Installing Ubuntu on the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW

By | February 21, 2016

Update 2016-04-25, this post is obsolete.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.

Encrypted Swap

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:

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.

Display Scaling

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.

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.

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.

Conclusion

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.

11 thoughts on “Installing Ubuntu on the ASUS ZenBook Pro UX501VW

  1. McMurtrie

    Hi Marc, I have been trying for a week to install Ubuntu on my new UX501VW. I wonder if you can give me some advice, because I cannot find anyway to get the touchpad to work.

    The problem: after 5-20 seconds of login, the mouse cursor disappears and the laptop stops responding to the touchpad. I can still use the touchscreen fine. It is apparent that the laptop recognises the touchpad initially, but there is something else blocking it’s input. When I suspend and login again, the touchpad responds again for a few seconds before freezing once more.

    Details: I am installing Ubuntu 14.04 dual-boot with Windows 10 (pre-installed). I have done this procedure before without issues. I turned off fast boot in BIOS and turned off fast start-up in Windows. The problem is present at the very beginning, when I “try Ubuntu” from boot. I have also attempted with 15.10 and 16.04 and the problem is identical. I am most interested just now in getting 14.04 working. I have attempted to install with kernels 4.2.0, 4.3.0, 4.3.5, 4.4.0, 4.5.0, 4.5.2. With all those, the problem has been the same and has not resolved.

    Things I’ve tried:
    updating the kernel numerous times
    different distributions of Ubuntu
    Various settings changes in xinput and synclient
    every other thing I found online!

    Please let me know if we can discuss this!

    Reply
    1. marc Post author

      Not sure I can help here on this one. I never tried 14.04 on mine. After the touchpad dies, do you see anything in dmesg output that might give you a clue as to whats failing?

      I was running exactly the same setup as you on my old Vaio laptop, and had no issues at all. This the UX501VW does seem very finicky about things, though.

      When I installed, I didn’t do the “Try Ubuntu” at all. I went straight for the install, and then updated my kernel to 4.3.5. I also only tried 15.10 and 16.04. I should also mention that I could only use the stock Ubuntu release or the XFCE release. The other releases wouldn’t even boot for me with the shipped kernels. I have no idea why.

      Is there a requirement that you run 14.04? The desktop environments (specifically Gnome and now Cinnamon) in 16.04 support the HiDPI screen much better. When I was running 15.10 I had to force the screen resolution to 1920×1080 to get anything looking even remotely good. If it were me, and I had a requirement for some things to run on 14.04, I would probably install 16.04 and then run a 14.04 in VirtualBox instead.

      Other than that, it sounds like you’ve done everything I did to get mine working. As I’ve mentioned before, mine is rock solid now. The only thing that I can’t get working is the SD card reader, but thats only an inconvenience and not a show-stopper for me.

      Reply
      1. McMurtrie

        I’m seeing that something is definitely going wrong with the Elan touchpad driver, see below. It seems like the device is failing to initialise on this driver. Perhaps the explanation of why the mouse works temporarily is a boot driver loads successfully to control the touchpad, then when the Elan driver fails to load, control of the pointer passes to the touchscreen? Does anything below make sense to you?

        [ 1.900121] i2c_designware i2c_designware.1: i2c_dw_handle_tx_abort: lost arbitration
        [ 1.900123] elan_i2c i2c-ELAN1000:00: fetching report descriptor failed.: -11
        [ 1.900124] elan_i2c i2c-ELAN1000:00: device initialize failed: -11
        [ 1.923842] Bluetooth: hci0: Intel Bluetooth firmware patch completed and activated
        [ 1.936594] i2c_designware i2c_designware.1: i2c_dw_handle_tx_abort: lost arbitration
        [ 1.936595] elan_i2c i2c-ELAN1000:00: writing cmd (0x0005) failed: -11
        [ 1.936595] elan_i2c i2c-ELAN1000:00: device reset failed: -11
        [ 1.936596] elan_i2c i2c-ELAN1000:00: device initialize failed: -11
        [ 1.988370] elan_i2c: probe of i2c-ELAN1000:00 failed with error -11

        Reply
        1. marc Post author

          The touchscreen is an independent device (USBest in my case), so it wouldn’t depend at all on the touchpad.

          The touchpad is certainly failing on you, but for reasons I cannot determine. My output is different than yours. There was discussion about this particular bug on the kernel bugzilla here https://bugzilla.kernel.org/show_bug.cgi?id=108581 . It looks like it was fixed in a newer kernel, and then broken, and then fixed again.

          I haven’t rebooted my laptop in a week, just suspended and resumed. I almost never boot into Windows, so this is all under Linux.

          I will say this, though, I have encountered an issue where it may not work after a cold boot. If it fails, I will power off the machine forcibly (i.e. holding down the power button for 4-10 seconds), and then power it on again immediately, and it always works perfectly from that point on. Again, this is with kernel 4.3.5.

          Reply
  2. Tyler Pugh

    Hey Marc. Thanks for the article. I have literally come across the same issues as you. I installed 15.10 and the touchpad did not work. Fortunately when I did a distro upgrade to 16.04 the trackpad worked. However I am having the same shutdown issue as you. Any fix there?

    Reply
      1. Tyler

        Fantastic. I actually ended up going with the 4.6 kernel to fix the shutdown issues and to have a semi working trackpad. I also updated my nVidia driver to 370.28. That helped the laptop to not randomly restart. Have you been able to get multitouch to work? From the threads that I have read , it is being recognized as a mouse insteach of a touchpad. No fix found in all of the threads I’ve covered.

        Reply
  3. jonaz

    Thank you so much for this article, but this was really helpful. I came across lot of the problems described here.

    I thought I would tell you my experience, since it could be more updated and useful for someone. Mine is a Zenbook UX501VW-FI127T.

    What I did was:
    – Installed Ubuntu 15.10 from USB as you said. Had no problem at all booting and installing. Mousepad wasn’t working but Wi-Fi did. I did experienced problems booting from USBs with 14.04 LTS, 14.10, and 16.02 LTS.
    – Before (or during) the update of software, I installed the proprietary driver for the Nvidia graphics card (I read somewhere this solved the fan issue).
    – Update software from 15.10, and the check again for updates to upgrade to 16.04. Mouse wasn’t still working then.
    – Upgraded to 16.04, then again to 16.10.
    – Now I’m in 16.10 using kernel 4.8.0-37-generic. It doesn’t seem like the fan is overworking (at least I don’t hear it), mousepad is working (although not all gestures, the only one that seems to be working is scrolling with 2 fingers, need to check this later). Wi-Fi also working super fine.

    The things that still don’t work completely well are:
    – Trackpad (all gestures)
    – Brightness keyboard shortcuts (the blacklit keyboard and volume ones DO work, also the airplane mode one, though its light is a little buggy).
    – White noise present when plugging in headphones.

    Reply
  4. yotalorenzo

    Hi everybody! I have some trouble with boot on Ubuntu Live.
    I disabled Secure boot but when I try to run into ubuntu live but it remains into the boot animation (it stopped after some second).
    Can someone help me?
    ISO: ubuntu-16.04.2-desktop-amd64

    Reply
    1. ivan

      You must install ubuntu 15.10. Later, you will update and upgrade to ubuntu 16.04.2

      Sorry my English isnt good

      Reply
  5. Fermisk

    Hello everybody. I’ve a vio laptop and i didnt have any problem with installing ubuntu and windows on it .but its really old and cant trigger my work. Really i like to buy one of this model of asus but maybe it incommodes me because it cant support ubuntu as well as old medels.do you think there are lot of problms in this choice?would you pls recommend anither models to me?

    Reply

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