If Linux won't install on your laptop, blame Intel not Microsoft

Intel's new power management features aren't supported on Linux.

Intel's corporate logo.
Credit: Aaron Fulkerson

Why won’t Linux install on modern Lenovo laptops? The discovery of this problem set off a recent firestorm. But contrary to initial speculation, it’s not that Microsoft is forcing Lenovo to block the installation of Linux on its laptops. It’s that Intel isn’t making modern hardware compatible with Linux.

Intel needs to provide better Linux support

The reason Linux won’t install on Lenovo’s laptops is a technical one. As Lenovo explained: “To improve system performance, Lenovo is leading an industry trend of adopting RAID on the SSDs in certain product configurations... Unsupported models will rely on Linux operating system vendors releasing new kernel and drivers to support features such as RAID on SSD.”

Here’s the problem: Linux doesn’t support internal solid-state drives in RAID (Intel RST) mode. Linux can see the drive in AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) mode. However, certain Lenovo laptops don’t allow the mode to be changed in the BIOS. You can boot Linux from a USB drive, but not install it on the laptop’s SSD.

As Lenovo explained, Linux developers need to make the Linux kernel compatible with this new feature. Only then will Linux work with the Lenovo Yoga 900 and other laptops that require this feature.

The real question is, why doesn’t Lenovo’s BIOS let you disable RAID mode and use the Linux-compatible AHCI mode on certain laptops, as you can on most other laptops. As Linux developer Matthew Garrett points out, Intel is likely to blame:

“Why would Lenovo do this? I don’t know for sure, but it’s potentially related to something I’ve written about before—recent Intel hardware needs special setup for good power management. The storage driver that Microsoft ships doesn’t do that setup. The Intel-provided driver does. “RAID” mode prevents the Microsoft driver from binding and forces the user to use the Intel driver, which means they get the correct power management configuration, battery life is better and the machine doesn’t melt.”

The problem isn’t, as some commenters suspected, due to Microsoft’s Signature PC program. There are also valid concerns that Secure Boot could eventually block Linux from being installed, but that isn’t happening yet. The fact is, Intel just isn’t helping Linux developers, as it should:

“The real problem here is that Intel does very little to ensure that free operating systems work well on their consumer hardware—we still have no information from Intel on how to configure systems to ensure good power management, we have no support for storage devices in ‘RAID’ mode, and we have no indication that this is going to get better in future. If Intel had provided that support, this issue would never have occurred. Rather than be angry at Lenovo, let’s put pressure on Intel to provide support for their hardware,” Garret says.

If you’re going to take up your pitchfork, at least put Intel in your sights rather than Microsoft.

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