, there was also more than enough room for tweaking. However, the constant connection failures and speed dropping finally pointed towards the life-cycle of our router coming to an end. The router has been located in very narrow space, without cooling, so it should not have come as a surprise that its components have started failing after a few years.

The selection of a router for a home where there are a fair number of connected devices (smartphones, tablets and computers are just one part of them) is a tricky business. I wanted to have a  802.11ac model, but otherwise I kept on reading and comparing various options. According to specs, speed and configuration options, the current top model of Asus, RT-AC87U, was for a long time my number one choice. However, the actual user reports were a rather mixed bag: there seems to have been various bugs and issues with both the software and hardware of this, 4×4 antenna configuration, dual band ac model. And I have come to learn that I have less and less time and patience for tweaking tech — or at least, I want the router and network infrastructure to “just work”, so that I can use the Internet while tweaking, testing and playing with something more interesting.

The conclusion was to get yet another Apple product, this time AirPort Time Capsule (2 TB model). It does not reach quite as extreme speeds as the RT-AC87U, but then again, there is limited support for hardware that is capable of reaching its theoretical 1,3 Gbps top speeds. I am increasingly relying on my Macbook Pro Retina also when at home, and we are actively using several iPads and other Apple devices, so having the full Apple compatibility, while not a “must”, was a nice bonus. The user reports about the new AirPort Time Capsule have been overwhelmingly positive, emphasising its robust reliability, so I am interested to see whether this router lives up to its reputation also as the backbone of our household. So far, so good. All our devices have succesfully got online, and the speeds are close to the 100/10 Mbps maximum, also in Wifi, when close to the AirPort. And the Macbook is now making its automatic backups in the background, which is nice.

Vivobook SSD upgrade

My ASUS Vivobook X202E is an excellent little machine – I really appreciate it’s compact form factor, good keyboard and bright multitouch screen. However, with the slow HDD, display driver and processor it has also its clear limitations. There is not much I can do with the processor or display driver – the reality is that as more and more of people will adopt laptop computers as their primary home PCs, rather than desktop ones, the fixability and maintainability of ICT keeps going down. However, I wanted to try upgrading the HDD into a SSD, since there was evidence online that this could be done.

The first choice concerned identifying the right Solid State Drive to fit the purpose. Samsung’s 840 EVO series was finally an obvious choice, since it was 7 mm thin, so it did fit physically, it was rather fast, and also optimized in terms of power efficiency, so that it did suit the purpose as a laptop upgrade. I picked the 250 GB version, while being tempted also with the 500 GB one; I did consider the cost, however, still being prohibitive in the larger model. Smaller than 250 GB on the other hand did not make sense in terms of fitting in my OS, applications and the necessary working documents.

Samsung 840 EVO SSD
Samsung 840 EVO SSD

The first steps involved re-partitioning the original HDD so that it could be cloned to the SSD. I removed all data that I could later sync from our home server or from the cloud services, deleted the data partition entirely, and tried moving the recovery partition to the middle of the disk. I installed and used the free version of “EaseUS Partition Master” (be careful to deselect all freebie crapware options during its installation, though). As to the actual data or disk cloning, Samsung EVO SSD comes with the necessary SATA-USB3 adapter cable and “Samsung Data Migration” software that seemed to do it job (I have not yet tested the recovery partition, though, so I am not sure whether it made through the cloning). But the new SSD disk boots, it is recognized automatically by the UEFI (Windows 8 BIOS system), and the Windows as well as Office 2013 installations still authenticate as legitimate.

Samsung 840 EVO SSD
Samsung 840 EVO SSD

If your goal is not to clone the old system with its Windows 8 Starter Edition, but rather to install another, more featured OS, Linux, OS X or some multiboot setup, then I recommend doing some further research before going ahead with the SSD operation. People have had mixed success and you need to start by disabling UEFI, disabling “Secure Boot”, then enabling “Legacy Boot” in the BIOS. I am also not sure whether e.g. Linux will have all the drivers to get the touchscreen, touchpad, hotkeys and all the other features working as intented – but I am interested to hear about the experiments in those directions.

Opening the case of Vivobook
Opening the case of Vivobook

As to the actual physical part of opening the Vivobook, removing the old HDD and installing the SSD, there is a good visual guide by Neil Berman here: http://www.durhamcomputerservices.com/theonbutton-blog/asus-vivobook-x202e-s200e-q200e-ssd-hard-drive-upgrade.html

Opening the case of Vivobook
Opening the case of Vivobook

After putting everything back in, the reboot will kick Windows into a prolonged startup phase during which it will apparently install some SSD related drivers or settings. I did also install and run the “Samsung Magician” tool, which claims to provide various optimization options for running the Windows OS over a SSD.

The actual speed gain is noticeable, and the relevant figure in the Windows experience index showed the rise from c. 5 to over 8 when tests were re-run after the SSD installation. But this will not of course magically trasform the 500 euro budget laptop into a 1500 euro ultrabook. The slow processor, bit clumsy form factor, lack of keyboard backlight – all those issues still remain. But the upgrade will definitely make the Vivobook more usable and responsive, which was the main goal at least in my case.

Vivobook X202E with Samsung 840 EVO SSD
Vivobook X202E with Samsung 840 EVO SSD