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Why virtualbox can overcome win8 UEFI issue to install Linux?
February 19, 2014 9:17 PM   Subscribe

I tried to install linux on a win8 laptop and failed although I tried everything to disable UEFI and security boot options in Bios. So I think there is no solution to install Linux on certain win8 Laptops. But someone told me of course I can install Linux on any win8 laptops by using virtualbox. So I'm wondering why can it be done? How exactly is virtualbox/virtual machine works for this issue? can anybody explain this to me in a easy to understand way? Thanks very much.
posted by pack2themoon to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
UEFI handles how your computer goes from "off" to "booting an operating system." Once you've booted to Windows, VirtualBox can do whatever it likes.

What VirtualBox is doing is simulating a whole other computer in software. The simulated computer- the virtual machine- can boot your Linux using its own BIOS*. The downside is, you're running a computer-in-a-computer which can be slower, especially if you care about graphics-intensive programs.

*meaning, the old-style, pre-UEFI BIOS
posted by BungaDunga at 9:46 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

No booting, no BIOS.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:33 PM on February 19

This article indicates that some linux distros (Red Hat, Mint) should be fine with UEFI because they supply the signature UEFI is looking for. And it sounds like, for the others, there are workarounds, like obtaining the signature key for a distro yourself and adding it manually.

So maybe you do not have to go virtual just yet.
posted by bertran at 11:11 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]

Details please! Which Linux? Which version?
posted by devnull at 4:15 AM on February 20

Happily running Ubuntu 13.10 on a UEFI machine (a Samsung Series 7) here. I followed the EFI instructions. You have to disable QuickBoot/FastBoot, Intel Smart Response Technology and Win8 FastStartup. You also need to get comfortable using BootRepair for Ubuntu — Win8 (in my experience; I may be doing this wrong…) seems to restore its boot manager frequently, effectively blocking access to Linux.

As soon as the last residual warranty is expired from this machine, Windows 8 is so gone. VirtualBox and Windows XP (yes, I know about April …) works when I need it.
posted by scruss at 9:52 AM on February 20

Theoretically, secure boot should always be able to be turned off on a pc or laptop; and llnux does support UEFI boot. That said, it can be a right pain to get working on some computers as it's simply not been tested.

For example; when Ars tested linux on the new intel NUC, the EFI was looking for bootx64.efi located in the /EFI/BOOT folder on the SSD, while linux was using (for example) /EFI/ubuntu/grubx64.efi. Moving the file to where the PC expected it (via live USB) fixed the problem.

If you were willing to post your specific laptop, we might be able to find the particular bug stopping linux booting on your actual hardware.

To answer your specific question; virtual box (along with other type-2 hypervisors such as VMWare workstation) create a virtual PC inside windows, with fake hardware. This includes a fake bios, fake network card, fake video card etc. So when the virtualised OS boots, after you're already running windows, it only sees the fake PC you've created for it. Anything it does goes to the fake hardware, and virtual box interprets it and puts it up on screen, sends it onto the real network card etc. Equally, your mouse and keyboard commands are intercepted, and appear to the virtual machine to be coming from the fake ones. You can run the virtual pc in a window, like any other app, or full screen.

There are custom drivers that you can install in the virtual PC OS, that allow it to 'break out' of the virtual pc a little bit, and get more direct access to your real hardware, which improves performance. (this is called paravirtualization). In order to paravirtualize the CPU, you need the VT-x (intel) or AMD-v (AMD) hardware extensions. These are often turned off by default in the bios/efi, and are also not present in all CPUs, especially lower end ones. Turning it on if you have it will make a big difference to virtual pc CPU performance, and is required to run a 64-bit virtual guest OS on intel.

The biggest weakness of virtual PCs in general is 3D graphics performance, which is usually well below that of running on the real hardware, as it's a hard problem to create paravirtual hardware for that. Even the standard desktop on linux distros like ubuntu rely on 3d hardware these days, so the interface will be sluggish.

Virtual box does have basic experimental 3d support that can be enabled, but bluntly, it's a bit crap. VMware workstation has much better paravirtual drivers for 3D graphics, and while not native speed, is much closer to it - and they're included in linux by default now. If you do go the virtual route in the end, it's probably worth giving Workstation a go with the free trial to see if the performance bump is worth the cost.
posted by ArkhanJG at 5:46 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]

I was trying to install Elementary OS Luna on a Lenovo Ideapad U410. After endless research and trial and errors I returned it immediately, can't afford the wasted time.

I installed the same OS on a thinkpad x201 without any problem.

I can't afford wasting time on trials and errors and endless online search. If anybody can recommend me a 13-14 inch pc laptop at around $200-$700 which is proven to be able to install varies distributes of Linux(Ubuntu, Mint, Luna,etc) without any hassles it will be greatly appreciated! Otherwise I am considering to buy a MacBook soon at least it's easy to get Linux hell without all these hassles. Thanks!
posted by pack2themoon at 12:26 AM on February 21

Never heard of Elementary OS. I know the latest Fedora works because I have done it. I expect the latest Ubuntu would work too.
posted by devnull at 1:14 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

Elementary is a very pretty but somewhat frustrating Ubuntu fork, devnull. It looks like MacOS. It allows almost no customization.
posted by scruss at 8:26 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]

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