Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G (AMD Ryzen 7 2700U) Laptop – Installing Ubuntu 18.04 and “Hidden” M.2 SSD Socket

Everyday I’m using a tower PC running Ubuntu 18.04 to take care of this blog, but when I travel it’s obviously not so convenient, so a few years ago I bought an  Acer Aspire E5-421G laptop powered by an AMD A4-6210 processor with 4GB RAM, 512GB HDD, and a 14″ display. I installed Ubuntu on the laptop and it works, but with 4GB RAM, it’s not always usable while multitasking. For example I can run Thunderbird and Firefox, but if I ever make a Skype call for example, the system becomes unusable, and I have to close one of the programs. Tasks like video editing are also quite slow on the machine.

So since I’m going to travel in a few weeks, I decided I needed a new laptop. My requirements were 8GB RAM,  SSD and HDD support, a 15″ display, the ability to run Ubuntu 18.04, and possibly a processor with a performance close to the AMD FX8350 processor in my tower. I also had a target budget of around 20,000 Baht (~$600 US). After doing some research online, I found yet again an Acer laptop that met all my requirements: Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G (-R468) with an AMD Ryzen 7 2700U quad core/octa thread processor (15W TDP), 8GB DDR4, 1TB HDD, and a 15.6″ Full HD display (Amazon Link). Where’s the M.2 SSD? According to a YouTube video  on the right of the RAM compartment.

So I went to my local shop, and I could find that exact model for 20,990 THB (~$632). All good until I asked the seller to confirm there was indeed an M.2 SSD socket on the motherboard, and he answered something in the line of “nope, only for Intel laptops, not for AMD laptops”.  After showing him the YouTube video, he and his colleague decided to look through the RAM compartment to try to see, and it really look like there was one… So finally, I went ahead and purchased the thing…

Ryzen 7 2700U Laptop - Acer Aspire 3 A315 41GI got a 10-in-1 gift kit with some junk, a USB mouse, and a Predator carrying bag. When we start the laptop we can see it’s running Linpus Linux (Lite) just like in my previous Acer laptop, which made me confident Ubuntu would just run out of the box. Linpus Linux Lite is a sort of “FreeDOS equivalent for Linux” as it’s a command line only OS that Acer uses to sell laptops without Windows.

Acer Linpus Linux AMD Ryzen 7We can double check the specs by accessing the BIOS while pressing the F2 at boot time.

AMD Ryzen 7 2700U BIOSInsydeH20 setup utility shows an AMD Ryzen 7 2700U with Radeon Vega Mobile Gfx, a TOSHIBA hard drive, and 8192 MB physical memory.InsydeH20 Setup Utility MainThe BIOS does not have an awful lot of options however.

But let’s go have a look at the laptop itself first. The left side comes with a Kesington lock, an Ethernet port, an HDMI port, a USB 3.0 port, and an SD slot.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G Ports
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The right side include a 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB ports, some LEDs, and the power jack.

Aspire Acer 3 A315-41G Laptop

The bottom of the laptop is more interesting. We have a 2.5″ SATA drive bay, a RAM compartment, and what should be a socket for M.2 2280 SATA SSD, but not easily accessible. The video linked in the introduction mentions to remove all screws to take out the bottom cover. There’s just one little problem: I’m in Thailand, and we don’t have laws providing “warranty void stickers” like the FCC does in the US, so if I ever damage it, I’d lose the 2-year warranty that comes with my laptop.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G HDD RAM
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We can find the 1TB hard drive and two memory sticks once we take out the user serviceable covers.  The M.2 socket is on the right, and the warranty void sticker a bit on the left, so I took out of screws on the right of the sticker and a few on its left, and try to see if I could install an M.2 SSD that way.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G AMD Ryzen M2 SSD
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That’s the most I can safely lift the cover, and we can indeed confirm a M.2 socket is on the motherboard. But it’s not really easy to insert the SSD, and the final step (adding the screws) would be even more challenging. So I’ve decided to use the laptop without SSD for now, and will only install the M.2 SSD and likely void the warranty if I become frustrated with performance. Anyway this is madness to make a motherboard with an M.2 SSD socket and not easily expose it to customers!

Time to install Ubuntu 18.04.1. After downloading the ISO I flash a (Kingston DataTraveler) USB flash drive with  USB Disk Creator, inserted it into the USB 3.0 port of the laptop, access the BIOS and it was detected properly as a boot device, even showing in first place.Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G Select Boot DeviceSo I exited the BIOS, and within a few seconds I was in the menu asking me to try or install Ubuntu. I selected “Install Ubuntu”, but the screen stayed black a little to long, before spewing some “ACPI Error”, “Firmware Bug”, and several messages like “BUG: soft lockup – CPU#0 stuck for 22s!”

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G ACPI Error soft lockupIt does not look to good. First I tried to move the USB drive to a USB 2.0 port. No luck, and then I went to Advanced settings in the BIOS to disable AMD-SVM and AMD-IOMMU since I could see some message related to the later.

Disable AMD SVM AMD IOMMUBut it did not work either. But the way, the SATA configuration above shows both SATA0 and SATA1 interface so I’d expect both the 2.5″ SATA and M.2 SATA to work.

I then noticed the BIOS was a bit old (2017), so I went to the laptop support page to look for some updates, and indeed BIOS 1.08 (May 2018) is now available while my laptop is running 1.03.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G BIOS DownloadSo I downloaded it to find out it was an EXE file meant to run in Windows. Right… After searching some info in the web,  more frustration came about because Acer just tells you to install Windows to upgrade the BIOS. More madness from Acer. I was stuck, so no choice, I prepared a Windows 10 boot CD, installed Windows, downloaded the BIOS installer, and ran it.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G BIOS UpdateIt will reboot the system to perform the update, and everything went smoothly with BIOS v1.08 now installed in the Laptop.

Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G BIOS v1.08Good, let’s wipe out Windows 10 from the USB drive, and reflash Ubuntu 18.04 ISO. Sadly back to square 1 as the ACPI errors were back.

I noticed some other people had troubles with AMD Ryzen processor and they used a more recent Linux 4.17. So I tried to respin Ubuntu 18.04 with a mainline kernel, but somehow I never managed to make the image boot at all. It’s not detected as a bootable image in the BIOS.

Some more research led me to two bug reports here and there where people have similar issues with AMD Ryzen 5/7 based Acer laptops. It looks like it may be a BIOS issue, but people tried various kernel parameters to work around the issue.

AMD Ryzen 7 ACPI Error FixWhat worked for me while in the installer was to press “e” with “Install Ubuntu” highlighted in order to edit the parameter, and I modified the linux line by adding “pci=noacpi” at the end. My first attempt with “acpi=off” as shown above did not work. I then pressed F10 to boot with my modification and could install Ubuntu without issues. The touchpad did not work, but I found out later that I had to press F7 to enable the touchpad.

Acer Aspire 3 A315G-41 Ubuntu 18.04
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I tested all main features of the laptop:

  • 1920×1080 display – OK
  • HDMI output – OK (extended display works)
  • USB 2.0 ports – OK
  • USB 3.0 port  – OK (Tested with USB 3.0 HDD at ~100MB/s)
  • Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11ac Wi-Fi – OK
  • Bluetooth – OK (Tested with Bluetooth headphones)
  • Keyboard – OK
  • Touchpad – OK (tested “basic” mode only)
  • Webcam, speakers, and audio jack – OK
  • SD Card – Failed [Update  August 14, 2019: OK with Ubuntu 18.04.3 and Linux 5.0.0]

That’s the error messages I get when inserting an SD card:

I’ve not checked battery life so far, and that’s one of the potential issue with disabling ACPI. Battery life is not really that important to me since I’ll work in rooms when I have WiFi (and a power socket). As a pointer, after a full charge, Ubuntu indicates 2 hours and 7 minutes remaining when disconnecting the power supply. If that’s the case it’s pretty poor battery life. I’ll confirm in the comments section once I do some more testing with the battery.

Also note that screen brightness is set to the lowest level at boot time, and the touchpad is disabled after boot/reboot which means I have to press F7 whenever I need t use the touchpad.

Some system info for people interested in details:

It should also be noted I can see several warning related to the DRM (GPU) driver  in dmesg, but I did not notice any side effect from a user perspective:

Finally, I’ve run Octane 2.0 in Firefox to compare the performance between my AMD FX8350 based PC, and Ryzen 7 based Acer Aspire 3 A315-41G laptop.

AMD FX8350 Octane 2.0 Ubuntu 18.04 Firefox
Octane 2.0 in AMD FX8350 PC
Ryzen 7 2700U Octane 2.0 Ubuntu 18.04 Firefox
Octane 2.0 in AMD Ryzen 7 2700U Laptop

The laptop beats my PC in every benchmarks except one. AMD Ryzen 7 2700U is expected to have better single core performance, but since it’s has 4C/8T instead of 8C/8T on AMD FX8350 highly parallel workload may run slightly faster on the older CPU.

It was a struggle to make it work, but so far I’m relatively happy with the results, even if everything is not perfect, i.e. I have not installed an M.2 SSD (yet), and the SD card reader does not seem to work just yet. Battery life may also be a concern at least until the ACPI issue is resolved.

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