The GPD Pocket 2 is a tiny laptop computer with a 7 inch display, a QWERTY keyboard, and a clamshell design. It has a full HD display, an Intel Core M3-7Y30 processor, and the prototype GPD sent me to review features 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage.

The handheld computer is up for pre-order through an Indiegogo campaign for $529 and up, and the little PC is set to ship in October.

When it does, it’ll come with Windows 10 Home pre-installed. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only operating system that you can run on the computer.

I already took a look at Ubuntu in my initial preview of the GPD Pocket 2. But I’ve gotten a few questions about other operating systems, so I decided to give Fedora and Debian a try as well. The results are mixed.

How to boot from a flash drive

The first thing you’ll need to do is prep a USB flash drive using UNetbootin, Rufus, or a similar tool that lets you convert a downloaded liveDVD ISO file into a bootable USB flash drive.

Then all you have to do is insert the drive into one of the USB ports on the GPD Pocket 2, turn on the computer, and hit the Fn+F12 keys as soon as you see the GPD logo.

If everything works properly, you should see a boot menu that asks if you want to use the Windows boot manager or boot from the flash drive you just plugged in. Use the arrow keys to scroll down to the flash drive, hit enter, and you should be good to go.

Then just follow any on-screen instructions to load the operating system of your choice into memory. Doing so shouldn’t overwrite Windows unless you choose a method that says “install.” So when you’re finished, you should be able to shut down the computer, remove the flash drive, and boot into Windows as if nothing ever happened (although you may notice that your data and time settings need adjusting).

Note that you may need to hit Fn+F12 a few times for this to work. If you accidentally boot into Windows 10 instead, just power down the computer and try again.

Oh, and if you want to get into the UEFI/BIOS settings instead of the boot menu, you can just hit the Del key during startup. There aren’t a lot of settings you can change, but you can enable or disable secure boot and change the boot priority order.

I should also point out that you’ll need to make sure your download an ISO that’s compatible with x86 or AMD64 architecture. And even then, there’s a chance that some disk images may not work.

But I was able to run Ubuntu 18.04, Debian 9, and Fedora 28. Some worked better than others using the default settings. I did not install any of these operating systems to the built-in storage and didn’t do very much to alter system settings, so I don’t have much to say about performance, battery life, or long-term usage, but I wanted to at least see what the out-of-the-box experience was for each operating system.

Ubuntu notes

The first operating system I tried was also the one that worked best. Ubuntu loaded quickly, allowed me to connect to a WiFi network, and all of the hardware seemed to be recognized.

I was able to launch the Firefox web browser, play a video on YouTube, and listen to the sound playing through the speakers.

The touchscreen recognized taps, long-presses, and swipes. And the optical touch sensor worked like a tiny little touchpad. The left and right buttons allowed me to click. And the volume and brightness keys adjusted the audio level and the screen brightness.

Pressing the fan button also silenced the computer’s fan and turned on the green LED indicator light to let me know that the fan was off.

There were a few problems though. The first is that when you first launch the operating system the display will be sideways.

In order to resolve this, I just hit the Windows key, typed “terminal” into the search box to open a terminal window, and then typed the command “xrandr -o right” (without the quotes) to rotate the display from portrait to landscape orientation.

The second issue is that the default display scaling seems to be set to 100 percent. Since the Pocket 2 has a 7 inch, 1920 x 1200 pixel display that means text, icons, and graphics are very, very small.

I was able to increase the font size and the size of the mouse pointer by opening the Universal Access options and playing around with the settings. But I think I’d need to do a little more digging into Ubuntu 18.04’s configuration options to figure out how to adjust the DPI settings in a more universal fashion.

Still, Ubuntu 18.04 didn’t have either of the show-stopping features that I ran into with the other Linux distributions I tested.

Debian notes

The first time I tried Debian, I made the mistake of testing the default image that you’re prompted to download from Debian’s download page. Unfortunately, this image doesn’t include any proprietary drivers, which led to the device’s WiFi hardware not being detected out of the box.

It turns out there’s an easy fix: use a “non-free” disk image. You can find downloads for Debian 9.5 with non-free drivers and a choice of desktop environments including GNOME, MATE, Cinnamon, KDE, Xfce, and LXDE at the Debian website.

Debian notes – take 1

Just like Ubuntu, Debian loaded quickly and booted a desktop that looked sideways.

Again, I hit the Windows key, typed “terminal” and enter to open a terminal window, and then used the “xrandr -o right” command to rotate the display.

Unfortunately this time there was one key piece of hardware that wasn’t supported out of the box: WiFi. Interestingly, Bluetooth was detected.

Anyway, since I wasn’t able to get online, I didn’t bother installing apps, streaming video, or performing many other tests. But I did fire up a few apps and everything seemed to work fine.

Odds are that you could use a USB WiFi adapter to get online. And I suspect more advanced users would probably be able to figure out why Ubuntu recognizes the Pocket 2’s WiFi adapter and Debian doesn’t… and use that to get online using Debian 9. Ubuntu is based on Debian, after all.

But after confirming that GIMP, LibreOffice, and a few other apps worked… and that the text and graphics were still rather tiny, I decided to try something a little different.

Debian notes – take 2

When I realized that all I needed to do to get WiFi working was to download a disk image with non-free drivers, I grabbed a GNOME + nonfree disk image and tried again.

This time I was able to boot into Debian, connect to the internet, surf the web, stream videos, and do just about everything you’d expect to be able to do with a modern desktop operating system.

I still had to manually rotate the display. And while the screen brightness keyboard shortcuts worked, the volume keys did not.

If you start with a free software-only version of Debian and want to add non-free drivers, you can do that… but it’ll probably involve connecting to the internet using a USB WiFi adapter since the GPD Pocket 2 doesn’t have an Ethernet jack. So you’re probably best off starting with a disk image that supports WiFi out of the box.

Fedora notes

This is the operating system that took the longest to boot, but when it did I was pleasantly surprised to see that scaling seemed to be set to 200 percent. Text, graphics, and everything else looked great. I didn’t need to squint to see anything and I didn’t need to adjust any font or display settings.

But… the display orientation was still stuck in portrait mode. And this time there was nothing I could do about it.

I tried the “xrandr -o right” command and I got an error message (I’ve since been told its because Fedora uses the Wayland display server rather than xserver).

So next I opened Fedora’s display settings and tried to change the display orientation that way. Nothing happened.

When I open the same disk image in Virtualbox I can go into the display settings, change the orientation, and then an “apply” button will appear in the top right corner letting me save the settings and rotate the screen. When I do the same thing on the Pocket 2, the “apply” button never appears.

WiFi, Bluetooth, the touchscreen, and sound all seemed to work just fine. But unless you plan to tilt your head to a 90 degree angle while using the computer, the out-of-the-box experience with Fedora 28 leaves a bit to be desired.

Again, I’m only looking at the default settings. It’s possible that advanced Linux users will be able to troubleshoot the issues I encountered. But so far the closest I’ve come to a non-Windows operating system where everything works the way you’d expect it to is Ubuntu 18.04.

Update: Thanks to advice from commenters on this post and on YouTube, I did manage to rotate the screen in Fedora… but in order to do that I had to switch from the Wayland display server to Xorg display server. That makes it easy to rotate the display, but all the text and images look smaller, just as they do on Debian and Fedora.

FYI, in order to switch display servers when running from a LiveUSB I had to:

  • Open the user account settings
  • Create a password
  • Logout
  • From the login screen, tap the gear icon next to the password box
  • Choose the GNOME Xorg environment
  • Enter a password to login

If you install Fedora to the built-in storage, you’ll probably only have to follow most of those steps once. From then on, every time you login, you should boot to the last desktop environment you’d used.

Linux Mint 19

I couldn’t get it to boot at all.

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35 replies on “Linux on the GPD Pocket 2 (Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora)”

  1. Hey, great videos.
    Do you by any chance already have a list of the hardware in this laptop or could post one?
    On Linux, lshw should do the trick.
    On Windows, a screenshot of Device Manager also works (with all categories expanded).
    I am mainly interested in what wireless and audio chipset they used and if the system has an accelerometer built-in (for auto-rotation, and which if it exists)

  2. Hey thanks for troubling yourself @Brad Linder with these test runs. It’s encouraging that Linux seems to be serviceable on this device, it presents a viable option. What’s your final OS choice I wonder? Back to Win 10?

    Anyone else able to report in about other distros such as Solus, Manjaro, Devuan etc?

  3. Antergos should work on most platforms, as during installation it does include latest kernel and Intel fixes by default.

  4. Very good article, Brad, and much appreciated. VERY informative–much more so than a lot of articles from some ‘specialists’. I have been a fan, and user, of ‘pocket computers’ for a long time (I still have–and STILL use–my original Linux Asus eeePC).
    One question though: is it possible to dual-boot Linux on this machine? If I were to spring for this device, I’d like to keep Win–as I do with Linux installations on all my computers–because (1) I paid for it, and (2) I’ll have it if I EVER need to use it to run an app which absolutely demands it.
    Again–many thanks for the fine article; please consider doing more like this.
    Outstanding.

    1. sure you can dualboot but 128G is not really practical for 2 systems. I dualboot with a usb key on the first GPD Pocket without issue. Windows on internal emmc and archlinux on usb key. Just press fn+F7 at startup to choose the drive you want to boot on. I guess you could do the same on GPD Pocket 2.

        1. indeed the only reason i would think about is the internal storage not detected but it is very unlikely. It can be checked from a usb live distribution by launching the command df in a terminal and serch for something like /dev/mmcblkx or by launching gparted for exemple.
          Anyway thanks for this article, very usefull!

      1. What’s not practical about dual-booting on mass media as BIG as 128 GB? I have a 4-boot setup on half that much. Dual-boot does NOT mean one runs two OS s at the same time (surely, you didn’t think that, did you?)–it means you can choose to run ONE or the OTHER before the system boots.

        1. yes, i agree but if you split 50/50 you have 64G for windows and each time you have a big windows update, you may have to clean your disk to remove temporary windows installation files and old version which means you can’t reverse to previous installation if something goes wrong. It is possible i guess to fit win10 on 64G but with time i think it is too small to maintain the system. Personally i feel more confortable with more free space but it is up to you. I would be interested to know if the GPD WIN 2 can boot from sd card to install a linux on it instead of spliting the internal drive. Regardless you have 2 operating systems launched separetely or at the same time you have to store these operating systems anyway on mass storage. That make not much difference if their are running or not. Anyway there is no reason you couln’t do it.

          1. Again–
            “…and (2) I’ll have it if I EVER need to use it to run an app which absolutely demands it…”
            ************************************************

            You have provided, truthfully, one of the BEST arguments against running Windows at all: “…you have 64G for windows and each time you have a big windows update, you may have to clean your disk…It is possible i guess to fit win10 on 64G but with time i think it is too small to maintain the system…”

            I’ll stick with Linux, thanks. Four different full-featured Linux distributions fit extremely well in 64 Gigabytes, with no problems whatever, and with plenty of room to spare. Perhaps you should question Microsoft’s need to subject you to the terrible disruption and indignities of a “…big windows update…”, none of which updates ever seems to fix the problems which will necessitate a–you guessed it–new, future, “…big windows update…”

            I understand that some people leave their computers running all night long in order to not be too inconvenienced by a Microsoft “…big windows update…”.

  5. i’m new to the site; is this a site with lots of linux/open source news? how does the writer here not know that debian has no non-free firmware in his default iso and that leads to a lot of devices like wifi adapters to not work out of the box? but apt install will fix it for you

    1. … which means you have to plug a usb-c 2 ethernet dongle to get apt download linux-firmware. I think the point is to determine what is working out of the box. In case of networking, it is one of the first thing you want to be able to use.

    2. Brad is not a linux expert. He does use linux (and Windows too). There are a lot of readers that are interested in linux so Brad (being the good host that he is) will sometimes try things out for us. Brad only occasionally does “deep dive” types of reviews. That type of review would be needed here in order to try several distros and troubleshoot each one.

  6. FWIW on Fedora, you can actually still use X11. Hit the gear near the password field when logging in -> GNOME on X11. Then, you’d be able to use xrandr.

    That being said, maybe it would be possible to make a udev rule to properly handle this?

    1. Thanks. So that works… sort of. Using a LiveUSB there’s no gear icon unless you set a password for the Live System User. So I did that and a gear icon showed up, allowing me to login to GNOME Classic or GNOME Xorg.

      Doing that allowed me to rotate the screen… but scaling was set to 100 percent so everything looked pretty much the same as it does on Ubuntu in terms of font and graphics sizes.

  7. Great review. Thanks! It’s good to know Ubuntu is supported natively without any driver issues. I’d order one of these with Ubuntu pre-installed if it was available. Wifi problems with Debian could be an issue. I’ve tried lots of Linux distros where wifi doesn’t work on other hardware. If wifi doesn’t work first try, I switch to a different distro. Linux developers should take note of this. If you want me to use YOUR distro, make sure wifi works with no hassles! Bummer that Linux Mint wouldn’t even boot. That could be a dealbreaker for some. Linux Mint is my favorite Linux distro and I’m running it on this laptop right now.

  8. Hi i was wondering if it is possible to boot from the micro sd slot and if the card fit entirely in the slot when inserted?
    The goal would be to have a dual boot windows linux without using usb plug. Thanks in advance if you have time to try it.

    1. I don’t have a USB to HDMI adapter yet. It’s on my shopping list, but I haven’t gotten around to picking one up yet. I’ll post an update if and when I get a chance to test one out for Windows and Ubuntu on the Pocket 2.

    2. Sorry but i mean that you have not very much linux practice. The 95% is a kernel, because this integrated HW drivers. So, if USB C video will not working on ubuntu 18.04 with 18.04 kernel, you can try latest 4.18rc7 (now) or future releases 4.19 (intel will pull some patches for USB C to display port/HDMI cables and reductions).

      Actually, list of distro and kernel
      Fedora 28 – kernel 4.17
      Ubuntu 18.04, Mint 19 (Ubuntu 18.04 based) – kernel 4.15
      Debian 9 – 4.9 (oldest LTS kernel, the best for servers)
      This is reason why wifi not work on debian πŸ˜‰

      And try Unetbootin or directly dd command (from linux) for create bootable USB πŸ˜‰

      1. Are you sure kernel age was the problem for Debian? By default it won’t support hardware that needs non-free blobs to work. It’s common for wifi to not work out of the box on Debian for this reason, as basically only Atheros stuff works with free drivers.

    3. USB C to HDMI works.. kind of, you need to have the adapter connected during boot otherwise the external display wont be detected

  9. So awesome that you take the time, every so often, to test a few Linux distros!

    “Linux Mint 19 : I couldn’t get it to boot at all.” – so sad… sometimes I can’t get a USB to boot but the ISO will boot fine from a CD/DVD. Also not an expert, so the path of least resistance appeals to me a great deal:)

    1. Good idea. I’ve got a USB DVD burner lying around. Maybe if I have time this weekend I’ll see if I can find a blank DVD to burn πŸ™‚

      1. No luck. It starts to boot, I hear the disc spinning up… but the screen remains blank.

        There’s probably some other workaround that I’m not considering, but quick answer is that this won’t work without some troubleshooting.

        1. I always had better success using Rosa Image Writer on all distros except fedora, you need Unetbootin. Many distros failed with Rufus and other linux image writers.

      2. There is a Linux Mint 19 (v2 iso) out now, with fixed grub bootloader. I’ve tested it, it now works without throwing an error. See if that doesn’t fix your troubles.

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