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.

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