Swedish Linux Users: Avoid Elgiganten

As detailed here before, a few Samsung laptop models have a firmware bug that makes them liable to becoming inert bricks if you install Linux. It’s a one-way process. This happened to me when I bought an ultrabook from the Elgiganten big-box store last summer. Both Samsung and the store refused to reimburse me for the loss of my machine’s use. At the suggestion of my home municipality’s consumer advisor (konsumentrådgivare), I took the matter to Allmänna reklamationsnämnden, the National Board for Consumer Disputes (complaint no 2013-10081).

My main argument was that installing Linux is a common procedure these days. Elgiganten sells many brands of computer that don’t have the hidden design fault I ran into, and not even most Samsung models have the fault. Nobody warned me that the particular model I happened to get would fail on such an everyday point.

Yesterday the National Board sent me their verdict.

The Board finds that the computer came with a pre-installed operating system and that Martin Rundkvist has then installed another operating system. Normally such installations and similar changes in the computer are done at the buyer’s risk. Our investigation does not suggest that the vendor has promised that the computer would be compatible with the operating system Martin Rundkvist has installed. According to the Board, nor has Martin Rundkvist had reason to assume that the computer would be compatible with the operating system in question. In this assessment, the Board finds that the fact that the computer stopped working due to the installation Martin Rundkvist did, does not constitute the kind of defect for which the seller is responsible. Martin Rundkvist’s claim should therefore be dismissed.

Nämnden konstaterar att datorn levererades med ett förinstallerat operativsystem och att Martin Rundkvist därefter har installerat ett annat operativsystem. Normalt sett sker sådana installationer och andra liknande förändringar i datorn på köparens risk. Utredningen ger inte stöd för att säljaren har utfäst att datorn skulle vara kompatibel med det operativsystem som Martin Rundkvist har installerat. Enligt nämnden har Martin Rundkvist inte heller haft skäl att utgå ifrån att datorn skulle vara kompatibel med det aktuella operativsystemet. Vid denna bedömning anser nämnden att den omständigheten att datorn har slutat fungera till följd av den installation som Martin Rundkvist har utfört, inte utgör ett sådant fel som säljaren ansvarar för. Martin Rundkvists yrkanden ska därför avslås.

I guess there are a number of lessons you can draw from this.

  • Let’s just disregard “Never run anything but Windows.”
  • “Beware Samsung laptops” is a lesson the Linux community has already learned.
  • For Swedish Linux users, the main lesson seems to be “Ask your big-box store salesperson to certify in writing that the machine she sells you is capable of running Linux equally well as it runs Windows”.

Tech Note: How To Install Linux On A Laptop With UEFI

Here’s what I did to replace Windows 8 (boo) with Linux Mint (yay) on a 2013 Asus ultrabook with the problematic UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) firmware, using an external DVD drive linked to the machine with a USB cable.

  1. Download Linux Mint and burn a bootable DVD.
  2. Disable Windows Fast Startup (in Windows’ Control Panel).
  3. Reboot machine while pressing F2, to get into BIOS setup.
  4. Under the Security menu, disable Secure Boot Control.
  5. Under the Boot menu, disable Fast Boot.
  6. Under the Boot menu, enable Launch CSM – if you can. (I couldn’t at first. This menu option was visible but inaccessible – “greyed out” in effect, though with no visible indication. In order to make the menu item accessible, I had to save the BIOS parameters, re-start and go back into BIOS setup. Then the item spontaneously became not just visible but selectable. This is an obvious bug in the Aptio setup utility.)
  7. Save the BIOS parameters, re-start and go back into BIOS setup.
  8. Under the Boot menu, Add New Boot Option and make your DVD drive boot option #1. My drive is named “HL-DT-STVRAM GPZON AP00”.
  9. Boot the install DVD you made and install Linux.

The above steps worked to get Linux Mint 14, the second-newest version of that linux distro, up and running. My troubles thus far were due to a buggy and undocumented BIOS. But then I ran into a bug in the installation software for Linux Mint 15. It installed without a hitch but then would not boot.

Here’s what I did to get an apparently problem-free install of Linux Mint 15 to actually boot when I turn on my laptop.

  1. On another machine that isn’t currently autistic, download an .ISO file of the Ubuntu Boot-Repair CD and burn it to a disc. (I had to install Free ISO Burner on an old Win XP machine in order to do this.)
  2. Boot the afflicted machine from the Boot-Repair CD and select “Recommended repair”. (And marvel at the funky graphic design.)
  3. Follow the instructions exactly, including opening a terminal window and typing (because copy & paste doesn’t work) four long arcane linux commands that they show you, where the distinction between one hyphen and two hyphens makes a difference.
  4. This creates a functioning GRUB menu that will show up on re-boot and send you straight into Linux Mint 15.
  5. Disconnect DVD drive, reboot. Phew!

All this on an Asus laptop. None of it, sadly, is any help if you’ve got a Samsung laptop rendered useless by the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug.

Samsung Sweden to Linux User: “UEFI BIOS Bug Not Our Problem”

Linux is a common operating system, not least in its Android version, and it is universally assumed that a PC (or whatever “IBM compatible” is called these days) will be able to run it. In fact, machines that can’t run Linux are extremely rare since aficionados keep porting the open-source operating system to even the most obscure and outdated machine families.

One of the PC makers who sell Linux compatible computers is Samsung. That is, almost all of their machines can run Linux, and when it was discovered last January that some recent laptops cannot, it was universally seen as a bug. Nobody designs a Linux-incompatible PC on purpose. It became big news, though I myself didn’t learn about it at the time. It was also soon discovered that a Linux boot is not the only way the bug can be triggered — Windows users are also at risk.

The problem is known as the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug. I won’t go into details I don’t understand: suffice to say that it has to do with the bootup sequence, where Samsung’s engineers have embraced the new UEFI technology without testing it sufficiently with Linux.

The bug they inserted is pretty serious. The Samsung UEFI BIOS bug disables a machine’s bootup firmware entirely if you boot Linux under certain circumstances. This renders the computer dead, without even the distasteful option of reverting to Windows. Your computer becomes a brick.

This happened to me Friday before last. I bought a Samsung NP535U3C laptop in July, immediately installed the most recent version of Mint, the most widely used Linux distribution, and happily used my new machine for 3½ months. Then I fiddled around a tad too much (as Linux users are wont to do) and had to reinstall the operating system, using the same disc as back in July. This time though I seem to have touched the UEFI settings, and my machine became unresponsive. Only then did I learn about the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug.

I paid about $1000 for that machine, and I had expected to use it for years, not 3½ months. So I asked the retailer, Elgiganten, to reimburse me for the obviously flawed piece of hardware they had sold me. I mean, its 2013 and I expect to be able to run Linux on my laptop — and to be able to boot the machine afterwards. No dice: they refused on the grounds that a) “it’s a software error”, and b) “changing your operating system is like switching engines in your car from one make to another”.

Having become a former customer of Elgiganten’s, I turned to Samsung’s support desk. There one Jim likewise refused to help me, instructing me instead to “contact linux” (!) and ask for help. Where does Samsung find these people?

After continued prodding from me, Jim directed me to Samsung’s court of appeal, “Voice of Customer”, in Gothenburg. Their representative Madeleine refused to help too, making the somewhat odd claim that “no production flaw has been determined”. In my opinion, a non-standard BIOS bug that renders the machine unresponsive is a textbook production flaw.

Then she continued, “I’ve checked with our head technician for matters like these, and when the preinstalled operating system is changed or the customers installs a new one, that is their responsibility and sadly not something whose functionality we can guarantee.” No, I’m not asking Samsung to guarantee that Linux works. The Linux community has that covered for me. I’m asking Samsung to guarantee that it will be possible to boot my laptop at all.

I look forward to learning what the Consumer Protection Ombudsman thinks about this.

Update 31 March 2014: I did not get any reimbursement whatsoever. Avoid Elgiganten.