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Linux Mint on brand new ASUS N53SV-A1 laptop

January 27, 2011

So – My MacBook Pro has crapped out. Well, at least partly. I think that the battery (third party, was having issues) fried the motherboard and made the trackpad and keyboard inoperable. To fix, the Geniuses said that a new motherboard costing > $800 would be required. Lame-O! That plus a new battery and power chord and I would be looking at the cost of a new computer, and I was already starting to feel the ceiling of my computer’s processing and memory capacity. I certainly don’t have enough dough right now for another MBP and was feeling adventurous, so I decided to get a PC that I could throw Linux on.

After much research, investigation and such, I made the decision to get an ASUS N53SV-A1. This amazing laptop has the latest generation of Intel i7 processors, is quad core (8, effectively, with hyperthreading) and runs at 2.0 to 2.8 GHz (if you overclock). It supports up to 16 GB of memory and comes with an NVidia GeForce GT540M graphics card. This card allows for flexibility in switching between the CPU’s onboard graphics processing when it doens’t need the extra juice to save battery life (Optimus technology). Pretty happy with the decision, all in all. However, the setup of Linux Mint has been a little more difficult than I was hoping.

For the most part everything went fine with the install. Was able to boot into the new installation of Mint 10.10 Julia without any issues. However, during the first boot, it mentioned that it needed to get the NVidia driver to take advantage of all of the features which the card has. So, I let it install, but upon rebooting, it wouldn’t load the gui, only take me to the terminal. After doing some snooping around I discovered that by trying to manually start the gui (xinit or some such command), I got an error that said “no screens found” with some other nonsense. After further looking into this and messing around with things until the point of having to reinstall, I discovered that it appears that nVidia doesn’t actually have drivers for the GT540M yet. So, no wonder it wasn’t working. It seems my only recourse now is to wait until they come out with them. Until then, I’ll have to live with the CPU graphics processing. Since it’s a i7 Quad Sandy Bridge, this shouldn’t be too big a deal for the moment. Setting up OpenCL and Mint visual effects will have to wait (sadly), but in the meantime, I can focus on getting my development environment set up and will probably have better battery life in the interim.

So, one other strange and glitchy problem I’ve been having. It seems that whenever I go into suspend mode, I get this weird error at the terminal

(process:449): GLib-WARNING **: getpwuid_r(): failed due to unknown user id (0)

Everything becomes pretty much unresponsive, and I haven’t yet figured out how to beat this one. Hibernate does seem to mostly work though (even if I do get some strange message about USB something or other briefly as it resumes from hibernation), even if I have to hit ctrl-alt-F1 to get back in. As the story goes, man goes to doctor, man says, while moving his awm, “Doctor, it hurts when I do this.” Doctor says, “Well, then don’t do that.” For now, I have no problem just sticking to hibernation, and have screen closing set to trigger hibernation now instead of suspend.

So, I should have known that getting such a spanking new model would inevitably lead to an issue or two, and I can live with that. The bottom line is that it is mostly working, and I expect that within a month or two, everything will be right as rain. I’m definitely excited to delve into being a Linux user. I don’t expect that it will be too far of a stretch from what I’m already used to – as it is, with my development work I have a terminal open 90% anyway.

I’ll continue to update as things progress. Please do leave a comment if you either have discovered a solution to any of the issues mentioned or if you have any questions pertaining to this setup.

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3 Comments
  1. After some research, it looks like that error

    (process:449): GLib-WARNING **: getpwuid_r(): failed due to unknown user id (0)

    is unlikely to have anything to do with what is going wrong with the system. It seems to be some sort of very generic and very common error that happens a lot but only gets seen when some other weird thing happens and takes you to the prompt.

    More updates are pending, probably in another post.

  2. Hi:
    I have the same laptop, same hardware profile, except of the processor (I have the i5 version) and I got the same problems: video card incompatibility, poor Nvidia support, it’s very annoying because I use my Linux partition for work (and sometimes to play minecraft with my office pals), the only thing nvidia card does, is drain my battery. I did make some research and some people says that the only thing, for the moment, you can do is deactivate Nvidia videocard, to save energy and use the integrated motherboard Intel videocard, for that, you need to use (I’m not really sure, I’m quite lost at this point) “bumblebee”
    Well, I need to back to work, anything I found I’ll put it here
    Peace

    • Yeah, there have been some great advances in the past several months regarding switchable graphics on linux. Bumbleebee and Ironhide are solutions to the Optimus hardware. Bumblebee was first, and then as it developed a branch was created (I believe by the original developer) called Ironhide. (Get it? Bumblebee, Ironhide and Optimus are all Transformers).

      My understanding is that Ironhide expands on the basic idea of bumblebee a bit in order to make it easier to configure things. But both packages allow you to choose what programs to run using the dedicated graphics card and which do not. I believe with bumblebee you actually have to run the program with a special command in order to have it use the dedicated graphics. With Ironhide, you can set (using a GUI) a list of defaults, so that various programs run using one or the other as appropriate. I seem to remember that there were some advantages towards Bumblebee (perhaps lower power consumption when not using the dedicated card), but I forget the details. It’s all worth looking into.

      The good news is this stuff is actually real time switchable. I don’t know if you can switch for an individual program while it’s running, but you don’t have to restart the computer at least, which is awesome. We really owe a huge debt of thanks to the folks working so selflessly on this stuff.

      It seems pretty easy to set these tools up, and there is lots of guidage on the web. I’m lucky in that I’m going to getting a new work laptop soon with Optimus and I think that our IT department is gonna try to get one or the other set up for me. If not though, I’ll have to play around and get one set up myself (I lean towards seeing what Ironhide can do, but look into the details yourself a bit before you jump). Lets keep eachother updated on what goes down on both fronts.

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