ASUS UX581GV Laptop: sorry, no thank you

ASUS UX581GV Notebook, running xubuntu, with external USB wireless, because the internal wireless cannot reliably wireless.

Work brought me this ASUS UX581GV Laptop: a wondrous machine with two high resolution screens, both with touchscreens. Much as it pains me, I had to refuse this machine: it has some serious design flaws, and it is incompatible with Linux.

Nice things about this machine:

  • Two screens: everyone needs more screen space. The primary screen is a 15 inch display.
  • Touch screens: how many times have you touched a screen and expected it to work? Well, it works!
  • Super high resolution – no more anti-aliasing – on BOTH screen: lovely sharp text. It seems to be around 250 to 300dpi, which is like good quality laser printing.
  • Keyboard lighting
  • SSD storage: really fast or something
  • Lots of CPU power and GPU power (apparently: I don’t need all this power, so I didn’t properly test)
  • Earphone jack (yay!)

This laptop is missing some important things:

  • Ethernet – yes, you can plug in USB ethernet, but why is something that is going to live on a desk not set up for working on a desk?
  • USB ports (it has but 2 and a half – being a USB-C connector)
  • SD Card reader (no, not even a micro SD card reader)
  • High quality webcam – it got what seems to be a pinhole camera delivering what looks like blurry 320×200 images from 5 years ago, with an infra-red mode vaguely attached.

Show stoppers. Sadly, I can’t use this machine. It is unusable in a couple of important ways – the most important of which is that I hate putting my fingers on it because it is always hot. The other ASUS laptop I have shipped with an overly touchy touchpad, to the extent that I had to use an external mouse for some tasks which were impossible because it reacted to my heartbeat. It had problems with the screen backlight controller, and no insert key – but nothing like this one.

Really cool looking BIOS screen that burns up power and spins the fan and lets you disable secureboot so you can load the bleeding edge kernel – but does not let you bring the heating under control
  • It runs really hot: just the BIOS display asking “Please select boot device” heats the system to fire-hazard levels while the fans calmly run between 2000 to 2500 RPM. The manual says, “Do not leave your Notebook PC on your lap or near any part of your body to prevent discomfort or injury from heat exposure.” It’s not a laptop if you cannot put it on your lap. It boots up with whining that the CPU had to be throttled so that it would not catch fire.
  • Battery life is pathetic – just under 2 hours on a full charge (since the system is pretty much a 50W fan heater.)
  • If you forgot to make a Windows 10 recovery stick, you cannot recover the system (The recommended software, Microsoft Windows 10 can boot its installer, but whines about needing unspecified drivers.)
  • It has no Page up, Page down, Home and End keys. Instead, there’s a “Fn+Arrow” system. It does have “Pause” and “PrtSc” though, which is so weird. I press Home and End multiple times per hour. Not having them is really bad.
Want to install Windows 10 from scratch No, that’s not going to work. No reason. Got a disk with all the drivers from ASUS? That won’t help either.

Linux incompatibilities:

Trying Fedora beta to see the colourful whining about overheating, and wireless weirdness
  • The wireless card is unreliable under Linux. It is not even recognised (apart from showing up in lspci) under older kernels, and under newer kernels with the latest firmware for iwlwifi it runs for a bit, and then dies. It recovers if you reboot, but who wants to reboot?.
  • Power control doesn’t work with any kind of predictability: can’t suspend, can’t hibernate – no reason, it just doesn’t work – except sometimes it does, or locks up hard – you never know.
  • Intel RST device has to be switched in the BIOS to AHCI mode, otherwise there’s simply no disk. Windows doesn’t seem to be able to make the disk work either.
  • The touch screens appear as keyboard-batteries in the device listing: I suspect they are mislabelled
  • The touch screens are not properly associated with the screens they are on. A couple of xinput and xrandr commands can make them work, but only Ubuntu Unity gets the association right.
  • The number pad is unsupported – it’s a bit of a gimmick, but still, it doesn’t work.
  • The “alexa” light under the keyboard is unsupported
  • The screen brightness control does not work – you can do dimming with xrandr, but I don’t know if that’s energy efficient
  • XFCE doesn’t properly understand scaling icons to 300dpi. That’s not ASUS’s problem.

Here’s the xrandr thing that makes the over-bright default somewhat less obnoxious:

#! /bin/bash
BRIGHTNESS="0.4" ; [ "$1" ] && BRIGHTNESS="0.$1"
# Arrange the display as it actually appears:
xrandr --output eDP-1 --auto --brightness $BRIGHTNESS --output DP-2 --auto --below eDP-1
sleep 1
# No really, actually do it
xrandr --output eDP-1 --brightness $BRIGHTNESS --output DP-2 --below eDP-1
# Link touchscreens to output devices
elan() {
#   ↳ ELAN9008:00 04F3:29B6    id=12	[slave  pointer  (2)]
#   ↳ ELAN9009:00 04F3:29A1    id=14	[slave  pointer  (2)]
xinput|sed "/$*/ { s/.*id=//; s/[^0-9].*//; q; } ; d"
}
xinput map-to-output $(elan 9009:00) DP-2 
xinput map-to-output $(elan 9008:00) eDP-1

Irritating things:

  • The keyboard lighting looks great from directly above, but from the side, it’s a stack of little LEDs that shine in your face while you’re trying to look at the screen.
  • The mousepad right next to the arrow and enter keys invariably attracts a pinkie click on some part of the screen.
  • The little “Fn” LED is annoying. It’s nice to have function lock, but this LED could fade.

I think the ASUS people don’t care 2c about Linux: if you don’t use the device in the way that it is configured when you receive it, then nuts to you. If you try to change something, then stuff you.

Image result for gift horse
A gift horse

And of course, the show stopper: it does not ship with a fire extinguisher. Matches are cheaper than this device, even if they don’t have as high a CPU speed.

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