Installing Linux Mint on an Acer Nitro 5 laptop

This journey isn’t over yet, but it’s been adventurous enough so far that I thought I’d better start documenting things. Otherwise, I’ll never be able to recreate what I’ve done.

My daughter bought herself a new Acer Nitro 5 (AND515-44-R99Q) because her old MacBook is getting very long in the tooth. The new system comes with 16GB RAM, a 256GB NVME SSD (with Windows 10) and a 1 TB Hard Drive.

Her brother had recently picked up an Acer Aspire 3, and apart from some silliness with the secure boot options, it was a piece of cake to throw Linux Mint 20.2 on there.

The Nitro, however, has a new hybrid graphics setup, using the AMD Renoir chip for low-powered stuff, and an Nvidia GTX 1650 as the high-powered graphics engine. That’s the same card I have in my desktop, so I didn’t have any questions about whether it would run.

Well, the live disk installer wouldn’t get to desktop using the “standard” setup. Using compatibility mode, however, I was able to get the desktop to appear. There was a little bit of wonkiness — the trackpad wasn’t recognized, apparently, but I threw an old Kensington trackball on there and was installing in no time.

I’ve learned from past experience that you sometimes have pain on first boot if you don’t install the extra media stuff right away, so I hooked up an ethernet cable and off we went.

Installation is a lot faster on this newer hardware than on a lot of machines I’ve worked with, but I still tend to walk away and let it churn after I’ve gotten it configured. (And hope I didn’t forget anything to come back to it patiently waiting for input to start.)

Installation finished, I rebooted the machine, and …

So, ctrl-alt-F2 to open a console, log in and sudo apt update

Now there are a bunch of upgrades, so sudo apt upgrade

To be honest, I’m about 50/50 at this point whether I want to just install ssh before I get any deeper in the weeds (because the laptop is mounted two feet above my desk, to the right, and I could just ssh in instead of reaching over there to type the commands). However, I want to follow a “normal” process before I get to that, though I’m sure it will come soon.

Well, the upgrade stalled, so it’s ctrl-alt-del and let it reboot. It’s nice at this stage, because while it’s frustrating to have to redo things, at least we’re not worried about losing any data.

So, on this reboot, after getting into the console to log in again (because of the same black screen / non-blinking cursor issue), I’m going to sudo install openssh-server. This will allow me to connect to a console from my own computer, which will allow me to interact with the Nitro without stretching or getting out of my chair, and also will allow me to do other things while it’s going.

So, ssh lets me connect to the laptop even when the display is funky, and even if the keyboard on the laptop starts misbehaving. I can install and uninstall stuff, and even reboot if I need to. One of the first tools I install on a computer, even if I intend to sit in front of it most of the time.

At this point, the Nitro is behaving very badly, and even with moderate edits to the grub file that controls the boot process, it’s not allowing me to log in (graphically). I’m going to switch over to Ubuntu. If I recall correctly, it worked in early tests with this machine. If it shows any sign of trouble, I’ll install ssh first 🙂

There are a couple of reasons that I use Mint instead of Ubuntu, even though Mint is based upon Ubuntu.

The first is Unity. Ubuntu’s default Desktop Environment is clunky, wastes space, and is needlessly obstructive. That’s okay, I know I can install Cinnamon[1]Mint’s default Desktop after I install Ubuntu, and they actually have an installer that uses the Mate environment (which is not bad).

The second is more complicated. Ubuntu has really been pushing the Snap install infrastructure. While it sounds great, the more I delve into it, the more I agree with Mint’s developers that it is the kind of oppressive centralization that caused many of us to leave Apple and Microsoft.

The good news is that Ubuntu starts right up without needing compatibility mode, and the trackpad works. (I actually still prefer using the trackball, since it’s right on the desk next to me.) I installed using Mate, installed ssh, updated drivers, and everything worked. With that in mind, I took careful note of the settings (using the inxi -Fxz command) so that I can try to replicate them in Mint.

So, back to the Mint installer. As before, it only boots in compatibility mode. Bummer. Oh, well, let’s wipe that partition and get it installed again.

So, install is done. We’re doing the first reboot… As expected, black screen. Well ctrl-alt-F2 still works, and after logging in I quickly install ssh.

One advantage of doing some of this work behind the screens is that I get to see the error messages dumped into the console. Wow, the nouveau driver is buggy on Mint Cinnamon with this hardware! A simple difference is the linux kernel being used, however. Ubuntu is using kernel 5.11.0-34, while Mint is using 5.4.0-74. This should be relatively easy to test.

So, from the ssh session: sudo apt update (I actually already did this before installing ssh) and then sudo apt upgrade to apply the upgrades available. This can be kind of important because some things might break with the new kernel otherwise (not that we would notice, since it looks pretty broken as it is).

And, as it happens, Linux Mint 20.2 with kernel 5.11.0-34 still breaks under Cinnamon or Mate when using the Nvidia drivers. Oh, well, I’ll try to figure that out some other time — right now my daughter wants to use her computer.

So, I wipe the partition again, reboot to the Ubuntu Mate installer, and quickly run the install. I’ll have to get to the drivers at another time, but she did use the laptop during our D&D game today, so at least there’s that.

References

References
1 Mint’s default Desktop

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