Geek Igor

Ubuntu on Samsung Series 7 Ultrabook 730U

22 Jul 2013 on ubuntusamsung

Is it possible to install Xubuntu 12.04 on Samsung NP730U3E?

I’ve got a new laptop - Samsung 7 Series NP 730U 3E. It’s 13.3’’ ultrabook with a quite decent hardware under the hood:

This machine comes with a preinstalled Windows 8. It is a bit of an issue for me - I heavily rely on linux both for work and for my other projects.

Without the least hesitation I decided to give Xubuntu 12.04 LTS a try. In this post you will see what challenges I faced, what does not work and if it can be fixed.

Challenges

Samsung UEFI Bug

It was reported that Linux can destroy some of the new Samsung ultrabooks. It turned out, that not Linux is to blame here, but [Samsung’s UEFI bios][uefi- issues]. Just to be on a safe side and in order not to destroy my shining new laptop I followed steeps outlined in this stack overflow answer.

Step 1 - Backup

Firstly, I booted Windows 8 and run SW Updater to get the latest version of the firmware. Then, just in case I’ll ever decide to go back to windows I made a copy of the recovery partition (this is possible through Samsung recovery software).

Step 2 - Switch to Legacy BIOS mode

This step involved pressing F4 to get to this firmware setup utility. I needed to turn off Secure Boot and Quick Boot and then I was presented with an option to switch UEFI to CSM mode. CSM stands for Compatibility Support Mode and is exactly what I needed. Assured that I’m not using the UEFI and hence there is not risk to the laptop, I carried on the installation.

Step 3 - Installation

I used the Alternative Installer for Xubuntu 12.04. I encrypt all my Linux boxes and Ubuntu offers you an easy way to set up encrypted LVM during the installation. With 12.04 you need an alternative installer to use this feature. Starting from Ubuntu 12.10 they have this option on a regular installer as well.

I needed to fine-tune the partition sizes - Ubuntu by default creates a swap space exceeding the size of the RAM. This makes the hibernation work - the memory dump is stored on the swap space - but seems a bit of a waste. To sacrifice 10GM of your precious SSD as a swap space? Especially, that I do not use hibernation that often. Quite frankly, I’ve forgotten when had I last used it. I decided to have no swap space at all. 10 GB of RAM is plenty.

OK, so with my new partition layout and BIOS mode I avoided the UEFI bug.

Xubuntu 12.04 Alternative Installation Issues

The alternative installer installs the packages in two steps - first the so-called base packages and then the desktop environment, etc.

Unfortunately, it gave an error on the latter. Net effect is, I was not able to complete the installation. From a user perspective it’s a huge flaw - what you can expect if even the installer fails. Nevertheless, after restarting the computer it boot in text mode Ubuntu :-) I installed the Xubuntu-desktop package:

$ sudo apt-get install Xubuntu-desktop

And hoped that my torments are over. Not yet though - somehow it didn’t want to boot in a graphical mode…

Xorg Not Starting

Ubuntu didn’t want to boot in a graphical mode. Booting it in the text mode revealed that there are no devices to run xorg on. So much for having two graphical cards is a small laptop. I ended up with adding xorg-edgers repo:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xorg-edgers/ppa
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

And installing xserver-xorg-video-intel package:

$ sudo apt-get install server-xorg-video-intel

The I created the xorg conf file:

$ sudo vim /etc/X11/xorg.conf

With a following content:

Section "Device"
  		Identifier "Card0"
  		Driver "intel"
  		Option "AccelMethod" "sna"
EndSection

This did the trick and after a restart I finally saw the xfce gui.

By the way, I’m not sure if it is possible to make Linux work with both graphic cards. It hope it is, but for now it’s low on my priority list - the Intel chipset is more than enough for my day-to-day work.

Network Manager Not Managing WiFi

During the installation I had connected to a wifi - in order to download the latest package updates. Don’t do it if you’re on the alternative installer. The problem is that it adds the wifi to /etc/network/interfaces instead of letting the Network Manager daemon manage it. What does it mean? Well, if you’re connected to the same wifi which worked during the installation then not much. You can use the internet connection, but the network widget shows no connections - it basically says device not managed.

In order to fix, you can follow this advice.

Basically, you need to remove all the devices except for loopback from /etc/network/interfaces. The file should look like this:

auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

And then restart your computer.

Touchpad with only basic functionality

Even if you are not a big fan of touchpads, sooner or later you will need to use one. Unfortunately, Ubuntu does not fully support the touchpad built into Samsung Series 7. There is a bug at lauchpad which aims at fixing it.

As on writing this article a fix was provided but not yet included in Ubuntu. Joseph Salisbury uploaded kernels for various Ubuntu versions which include the fix already. Just follow this comment. I hope the fix will soon make it to the main repo and this step won’t be needed any more.

After installing Joseph Salisbury’s kernel the touchpad works like a charm, i.e. it supports two finger scrolling and three finger clicking.

Dual Monitor Support

Xubuntu 12.04 contains XFCE 4.08. It does not play too well with two monitors - the only thing you can set is mirroring the displays. To fix it install XFCE 4.12.

Just add required repositories and do a dist-upgrade:

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.10
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:xubuntu-dev/xfce-4.12
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

Two displays can be now configure from XFCE System Settings and extended desktop works without any issues.

Conclusion

I’m quite happy with the experience. The laptop, especially with 10 GB of RAM is a monster and a great dev box. After dealing with the problems described above the experience is very good. I think that Samsung 7 Series NP 730U 3E provides a really good value for the money. The performance is good, the display is great and the case seems to be well made. The design is clear inspired by MacBooks Pro, which may or may not be a plus for you.

You can see my desktop below.

For last two or three years I worked on 12.1’’ Lenovo - with great old-school keyboard and joystick in the middle of it. Quite frankly, I miss the experience a bit - IMHO keyboards in Lenovo laptops are best-of-breed. But more important - the only thing I do not like in new Samsung is the touchpad - it’s really hard to right click using it, especially when the computer in on your lap and not on a solid surface. I think Samsung needs to work more there to provide a better experience.

Xubuntu 12.04 Xubuntu 12.04 on Samsung 7 Series NP 730U 3E