Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Installing Linux on Eee PC S101

Since the S101 is not sold with Linux in the US, you have to install it yourself. This is actually not very difficult at all, and can actually be completed in a few hours. Here are a list of things that took some time for me to discover that may save you some time:

1) To get to the BIOS screen, press F2 repeatedly during POST.

2) To get the boot device selection screen, first press F2 to see the POST screen, then press ESC to enable the boot selection screen. You will see a message on the POST screen like "Boot selections screen enabled", or something like that.

3) To flash the BIOS, first plug your netbook powercord in. Then partition a USB key with a single partition of type 'b', which, in fdisk, is called "WIN95 FAT32". Turn on the bootable flag on that partition. Next format the partition with mkfs.vfat, and mount it. Now download the latest BIOS from here, unzip the file, and then move the extracted ROM file to your new VFAT file system, renaming it S101.ROM. Finally, reboot the box with the jump drive plugged in, and while it's POSTing, hit ALT+F2. That will put you into the EZ Flash utility, and immediately start loading the new ROM.

4) Install Easy Peasy. This is seriously the easiest, most functional out-of-the-box distro for an Eee PC you could hope for. I installed Arch Linux first, and fumbled around trying to get the touchpad to work for a couple days, had to get wireless working, X, etc. It was definitely an old school DIY experience. Nothing wrong w/that, because you learn so much about the box, like how to prolong the life of your SSD, and how to configure ACPI events, etc. But on the other hand, Easy Peasy has all of that stuff already configured, so you can just have your beautiful new netbook ready to go immediately - wireless, working battery monitor, working ACPI events - everything.

5) To install Easy Peasy using Unetbootin is not as obvious as they make it sound. There are a couple key things you must do with your USB key when using Unetbootin to install the Easy Peasy ISO: Clear it of any pre-existing boot blocks, and format it with a WIN95 FAT32 bootable partition. The reason for that is, in my experience, Unetbootin will not overwrite any existing boot blocks, so if you have GRUB installed on your USB key (like I did), you have to either clear out the GRUB boot block, or (and I haven't actually tried this) modify the GRUB configuration to boot what would be the Windows boot block (i.e. chain-load the Unetbootin boot loader). If you don't fix this, the box will boot from that GRUB boot block every time, and you will never get to the Easy Peasy installer (which is actually a live CD).