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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 18 May 2013

When Xubuntu and Debian fail, Fedora it is for HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop

I've spent just about a month with this new HP Pavilion g6-2210us laptop that shipped with Windows 8. That means UEFI and Secure Boot.

And new hardware. We all know how difficult Linux can be with new hardware.

During the aforementioned month, I did a lot of work in Windows 8. I sent up my whole environment. Even installed Perl. And Python. (It's not like I'm a big-time hacker or anything, but I aspire.)

But it's time for me to get back to Linux. Except that I'm having issues.

The video-chip portion of this laptop's AMD-made APU (that's a CPU with integrated graphics, I guess) doesn't play well with today's Linux kernel, both the open and proprietary AMD video drivers (the latter are crashy) and/or Xorg. (For the record, it's an AMD A4-4300M APU with AMD Radeon HD 7420G video.)

For one thing, 3D acceleration is problematic. It goes from occasional artifacts in (the admittedly 2D) Xfce (which are totally livable) to more frequent artifacts in Ubuntu's Compiz-powered Unity (which are mostly livable).

Then there's the deal-breaking, totally unusable screen in any distro's GNOME 3 desktop. (In case you are wondering, I'm filing this one under "not livable"; you can't even read a line of text on the desktop).

Since good old 2D video seems to work well enough, I've been auditioning Xfce distros.

I was all set to go with Xubuntu 13.04. It's got more polish than Fedora 18 with Xfce, judging from the two distros' live environments. And I confirmed that the PPA for netflix-desktop works -- and works well -- in Xubuntu. Just like it did in Debian Wheezy on my recently departed Lenovo G555.

Yes, netflix-desktop is one of my bucket list apps. I like Netflix. Non-free Netflix.

But after three failed Xubuntu 13.04 install attempts, I was done. It's puzzling because I did successfully install Xubuntu about a week earlier.

My "successful" installs were on a 160 GB Western Digital hard drive. The fails were on a 320 GB drive from the same maker. I could swap back in the other drive and try again. (FYI, in the unsuccessful attempts, the installer died when it was trying to bring in the kernel.)

The automatic bug-reporting tool let Ubuntu know what happened. I guess my work is done there.

I moved on to Debian Wheezy's network installer. Knowing that Debian wouldn't discover/configure all of my hardware with the base system, I found an install image that included nonfree firmware. Still, I'm not terribly sure that firmware actually installed.

I turned off Secure Boot (which Debian doesn't support) but kept UEFI (which it does) on.

The install went fine. During the process, the wired Ethernet worked great. Except at reboot when it didn't. The boot stalled while trying to bring up the Realtek wired Ethernet port. I suppose I could reinstall using the Atheros wireless networking port as the primary interface and figure out the wired port later.

But knowing that my graphics problems would probably never be addressed in Debian Wheezy, I moved on.

To Fedora 18 with Xfce. I need bleeding edge if I ever hope to get past my HP laptop's graphics issues. Bleeding edge. That's Fedora, all right.

But even with Fedora, suspend/resume doesn't work. OK, the suspend part is great. But the resume? Not so good.

Aside from that, Fedora 18 with Xfce performed great in live sessions and test installs, though I was worried about multimedia (which Ubuntu and derivatives has always handled well; as has Debian in the Testing run-up to Wheezy).

And I could never get netflix-desktop working in Fedora 18. (This is a 64-bit install. Netflix is supposedly easier to handle in 32-bit environments, but who would install 32-bit Linux on new hardware?) I got as far as getting Silverlight up and running, with which I could play Netflix streaming video, albeit with no sound. And it was crashy.

Back to Fedora. The 3.6.x and 3.8.x kernels for Fedora 18 ran well enough. But the newest kernel updates in Fedora -- 3.9.2 and 3.9.3 -- are panicking on boot. Here's my bug report.

So my install of Fedora wasn't as "perfect" as that of Debian. Not getting a running system takes away quite a bit from Debian's perfection.

More on Fedora 18: I'm not crazy about the new Anaconda installer, and while I'm a big fan of the old Anaconda, I have a lot of confidence in the designers and developers who are working to improve the installer that ships with Fedora today and Red Hat some far-away tomorrow.

And despite my panicky 3.9.x kernel (the same kernel fails for me in the Fedora 19 Alpha and the Xubuntu 13.10 daily builds), I have a working, encrypted Fedora 18 Xfce system. (I've had problems with 3.9.x kernels in other systems I've been auditioning, and I'm pretty sure the panics are related to EFI booting; a legacy BIOS boot on this same laptop goes a lot better.)

As much as I'm tweaking and building out Fedora on its own 320 GB drive, I'm getting very close to a reinstall as a dual-boot with Windows 8 on the HP's 640 GB drive. (Note: I've done the dual-boot; more later.)

I'm not sure I'll stick with Fedora at this point, though I've subscribed to a bunch of mailing lists, been in the Fedora Forum, started looking at IRC a bit and even started a Fedora membership.

So if this works out, I'm ready.

(Note: I'm still running Fedora as of May 22, 2013)