The Fedlet, revived (or, Fedora Linux on a Dell Venue 8 Pro – “Bay Trail”)

I’ve always thought it’d be kinda cool to be able to run Fedora on a tablet. There are some others who’d like this too, and we’ve had the ‘Fedora Mini’ and ‘Fedora Mobility’ sub-projects sort of targeting this in the past, but we never really quite got there. I call this mythical tablet on which Fedora works well ‘the Fedlet’. We still haven’t quite got there…but there are some interesting new possibilities arising. There’s a new Intel platform commonly referred to as ‘Bay Trail’. It’s basically a very low power Atom CPU with a chipset and GPU all optimized for low power consumption, aimed at tablet use. It’s a proper x86 CPU and, in contrast to earlier low-power Intel platforms, it uses Intel’s own graphics architecture, not a nasty PowerVR chip (remember those things?) This means it’s at least theoretically feasible that Bay View-based systems could be viable targets to run mainstream Linux distros on. In the last month or two, Bay Trail-based systems have started showing up in the market (all pre-loaded with Windows 8.1). One that a lot of people seem to be playing with is the Asus T100 – Phoronix took a shot at it, this guy kinda got it working, and there’s discussion on XDA. But that’s not the only one out there. There’s also a crop of 8″ tablets: the Toshiba Encore, the Lenovo Miix 2, and the Dell Venue 8 Pro. I read a review of the Venue 8 Pro a few days ago and was intrigued, and did a bit of research. Today I happened to notice that my local Best Buy had it in stock. So, pretty impulsively, I bought one. I’ve spent this afternoon trying to boot Fedora on it. Executive summary: it doesn’t really work. But it’s interestingly close. The first and biggest bear trap with, as far as I can tell, all the Bay Trail-based hardware available so far is that they use 32-bit UEFI firmwares. Yes, they didn’t listen to Matthew. (I’ve checked; he’s weeping over a bottle of gin, like he does every day of the week with a ‘y’ in it.) Up till now the only other systems with 32-bit UEFI firmwares are some very old Macs, and Fedora has had a policy of just not doing UEFI on 32-bit at all. We’re now going to have to change that, but it’ll take time (the plan is to set things up so a 32-bit UEFI grub2 can boot a 64-bit kernel, and ship images with a 32-bit bootloader but 64-bit system, AIUI). In the mean time, I have hacked it up very very dirtily myself, by whacking on livecd-tools with a hammer until it did something that appears to work. I cut shim out of the loop entirely and just convinced it to create 32-bit live images with an EFI bootloader included; this involves editing livecd-tools’ live.py, taking out a check for shim, dropping the shim files and switching up a couple of file names, more or less. After I got that working, with a bit of trial and error, I had images that I can actually boot in the Venue 8 Pro. So that’s pretty cool. The V8P (and also the Miix2, I believe) only has a single micro-USB port and doesn’t appear to be able to boot from a micro SD card, so you need a USB OTG converter (which is a full-size USB female port on one end and a micro-USB male connector on the other end) to boot from a USB stick. I write my hacked-up live image to the USB stick with livecd-iso-to-disk –format –reset-mbr –efi , plug it into the OTG adapter, plug that into the tablet, press the power button and hold down the ‘volume down’ key for a couple of seconds (this is how you get into the firmware), go to the Boot tab, disable Secure Boot, and promote the USB stick to #1 in the boot order. Then I quit the firmware interface and it goes ahead and boots the stick. Glorious success!… …well, not really. I haven’t yet hit on an image that will make it to a graphical desktop, or even a console. I’ve built images with kernels 3.13.0-0.rc1.git0.1.fc21 and 3.12.1-2.fc21 (from rawhide-nodebug) so far. With the 3.12 kernel and default settings it actually boots all the way into GNOME, but the display is very garbled; it looks like modesetting doesn’t quite work right for the system, picks the wrong output mode or something. With the 3.13 kernel and default settings, the screen just goes completely blank as soon as modesetting kicks in. If I edit the grub.cfg to pass ‘nomodeset’ and boot either kernel, it hits a kernel trace quite a long way into the boot process, but before making it either to X or to a console (if I try runlevel 3). I’m trying an image with kernel 3.11 right now, but I doubt that’ll help. I guess I’ll start bugging kernel people with reports tomorrow. I’ll need to pick up a USB hub so I can have both the USB stick and a keyboard plugged in at the same time, too. Still, I’m kinda optimistic that I might be able to get something that actually works quite soon, if I can find people to fix the kernel issues. It looks like it’s pretty close to working. Then we’ll see just how much GNOME 3 is built for tablets ๐Ÿ˜‰ As a piece of hardware, it’s pretty nice – unlike previous generation Intel-based tablets, which felt a lot like early lab prototypes which someone had accidentally released into the wild, it seems credible. It’s light and thin and has a decent screen and doesn’t have any heat issues I’ve heard about. It’s exactly the right form factor to fit in my little travel bag I carry around on trips and stuff. So I’m hoping I’ll be able to make practical use of it pretty soon. Edit: With kernel 3.11, modesetting is no better, but it boots successfully with ‘nomodeset’ and gets to a non-garbled X: The fedlet, running...ish The touchscreen doesn’t work, so I can’t really do anything until I get a USB hub. But I got something to work with, at least.

23 Responses

  1. Alex
    Alex November 25, 2013 at 7:26 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for this! I’ve been Googling like mad the past few days hoping someone would get a Gnome3-supporting distro working on the Venue Pro 8 or 11. Very much hoping there’ll be mainstream kernel support in a some months…

  2. bads3ctor
    bads3ctor November 25, 2013 at 7:41 pm | | Reply
  3. Alex
    Alex November 26, 2013 at 10:06 am | | Reply

    You should never need to install a standalone Intel graphics package anyway — Intel pays an army of people to work on X/Mesa drivers these days; unlike AMD and nVidia, their open source support is actually very good (and should all be in mainstream repos)

  4. Phil
    Phil November 30, 2013 at 12:17 pm | | Reply

    Thanks for hacking on this and getting things started even if not completely successful. I think with the popularity of these devices due to the cheap price and the fact they are true x86 computers it will be no time before support is there. Really wish it had another micro-USB port so it could be used and charged at the same time…

  5. Brad Laue
    Brad Laue December 9, 2013 at 8:58 am | | Reply

    VERY Interesting. I just received one of these and want to try this. Wondering if latest X/mesa/kernel together may help matters on the graphical front.

    You mention building images from rawhide – not to hijack the thread too much but what are you using to accomplish that? I’m more of a Gentoo user but I’m interested in being able to do that sort of agile thing with a Fedora system for sure.

  6. Lauri
    Lauri December 23, 2013 at 2:48 am | | Reply

    Hi,

    I’m unfamiliar with Fedora build machinery, and would be extremely grateful for instructions on the hammer-hitting part.

    Cheers,
    Lauri

  7. fear_factory84
    fear_factory84 December 24, 2013 at 12:42 am | | Reply

    I’ll try to grab an asus t100 or a venue pro (here in italy only 32gb emmc versions available) in the next days/months, so your work it’s very interesting and could be a way to definitely solve lack of storage (and freedom) on these small devices..
    Is the X you get working accelerated or not?
    Is there support on x11-intel driver for bay trail yet?

  8. Alex
    Alex December 30, 2013 at 8:20 am | | Reply

    Good luck! Looking forward to seeing more updates — I’m a bit hesitant to take the plunge myself since I’m more interested in the Venue Pro 11 which is a bit more of an investment, but if Manjaro or Fedora or another good Gnome distro start supporting 32-bit UEFI (or even publishing a reliable list of steps to get it working without tearing my hair out), I’d love to throw my hat in.

  9. Tom
    Tom January 3, 2014 at 8:23 am | | Reply

    I have Ubuntu 13.10 (64-bit, 3.11 and 3.12 kernels both work, 3.13-rc6 crashes on start) running on my Venue 8 Pro. Followed the instructions for Ubuntu on the T100 and it worked like a charm. Same issues as you, no sound, no 2D/3D accelerated video, no WIFI and no power/battery. Once the kernel driver issues are sorted out, this should be a pretty sweet setup.

  10. Andy
    Andy January 7, 2014 at 3:19 am | | Reply

    Hi Tom, if Ubuntu is working how about Xubuntu or Xinutop? I am looking for a tablet to run navigation software on board. I could boot from a stick into Xinutop or into Android for other functionality. It has a good battery life it seems which is another important factor. What do you think?

  11. Alex
    Alex January 8, 2014 at 10:09 am | | Reply

    I’m a bit leery of accelerated video not working since there’s been so much work done by Intel on the kernel to support Bay Trail devices lately (according to Phoronix), though that might all be upstream in 3.13/3.14…

  12. Tom
    Tom January 8, 2014 at 11:39 am | | Reply

    Andy, once Ubuntu is working fully, you should be able to get any of the Ubuntu variants working. I’m currently testing with Unity and Xfce. However, I think it’s going to take some time to get stuff working well enough for what you propose.

  13. Andy
    Andy January 12, 2014 at 11:25 pm | | Reply

    Thanks Tom. I am considering Windows, or http://forums.sailinganarchy.com/index.php?showtopic=147549 – thanks for your interest.

  14. coRe
    coRe January 28, 2014 at 4:43 am | | Reply

    Hi Adam,
    I have an ASUS T100 and I’m trying to boot on Fedora since one week. I found thread on xda (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=2500078) and follow instructions, boot on grub2 but still hang on black screen.
    I’m realy interest on testing your build of fedora.

  15. Alex
    Alex February 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm | | Reply

    Been following the bug tracker trail on this one — very keen to hear whether wifi/sound/the detachable keyboard+battery from the Venue Pro 11 work once you’ve got the modesetting worked out, on a 3.14 kernel ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Smithb518
    Smithb518 March 29, 2014 at 4:53 pm | | Reply

    Very nice! badbekdeed

  17. Glen Turner
    Glen Turner April 18, 2014 at 11:08 pm | | Reply

    Adam: “Up till now the only other systems with 32-bit UEFI firmwares are some very old Macs, and Fedora has had a policy of just not doing UEFI on 32-bit at all. Weโ€™re now going to have to change that, but itโ€™ll take time (the plan is to set things up so a 32-bit UEFI grub2 can boot a 64-bit kernel, and ship images with a 32-bit bootloader but 64-bit system, AIUI).”

    You’ll be pleased to see CONFIG_EFI_MIXED in the 3.15 kernel currently in Rawhide. Fedora currently has that kernel build option not set in x86_64 kernels as of this moment, but presumably that is easily fixed.

    Don’t underestimate the number of old 32-bit EFI/64bit CPU Macs out there. The Mac forums are full of them wondering when the security of old MacOS versions will become untenable. There’s even thunk code written in UEFI to convert EFI32 to UEFI64 to allow 64-bit-only MacOS versions to run (at the cost of poor graphics performance). There’s plenty of opportunity for Fedora to make some of those people happy.

  18. Karan
    Karan September 27, 2014 at 3:42 am | | Reply

    I have recently purchased a NotionInk CAIN Tablet
    It has the latest Intel Atom Z3735D Quad Core(Bay Trail) Processor
    The tablet(Hybrid) comes pre-installed with 32-bit Windows 8.1

    I have tried booting the 64 bit Ubuntu but it doesnt boot.

    The manual compiling of the 32 bit grub2 bootloader is the only option left as of now which i’ll explore in the coming days.

    But it’ll be better if the 32bit distributions can come with a preinsatalled with 32bit UEFI bootloader as day by day more number of tablets with such requirement are getting released and we would love to see our favourite Linux distribution running on these tablets..

  19. Matthew Gudenius
    Matthew Gudenius November 1, 2014 at 11:43 pm | | Reply

    Were you ever able to get this to work??

    Very interested in getting Linux onto a touch-screen / digitizer tablet, but want it on a long-battery, low-priced one (ie. not Surface Pro series)…

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