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Thread: Linux compatibility and security dangers of UEFI "BIOS" in Asus N550JV

  1. #1

    Linux compatibility and security dangers of UEFI "BIOS" in Asus N550JV

    Have just acquired an Asus N550JV, and was unpleasantly made familiar for the first time with the UEFI "BIOS". The laptop comes with a generic user "manual" that doesn't even include a spec sheet (and you have to download it from the Asus site), and is totally inadequate in its instructions for external booting. I have yet to find a real manual for either the hardware or the firmware.

    I sought help from the retailer's (Staples Canada) local technicians, and was told categorically that it is IMPOSSIBLE to boot Linux on this machine, externally or internally, unless one first totally wiped the hard drive and thereby eliminated any possiblity of using any version of Windows on the machine thereafter.

    Of course, a few minutes with a search engine and a few more minutes tinkering with the UEFI menu proved this to be total nonsense, and after the proper adjustments, I was able to boot the machine from a Knoppix 7.2 usbflash install. However, my reading on UEFI, particularly the Wikipedia article, together with the lack of technical support from either the retailer or the manufacturer, makes me seriously wonder whether I should return this machine for refund, a decision I'll have to make within little more than a week.

    Of particular concern is the UEFI "BIOS". While one of the store salesmen was trying to figure out how to boot externally on a couple of the store demo machines, using several of my bootable media, I saw that the critical menu entry - the toggle to disable secure boot - without which it's impossible to boot from external media - was missing on an Acer laptop with UEFI.

    The BIOS on my machine has already been revised twice (mine is v2.04, the latest listed online is v206), and I'm worried that these revisions might remove my external boot capability. Is it possible to revert to an earlier UEFI BIOS after upgrading, or is it a one-way trip?

    Other, more subtle, obstacles to the use of Linux or older OSs are suggested as possibly being concealed in machines designed for UEFI. I'm not knowledgeable enough to assess these threats, and would welcome any comments on their seriousness?

    Frankly, I don't trust Microsoft or Red Hat (which according to Wikipedia, has jumped on the UEFI bandwagon with gusto), and am not willing to give up access to other or older OSs than those two offer currently. OTOH, I have no opportunity to test or even examine top end laptops in my remote location. The one in question was one of the first three Haswell cpu machines offered in my vicinity (ie. within 120Km), and even then there was no demo machine to view, so I ordered it sight unseen on the basis of very skimpy information.

    I've found only one in-depth review of it online, albeit from July and of a pre-production model, which gives it high marks, but doesn't address the compatibility issues posed by UEFI at all.
    Last edited by otropogo; 10-07-2013 at 08:14 PM.

  2. #2
    Speaking of UEFI and Knoppix 7.2 - I had a frustating time just now booting 7.2 from a usbflash install that had worked previously. My Asus laptop's pseudobios didn't show the flash card as a bootable device. I eventually discovered that a recent Win8.1 update had changed the settings in security section of the UEFI BIOS and locked both USB and all external devices. Another, yet unexplained, problem I've encountered throughout with this laptop's UEFI BIOS is a failure to see the same flash card (a microSD), when installed in a USB3.0 hub using one of the chunky microSD USB adapters. The strangest part is that it recognize and boot from the same card when inserted in a USB3.0 card reader, either directly or, as right now, via a microSD to SD adapter. When I use the chunky microSD to USB adapter and plug it directly into one of the three USB3.0 ports, it boots. It's a PIA, because the ports and the reader slots are both scarce resources, especially since my external USB3.0 drives won't run off the hub, even though both the hub and the drives each have their own AC power adapter! (any light shed on any of these problems would be most welcome). I'm waiting impatiently for v7.3 myself, because v7.2 doesn't seem to see anything in the ASUS' internal SD slot, and doesn't handle my 64GB SDXC flash card even in the card reader, making me totally dependent on Windows 8.x (the worst I've ever used since 3.0) to archive my photos.

  3. #3
    After posting the last message, I discovered to my horror that I can no longer access any of my storage devices in any position with Knoppix 7.2. The only way I can even see my two external USB drives are there is via the GO/MYcomputer path, "media" shows nothing except a list of sdx mount points with no subfolders. The path above shows only the names of the external drives, and asks what app to use to open them. Sometimes trying to open them makes the icons disappear, sometimes it locks up Knoppix so I have to power down. Even the flash card it booted from can't be accessed. It shows as sdg2, and when I clcik on it it disappears. So - total disaster, My K7.2 has become completely useless except to go online. Cannot save anything to disk, cannot make any file transfers. Any ideas what's going on? Other cards in the card reader aren't accessible either. I only know the mount point of the usbflash install from watching the display at bootup. On the third try, the two external hdds didn't even have icons in the mypc list.

  4. #4
    Senior Member registered user
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    Greetings, otropogo.

    While I sympathize with your predicament,

    I think you might be more likely to evoke the assistance you need
    in another forum; for examples:
    Hardware & Booting, General Support and/or MS Windows &c.

    This forum is ostensibly for News, and this thread was started by
    Gilles, specifically in reference to the upcoming Knoppix 7.3.

    I'm no expert, but I'd be surprised if Knoppix 7.3, any more than 7.2,
    solves the difficulties you have outlined. I expect a number of us
    may just have to learn how to deal with Windows 8 hardware and UEFI.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by buymystock View Post
    Greetings, utu,
    This is great! I am able to hear and understand the
    professor while he speaks in the English language during
    the recent CeBIT gathering as I click on the link that you sent me.
    Merriment and well-being will certainly follow the faithful and
    unwavering Knoppix apostles!
    Klaus has some seemingly worthwhile additions this year. Often with Knoppix as with OSes generally, though, it's one step forward, two steps back. Time will tell. I had to take a rest half way through the lecture, it was a bit slow, but will be back to hear the remainder tomorrow.

    [snip] About using Wine: I only have three or four Windows applications I can't do without, and every year or so I check the Wine compatibility list to see if any of them are supported yet. I haven't had one make the list yet. I'd like to ask Klaus if he ever has need of OCR, for instance...An innocent listener would assume from his remarks that there's no need for Windows anymore.

    [snip]

    The dvd, or better, the usbflash install, when it works, is a very useful reference tool, and Klaus has done a terrific job in making Linux easily and relatively safely available to PC users. But his claim that it works out of the box without problems for 99% of PCs in use today is just nonsense. I'm hoping he tackles (instead of just flirting with) the issue of UEFI BIOS in the second half of the lecture. Because if you have a UEFI BIOS, you absolutely will not be able to boot from the DVD without doing some tweaking of the BIOS. And from what I've read, there are some UEFI BIOSes that won't even allow such tweaking. If he's found a simple fix for 7.3 (my experience is only with 7.2), that will be a significant contribution. I haven't figured out how to boot Puppy on my Haswell laptop yet...
    Last edited by Werner P. Schulz; 05-18-2014 at 05:47 PM. Reason: Violation of forum rules

  6. #6
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    But his claim that it works out of the box without problems for 99% of PCs in use today is just nonsense.
    90% ("ninety" at position 1:45 within the video) not 99%.

  7. #7
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    .
    Greetings, otropogo.

    Does your Win8 computer have a Legacy Boot option as well as UEFI?
    If so, have you tried to boot Knoppix 7.2 with Legacy Boot enabled?

  8. #8
    So, is Yuffie Boot something Microsoft came up with to try and stop people from Dual booting other Operating Systems, or does it have some actual benefit? Honestly, I don't particularly like knoppix either, but then again, I don't need a Live distro and I don't need a bunch of software preloaded. The only reason I'm here instead of running vanilla Debian is because Adriane provides the one thing beyond the core necessities I actually need preloaded: a working screen reader plus a few other little things that makes it the only viable Blindman's option I have found for Linux. If Adriane ever gets ported upstream to Debian and joins the various Desktop Envionments as a CD1 variant, I'd probably be going back to debian and never give Knoppix another look. Anyways, has the English lecture on Knoppix and Cbit 2014 been mirrored on YouTube or can anyone provide a link where I can download it(either directly or via bittorrent)? Excluding YouTube, I've yet to find a streaming website that actually works without Flash(and installing flash causes me serious headaches with YouTube). As for Windows programs not being on the Wine Compatibility list: How many have you actually tried running? Its been years since I had to run anything via Wine, but my understanding is that absence from the list could be due to no one who has tried has submitted their results to the list. .

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by utu View Post
    .
    Greetings, otropogo.

    Does your Win8 computer have a Legacy Boot option as well as UEFI?
    If so, have you tried to boot Knoppix 7.2 with Legacy Boot enabled?
    Not that I've been able to find. It's an Asus N550JV, and the user manual is total garbage. It's a generic thing that doesn't even provide the specs for the machine. You can't find the word "RAM" in it with a keyword search. There is nothing about the battery specs, the RAM specs, etc., and technical support from ASUS is non-existent. The stock battery is defective, and ASUS not only refuses to sell owners a spare battery, or direct them to an honest retailer of such, but actually tells the user that replacing the batter will void the warranty on the laptop. If the battery needs replacing in Canada, the entire laptop must be shipped several thousand kilometers (in my case) to the only service depot in the country, near Toronto, and then ASUS will decide whether they will pay shipping, one way, both ways, or neither way. Don't buy ASUS in Canada (US support doesn't seem any better, BTW).

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeffery Mewtamer View Post
    So, is Yuffie Boot something Microsoft came up with to try and stop people from Dual booting other Operating Systems, or does it have some actual benefit?.. . .
    UEFI is not just Microsoft's doing, it's a joint scheme the major PC manufacturers and even Red Hat Linux (from what I've read) have bought into. I'm guessing it's part of a general plan to make the PC user completely locked in to a single channel of support for both hardware and software, including the simplest maintenance (see my rant about my ASUS battery above, which, although hardly used more than three hours off charge since bought, is losing 3% of its charge when shut down after a full charge). You can see this in the connectivity requirements, where when you buy software apps now, or even download freeware, you're required to expose your machine to the net. Sometimes you can't run the software without going online first.

    I've bought software on disk which I haven't been able to install because my Windows system couldn't make a connection with the net.

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