Installing Debian GNU/Linux 10 on Acer Aspire A315-54


Disclaimer: This is an article about my experiences with the laptop. If you follow procedures in this article, I am not responsible for your machine or its data.

Last updated: 2021-02-25 by Tomi K.

The exact model of this computer is Aspire 3, A315-54-593C

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Keywords: A315, Debian Buster, Linux, SSD not recognized, Optane without RAID.

Introduction

Acer Aspire laptop

Debian 10 works quite well on this laptop. However, installing Debian requires changing the SATA mode to AHCI in BIOS. If you do this change, the factory-installed operating system (Windows 10 Home) will no longer boot. It might be possible to restore Windows 10 after installing Debian, but I have not tested this.

The special thing in this laptop, at least for me, is that in factory setup it uses a SATA mode "Optane without RAID". In this mode, Linux did not see the SSD at all. I found discussions about other Acer laptops where people recommended using AHCI mode, but AHCI was not available in BIOS. After one evening of research I found out that this machine indeed has AHCI available, in a hidden BIOS menu! After that, Linux install was quite easy...

Some specs and their status in Debian:

Component/featureStatus in Debian 10
ProcessorIntel Core i5-8265UWorks
Display15,6" Full HDWorks
RAM8 GBWorks
Storage256 GB PCIe NVMe SSDWorks
WLAN802.11acWorks (with added firmware)
USBWorks
SoundWorks
WebcamWorks
TouchpadWorks, but error messages in syslog
EthernetWorks (at least with added firmware)
HDMIWorks
SuspendWorks

Note: I received a report about one A315 laptop (with newer processor model) that required a kernel upgrade for graphics to work. Please see the end of article for more information.

Things You Might Want to Do Before Install

USB Memory for Restore

In Windows 10, I used Acer Care Center application to make a restore USB stick.

BIOS Update (optional)

When I wrote this in 2019, Acer offered BIOS updates only as packages that you need to launch from Windows 10. So if you want to update the BIOS, it is best to update it before Linux install.

I decided to update BIOS from 1.00 to 1.06.

Note: You must decide yourself if you want the BIOS update. It might not be possible to restore the original BIOS.

BIOS Setup Before Starting Debian Installer (in BIOS 1.06)

Turn power on, and press F2 to enter BIOS setup. The "Information" tab shows SATA Mode: Optane without RAID. Go to "Main" tab. Press Ctrl+S to bring out the hidden SATA Mode choice. If you change from "Optane without RAID" to "AHCI", Linux will be able to see your SSD. Warning: If you change to AHCI, your current operating system will probably not work anymore. Back up your files before this change. Reboot and enter BIOS again. Now the "Information" tab should report that AHCI is on. You probably need to disable secure boot in "Boot" tab, at least temporarily, to be able to boot the installer. Also go to "Main" tab and set F12 Boot Menu to "Enabled". Now is also a good time to set the hardware clock to UTC time (recommended for Linux). Save BIOS settings.

Now you can boot the Debian installer by pressing F12 a few times right after you power on the laptop. Sometimes a DVD drive will not start quickly enough and does not appear in the boot menu; I had to press Ctrl+Alt+Del and try again, then it worked.

Note: There are some settings in BIOS that are visible but disabled. When you set the administrator password, they magically become selectable. Another detail that is not very obvious. If you need to set a BIOS password, pick one that you will remember, or write it down. It can be pretty frustrating if you need to install/restore an operating system after a couple of years, and you don't have the BIOS password.

Debian 10 Installation from DVD

I used Debian 10 DVD for install: Official Debian 10.0.0 for amd64, DVD 1. The installer notified "some of your hardware needs non-free firmware files to operate". All of these files started with ath10k. I think they are related to wlan and/or bluetooth. I didn't need network during install, so I went ahead with the install. Everything installed without problems, and I booted to the new system.

After install, most things worked out of the box:

Wireless network, of course, didn't work, as it requires adding the firmware. (If you need wlan during install, the Debian install DVD with non-free firmware will work.)

So to finalize the install, there are a couple things left:

The firmware package (which is classified as non-free) is available here at Debian's archive.

To get wlan working, carry the deb package to laptop with e.g. usb stick and install with:

dpkg -i firmware-atheros_20190114-2_all.deb

After that, I rebooted, logged in, and connected to my wireless network.

First Debian Update After Install

The apt configuration file /etc/apt/sources.list only contained reference to DVD, apparently because I did not connect to network during install. Before my first Debian update (and upgrade), I made a sources.list like this:

deb http://deb.debian.org/debian buster main deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian buster main deb http://deb.debian.org/debian-security/ buster/updates main deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian-security/ buster/updates main deb http://deb.debian.org/debian buster-updates main deb-src http://deb.debian.org/debian buster-updates main

This configuration is copied from an example at the Debian Wiki.

After that, I did

apt update apt upgrade

Conclusion

When writing this, I've used Debian for a couple days on this computer. I haven't tested bluetooth yet. After first upgrade, Debian gave some warnings about possibly missing firmware. I might have to add some packages/drivers later. Also, messages appear in dmesg and in /var/log/syslog every time I use the touchpad. So there are a lot of messages. Maybe the Linux driver is not perfectly compatible with touchpad. However, the touchpad works well. Overall, Debian works quite nicely on this laptop.

P.S. Reminder: If you set a BIOS password during install, you might want to clear it now, or check that you have stored it so that you can find it later.

Updated Information about Debian 10.8

With some A315 laptops, X.org (graphical display) will not start with the kernel that comes with Debian 10.8 (package linux-image-4.19.0-14-amd64).

You might get these errors:

(EE) open /dev/dri/card0: No such file or directory (EE) Unable to find a valid framebuffer device (EE) Screen 0 deleted because of no matching config section (EE) Fatal server error: (EE) Cannot run in framebuffer mode. Please specify busIDs

In this case, you can get X.org working by installing the latest kernel from buster-backports. Thanks to Daniel for sending this information.

Link: Debian Backports