Debian GNU / Linux on Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus

Samsung just recently released a new piece of kit, ATIV Book 9 plus. Its their top of the line Ultrabook. Being in on the market for a new laptop, when I heard of the specs, I was hooked. Sure it doesn't have the best CPU in a laptop or even amazing amount of ram, in that regard its kind of run of the mill. But that was enough for me. The really amazing thing is the screen, with 3200x1800 resolution and 275DPI. If you were to get a stand alone monitor with similar resolution you'd be forking over anywhere from 50-200% the value of the ATIV Book 9 Plus. Anyway this is not a marketing pitch. As a GNU / Linux user, buying bleeding edge hardware can be a bit intimidating. The problem is that it's not clear if the hardware will work without too much fuss. I couldn't find any reports or folks running GNU / Linux on it, but decided to order one anyway.

My distro of choice is Debian GNU / Linux. So when the machine arrived the first thing I did was, try Debian Live. It did get some tinkering of BIOS (press f2 on boot to enter config) to get it to boot. Mostly because the BIOS UI is horrendus. In the end disabling secure boot was pretty much all it took. Out of the box, most things worked, exception being Wi-Fi and brightness control. At this point I was more or less convinced that getting GNU / Linux running on it would not be too hard.

I proceeded to installing Debian from stable net-boot cd. At first with UEFI enabled but secure boot disabled, installation went over fine but when it came time to boot the machine, it would simply not work. Looked like boot loader wasn't starting properly. I didn't care too much about UEFI so I disabled it completely and re-installed Debian. This time things worked and Debian Stable booted up. I tweaked /etc/apt/sources.list switching from Stable to Testing. Rebooted the machine and noticed that on boot the screen went black. It was rather obvious that the problem was with KMS. Likely the root of the problem was the new kernel (linux-image-3.10-3-amd64) which got pulled in during upgrade to testing. The short term work around is simple, disable KMS (add nomodeset to kernel boot line in grub).

So now I had a booting base system but there was still the problem of Wi-Fi and KMS. I installed latest firmware- iwlwifi which had the required firmware for Intel Corporation Wireless 7260. However Wi-Fi still did not work, fortunately I came across this post on arch linux wiki which states that the Wi-Fi card is only supported in Linux Kernel >=3.11.

After an hour or so of tinkering with kernel configs I got the latest kernel (3.11.3) to boot with working KMS and Wi-Fi. Long story short, until Debian moves to kernel >3.11 you'll need to compile your own or install my custom compiled package. With the latest kernel pretty much everything works this machine. Including the things that are often tricky, like; suspend, backlight control, touchscreen, and obviously Wi-Fi. The only thing remaining thing to figure out, are the volume and keyboard backlight control keys. But for now I'm making due with a software sound mixer. And keyboard backlight can be adjusted with (values: 0-4):

echo "4" > /sys/class/leds/samsung::kbd_backlight/brightness

So if you are looking to get Samsung ATIV Book 9 and wondering if it'll play nice with GNU / Linux. The answer is yes.

Debian  Hardware  LILUG  Software  linux  2013-10-05T16:11:05