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February 10, 2021

Linux on Lenovo Ideapad 3

I was asked to install Linux alongside Windows 10 on a new Lenovo Ideapad 3. There were several problems to solve: getting Windows setup to not require a Microsoft account, fixing the boot-related options in the BIOS, finding a working version of Linux Mint, and getting the touchpad to work.

The Ideapad 3 is another modern laptop that is crippled by the lack of an ethernet port. This forced me to enable wi-fi on my home router so that I could have a network connection during the installation of both Windows and Linux. (Another option would have been to use a USB-to-ethernet adapter.)

But having a network available is actually a problem during the initial setup of Windows. After you tell the setup program about your network, it asks you to log in with a Microsoft account, and hitting the back button doesn’t help. The solution is to disable wi-fi in your router, then hit the back button. Then setup will skip the Microsoft account login screen.

The next problem to solve is teaching the BIOS to boot from a USB stick containing a live Linux distribution. On the Ideapad, the way to do this is not quite obvious. Power off the machine, plug in the USB stick, then power on the machine and enter the BIOS by hitting F2 when the Lenovo logo appears on the screen. In the BIOS security settings, disable Secure Boot. Then in the Boot page, enable Legacy Mode and move the USB stick up to the top of the boot order. Then hit F10 to save the new settings, and the machine should boot from the USB stick. Apparently you have to change the boot order in the BIOS every time you want to boot from a USB stick, because the setting doesn’t seem to survive a power cycle or a removal of the stick.

At first I tried booting Linux Mint 19 (Mate edition) from the USB stick. But it was extremely slow, taking many seconds to draw anything on the screen or respond to a keystroke. The touchpad didn’t work, either, so I had to shut down the machine using the keyboard (Ctrl-Alt-Del, then Alt-S).

I then tried booting Linux Mint 20 (Mate again). This worked much better, and there were no performance problems. But the touchpad still didn’t work. I found a number of solutions on the web, some of which were very complicated (building a new kernel, or setting up a systemd service to blacklist a certain touchpad driver). The simple solution that finally worked for me is described in this video. To save you the time needed to watch the maker of this video slowly type commands, here’s what you need to do:

First, in order to test whether the solution will actually work, reboot from the USB stick, and when the Grub menu appears, hit the ‘e’ key to edit the kernel command line. Use the cursor keys to move to a point after the splash parameter, and enter the parameters i8042.nopnp=1 pci=nocrs. Then hit F10 to boot Linux.

Assuming that this fix worked, go ahead and install Linux Mint alongside Windows. Reboot the machine, removing the USB stick when prompted. When the Grub menu appears, apply the temporary fix again as described above, so that the touchpad will work on the new installation.

After Linux boots you’ll need to make the touchpad fix permanent. Edit the file /etc/default/grub using sudo and an editor (e.g., sudo nano /etc/default/grub). Find the line that looks like this:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX=""

and change it to look like this:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX="i8042.nopnp=1 pci=nocrs"

Save the file and exit the editor. Then run sudo update-grub to install the change permanently.