Update 2016-04-25, this post is obsolete. I now have information on installing Ubuntu 16.04 at https://marclewis.com/2016/04/25/installing-ubuntu-16-04-lts-on-asus-zenbook-ux501vw/
After receiving my new ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW, the first thing I did was prepare it to dual boot between Windows 10 and Ubuntu. I’m not a fan of Windows at all, but I do understand that sometimes its required, so I need to dual boot.
I’m paranoid about losing data or making my system unrecoverable, so I tend to take some extra steps when I approach something like this. I’ll outline what I did here, in the hopes that it may help someone else installing on a newer ZenBook or other ultrabook with a high pixel density display (the ZenBook has a 4K display).
Create a Windows Recovery Disk
I can’t stress this one enough. If something goes wrong, this is what you’re going to need to get your laptop or system back to its original factory state. Its easy enough to do. From your Windows 10 installation, click on the Search box and type in “recovery image”. Follow the prompts and be sure to check the box to include System Files. I put mine on a 16GB flash drive. It takes a while to run, but once its done, you can feel quite a bit more confident knowing that if something goes wrong, you can start over.
Use GParted to Resize Your Partitions
Windows is greedy when it comes to hard drives. You can use the Windows disk manager to resize, but it only gave me about 200G of the 500G disk. I really only want about 100GB for Windows, and the remaining 400GB for Linux, so I had to use GParted.
Before you can use GParted you need to disable Secure Boot in the bios, since the GParted live images aren’t signed.
Boot Up The Ubuntu Installer
My first attempt, I decided to try Ubuntu 15.10. Since its a lot newer, I figured it should recognize the hardware better. There were several issues with 15.10 that I didn’t like, most notably encrypted swap. So that being the case, I reverted back to 14.04.3.
I used Ubuntu 14.04.3 to do my install and everything went fine. I went with a default installation and it recognized Windows and added it to the Grub menu. You will need an external mouse for the installation, though, since the kernel that comes with 14.04.3 doesn’t recognize the touchpad on the ZenBook UX501VW. You will also notice that everything is really, really small after you boot. 14.04.3 isn’t without its other issues, too.
Fix The Installation
There are several issues that need to be addressed. I’ll outline the various things I did to get a mostly usable system.
This only applies to Ubuntu 15.10, and hopefully it will get ironed out before 16.04 gets released. There is apparently a bug in the new systemd that is being used under Ubunto, specifically with GPT based partitions. Since I’m dual booting and using an EUFI system, I fall into this category. Its a major annoyance, every time the system boots or updates packages, I get prompted for an ecryptfs password on the swap partition. This shouldn’t require one. The fix for it is not as straight-forward as I would have liked. For most people, it is easy, fall back to upstart. This can be done with this command:
sudo apt-get install upstart-sysv
Reboot and there will be no more of the annoying password prompts. This didn’t work for me, however. After I did that, shutting down the laptop just spun, it would never actually shut down. So far, none of the things I’ve tried will fix it, so, I’m still dealing with an annoying password prompt at startup and when doing updates.
This one is a challenge, even for a lot of Windows apps. A 15.6″ 4K screen has a very high pixel density, and apps that aren’t coded for them (read most of them) will be displayed very small. There are various things you can do to compensate for it, depending on the window manager and the software you use. The most common method is to simply double the size of everything, which, for the most part, works okay. There is a wiki entry on the Arch Linux site that covers HiDPI screens and how to tweak various window managers to look more presentable on a HiDPI screen.
I normally use Xfce because its fast and stays out of my way. Though lately, I’ve been having more and more issues with it keeping up with modern hardware. After installing, I tried each of the following desktops: Unity (ubuntu-desktop), Gnome 3, Xfce and Cinnamon.
None of them worked well on 14.04.03, and only a single one of them worked out of the gate on 15.10: Cinnamon.
I am very impressed with the latest Cinnamon release. Its been a long time since I looked at it, right about the same time I switched from Fedora to Ubuntu. I’ve been using Xfce ever since. This latest release of Cinnamon has me convinced its time to switch. Everything looks beautiful and just works. And when I say just works, I mean just works. Everything is scaled correctly, the themes are nice, there are no holes at all. It is everything I would expect to see in a window manager. I’ll be writing up another post on migrating to it and the experiences I have with that, but for now, I highly recommend using Cinnamon on the ZenBook if you’re going to go with 15.10.
sudo apt-get install cinnamon-desktop-environment
For 14.04.03, though, I ended up setting my display resolution to 1920×1080. Its not ideal, but everything just works. The reason I couldn’t use Cinnamon, was the Intel 3D drivers caused massive flicker and tearing under 14.04.03. Intel, for some unknown reason, no longer supports their latest drivers under 14.04.03, so I switched to XFCE. I did turn off compositing under XFCE, otherwise I would have had similar tearing issues.
Its not ideal, but it works, and should hold up until 16.04 comes out.
Touchpad and Updated Kernel
This is optional, but if you don’t, you’re likely not going to have a good experience with the touchpad on the ZenBook. It was mad-making for me until I realized that the model touchpad used in the latest ZenBook it not recognized by kernel version 4.2, which is the kernel used in Ubuntu 15.10. It works, but you can’t adjust its configurations at all. To solve this, you need to upgrade to a 4.3 kernel. As of this writing, this is the latest 4.3 kernel, so you may want to check for something more recent. This won’t be necessary with Ubuntu 16.04 or later as it will be using an up-to-date kernel when it is released.
sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.3.5*deb linux-image-4.3.5*deb
Reboot. After that changes made to the touchpad settings will work much better. I still haven’t managed to get two-finger scrolling to work yet, but disable while typing and tap to click are now disabled correctly. This makes the touchpad much more useful.
If you’re just running Windows, the ZenBook is great, most things scale just fine.
If you’re planning on running Ubuntu 15.10, Cinnamon will work great at full resolution, but the others fall short of being usable. At 1920×1080, most things will still work, and you’ll just need to update your kernel to get a usable system.
This is the problem when running Linux on “bleeding edge” hardware, the drivers take a while to catch up, so it can be a pain to get everything working. I’m not 100% happy with things, but still happier than I was when using my old Vaio. I still recommend purchasing the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW if you want a beautiful workhorse of a laptop.
I’ll add a new guide when 16.04 is released with a guide to Cinnamon and installing the latest Intel graphics drivers.