The Asus Transformer Book is a tablet/notebook device with a 10 inch touchscreen display, a keyboard and touchpad, and an Intel Atom Z3740 Bay Trail processor. It ships with Windows 8.1 software, and it works pretty well as a Windows tablet, notebook, or even desktop PC.
But what if you want to use a different operating system? Sure, you can do that too.
I was able to take Ubuntu 13.04 Linux for a spin on the Asus Transformer Book T100. At this point, bunch of key features don’t work yet, including WiFi or touchscreen support — and the screen resolution is stuck at 800 x 600 pixels. Ubuntu 13.10 won’t boot.
But I suspect it won’t take developers long to figure out how to get Ubuntu and other operating systems to support the Transformer Book’s hardware.
As of late October, 2013 it’s actually pretty tricky to convince the Asus Transformer Book T100 to boot anything other than Windows 8.1. It’s easy to get to the Windows advanced boot options or the UEFI firmware options and spot the options that should let you boot a different operating system from external storage. But most operating systems won’t boot, and will instead just dump you back into the Windows bootloader.
You can find detailed instructions at the xda-developers forum, but here’s a simplified list of steps I took to create a bootable USB flash drive using a Windows PC.
Warning: Note that these steps might not work for everyone — and if you accidentally end up with a computer that won’t boot, I’ll offer some troubleshooting tips, but you’re entirely responsible for breaking (and hopefully fixing) your own device.
Preparing a bootable Ubuntu 13.04 USB flash drive
1. Download ubuntu-13.04-desktop-amd64.iso from the Ubuntu download page. Newer versions of Ubuntu don’t yet seem to work.
2. Download Rufus, a tool for creating bootable USB drives.
3. Download and unzip paperWastage’s bootia32.ubuntu_13.04_x64.zip file.
4. Plug a 1GB or larger USB flash drive into your computer.
5. Double-click the Rufus file you downloaded to launch the utility.
6. Choose the drive letter for the flash drive you jut plugged in under the “Device” drop-down menu.
7. Use the following settings: GPT partition scheme, FAT file system, 64 kilobyte cluster size.
8. Make sure the box that says “Create a bootable disk using” is checked, and choose “ISO Image” and click the drive icon on the right to open an Explorer window and find your Ubuntu 64-bit disk image.
9. Click start.
At this point, your computer will format the flash drive (and erase any data that’s already on it — so make sure to backup any important files) and prepare it as a bootable drive that lets you run or install Ubuntu.
When the process is complete, move on to the next step.
10. Open an Explorer window and navigate to the newly prepared flash drive.
11. There should be a folder labeled “EFI.” Click it to open that folder. Then click the folder labeled “BOOT” to navigate to that folder.
12. Copy the bootia32.efi file from step 3 into this folder (make sure you’ve unzipped it first).
That’s it. Your flash drive is now ready. Go ahead and eject it from your PC.
Booting Ubuntu on the Asus Transformer Book T100
The first thing we need to do is disable secure boot on the Transformer Book. That’s pretty easy to do, with these steps. Note that you can complete these steps with the USB drive plugged in or without it — but I had a bit more luck without it.
1. Swipe from the right side of the screen to bring up the Charms menu.
2. Tap “Settings.”
3. Choose the “Change PC settings” option at the bottom.
4. On the following screen tap “Update and recovery.”
5. At the next screen, choose “recovery.”
6. Under the Advanced startup section, choose “Restart now.”
7. This will reboot your device to a blue screen with large icons. Choose the one that says Troubleshoot.
8. At the following screen choose “Advanced Options.”
9. Next, select “UEFI Firmware Settings.
10. Finally hit the “Restart” button.
This will reboot your device into the UEFI settings area, which looks like an old-school BIOS menu. The touchscreen and touchpad won’t work here, but you can navigate using the arrow keys and enter key on the keyboard.
11. Use the arrow keys to get to the Security tab.
12. Scroll down to Secure Boot menu and hit “Enter.
13. Make sure Secure Boot Support is selected, and hit Enter again to bring up a screen that says “Enabled” or “Disabled.”
14. Choose Disabled and hit enter.
15. Hit the Esc key.
Now Secure Boot is disabled. You could theoretically save and exit at this point. But instead, this is the time when I’d recommend plugging in the USB flash drive.
Once it’s plugged in, move on to the next step.
16. Move over to the Save & Exit tab, highlight “Save Changes and Exit” and hit Enter.
17. As the system reboots, press and hold the F2 key so that you return to the UEFI Settings menu.
18. This time when you navigate to the Save & Exit menu you should see an option under Boot Overried that says “UEFI” and has the name of your USB flash drive.
19. Select that boot override option and hit enter.
If all goes according to plan, your device should now boot into a GRUB bootloader menu, giving you the option of trying or installing Ubuntu.
I strongly suggest you use the “Try Ubuntu without installing” option at this point — unless you really know what you’re doing. This will let you run Ubuntu without altering your Windows files at all.
Getting past the command line.
We’re not quite done yet though. While Ubuntu should boot up on your system at this point, you’ll probably see the Ubuntu logo for a moment or two and then get dumped out at a command prompt.
Here’s how to get past that point:
1. Type the following commands, and hit enter after each.
2. cd /
3. cd usr/lib/xorg/modules/drivers/
4. sudo rm vesa_drv.so
You should see a flurry of text scroll by and then a mouse cursor will appear on screen. A moment later, you should see the full Ubuntu Unity desktop environment.
Keep in mind, you won’t be able to use WiFi out of the box, since Ubuntu doesn’t recognize the device’s wireless adapter. The screen resolution will be stuck at 800 x 600, which could look funny. And there’s no touchscreen support — so while you can detach the screen from the keyboard, you won’t be able to do much with it.
The user interface may also be a bit sluggish — in order to get the X Server to load a graphical user interface, we had to delete the vesa graphics driver. It may be possible to load an alternate driver to improve performance.
But now that we know it’s possible to get alternate operating systems to boot on the Transformer Book T100, it should also be possible for people to figure out how to configure them to take advantage of the tablet/notebook hybrid’s hardware.
How do I get back to Windows?
When you logout of Ubuntu you can shut down or restart the computer. If the system freezes (or you’re impatient), you can also press and hold the power button until the tablet shuts down.
You can then press and hold it again to restart the tablet. Unfortunately, you’ll probably be greeted by a screen with the Asus logo and the text “Preparing BitLocker recovery.”
Here’s how to get back to Windows from here:
1. Wait until you see a blue screen and choose the “Skip this drive” link at the bottom of the page.
This’ll take you to a troubleshoot screen like we saw in the section above. The only difference is you can use the keyboard and touchpad to make your selections, but not the touchscreen.
2. Choose “Troubleshoot” and then “Advanced Options” again, and then select “UEFI Firmware Settings” and hit Restart.
3. Move over to the “Save & Exit” tab and select “Restore Defaults” and hit Enter.
4. Save Changes and Exit and you should reboot into Windows.
If step 17 and later in the “Booting Ubuntu” section, you may end up in the same Bitlocker recovery section as listed above.
The good news is that you can use the same steps to get back to Windows… but this time after you hit the “Skip this drive” section, if you have your bootable USB drive plugged in, you should also see an option to “Use a device.”
Select that option and choose the name of your drive on the next screen and you should boot into Ubuntu/GRUB bootloader instead of Windows.
Make sure to be careful when playing around with the Advanced options menus. There are some options that will reinstall Windows or even wipe your data.