back to article How to get Linux onto a non-approved laptop

Some of the changes in modern kit, especially portables, seem to be intentionally obstructive to Linux users however you can mostly work around them. The Reg FOSS desk recently reported on this year's Ubuntu laptop from Dell. It's a good thing to have major vendors shipping kit that is approved and certified for Linux, but it …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Old linux person here....do not understand......

    Quote: "This means third-party OSes can't see the drive. While it is easy to change this in the BIOS, the snag is that Windows then will not boot."

    Please explain "snag"......

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

      And it seems an awful lot of faff to ensure it will.

      1. gv

        Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

        Better to wipe Window, install Linux and then, if you do need it, install Windows in a VM.

        1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

          Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

          That is fine if you just need an app or two, but a VM can't update the system's firmware, it can't update external devices' firmware, it can't configure hardware, and so on.

          Also, a VM won't activate from a license key in the firmware.

          There are useful things Windows on bare metal can do, even if you run Linux 99% of the time.

          If it is there, free and activated and legal, then it's foolish to throw it away unless you desperately need the space, IMHO.

          1. mickaroo

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            I can update my firmware from Linux

            https://itsfoss.com/update-firmware-ubuntu/

          2. gerdesj Silver badge
            Childcatcher

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            https://fwupd.org/ - Dell have gone nearly all in on this.

            In the past I have formatted my swap as FAT32 and booted FreeDOS. Nowadays /boot is FAT32 for EFI and ideal for calling BIOS flashers (oooeeer missus!) Slap your package (fnarrr) in /boot/firmware for example and use the built in BIOS updater. HPEs often have an updater that will download direct from the mothership via a handy internet.

          3. kbuggenhout

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            Well not to be overly condecending, i have been using a small 1GB usb stick with windows pe to do the firmware, when there is no linux alternative. And i never bothered with keeping windows on a laptop. Its mostly useless and space wasting. All of that mumbo jumbo, could have been easily replaced with, change uefi settings storage to ahci, and boot linux installation… any flavour you want…

            Dell seems to be one of the easier portables to run non windows os on. I got quite a few unix variants running on these. Including the cupertino one, although that may not receive a lot of updates in the future ;)

          4. RegGuy1 Silver badge

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            If it is there, free and activated and legal, then it's foolish to throw it away

            I'm sorry you've lost me. Why would I ever need Windows? I've not needed it since 2008. I'm not aware of anything that can't be done on Linux, unless of course it's some propriety shit that an employer is insisting on, in which case they can give me a laptop.

            Nope, because Windows would never be used best to nuke it. :-)

            BTW, thanks for the article. El Reg providing an important service where others refuse.

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

      [Author here]

      Well, as I go on to say, I generally recommend leaving Windows in place. Disk space is cheap and abundant now, and it can be handy for things like upgrading firmware. It is still better for some things, including gaming. If you can afford the space, keep it.

      Linux does have tools for this now, but they are not universally reliable: not all vendors publish updates in Linux format, and the Linux tools might not be able to handle firmware in external devices such as docking stations.

      I've also seen machines with multiple screens on the docking station, where Windows is needed to configure them initially. After that, Linux can use them, but if you reconfigure the monitors -- move one to a different port, say -- you need Windows to configure that.

      One of my work machines in a previous role was unable to boot Linux from hard disk in UEFI mode, unless Windows was present and handling an ESP. Linux on its own couldn't do it. Two of us spend days trying to no avail.

      1. YetAnotherXyzzy

        Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

        I too have learned the hard way that if space allows, I am better off leaving Windows in place. Usually I will never need it, but there's no way to tell ahead of time whether I will or not.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

          Last machine I had with windows on it shrank the partition and left it for a couple of years. Accidentally booted into it one day it decided to update itself. Killed that and went over to linux. Needed to update a tomtom so went to windows and it was completely screwed.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            "it decided to update itself. Killed that and went over to linux. Needed to update a tomtom so went to windows and it was completely screwed."

            Trying to force your will on computers usually ends in tears... You should have anticipated it would want to update itself, and let it do it overnight.

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            I've also done something like that. I reckon that if there's a H/W problem it helps to have the original OS in place so I'd already made a recovery image. It was an interesting experience restoring that after the Linux functionality had been moved over to a new laptop. It wouldn't restore unless secure boot was turned off. Despite having updated itself several times it still, on the rare occasions I boot it, complains that the OneDrive S/W that came with the machine isn't the right version for the machine - although this may be because it was an ex-demo purchase when Staples were closing down.

      2. nightflame2

        Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

        SSD disk space is neither abundant or cheap. A lot of laptops come with a small SSD drive expecting us to use the cloud. How big is Windows OS these days?

        On my Lenovo Yoga I blew Windows away and installed Ubuntu with full disk encryption. Biggest issue was the new sleep modes. Gave up and went for hibernation instead, uses no power and still starts pretty quickly. Though not sleep-wake instant on.

        1. Joe W Silver badge

          Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

          I just got a new machine, some not-quite-brand-spanking-new Thinkpad. I put in a 1 TB SSD and it was not too stupidly expensive. There would be a ton of space on the SSD it came with - except I'm now ripping all my CDs to flac, and since my NAS is not yet up and running I have everything on the new machine...

          I will keep the Windooze installation for now - though I do not expect I'll ever need it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Old linux person here....do not understand......

            You would be surprised how many 256GB laptops are around - my company tried to replace with one of them my actual laptop.... until while under my oversight they tried to move my data to the new one and it filled the disk completely... some large applications, VMs and test datasets may need a lot of space...

  2. badflorist

    Safemode -> AHCI -> Safemode?

    So, Windows won't boot at all if AHCI is selected BEFORE persisting Windows into Safemode?

    Certain non-approved Lenovo models (I have one) came with rapid storage set ON. I dd'd the OEM HDD to a larger SSD and then connected the drive, then disabled rapid storage. If I disabled rapid storage before swapping the drives, it wouldn't POST*. Apparently disabling it and leaving the same drive in (at least with the same serial/key) is a big no-no. This was a lesson learned that made me open that laptop to hard reset the BIOS. At no point did I boot into Windows... straight out of the e-bay box to KUbuntu. Later on I did test it and Windows boots fine from GRUB although, it barked about a different UUID or something on first boot (don't remember... don't care).

    * bless the net as I don't think I would of figured out to disable it AFTER connecting the new drive :-/

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      Re: Safemode -> AHCI -> Safemode?

      (Note: I'm vastly simplifying things here.)

      It's a different storage driver; Rapid Storage acts as a RAID controller rather than a traditional SATA or IDE storage controller, and it presents itself quite differently to the OS; if the OS is aware of it (usually by having the storage driver installed) then there's no problems. Same thing with AHCI, although windows 7(or 8, can't remember) and later have a built-in driver for it, but won't load it if the BIOS doesn't have it turned on.

      This is technical debt from pre-windows 10/8 days, where you had to provide a storage driver just to install windows to begin with (the infamous "Press F6 to provide a storage driver disk".

      Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong about it- It's been a while since I've had to muck around with that.

  3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "We recommend a separate partition for /home, but that's getting fancy."

    Fancy? Just a basic requirement. What it means is that if you want to try various distros or need to reinstall your existing distro* you don't lose your home directories. Getting fancy is adding /usr/local and /opt directories although Snap and Flatpak tend to replace those, probably at the expense of a lot of duplication.

    One thing to be aware of is that, in Debian derivatives at least, some or your data may live in /var. MariaDb data and, if you use it, Apache web server data live there. You don't really want to lose those on a reinstall so I recommend a separate /srv partition as well and force those onto it.

    * Less likely now that upgrades don't usually need a complete reinstall.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Ooh, separate home or not. My problem is that if the distros come with different software versions there is no guarantee that the files stored in /home/$USER are actually compatible. In fact I recall trashing some things. I prefer to have a /userdata partition that contains the, well, data that is not reliant to software versions. Getting everything set up correctly can be quite a faff, but ~/.config and the like are then distribution dependent, which feels quite a bit safer.

      I do second the /srv partition. Helps a ton.

      (and I find flatpak and snap a horrible solution and tend to avoid them)

      1. Ian 55

        It's true that various versions can be not entirely compatible, but it's still much easier to have a separate /home rather than having to tell everything that the stuff that's it expects to be at ~/.wherever is actually at /userdata/possibleusername/.wherever

      2. Havin_it

        I've found that the vast majority of the dot-files that accumulate in my homedir aren't missed when I re-home (usually moving to new laptop). Most tend to be boilerplate default stuff that doesn't change much after install of whatever software. Also by convention they are almost never deleted when you uninstall/stop using the app in question, so genuinely useless cruft builds up (~/.kde4 dir etc).

        That said, on every migration I dutifully scoop it all up and plonk it in its own folder in the new homedir, from which I dump the obvious cruft (thumbnail and shader caches etc), transpose the bits I actually know to be useful, and keep the rest for reference/in case I missed something. I've got three laptops' worth sitting around now - I'm a hoarder.

        Another issue worth being aware of when directly re-homing a homedir as a whole partition is that just because you give your account the same name on the new system doesn't mean it'll have the same numeric UID, which is how file-ownership and permissions are dictated at filesystem level (not to mention ACLs if those are in use). Different Linuxes won't necessarily give even the first created user the same UID consistently, so you may need to do some chown'ing before you can get to work.

        In addition, if like me you dealt with the /var issue mentioned above by moving Apache stuff into your homedir instead, the same issues will apply to any system-account file permissions used by those files (with even less likelihood of consistency between distros). Learned this one the hard way.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          The /var -> /srv issue i deal with by moving the data to /srv and then linking them back to where they're expected.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "My problem is that if the distros come with different software versions there is no guarantee that the files stored in /home/$USER are actually compatible."

        That's a problem for the application, of course. SeaMonkey and Thunderbird warn about not bing able to go back to old versions. I've found going forward isn't necessarily easy either. Having had a dig into the profile directory I can see why.

    2. midgepad Bronze badge

      Separate drive

      For /home

      And mount onto a /home that has the install stuff on it.

      Not a laptop, although multidimensional laptops may come back again.

  4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Dell laptops

    So an unlabbelled (*) black button where the delete key should be is the on/off button.

    *Every time you try to operate on of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you've done it.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Dell laptops

      Unlabelled as it is also a fingerprint reader...

  5. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Backwards

    Title

  6. mickaroo

    I Already Lived This Dream...

    ...on a Lenovo ThinkPad T14.

    It took FOREVER to figure out how to disable BitLocker (they don't make it easy), Including a couple of recovery boots courtesy of my Microsoft 365 account.

    But we made it in the end. Linux Mint Una just rocks.

  7. Martin Howe
    Stop

    There's a very good reason to wipe out Windows and isolate it in a VM; I tried dual booting once and for a time it worked, but when Windows screwed up as it inevitable does, it took out the bootloader and partition table with it. That was it. From then on, Linux is the only OS and a copy of Windows 10 is confined to a VM where it can be a flaky as always without taking down the real PC. There is only one network share on the host that the Windows VM can write to, which has several backups, and is not critical for the system's operation.

    Windows booting on real hardware on my computers? Dream on MICROS~1 :P

    1. VoiceOfTruth

      Dual booting is still a pain in the A. I've spent more time fiddling around with dual boot problems than I did installing the other OS.

    2. Havin_it
      Windows

      I'm still of the "keep it just in case" orthodoxy but I'm quite glad I've never yet had to go there on this, my first Win10 machine (2017 model Thinkpad bought 2 years ago).

      Just that brief visit to fiddle around and turn things off when setting up reminded me how much Windows nobbles the machine's performance. And that was while not mired in the interminable, and now un-declinable, updates. The next time I need to nip in there to do something, things will be made all the worse by it attempting to inflict 2+ years of updates. I'll want to get in and out quick enough it won't get the chance to apply any of them (with, as you say, the risk of new and hilarious destruction of my UEFI config/storage setup/who knows) but it'll be gruelling.

      Suddenly I can see the appeal of a Linux-certified laptop ... shame they don't tend to certify for Gentoo :(

      1. Beeblebrox

        "keep it just in case"

        My version of "keep it just in case" is to take out the original drive with windows on it and stash it in a bag with a label.

        1. Havin_it

          Re: "keep it just in case"

          That would certainly be the most frictionless (if costlier) option, but the laptop travels with me and that "needing Windows" moment is by definition going to be unforeseen and most likely short-notice, so it's a bit easier than carrying that bagged drive (plus spludger, torx driver and whatnot) over hill and dale.

        2. oldstevo

          Re: "keep it just in case"

          "My version of "keep it just in case" is to take out the original drive with windows on it and stash it in a bag with a label."

          This!

          So much this!.

          If I "need" windows it's there. If (as usual) I don't, what's one more HDD taking up space in the case of them on the shelf?

    3. NATTtrash Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      There's a very good reason to wipe out Windows and isolate it in a VM...

      I agree, and for very simple reasons. And that while it's so flexible and easy...

      [] VM >>> Network >>> None

      [] tools.syncTime = "FALSE" [...]; date ... >>> autoexec.bat

      [] tar -I pxz -cf ...

      Therefore, I don't get people going on about the need to dual boot. Of course everybody has their own specific use case, but let's get silly... Act like it is my HW and I can do with it as I please...

    4. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. DevOpsTimothyC Bronze badge
    Linux

    Pre-installed

    We are going to assume that your laptop comes with Windows pre-installed, simply because most of them do

    Er nope. I got one from FrameWork so I could be sure it would work with linux and if anything were to go wrong with it I can fix it without too much hassle.

    1. nautica Bronze badge
      Holmes

      Re: Pre-installed

      ...and you got down-voted exactly WHY?

      Because you're too smart to jump through all these hoops which were predicted to happen when UEFI was introduced?

      I am absolutely surprised that the article did not mention the fact that it is a matter of record that there are some Windows laptops on which you cannot even install Linux, period, no matter what you do.

      Microsoft has really done its homework.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pre-installed

      No, he got downvoted because of a lack of reading to the end of the sentence or lack of comprehension.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A few simple steps

    1) Nuke Windows

    2) Fix BIOS etc

    3) Install Linux

    4) Start working

    Some of us have been doing that for years in order to remove the windows virus from our machines.

    Ok, I have one copy of W10 somewhere. It is on an SSD that came with the last SFF server I bought. I swapped it out and that box now runs Amal Linux. I'll probably wipe that W10 drive one of these days. I'll never run it on any device I own.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: A few simple steps

      >2) Fix Bios etc.

      This step is best done before your step 1, as many OEMs for example Dell, HP, Lenovo have Windows-based System Update utilities that download and install all the stuff relevant to your specific system.

  10. gerdesj Silver badge
    Linux

    "and having a fallback OS to hand can be handy in emergencies."

    So either two Linuxes or a Linux and a BSD.

    1. cdegroot

      It's called a rescue disk on a USB stick. Linux.

  11. karlkarl Silver badge

    This article is a bit weird.

    The issue being that you have a "non-approved" laptop running just Windows. Compared to an "approved" laptop running just Linux.

    And yet the author does a lot of faffing in order to keep the Windows partition, when the "approved" laptop doesn't have the Windows partition in the first place?

    Nah, just blast away the criminal spyware and whack Linux (or BSD) on it. This stuff really isn't so hard these days.

    1. Havin_it

      The sad fact is that laptops that are wedded to Windows often have no other way of performing low-level system operations. In some cases the BIOS may not even function correctly unless Windows at least remains in place. Likewise for some external hardware that needs Windows to initialise/update correctly but can otherwise function perfectly well under Linux. So your prescription is a bit glib.

      (Now you may reasonably respond with "Then don't buy such cursed hardware!" and in spirit I agree, but for the laptop itself there is often a sizeable price/availability tradeoff in avoiding it, and for some bits of external hardware there may simply be no alternative at all. Again sad but true.)

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        > "Then don't buy such cursed hardware!"

        With this approach, hell will probably have frozen over before the year of the Linux desktop...

  12. Pomgolian
    Linux

    Nuke from orbit

    It's the only way to be sure.

    When I bought my HP Pro book, the first thing I did was remove the NVME drive and shoved the SSD from the recently deceased laptop that necessitated it's purchase. Apart from having to disable secure boot, it booked up straight away with no issues, no drivers to install and all the hardware functional. Who needs to bother installing?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Nuke from orbit

      Hum...

      All the G4 and G5 ProBooks with NVMe's I've dealt with don't include the necessary mounting assembly to securely attach the SSD. Naturally being HP the G4 and G5 use different mounting brackets...

  13. nautica Bronze badge
    Linux

    Very easy solution---

    One buys a laptop on which is Linux is guaranteed to install and run.

    My personal choice is a refurbished Lenovo from a certified, guaranteed refurbishing house, and purchased from a high-quality vendor who will back you up on any issues you might have with the refurbisher (never had any).

    I have three: T420, T430, and T430S. All were set up to dual-boot with the original, brand new copy of Windows7/10 which was installed by the refurbisher.

    Never had a problem. Don't anticipate ever having one.

  14. cdegroot

    Dual boot? Nope

    Unpacked my Dell XPS 15 last year, booted it on Windows to verify nothing was dead on arrival, checked BIOS for funny settings, popped in Linux USB stick and told the installer to use the whole drive.

    There's nothing, these days, that requires Windows. My games run all fine, and even when I had to test MS Teams for work, it was a straightforward install.

    Dual boot ain't worth it anymore.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dual boot? Nope

      To elaborate on Nautica's reply, 2 cases in point - alluded to in other replies - are:

      (i) Tedious (FSvcs) benefacteur only allows access to his estate from a Windoze-hosted Citrix and he downloads a little blodget that checks the exact env of the citrix. It's very illegal indeed to interfere with this.

      (ii) Visio. Yes, lucidchart is fine and of course you can run visio in a vbox windoze guest - but it's klunky. This latter issue really breaks my heart. I understand that it would be a massive FOS effort to make a fully-blown linux-native Visio-equivalent. Still, if a million hackers got together ..

      Digressing, I really have appreciated continuously having a running linux guest in vbox whenever I'm using the windoze part. That way I can rsync and ssh to/from my other machines and expose the windoze's C:/<bla> conveniently. So no chores / housekeeping etc. ever need be done in a non-linux env. And now that SSDs are crazy cheapo, who cares about wasting 80G on Windoze?

  15. nautica Bronze badge
    Happy

    "...Dual boot ain't worth it anymore."

    This, coming from a confirmed Linux user of many years (and becoming more "confirmed" with every indignity Microsoft inflicts on us)---

    With all due respect, and no matter one's personal feelings, there really do exist applications which require Windows in order to run, or run properly. It simply is not enough to depend upon, nor resort to the use of Wine---it is not a flawless solution in a lot of situations.

    In these (thankfully) few cases, it is always good to have a copy of Windows at one's disposal; consider it simply one more tool at your disposal should you ever need it.

    If someone wants to give you a general-purpose tool which you possibly will need one day, discretion--as well as a healthy dose of common sense--suggests you accept it and simply keep it out of the way until it's needed.

  16. A random security guy

    Linux did not need dell’s certification

    If I remember correctly, dell’s so called certification came decades after people had been running Linux on their hardware.

  17. 43300

    We've got some of these (Laittude 5420). We clean install them with W10 when they arrive, and this was the first model (the later 5430 is similar) where a generic Windows USB installer cannot see the drive. We just load the driver during the install, wipe and reinstall the OS, then deploy with Intune. Not surprised that they give hassle with Linux too.

    As regards updating the firmware, if you've got Windows on there just use the Dell Command Update utility - that will search for and install any relevant drivers and firmware updates (including firmware for attached Dell USB-C docking stations).

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