⌚ June 21, 2013
Linux Mint 15 runs well on the Acer S3 Ultrabook, but there are a few tricks to installing it properly since a few features of the Ultrabook do not work out of the box with Linux.
After much research from various sources and even more trial and error, here are a few tips to get Linux Mint 15 running and running well on the S3 Ultrabook.
Update for January 2014: Linux Mint 16 Cinnamon 64-bit installs and runs well on the Ultrabook. Linux Mint 16 remains similar (with improvements) to Linux Mint 15, so the information in this article applies to Linux Mint 16 also.
Cinnamon or MATE?
Linux Mint 15 is available in two main flavors: Cinnamon and MATE. Both work, but I find that Cinnamon provides a better “install and go” approach than MATE because less tweaking is required.
For example, the touchpad works with Cinnamon immediately after a fresh install, but not with MATE. Since I am looking for the least hassle approach, I will be installing Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon 64-bit for this article.
USB and DVD-R both work. Create a startup USB from the Linux Mint 15 ISO (available free of charge from the Linux Mint web site), or burn a DVD-R. If installing from a DVD-R, you will need an external USB DVD drive since the S3 does not have a built-in drive.
The S3 has two internal drives: One 20 GB SSD, and one 500 GB 2.5″ 7mm drive. For fastest performance (fast boot and shutdown times, for example), we want to install the Linux system root on the SSD and configure /home on the slower 500 GB drive.
When the Linux Mint 15 installation reaches the Installation Type, do not accept the defaults. Manually adjust the partitioning.
/dev/sda is the 500 GB drive, and /dev/sdb is the 20 GB SSD. The order of configuration does not matter, but let’s start with the SSD.
20 GB SSD
Divide into two partitions: A 16 GB and a 4 GB swap space. (Select the device and click the Change… button below the list box.) A separate dialog will appear. Create the 16 GB partition first and format it to ext4 and set its mount point as root (/).
For the swap, just choose swap space and Linux Mint 15 will handle the rest.
/dev/sbd /dev/sdb1 ext4 / 16 GB /dev/sdb2 swap
500 GB Space
Unless you have other plans, use the entire 500 GB drive as the mount point for /home. There is no need to do any extra partitioning. Select the device, click Change…, and format it to ext4 and set its mount point to /home.
/dev/sda /dev/sda1 ext4 /home 500 GB
The installer might appear to freeze for a few minutes during formatting or when the partition structure of modified, This is normal, so be patient and wait for ti to complete.
Specifying the Boot Loader
This part is important. The boot loader MUST be installed to the 500 GB drive, not the SSD or else the ultrabook will not boot to the operating system.
Select /dev/sda (the 500 GB drive) for the boot loader in the drop down list.
Below is a picture of the Linux Mint 15 Installation dialog with the above settings.
When ready, click Install to continue and complete the installation as normal. The rest of the installation should complete without any problems.
If a USB installation gives trouble or halts midway, then there are two things to do:
1) Verify that the USB has all installation files properly written to it by running md5sum. In another computer, open the root of the USB containing the Linux Mint 15 installation and run md5sum -c –quiet md5sum.txt from a terminal. If you see too many invalid checksums (some files can be ignored), then this might be the problem. Recreate the installation USB using a different USB. Some USB devices might not work.
2) If USB refuses to work, then install from a DVD-R.
The First Boot
After the installation completes, you should see a working Linux Mint 15. Window compositing effects should be enabled, and the default video drivers should work without the need to install the Catalyst proprietary drivers. The touchpad should work with basic left and right buttons (pressing into the touchpad).
Update Linux by setting up a network connection and connecting to the repository. The S3 networking works out of the box, but you will need an Internet connection to perform Linux updates. Update as normal by going to the main Linux Mint menu and choosing Administration > Update Manager. Update Manager should automatically check and update or display a small shield icon in the panel. If not, open update manager manually, click Refresh, and then click Install Updates.
A reboot might be necessary.
Linux Mint 15 installs with kernel 3.8.0, but I have found that newer kernels install and run just as well, so why not install the latest?
As of the time of this writing, the latest Linux kernel is 184.108.40.206, so go to the site http://kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v220.127.116.11-raring, and download the following three files. Ignore the others.
linux-headers-3.8.13___all.deb linux-headers-3.8.13____generic____amd64.deb linux-image-3.8.13______generic____amd64.deb
Note: The filenames are long, so the above names have been modified to save space.
If you installed the 64-bit Linux Mint, download the amd64.deb files and skip the i386 files. If you installed the 32-bit Linux Mint, download the i386 files and skip the amd64 files. Both versions require the same all.deb file.
Place all three file into a dedicated directed so there are the only .deb files present. Open that directory, and from a terminal, enter,
sudo dpkg -i *.deb
The new kernel will install and GRUB should update, but run sudo update-grub to be certain. Reboot.
After the system reboots, run uname -a in a terminal to verify the new kernel. You should see 3.8.13 in the results.
Reducing SSD Wear (Optional)
The S3 SSD seems reliable, but to be safe, here is a little modification to reduce wear and tear on the drive. Edit /etc/fstab by modifying the line for root (/) by adding noatime,nodiratime. This prevents writing the access times for files and directories. It is not much, but at least it is one less write task to perform.
Use caution with fstab or skip this step since it can make your system unbootable if not entered properly.
Adjusting the Backlight
The Fn + Backlight adjustment keys will not work. Actually, they have never worked with Linux on the S3 no matter the distribution. Let’s create a workaround by assigning backlight adjustment to a different key combintion:
CTRL + Left Arrow Increase backlight brightness CTRL + Right Arrow Decrease backlight brightness
Modifying GRUB is necessary so we can use xbacklight to control the brightness.
- Open the grub default configuration file for editing:
sudo gedit /etc/default/grub
- Change the line:
GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="quiet splash acpi_osi=Linux acpi_backlight=vendor"
- Save the file and update GRUB.
- Install xbacklight
sudo apt-get install xbacklight
In Cinnamon, go to Stystem Settings > Keyboard and choose keyboard shortcuts. Since Fn + Brightness does not work, we must create our own screen brightness shortcuts. Let’s use CTRL + LeftArrow to decrease the brightness and CTRL + RightArrow to increase the brightness. Create two new custom shortcuts.
Brightness+ Ctrl+LeftArrow Command: xbacklight -inc 5 Brightness- Ctrl+RightArrow Command: xbacklight -dec 5
The -inc and -dec options of xbacklight specify how many units to increment or decrement the brightness upon each button press. Feel free to adjust these values to your liking.
Please note, that if the S3 screen blanks for any reason due to a power mode setting or sleep setting, closing the lid, or whatever, the screen will be dark when you try to resume. The S3 has not locked up, but the backlight brightness is stuck at 0. Just press CTRL + Right Arrow to get the picture back. This is one of the little quirks about Linux and the S3.
Setting a Default Backlight Brightness Upon Startup
The S3 always boots to 100% brightness. To avoid manually mashing buttons to reduce the screen brightness upon each system start, let’s set a default screen brightness by creating a new startup application that sets the brightness to a default value upon each boot.
Go to the main Linux Mint menu and choose Preferences > Startup Applications. Click the Add button to create a new entry, and enter the following:
Name: Initial Brightness Command: xbacklight -set 50 Comment: Set backlight to 50% at start up
Click Save, and the new entry should appear in the startup list. Make sure it is checked. Now, each time the S3 boots, the screen backlight will be set to 50% after logging in (assuming a single-user system). Changing -set 50 to other values will adjust the default brightness. The brightness can still be adjusted with the keyboard shortcuts defined earlier.
Cyborg R.A.T. 7
The Cyborg R.A.T. 7 is a great mouse, but it still suffers from the same button lockup problem with Linux Mint 15 as it did with Ubuntu. The solution is the same: Modify xorg.conf with a special entry for the RAT 7.
If xorg.conf does not exist, and it probably will not, create it manually.
sudo touch /etc/X11/xorg.conf
Open it for editing.
sudo gedit /etc/X11/xorg.conf
Copy and paste the following section into xorg.conf:
Section "InputClass" Identifier "Mouse Remap" MatchProduct "Saitek Cyborg R.A.T.7 Albino|Saitek Cyborg R.A.T.7 Mouse" MatchIsPointer "true" MatchDevicePath "/dev/input/event*" Option "Buttons" "17" Option "ButtonMapping" "1 2 3 4 5 0 0 8 9 7 6 12 0 0 0 0 0" Option "AutoReleaseButtons" "13 14 15" Option "ZAxisMapping" "4 5 6 7" EndSection
Save and reboot. The above section handles both the RAT 7 and the RAT 7 Albino. The S3 should now recognize the RAT 7 without freezing the buttons. If freezing persists, experiment with different button mappings and MatchProduct strings. Mad Catz now sells R.A.T. 7 mice, so the product string might vary, but this is untested.
Switching Workspaces with the RAT 7
Unlike Compiz, we must manually create shortcuts to lets us switch workspaces left and right when the side left and right RAT 7 buttons are pressed. If we press the side left button on the RAT 7, then we want to switch the workspace to the left, and if we press the right RAT 7 side button, then we want to make the workspace switch right. This is a useful feature to have, so let’s install some software from the terminal or Synaptic Package Manager.
sudo apt-get install xbindkeys xvkbd xdotool
Get the default file from xbindkeys.
xbindkeys --defaults > ~/.xbindkeysrc
Modify .xbindkeysrc. This is the file that maps mouse buttons to keyboard actions. Since keyboard shortcuts CTRL + ALT + LeftArrow and CTRL + ALT + RightArrow switch the workspaces left and right, we want to map the two side mouse buttons to these shortcuts.
Go to your home directory, and enter,
Add two entries, one for each keyboard shortcut.
# Move Right "xdotool key --clearmodifiers ctrl+alt+Right" b:8 # Move Left "xdotool key --clearmodifiers ctrl+alt+Left" b:9
b:8 and b:9 are the side mouse buttons on the RAT 7. Save the file, but test it before closing by opening a new terminal and running xbindkeys. Press the side mouse buttons and the workspace should switch left and right. If not, double check to make that the xbindkeys program is running, since that program is the key to making this work.
Add a new startup application so xbindkeys will run upon each system boot.
Name: xbindkeys Command: xbindkeys Comment: Start xbindkeys to handle mouse buttons
If the workspaces are not switching, check that two or more workspaces exist. If only one workspace is present, then the workspaces will not switch no matter what you do. If the workspaces still do not switch, then the mouse buttons are probably not mapping properly. You might need to experiment with the mouse buttons. One way to find out the number of each mouse button is to run xinput.
sudo apt-get install xinput
Find out the device id of the mouse:
Locate the id number of the RAT 7. For example, id=12. Next, run the xinput button test on that device.
xinput test 12
Press mouse buttons and watch the output of the terminal. Each button has a different number. Enter the button’s number in b:8 and b:9 if you wish to assign different numbers.
CTRL+F Not Working
By default, xbindkeys overrides the CTRL+F key combination. For example, entering CTRL+F in Firefox or a text editor to perform a search results in nothing happening. The solution is to remove the offending entry (or comment it out) from .xbindkeysrc, which looks like this:
# set directly keycode (here control + f with my keyboard) "xterm" c:41 + m:0x4
Save and restart xbindkeys. Another way to delete it is to use xbindkeys-config.
1. Install xbindkeys-config. This is a GUI used to edit .xbindkeys.
sudo apt-get install xbindkeys-config
2. Open xbindkeys-config, and delete the entry containing the “here control + f” text in the Name column.
Highlight the line, and click Delete Selected. Click Save & Apply & Exit. CTRL+F should work properly.
This has been quite a bit of set up, but these steps only need to be performed once, so you can forget about them once running. After completing these steps, Linux Mint 15 has displayed superb speed, reliability, and performance.
Many other tweaks and personal customizations are possible, such as spices, workspaces, and system settings, but these depend upon users personal tastes. This article only shows how to perform a few common workarounds that everyone should benefit from.
Enjoy Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon on the S3 ultrabook!