Acer Aspire Switch is Linux Unfriendly

Now that the hardware of an Acer SW5-012 (Aspire Switch 10) is back up and running, the focus turns to software. Windows 8 is installed but locked with passwords I don’t have. I didn’t care much for Windows 8 anyway, and whatever data exists is not mine to recover. So – a clean wipe is in order.

As with the Latitude X1, my first thought was to turn this little old machine into an almost-Chromebook with Neverware CloudReady. And just like with the Latitude X1, the attempt was foiled. The Latitude X1 was too old and did not support some processor features required by CloudReady. The Acer problem is just the opposite – the hardware is too new and deliberately blocks the installation.

The blocking mechanism is Secure Boot, which according to its own web site is a “security standard developed by members of the PC industry to help make sure that a device boots using only software that is trusted by the Original Equipment Manufacturer.” I would describe it with different terms. Either way, trying to install CloudReady – or a Linux distribution – results in the error screen “Secure Boot Error”.

Intentional or not, this puts the Acer in a bad state. It gets stuck neither fully on nor off, the screen dark but burning battery power and making itself warm. I had to disassemble the computer again to pull the battery from the main circuit board in order to reboot the machine.

In theory Secure Boot can be disabled, but various efforts by other people on the internet indicated this isn’t straightforward. I certainly had no better luck when I tried it: I can see the menu option, and I could change it from black on white (disabled) to white on gray (enabled) by creating an admin password, but I couldn’t figure out how to actually change the Secure Boot mode out of “Standard”.

Acer Secure Boot Menu

And it might not even be worth the effort, as forum traffic indicates there is very poor Linux driver support for this class of hardware. Probably related to the secure boot barrier but either way I’m giving up. I’ll stay with Windows on this machine.

3 thoughts on “Acer Aspire Switch is Linux Unfriendly

  1. It is in fact possible to run these laptops with Linux based operating systems. Took me 4 hours of head scratching before I was able to boot and install Debian. Here’s a picture of my Acer Aspire Switch 10 (1GB RAM version) running latest Debian Buster (10).

    Wireless network works just fine (first I had to download right network firmware & wpasupplicant from another computer with network and put it into a USB stick, then install them). The touchscreen works fairly well out of the box.

    Downside is that it’s slow, like really slow. Can’t watch 720p YouTube videos without stuttering… When I had Windows installed, the 720p videos worked fine, so I’m now wondering what’s the issue with Debian, maybe video/gpu drivers? There’s enough juice for sure (the cpu isn’t hitting 100% while watching 720p), but there’s some weird software issue going on.

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    1. Great work! Sad to learn that your efforts only meant you ran into the next barrier of poor driver support/performance. It was a noble experiment, and I hope you find a use for it. Maybe a status display panel of some kind? Those don’t usually require high frame rates of video playback.

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      1. Managed to solve the performance problem. Had to turn off the hardware acceleration in Chromium (and in Firefox), now 720p videos work fine.

        Can’t get the audio to work tho… Came across this Wiki Debian page for Acer Switch 10 (https://wiki.debian.org/InstallingDebianOn/Asus/SW05-014%20%28Aspire%20Switch%2010%29), and it says:
        “all attempts to get audio working have failed so far”, so I don’t have high hopes. Even the 3.5mm headphone plug doesn’t work. I will keep trying. If i get audio working, I will post here!

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