The Acer Switch Alpha 12 is a 2-in-1 tablet with a high-resolution display, a detachable keyboard cover, an optional pressure-sensitive pen, and after having reviewed the tablet, I can say it offers the kind of performance you’d expect from a mid-range laptop… but in a 2 pound, fanless package.

Best of all, the Switch Alpha 12 is reasonably priced: you can buy one for about $600 and up.

The Switch Alpha 12 ships with Windows 10 software… but you may be wondering if it can run other operating systems. Yep.

switch mint_03

I decided to take the recently-released Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon for a spin, and almost everything worked out of the box. I couldn’t connect to any wireless networks using the internal WiFi adapter. But after plugging in an external WiFi dongle, I had no trouble getting online.

Since I didn’t want to install Linux Mint on the review tablet Acer sent me, I just booted the operating system from a USB flash drive.

Booting from a flash drive is very simple: just turn off the computer, plug in the flash drive, and then press the power button to turn the Switch Alpha back on. Press the F12 key on the keyboard when the Acer logo appears on screen (or just before that) and after a moment you should be greeted with a boot menu, allowing you to choose whether to boot Windows from internal storage or Linux from a flash drive.

You could also hit F2 if you want to go into the firmware settings to change the boot order permanently.

Since the Switch Alpha 12 has only one full-sized USB port (and since I don’t have a USB Type-C flash drive), I used a four-port USB hub to connect both the flash drive and WiFi dongle simultaneously.

Linux Mint boots quickly, recognized the keyboard and pen, supported keyboard shortcuts for adjusting the brightness and volume, and had no problems streaming videos from YouTube or playing audio through the tablet’s speakers.

While I’m using Linux Mint for this test, the ease with with I was able to run the operating system suggests that Ubuntu and other modern GNU/Linux distributions should be easy to load.

There is one thing to keep in mind: the 12 inch, 2160 x 1440 pixel display is super sharp and some operating systems handle high-DPI displays better than others. Using the default Linux Mint 18 Cinammon settings, everything on the screen looked really tiny. You can adjust the display resolution to make everything look bigger, or you may be able to tweak other settings depending on the operating system and/or desktop environment you’re using.

There is something else to consider before plunking down $600 or more on a Switch Alpha 12 for use with a Linux-based operating system: it gets mediocre battery life when running Windows. I didn’t extensively test battery life with Linux Mint, but since the system gets only about 4-6 hours of run time with Windows, I wouldn’t expect it to do much better with Linux.

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42 replies on “Running Linux on the Acer Switch Alpha 12”

  1. Does the screen recognize multiple touch points under Linux? (can you see them with evtest?)

  2. I just bought an Acer Switch 3 and I would like to boot Linux Mint from a USB key but it freezes. Still, Linux Mint boot on my other computers! I formatted it with FAT32 but I only have the underscore that appears and does not even blink. Do you have an opinion?

  3. I bought the latest Acer Switch Alpha 12 Pro and expected to work without bigger issues after reading several web pages with success stories. Linux Mint 18.2 and Ubuntu 17.04 boot perfectly from a Live USB stick. However after installation (entire disk, no Windows anymore) and reboot, I only get a “No bootable device” error message. I tried turning off secure boot and I also added the UEFI file as “trusted for execution” in the BIOS. The BIOS can see the Ubuntu EFI files. Any ideas how to fix the issue?

  4. Hello, first things first, great to see someone test for Linux usage! But Im afraid Linux on the Switch alpha 12 does, in fact, have some big problems. If u had tried to open the Internal SSD from the Linux live boot, it would have failed. Apparently the internal SSD “hides itself” as soon as u dont boot with the Windows Boot Manager. Which means by now u can only run Linux on Legacy Mode, and u have to switch the Bios settings everytime u want to change the OS. There is no practical workaround to this bug, but Acer is aware of it, and there might be a Bios-update which takes care of this. I hope u consider updating the test with this information, since some people (like me) might be disappointed when they learn it the hard way.
    More details in this (german) article: http://blog.chip.de/acer-switc
    Thanks!

    1. Hello, Thomas, I have discovered the same issue and I think I there is a practical solution! I think this can be resolved with some changes in the Kernel. I’m now using this Tablet in UEFI boot mode (dual booting Windows 10 and Linux) without a problem after the patch. More details here: https://bugzilla.kernel.org/sh

      1. Could you please share with us the exact steps you took to install the patch? No matter what I do, it never sees my ubuntu install, although it does see the usb stick i installed it from (when i switch on f12 and have the stick in).

        1. Hi, can you see the GRUB menu?
          In my experience, the GRUB menu always shows up correctly; the SSD hiding itself problem happens only after the Linux boot item is chosen.

          I think I played around for quite a while and tried a handful of combinations of configurations like EFI path, etc in order to make GRUB install correctly.

          The steps I followed are from this post:
          http://superuser.com/questions

          —————
          If you can see GRUB but cannot get Linux to boot (the Kernel complains about not seeing the internal SSD), then what I did was to reboot into Windows, and/or going into BIOS and change Secure Boot options (to No-Secure-Boot and then to Secure-Boot) and clear the Secure Boot database (this only works sometimes; I’m not sure which of the step contributed the most.) After poking around for some time and rebooting numerous times you should succeed in booting Linux for at least 1 time, and then apply the patch. That was what I did.

          Hope this helps!

          1. Thanks for this, Tommy,

            I unfortunately have thus far never even seen the GRUB menu. I’ve tried changing the BIOS settings in every possible way, even choosing some sort of file to be allowed to safe boot from (there was only one I could find in the file-chooser in the BIOS, namely the one in the ‘boot’ folder)

            Any suggestions on how to get into the GRUB would be much appreciated.

            Ivor

          2. Hi Ivor,

            Since you said there is only one file in the Boot folder I suspect grub-efi did not get correctly installed.

            I think installing GRUB and getting it to boot involves getting multiple things correct; here are some of them that I can remember (I posted some screens here: http://imgur.com/a/p2hy8 )

            1) I set the Internal SSD, “CV1-8B256”, as the default boot device in BIOS. Secure Boot is disabled.

            2) In Windows settings, fast startup and hibernation are turned off.

            3) I followed the steps here (http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A… ) to install GRUB while adapting the settings to my own partition table (specifically, /mnt/boot/efi/ should point to /dev/sda1 and /mnt should point to /dev/sda5 )

            If you refer to the 3rd picture in the album you will find there is a efi/EFI/ubuntu/ folder containing multple files. That should indicate a correct GRUB install.
            Thanks

          3. Thank you Tommy,

            I’ve tried again and again, and have not managed to get to the Grub menu once.

            Do you know if a BIOS update is in the works? I have little time for tweaking kernels and so on, so I need a permanent fix.

            Thanks again,

            Ivor

          4. Hi Ivor,
            It occurred to me I had done 2 things in addition to what’s above, in order to get GRUB:

            1) Set the Ubuntu-related EFI files as “trusted for executing” in BIOS
            2) Set the “Windows Boot Manager” to EFIubuntugrubx64.efi . More specifically, you need to type the command,
            “bcdedit /set {bootmgr} path EFIubuntugrubx64.efi”
            in a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows.

            I have done both, I don’t know which of them caused the final outcome. In my understanding, if you set GRUB as the Windows Boot Manager, you will get GRUB when you set the “Windows Boot Manager” as the first boot device in BIOS.

            Hope this helps …!

        2. Not sure where you are at with installing on this laptop but I was able to install Ubuntu 16.10 with basically no issues. All of the hardware works out of the box (with the exception of auto-rotate, and in tablet mode the on screen keyboard never appears). UEFI mode works, and installing alongside windows was flawless (I did resize the windows partition using windows before installing Ubuntu). There is one additional step to tell the BIOS boot into GRUB, but it’s very simple. In the end, I would say it was a painless install (no compiling drivers or kernel patching) and is working great as a functional Ubuntu laptop and has comparable battery life to windows, if not a little better.

          Good Luck!

          1. Hi, Please list the steps to install Ubuntu 16.10? Would really appreciate it!

          2. Hi, Can you please list the steps to install Ubuntu 16.10? Would really appreciate it!

          3. my problem I was not adding the grub.efi file correctly,
            so add grub2 as trusted file
            HDD0 > EFI > ubuntu > grubx64.efi

            and here you have TO TYPE A NAME for the boot file, I was not typing it, it stupidly would tell me sucess although in reality would do nothing,

            if you do it right, it works.. save reboot back to BIOS to set priority.

            ignore all that is above, stay on UEFI and secure setting on, you just have to do it right,

    2. Came here to see if anyone has the “tablet mode” functions working on Ubuntu or Linux Mint. I.E. : auto-rotate and the on screen keyboard.

      Thanks in advance

  5. For those interested, Remix OS (native Android for PC – v6.0/marshmallow) runs beautifully on the acer.switch.alpha and I highly recommend it for any poly-boot enthusiasts like me. Mine is a quad-boot system right now, with win.10, remixOS, ubuntu.1604, and mint.18 cohabiting quite nicely. Details regarding linux installs can be found in a prior comment below. As for RemixOS, I have to hand it to their distribution team; installing it alongside win.10 was so easy I actually found it frustrating (for an engineer, installing an OS with three mouse clicks and a system restart, well it’s a bit of a lunch-bag letdown, isn’t it).
    Download link: http://www.jide.com/remixos-fo

  6. Dual-boot Acer.Alpha [Windows 10 & mint 18 | ubuntu 16.04]

    As far as linux installs are concerned (e.g. installing linux on the acer.alpha local drive from usb-install-media), it’s really quite straight forward: on startup, F2 your way into the BIOS menu. Select the ‘Boot’ menu and change the ‘Boot Mode’ from the default, UEFI, to the only other option, ‘Legacy’. Save the change and exit. Assuming you have linux usb install media attached, the system will restart and boot from the usb drive. Install your linux OS ‘alongside’ the Windows installation. After the install completes, you’ll have a dual-boot system as follows: To boot Windows, set the BIOS boot-mode to UEFI. To boot linux, set the BIOS boot-mode to ‘Legacy’.
    I have Windows 10, Ubuntu 16.04, and Linux Mint 18 installed on my acer.alpha.
    I hope this helps.

    1. Setting to ‘legacy’ doesn’t work for me. it simply does not see the ssd ubuntu install, although it does see the usb if it’s in.

  7. To get wifi working on ubuntu/mint linux:

    wget https://github.com/kvalo/ath10
    sudo cp ./board-2.bin /lib/firmware/ath10k/QCA6174/hw3.0

    This assumes you have some alternate network access from your acer.alpha linux OS. Otherwise, boot into windows, download the file from the url above, then swing back over to linux and pull the file from the directory on the windows partition, cp’ing it to the target directory noted above.

  8. Brad, I got a Switch Alpha 12 with the impression that I’d be able to load Linux on the system easily. I can make it to the UEFI menu, but changing boot orders does not get it to detect my USB drive as a boot device, and no amount or timing of F12 brings the system to the boot menu. Windows loads in literally less than five seconds after post with no regard for my drive. Is there a technique to this?

    1. Try disabling fast or silent booting in the UEFI settings (I forget what it’s called or even if it’s included on the Switch Alpha 12, and since I’ve sent back the review unit, I can’t check).

      You also might need to try a different USB flash drive. I’ve found that sometimes when this happens the problem is the stick, not the PC.

      1. There’s your Secure Boot, but no Fast or Silent boot in the UEFI menu. I ended up solving the problem by turning off hibernation on Windows, so now I’m onto the good stuff, like getting a network driver and getting a boot menu up automatically! The thing really likes loading Windows above all else, even with changed priority settings, hehe.

        Thanks for the article and support!

        1. Glad you got it working. If I remember correctly, changing the boot priority order did nothing. You need to get to that separate boot menu.

          Of course, if you don’t want to dual boot, this opens the door to just wiping Windows and replacing it with Linux… but I’d recommend against doing that until you know for certain that it won’t cause problems booting the tablet at all!

          1. That did the trick – please update your article that you have to enable F12 Menu in bios settings (by default its disabled) and that changing boot order does not work. I additionally went to the Security area and added the UEFI bootloader’s signature to the allowed bootable devices database. After I hit F12 multiple times when restarting the PC, a bios menu apeard asking me what I want to boot from: Windows Bot manager, something else, network boot or the New Security Boot Database entry I created in the former step.

            WIFI did work out of the box because I got the Qualcomm QIFI changed to a Intel WIFI from Acer support with no cost because it is incompatible with my AVM Fritzbox 7390 router (very popular model in DACH region)

  9. Hi i was wondering if the unit is able to boot linux from microsd instead of usb? Do you also mind showing me a link on how to get the linux you show above bootable from usb drive which will be great and thanks in advance.

  10. How Mint works without keyboard, in “touch” mode? Does the virtual keyboard appears automatically?

  11. Acer devices are often a bit more Linux friendly because many of their systems are compatible with the Linpus distribution (which is a Taiwanese Linux “Subscription Nagware” distro). If you beat your head against the wall long enough, you’ll probably find an at-least partially working WiFi driver in the wild somewhere. Then there’s the BT radio to fight with. Try loading Linpus and see if the radios work. Anyway, It is good know the UEFI didn’t try to stop you from loading Mint.

    Thanks for trying Mint Cinnamon out on this tablet, even if it’s only the live version. I wish you did that every time you review a device.

  12. Really great review! As a Linux user I really appreciate adding a Linux usage test. Another interesting test would be CloudReady and see how ChromeOS works? Thanks…

    1. Honestly, I didn’t look real hard. I just wanted to see if I could get other operating systems to load. Pretty much everything described in this post is the out-of-the-box experience.

      The beauty of most Linux distros is that they’re customizable as all get-out. But I’ll leave it to others to figure out how to resolve the issues I ran into. 🙂

      1. Try Menu->Preferences->General and there should be 2x scaling.Guess you can also scale the text, if needed.

        1. That seems to be the way to do it in Linux Mint 17, but v18 doesn’t have a General option.

          1. And there’s no mention of “scaling” in the monitor/display settings. way t

            Again, there’s probably a way to do this, and different operating systems will handle it differently. But out of the box, what you get with Linux Mint 18 is tiny text and graphics.

          2. Only changes the font size, everything else looks ridiculous when you’ve got huge fonts and tiny buttons/toolbars.

  13. sudo modprobe -r acer-wmi
    cd /etc/modprobe.d
    sudo nano blacklist.conf
    Then add blacklist acer-wmi as a new line at the end of the file.
    then reboot, works only for install OS, no for live CD systems

    1. this is for the screen right, not to get it to book ubuntu from the ssd?

  14. Do we know exactly what kind of Wi-Fi device is inside of the Switch Alpha? It may have drivers out there but not compiled into the base kernel in the current Mint version. I’m excited to try one of these with Sabayon Linux and the new KDE with the virtual keyboard.

    1. It is using the Qualcomm Atheros QCA61x4A wireless adapter.
      I would be surprised if there wasn’t a driver floating around somewhere for it.

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