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Surface Pro 3

Discussion in 'General Linux Discussion' started by Daerandin, Aug 19, 2015.

  1. Daerandin

    Daerandin Well-Known Member

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    My recent trip made it clear that I need to have a tiny computer (much smaller than my gaming laptop) I can bring with me, but still powerful enough for some simple games. I also want to be able to keep up my whatever programming learning project I might be working on, so I really want a multi-purpose system, but still small.

    I landed on a Surface Pro 3 because of sufficient hardware, and I also thought it would be interesting to install Linux on something like this. Some basic specs:

    CPU: Intel Core i5-4300U
    RAM: 8 GB
    Graphics: Intel HD 4400
    Storage 256 GB SSD
    2015-08-19 21.09.45.jpg 2015-08-19 21.10.20.jpg

    I installed Arch Linux on this, which was kind of a pain to do because the cover keyboard does not work with Linux. Actually, from what I could dig up, it is only the scandinavian localized variant that does not work, so lucky me!

    I had to dd the arch iso on to an SD card, so that I could use the only USB port with a USB keyboard I have. The install itself was without problem, except the screen resolution is so high that the console font appeared extremely small. Console in UEFI mode makes use of the screen resolution, so it can get very small if the screen runs a high resolution. At least I found one console font that looked large enough so that I could see properly.

    Once Arch was installed, I set up X and did something I've never done with Arch before. I set up a display manager so I'll get a nice login screen as soon as the thing boots. I do prefer to just log in from the console normally and start x manually, but since this thing got a touch screen and all I wanted to give it a bit more "modern" appearance. I also went with the GNOME desktop since I had heard it work well with touch screens. I have to say that I was quite impressed, it does indeed work very well with the touch screen. It is obvious that GNOME has been developed with touch screens in mind.

    2015-08-19 21.12.36.jpg 2015-08-19 21.14.24.jpg

    I went with a kernel specifically patched for the Surface Pro 3, since otherwise the cameras and bluetooth does not work. Otherwise there was not really any specific configuration required. I used the bootctl bootloader since I've never tried it before, and I might actually switch from GRUB to bootctl on my main computer as well. Even the pen works great, although I can only seem to get any functionality from one button on it, although I have not really looked much into it yet.

    So I really only have two things to complain about. The cover keyboard not working, but I think I read something about a kernel patch that was supposed to get the scandinavian variant working so I might see if I can find it when I have the time. The other thing is an ugly red screen on boot. I had to disable Secure Boot, naturally, to get this booting something else than Windows. But disabling Secure Boot make it show an ugly red screen every time it boots. There is probably some way to let Linux boot with Secure Boot on, but I have never looked into that in the past, so that will be a new project for me.

    I have yet to test gaming performance on this thing, but I'll definitely give it a shot sometime later this week. I am finally in a position to see how things work on the Intel HD graphics.
  2. booman

    booman Grand High Exalted Mystic Emperor of Linux Gaming Staff Member

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    Very nice tablet computer!
    Our Director at work had us purchase one for him and I was very impressed with the resolution!
    Super high on such a small screen

    That Intel HD 4400 should provide plenty of gaming power for most medium quality games.
    Hell, I would love to see Torchlight running in that resolution.

    One thing I noticed was there is a very tiny fan in that surface pro and when its working hard, that thing screams "white noise" from the back.

    You are bold (as expected) putting Arch Linux on it
    I'm glad its working good so far.
    How are the Intel drivers working?
  3. Daerandin

    Daerandin Well-Known Member

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    I have not had the time to test any game performance yet, but I will do that this weekend or the coming week. I did notice the fan going quite loudly when I was compiling the kernel with specialized patches for the surface pro 3, and it got very hot too.

    I've never really used tablet computes before, but I quite enjoy the touch screen which works perfectly with the GNOME desktop. This really is more of a regular laptop with touchscreen, because of the CPU. It is a regular x86_64 architecture so you don't need kernels for ARM architecture, which you would need on most other tablets.
  4. booman

    booman Grand High Exalted Mystic Emperor of Linux Gaming Staff Member

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    Now that I have seen a Surface Pro and read your experiences with Laptop, its the only tablet I think I would purchase.
    Of course I would use a keyboard and mouse, but its a super high quality portable computer.
    I'll look up if others have installed Ubuntu or Mint on it.
  5. Daerandin

    Daerandin Well-Known Member

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    My Surface Pro 3 is no longer with me. During my travels this summer I managed to drop it on the ground. One of the corners hit the ground which resulted in a broken screen and slightly bent frame. Luckily I had gotten the accident insurance while I bought it so I was fully covered. However, it would seem they could not repair it, instead I got a Surface Pro 4.

    I spent some time reading on different forums, and currently there is very limited support for the SP4 hardware in the Linux kernel. There are some patches floating around, but the current status does not look very promising. So I will keep Win10 on this thing for now since I only use it when travelling and I don't expect to travel for another six months.

    I will probably go for GNOME again when I do get around to installing Linux on it. GNOME worked well with a touch screen, I also liked the automatic scaling for the HiDPI display. I have considered trying out i3, but that would require a but more configuration to get scaling to work well.
  6. booman

    booman Grand High Exalted Mystic Emperor of Linux Gaming Staff Member

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    No Way! That really sucks Daerandin.... This is one of the things I hate about today's computers and tablets. One drop and its over. Just like phones and iPads.

    I know you will find all the right dependencies and kernel to support the Surface Pro 4. Sucks you have to use Windows 10.
    How do you get to use your VPN for internet in Win10?
  7. Daerandin

    Daerandin Well-Known Member

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    I'm waiting until I read a few more optimistic stories about Surface Pro 4 and Linux. I will install Arch on it in any case before I travel again, even there are still issues. I will report in here when I go ahead with it, but it might be some time until.

    I have not used Windows at all for a very long time, so I am not perfectly sure but I would suspect that OpenVPN is available for Windows too, or other VPN clients. I am not going to find out either because like I said, I'll install Linux on it before my next trip despite the state of Linux support for the SP4. I also don't use the Surface at home except for playing around with the pen which is kind of cool. You can "draw" with the pen, this works well on Linux too with GIMP. I am not good at drawing, but I can't deny that playing around with it brought out the kid in me.

    I do want to point out that I managed to have the Surface Pro 3 survive around 5 hours battery while watching videos on it. I had configured laptop-mode-tools, as well as turning monitor brightness low. I could watch videos on the 12 hour flight until I was too tired to stay awake. I can't imagine going through a flight like that without something like the Surface.
  8. booman

    booman Grand High Exalted Mystic Emperor of Linux Gaming Staff Member

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    In that case.... I couldn't go 12 hours without a computer either.

    You always have a tight grasp on Linux and what it can/can't do. So I know you will be successful.
    What computer do you use at home?

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