[updated April 2021]
The Acer Nitro 5 is an interesting breed; decent computing power, a mid-range SSD, a large screen with high contrast, a decent and solid keyboard with good haptics at an ok price – but will it run Ubuntu?
The Nitro comes with Windows 10 home pre-installed and UEFI secure boot enabled – booting Ubuntu from an USB drive thankfully doesn’t require disabling secure boot. I downloaded the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS image, installed Rufus, partitioned the USB stick with a single volume and had Rufus install Ubuntu on it. Important: this will not work if a data persistence is chosen; Ubuntu will fail booting then. Since I “just” wanted to try out basic hardware compatibility that isn’t much of a problem – or so I thought.
Ubuntu boots just fine off the stick. These things work out of the box: WIFI (5 GHz), webcam, USB, sound (internal/external), microphone (internal/external), keyboard backlight. I didn’t try bluetooth or the secondary nvidia graphics card.
The first, bit surprise lurks behind actually trying to install Ubuntu on the SSD: no drives are found. The reason is that the BIOS enables Intel’s optane mode. Disabling it is kind of tricky: enter the BIOS, set a supervisor password (this unlocks advanced settings), go to advances settings, press CTRL + S (this unlocks the hidden optane setting), change from optane to AHCI.
A few notes after running Ubuntu for a week now:
- Resuming from standby will freeze the mouse pointer for 10-20 seconds; everything else works fine and the mouse pointer thaws after a while (Update April 2020: this issue mutated into a random, temporary freeze [~10 seconds] which goes away)
- After resuming from standby the laptop’s screen will freeze at some point (much) later; applications continue to run, key strokes are (apparently) not registered and the screen isn’t updated any more. A cold reboot is required after that. I was able to work around that by blacklisting nouveau.
- One of the many fans always spins at a low to mid speed
- The laptop gets pretty warm even at moderate use, but that was an issue already with Windows
- The battery won’t last more than 2 hours; this worries me as the laptop is brand new
- The webcam resolution is low and the picture is noisy; update January 2021: guvcview can set higher resolution and modes. The camera stays nosy though.
- Sound occasionally stutters under I/O load. Sound in Firefox occasionally stops.
- Ubuntu on the laptop feels overall faster and more responsive than Windows 10
- Update April 2020: installing the proprietary nvidia-435 driver and using the prime package for switching between Intel and nvidia GPUs works flawlessly
- Update May 2020: I was wrong, not disabling the nvidia GPU crashes the computer at some point. Uninstalled nvidia drivers again (blacklisting is not enough).
- The bottom key row (YXCVBNM) on the keyboard goes dead sometimes. Squishing the plastic between the last key row and the touch pad seems to work around the issue. I’m waiting for it to become worse before using the warranty, because the issue is spurious and I can totally see how it wouldn’t show when I take the laptop back to the shop and try to demonstrate the issue. Update April 2021: the issue is a loose cable and very easily fixed as user kalbasnikov shows on YouTube.
Update April 2021
While fixing the dead keys issue (see comment above) I took the chance for a peek under the covers. The Nitro 5 has several internal extension slots I wasn’t aware of: two NVM express slots for flash memory, two RAM slots and an empty bay for a 2,5″ SSD. The bay is missing a metal frame and cables though, both can be ordered cheaply online apparently. I salvaged a second NVME flash from an older laptop and installed it next to the pre-installed one. Neither Linux nor the BIOS saw the flash, however once I switched their order, both were recognised just fine. One NVME slot is labelled as SATA/NVME and the other just as NVME. Surprisingly, one drive shows up as /dev/nvme0 and the other as /dev/sda.