How to Install Linux for Acer Aspire Switch 10 with EFI32bit boot

My old Acer Aspire Switch 10 had been running slow for many years ever since my bad attempt at upgrading it to Windows 10 and reverting it back to Windows 8.1. The lag was rather trying and I had to be rather patient whenever I used it. I failed to install Linux for the past couple of years until recently. The problem was it was using an EFI32 bit boot but capable of running a 64 bit operating system. It felt great that I could now dual boot between my Linux distro and Windows 8.1.

Acer Aspire Switch 10 running MX Linux
Acer Aspire Switch 10 running MX Linux

Here’s a quick info about the Acer Aspire Switch 10 that I own:

  • Model name: Aspire Switch 10 SW5-012-118N
  • CPU: Intel Atom Z3735F 1.83GHz quad core with 2MB L2 cache
  • Release date: Q1 2014
  • LCD: 10.1” WXGA IPS multi-touch LCD
  • RAM memory: 2GB DDR3
  • Storage: eMMC 64GB
  • WLAN/Bluetooth: 802.11 b/g/n + BT
  • Battery: 2-cell Li-Polymer battery

One of the issues with trying to install Linux was that it requires EFI32 bit and the EFI64 bit will not work. Although the hardware is capable of running a 64bit Linux Operating system. However I am not well versed with trying to create an EFI file to be inserted into the EFI boot partition. Thus my earlier attempts at trying to even live boot any Linux were failures. The only time I managed to boot another OS was the Neverware Cloudready Chrome OS last year. But it was cumbersome to use the USB stick on it and sometimes it didn’t boot. Although using Switch 10 as a Chrome book was interesting, I didn’t want to be online all the time to access my stuff in the cloud. I like to use it offline as well too. In addition, installing Chrome OS would take over the entire eMMC storage and wouldn’t share storage for dual booting.

I was a tad too frustrated the day before with its lagging that I gave a Linux boot another try. I wanted a lightweight linux and I had good experience with MX Linux. Giving it a try, it boots! And most importantly, I could install it and run!

So here is the gist to some of the steps needed to install Linux into the Aspire Switch 10 while still retaining Windows 8.

  • Find a Linux capable of EFI32 bit boot, in my case MX Linux and download it
  • Burn the ISO image using Rufus into a USB flash drive
  • Start up the Switch 10, and press F2 to enter BIOS
  • Boot the USB flash drive with MX Linux
  • Let the MX Linux install its EFI file
  • Once in, partition the eMMC with ext4 and linux swap
  • Reboot, and re-enter BIOS
  • Select the EFI file to boot to GRUB2
  • Reboot, and keep finger cross that it will work. If it worked, give yourself a pat on the back!

Now for the detailed explanation starting from the BIOS entry. I gather that you ought to know how to use Rufus and burn in the MX Linux ISO into a USB flash drive.

    • While booting, press F2 furiously to enter the BIOS. Missed the chance, reboot and try again!
    • Goto Security menu, set up the Supervisor Password. You will need to set the password so that you can modify other BIOS settings
    • Goto Boot menu, set Secure Boot to [Disabled]
    • Make USB HDD to be set as the 1st in the Boot Priority order
    • Exit Saving Changes
    • Shutdown the notebook
    • Stick the USB flash disk with MX Linux and boot up
    • Let MX Linux run its script to insert its EFI files into the EFI boot partition
    • Once done, just select the option highlighted by MX to boot up
    • If it worked, you would now be in MX Linux live CD desktop
    • Now you would need to partition the eMMC storage, so fire up the Gparted partitioning software
    • Whatever you do while running Gparted, be very careful as you don’t want to accidentally destroy your existing partitions and data which may render your notebook inert.
  • Partitioning Acer Aspire Switch 10 eMMC storage for installing Linux
    Partitioning Acer Aspire Switch 10 eMMC storage for installing Linux
    • First reduce the Windows partition (mmcblk1p3) to about 30GB. I still gave it large storage space as it needed the bloat to run it.
    • Create a new partition with ext4 file system (mmcblk1p5) with about 18GB space (don’t follow my graphic, I had to redo it after my installation). This was in preparation for the Linux installation.
    • Create a Linux Swap partition (mmcblk1p6) with the balance space of about 3GB. The swap size needs to be larger than the RAM memory for the hibernation mode.
    • If all looked well, then proceed to apply it! It will take a while to resize and create the new partitions.
    • Once done, proceed with the installation
    • When the choice for where to install Linux shows up, choose something else, and select the partition that you have created and mark it as slash (/), since it is brand new, there is no need to format it.
    • Next select the swap partition as the Linux swap partition for it
    • Now start the installation process
    • Next select where to install the GRUB2 bootloader. The location I chose was the ESP in the partition mmcblk1p1.
  • Where to install the Linux GRUB2 bootloader for Acer Aspire Switch 10 EFI32 bit
    • Once done, let the installation complete, shutdown, take out the flashdrive and reboot.
    • You will notice you still boot back to Windows. So reboot and press F2 to enter BIOS, key in your password that you have set up earlier.
    • Goto Boot menu, and set Secure Boot to [Enabled]
    • Goto Security menu, and you will see the Secure Boot Mode options becomes available.
    • Select an UEFI file as trusted for executing
    • Select HDD, select MX19, give it a name (I type yes because I didn’t know what they were asking!)
    • Go back to Boot menu, and change Secure Boot back to [Disabled]
    • Save settings and exit and reboot, and re-enter back to BIOS with F2 once again for the EFI to show up in the Boot Priority order list
    • Push up the EFI File boot before the USB HDD and USB CDROM. That will be about the third place.
    • Now for the moment of truth, reboot, and if all went well, you should see the MX GRUB2 boot menu, and would be able to start up MX Linux or Windows 8.1! Give yourself a well done pat!

Here’s a quick review of using MX Linux on my Acer Aspire Switch 10. It was great that I could install and boot it up! This is a lightweight Linux using up about 6GB after the installation. Almost everything worked as it should. The version that I installed was the MX Linux 19.3 Patito Feo released in December 2020.

The display was crisp and it was at full brightness! The brightness control on the Switch 10 didn’t work. To adjust the brightness, you will need to use the Brightness Systray. Reducing brightness should help to conserve battery power.

The WiFi worked and I have no issue connecting to my own home WiFi network. The Linux WiFi drivers worked much better than the Windows 8.1, which was sometimes cranky and wouldn’t connect or dropout frequently. However the BlueTooth didn’t work. Probably will have to fiddle with it and see whether I can get it to work.

As for the display won’t swivel automatically unlike the Windows 8.1, but that’s not a big issue for me. Though it would be nice if it worked. The touchscreen worked. However if I were to add an extended second display, the touchscreen positioning will be off a lot. Working with a second screen meant that you would have to rely on the mouse or touchpad to move the cursor and for selection. It took awhile to figure out how to make the extended display to work the way you want it. Instead of just mirroring the main display, I prefer to have and an extended display for a bigger workspace. For display blanking, it won’t dim and turn off like Windows 8.1. Perhaps I could fiddle with the screensaver to get the similar effect for power saving.

Sound was ok, though the built-in speakers weren’t that great. It would be better for me to use a headphone. If I could get the Bluetooth to work I could use a wireless bluetooth headphone.

The build in camera wouldn’t work. Probably missing drivers somewhere. Will just have to go without it for the time being.

Most apps startup fast and runs well. So no more of that lagging Windows 8.1 nonsense and less hair pulling while waiting for apps to start!

Also I believe other Linux distros that have the 32 bit EFI should also be able to boot and install. I browsed through my Linux distro collection and found the following to have EFI32 in their boot folder and might have a chance to install into Acer Aspire Switch 10. (I included the MX as part of the list). Also note that I’m using a 64 bit Linux while booting with 32 bit EFI.

      • Fedora
      • Kali Linux
      • MX Linux
      • Raspberry Pi Desktop edition
      • Ubuntu Gamepack (UA Pack)

An additional caveat, Fedora Linux is different from the Debian based Linux. You may not have a choice to choose where to install the bootloader.

So I hope the above would help anyone who might want to install Linux in their old Acer Aspire Switch 10 notebook.

Cheers!

10-Feb-2021

2 thoughts on “How to Install Linux for Acer Aspire Switch 10 with EFI32bit boot”

  1. You are a godsend! A friend asked me to try and install Linux on his Acer Inspire One 10 years ago and I couldn’t figure it out and moved on. But earlier this week he was throwing the tablet out because he was sick of the lag so I thought I would try again. The coincidence that you just posted this a week or two before blows my mind lol

    1. Thanks for your comment and email. About your questions, I installed MX Linux 19 as is without modification. I’m not good at modifying the config files. I’m very happy if any distro just worked out of the box. The version that I’m using is the MX-19.3_ahs_x64.iso released Dec 2020, the ahs version, ahs = All Hardware Support, per MX website meant to support newer hardware as well. But my Acer Switch 10 I bought it in year 2014, so shouldn’t have any problem for such old hardware. However some things still didn’t work such as bluetooth, webcam, no auto display swivel. Best of luck to revive this old notebook!

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