A quick post to jog my memory next time I need it. ASUS released a BIOS update for my recently purchased laptop. The “normal” way to apply this BIOS update is to use their Windows utility. BUT, I replaced Windows 8 with Ubuntu Linux.

No problem. Here’s the solution:

  1. Format a USB flash drive as FAT16. (In Ubuntu, use the “Disks” utility to unmount, select a partition type of FAT16, then format. Once complete, remount–or just pull it out and put it back in.)
  2. Download the BIOS update from ASUS and unzip it.
  3. Rename it to have an extension of .BIO (not sure this is required)
  4. Copy the .BIO file to the flash drive.
  5. Shutdown the computer.
  6. Turn on and hold F2 until you enter BIOS Setup
  7. Advanced tab, then top option is to run the flash updater
  8. Select the location of the .BIO file and execute
  9. Upon reboot, go back into the BIOS and turn boot security back off so you can boot into Linux.


The Microsoft Store

I recently got to experience the Microsoft Store. I bought a laptop there, but ended up returning it. However, I have to say if you want a Windows 8 computer, there is no better place than the Microsoft Store. They have a nice selection of brands and types of computers to pick from, you can play with them as long as you want and get your questions answered by helpful staff, and best of all there is NO BLOATWARE! (Unless you consider Windows to be bloatware!) That’s right! None of the computers in the store–regardless of brand–come with a single piece of manufacturers’ crappy software add-ons. I only price-checked a couple machines, but the prices were very competitive in the store.

Windows 8 and Touchscreen Computers

“I want a laptop” my wife told me. Most of what she does on a computer is browser-based, so any OS would suffice–even an Android or Chrome OS based system. However, she really likes Google’s Picasa application which is only available on Windows and Mac. It really is a great program to manage large photo collections as well as do most any kind of editing and cropping an amateur needs to do. Picasa also makes it super simple to upload photos to Picasa Web Albums….something that may be going away or getting merged into Google+.

So I figured we’d look at Windows 8 laptops. I really wanted to check out the Microsoft Surface PC. We headed over to the Microsoft Store at Oak Park Mall. I have to say, it’s a very nice store and the staff is helpful. We spent 10 minutes playing with a Surface PC. My quick review: It’s a very cool machine, but if you are used to an iPad (I’ve had one for 4+ years) or a nice Android tablet, the Surface is a clunky, heavy tablet. When used as a laptop computer, the screen is too heavy for the keyboard, so it just falls over….except they gave it a kickstand. I just find that tedious, and it’s easy to accidentally collapse the kickstand causing the screen to fall. (This happened while we played with it.)

We ended up walking out with a shiny, new HP Spectre Ultrabook. i7, 8GB RAM, touchscreen, etc. Sweet! HOWEVER, after 2 hours my wife realized that touchscreen on a laptop means the screen jiggles a little when you touch it, and this makes her dizzy. I thought to keep it for myself, but after another 2 hours, I realized that for me personally, touchscreen on a computer aint all rainbows and butterflies. 3 reasons:

  1. Touchscreen on a phone or tablet is awesome. Touchscreen on a computer screen requires you to stretch your arm out, which is not convenient and becomes tiresome.
  2. FINGERPRINTS! After 2 hours the glossy screen was littered with annoying fingerprints. It made me realize how habitually I wipe my phone screen on my jeans to clean the fingerprint smears off. I rub my iPad on my shirt-covered belly to clean the screen often. You just cant do that with a laptop or computer, and I found the fingerprints really got in my way.
  3. Finger-unfriendly UI. Yes, the Windows 8 tiles and applications made for that environment are finger-friendly. I also found that I enjoyed using my finger to switch tabs in the browser and to scroll the page, but that was about it. Most other activities require precision that is hard to achieve with my fat finger.

We ended up returning the HP Spectre Ultrabook to the Microsoft Store. My wife decided the combination of her home computer, iPad, and smart phone were all she really needed. I decided a new laptop for me was in order!

ASUS N56VZ-RH71 Notebook with Ubuntu 12.10

I bought a new laptop computer.

My old Lenovo laptop is probably 6 years old. I’ve maxed out the ram and eeked out all the life I need to get out of it. It’s been running a dual-boot config with Win XP and Ubuntu. I’m not a Windows-hater, but I really like Linux. However, as a web developer with a need to test my apps in IE on Windows, I wont be getting away from Windows anytime soon.

I’ll share my thoughts on Windows 8 and touchscreen computers in another post.

I purchased an ASUS N56VZ-RH71 from Microcenter. I live in the Kansas City area, and we have one locally. This allowed me to play with this notebook before puchasing. You can check out the specs on the ASUS website. I got the i7 with 750GB 7200RPM model. At about $1K, it seems like a lot of machine for the money, and should serve me for years, if my last laptop was any indication.

Once I got it home, I tested that latest Ubuntu (12.10 at time of this writing) would work well by booting from an Ubuntu USB flash drive that I created.

So how well does Ubuntu work on the ASUS N56VZ? Excellent! Everything just works with 2 minor exceptions:

Make the screen brightness hotkeys work

UPDATE 2013-11-08: BIOS 216 killed my screen brightness work-around. BIOS 217 did not help. BUT…have found that this works:
# echo 1500 > /sys/class/backlight/intel_backlight/brightness

Well, one actually bugs me a bit, but I’m getting closer to resolving it. All the special function hot keys work except f5 & f6, which are the screen brightness down/up buttons. It boots defaulted to max brightness, which on this laptop is crazy bright. This thing is 100 nits brighter than most laptops on the market. Good news is that the Settings / Brightness and Lock administration tool does work to set the screen brightness. (There are 10 levels to choose from.) I also discovered the file that contains the setting (1 – 10) and created a script that simply echoes a number into the file–which instantly changes the screen brightness accordingly. What is missing is for the ACPI system to capture the event from those 2 keys and pass it to my script.

So what to do? I tried all kinds of things, but it looks like these guys have it figured out. A quick read of that thread suggests they have developed a patch, but you might end up with an issue preventing bootup (yikes!). Apparently the issue is fixed in kernel 3.7 (Ubuntu 12.10 comes with 3.5 at this time.), but it looks like some other upgrade breaks the hotkeys in a different way, and there is yet another fix. For now, I’m going to just live with it–I have found that a brightness of 6 just works well in most every indoor situation for me. If I need to adjust it, I can use the slider in the settings tool or my shell script.

Enable the external subwoofer

This laptop has the most impressive sound system I’ve ever seen on a laptop. “Audio by Bang & Olufsen ICEpower”. It comes with a small, external subwoofer that plugs into a special port on the left side. Of course it worked in Win8, but did not automatically work in Ubuntu. I got it working, but I don’t think it’s working as designed. I found various instructions for telling Linux that I have a 2.1 system, but some of these resulted in system errors. What I’m running right now is a 4.0 system–so Ubuntu thinks I have 2 front speakers and 2 back speakers. It appears to be sending the right-rear sound to the subwoofer, but it actually sounds really good….and let’s be honest–I’m probably not going to bother plugging in an external subwoofer most of the time anyway. When I’m home I have a better sound system in the house anyway. When I’m at a coffee shop, I will use headphones. Cool feature, though, if you tend to do mini presentations with your laptop.

I’m quite happy with this machine. It cold boots in about 20 seconds. It wakes up from suspend in about 5 seconds. Battery life stinks, but it’s a big, heavy, powerful notebook. The full HD 1920 x 1080 non-glossy screen is very nice. I’m getting older and my eyes are not as good as they used to be. For me, I think the 13″ HD screens are too small for long hours of screen time.