Linux Mint on HP Stream 11

I’ve not done a tech post for a little while and having spent some of yesterday getting my laptop up and running with Linux I thought I would share my experience in case it’s helpful to another person.

Background

I’ve used Linux as my main operating system and off for a large chunk of the last 20 years. There have been a number of reasons why, incorporating enthusiasm for meddling with tech, but also frustration and annoyance with the Microsoft Windows approach during that time. As it happens Windows 7 brought me back into the Microsoft world, with a computer system which was predominantly stable and well-behaved, something which prior to that could not really be said. However, I tend to run lower-spec machines which choke on the heavy-weight world of up to date windows software making them slow and unwieldy to use. Coupled with the fact that at each new windows launch they seem to obsolete hardware I have at my disposal, their progress forward isn’t always reflected in mine!

I had a trusty old Samsung netbook N210 which had foolishly come pre-installed with Win 7 and was akin to an ant trying to shoulder-carry a tortoise. It sort of worked, but was hideously slow. A swap to Linux and an extra gig of memory gave me a portable machine which worked.

Alas, as with anything electronic, they can go wrong over time, and due to the age/cheapness of it, it was not practical to repair.

A New Machine – the HP Stream 11

I went searching for an up to date equivalent machine and found the HP Stream 11 with good reviews. It is lightweight, fan-less (read quiet) and great value for money. It comes with Windows 8.1 Bing Edition – basically it’s a free-to-suppliers copy of windows 8.1.

HP Stream 11 - stock photo

HP Stream 11 – stock photo

Now I will say that I’ve not played with a windows-based mobile phone with touch-screen so I can’t say how good that aspect works. What I can say is that for a non-touchscreen laptop, the way ‘apps’ appeared taking over the screen, sometimes switching between each other and having duplicate versions of Internet Explorer depending on whether it was launched from the task bar or from the email program, it really acted as a source of major frustration to me. The native Start menu was replaced by the new tiles-based arrangement which again, from the point of me using a laptop, slowed me down trying to find my apps.

And to top it off, my trusty USB Canoscan scanner was now obsolete in the Windows 8.1 world!

So, my attention was turned to making this device more to my liking, which would ultimately involve Windows 8.1 exiting stage left, and Linux replacing it.

Preliminary Steps – Back up the Stream 11 to USB

This guide is to set out what I did in the hope that it will help someone else looking to install Linux onto an HP Stream 11 as it’s not as simple as it could have been. However I’m not taking any responsibility for you following this and something going horribly wrong, I’d expect this to be looked at by people with a little bit of Linux background who know what they’re taking on. If you do this and your computer stops working or you lose data, your freezer defrosts unexpectedly  or your VCR starts eating jam sandwiches, it’s the risk you take.

Now the HP Stream 11 has a very healthy backup system on it. As well as having a hidden partition to restore from the HP software will allow a full external backup to a USB device. Before you start messing around with the software, do this.

Do this now! You will need an 8GB or larger USB storage stick and go to the HP Support app on the computer and follow the recovery media instructions – it will wipe the USB stick to do this so don’t use one with other data on that you want to keep. What this is actually doing is copying the hidden recovery partition to the USB stick such that if the internal drive was erased, you can get the machine back to factory conditions again. To be honest, it’s well worth doing this regardless of if you are going to do something to the computer system as it’s the only external backup you will have.

Once completed the USB stick will be machine-bootable. That means that if it is plugged into the machine when you start it up and the machine reads the USB stick, it will start up from the USB stick itself, allowing the restore option to become available.

Before I did anything else, I made sure that the USB stick would boot the machine. Better to find out now!

The boot menu

The boot menu

As the machine starts from being switched off, press the Escape key several times to bring up a menu which will allow boot options and access to the BIOS. F9 should provide a list of bootable devices including your USB stick and if you select that it should start the program whilst ultimately asks if you want to restore your machine. If that all works, the USB is good to go and can be stored somewhere safely.

Choose your flavour of Linux

For as long as I’ve been using Linux, there have been many different options each with their own advantages and disadvantages. My current preferred option is Linux Mint, which is based on Ubuntu (itself derived from Debian) but is lightweight, robust and pretty. Gone are the days of text-based installation routines and if you’ve installed windows before, this will not phase you too much. Helpfully, Mint (and others) can be run as a ‘live’ session from the USB stick allowing you to try it out without installing on the computer or making any changes. So that’s good too, if you try it and don’t like it, you’ve not done anything other than downloading it in the first place, and it doesn’t cost anything.

You can find Linux Mint here.

The latest version of Mint at this time is 17.1 “Rebecca”. Now there are different ‘looks’ to it, and I used the XFCE 32 bit version. XFCE is lightweight and clean and simple. Now I had to go for the 32 bit version because for some reason the 64 bit would not boot from the USB on my Stream – apparently there’s an issue with Gigabyte motherboards, but either way, that’s how I’ve ended up with that.

The image comes as an .iso file which needs to be transferred to another USB stick (not the recovery one that you used before!). Under Linux I use the USB Image Writer application. Looking at the Mint User Guide, they have recommended http://infrarecorder.org/ for windows users to create the USB live image.

BIOS changes and boot into the Live Image

Reboot the HP Stream 11 and use the Escape key to get to that menu you saw before and press F10 to go into the BIOS. You will need your Linux Mint USB stick in the USB port (I tend to use the USB 3.0 one). The BIOS is a place which gives the computer itself a number of settings and we are going to change a few here to make sure we can work from the USB.

Go to System Configuration and boot options. You will need to ENABLE LEGACY BOOT, DISABLE SECURE BOOT and under the legacy options at the bottom change the boot order to start with the USB stick (you’ll see below it is only in second place – F5/F6 keys change the order). Note that if you choose not to get rid of windows you will need to change these options back so it is able to boot again.

System Configuration screen in the BIOS

System Configuration screen in the BIOS

Save your options F10 and exit the BIOS, the computer should now boot from the USB stick and into a Linux Mint live session. note at this time no changes have been made to your internal disk on the computer.

Now at this stage you might find the internal trackpad to be well, useless! This can be fixed but at this point if you have a spare USB mouse I’d plug that in so you can mess around with the system to check it seems OK.

Liking Mint, want to go forward? Good, keep reading.

Installing your new operating system and going beyond the point of no return

OK this sounds a bit scary, and it’s supposed to be. Due to the small MMC drive and complications with this type of system and dual-booting, I have got rid of windows entirely and gone to Linux. By doing this all the data on the MMC drive is going. So if you have any personal data on there which isn’t backed up elsewhere it will go. Should it not work out for you, at least you have created the USB recovery stick (you have, haven’t you?!!) so you can restore the computer to factory settings, but that won’t include your data or programs you’ve installed on windows.

So if you’re happy to move forward, click on the ‘Install Linux Mint’ icon on the desktop and follow the on screen instructions. When you get to the point of formatting the disk, choose the ‘erase everything’ option and let Mint work out how it wants to structure the disk. It will use the wifi built in to download some extra stuff but the install should all go fine.

Once finished the install the machine will reboot, you’ll need to remove the USB drive and it will start up with your new Linux installation.

Now a word of caution here. There’s something on the eMMC drives which the Linux kernel is struggling to interpret and as such the boot time is longer than windows as it’s trying to do something (I’m not sure what). Once it’s gone through this there’s no other such a problem but just so you know, it may take 40 seconds or so to boot up.

Update the system

Once up and running there’s a few updates that are going to be required to make sure the machine is working as well as possible. It’s going to involve some downloads but it’s not complicated.

1) A new Kernel. Rebecca comes with the 3.13 kernel installed. A newer kernel will have stronger hardware support as this is a new machine. Kernel 3.19 enables the brightness function to work for example. To get this kernel we will run the Synaptic application. On XFCE this is on the system menu. I installed the following applications:

linux-generic-lts-vivid (3.19.0.18.5)
linux-headers-3.19.0-18
linux-headers-3.19.0-18-generic
linux-headers-generic-lts-vivid (3.19.0.18.5)
llinux-image-3.19/0-18-generic
linux-image-extra-3.19.0-18-generic
linux-image-generic-lts-vivid (3.19.0.18.5)

There’s something in one of the packages which without it being there the system cannot find the root partition on booting the new kernel. Let it do its stuff and then reboot and all being well the system will come up with the new kernel in operation. If there are problems, the old kernel can be accessed from the GRUB2 boot menu and that will work as before. I have found that on a cold reboot that the GRUB menu does not show on screen yet it does from a warm boot. I don’t know why this should be different.

2) Better Wi-Fi The Realtek drivers for the wifi are a bit flaky still, so lets get some better ones. I found this from the web which you will need to do from the terminal:

apt-get install gcc make
wget https://github.com/lwfinger/rtlwifi_new/archive/master.zip
unzip master.zip
cd rtlwifi_new-master/
make
sudo make install

Reboot your system

3) Trackpad woes The trackpad under Windows is a little frustrating to be polite about the matter. However in order to make it work properly under Linux, we need to change a couple of things. Again, do this in a terminal:

Copy the file /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf to /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf.

(I had to create the xord.conf.d folder under /etc/X11/ first)

Open the new file (under /etc/X11) and change the line “MatchDriver “synaptics”” with “Option “ClickPad” “on”” and the line “Option “SoftButtonAreas” “50% 0 82% 0 0 0 0 0” to “Option “SoftButtonAreas” “50% 0 50% 0 0 0 0 0”.

On rebooting, the trackpad works again, although it a little uber-responsive at times for my liking. But at least you won’t need to tie up a USB port with a mouse any more.

HP Stream 11 - XFCE desktop

HP Stream 11 – XFCE desktop

And that’s how I set up Linux Mint 17.1 XFCE Edition (32 bit) on my HP Stream 11. There are other ways and some people seem to have managed to do things that I couldn’t do. But it is possible to get a good working installation of Linux on this great little notebook.

33 Comments on "Linux Mint on HP Stream 11"

  1. I’ve just gotten my hands on a HP Stream 11 with the intent of putting Linux on it, so great tutorial! I’m looking forward to LinuxMint on it. I had a couple of questions: does the stream suspend/sleep without a hitch in Mint? I’ve had issues in the past with a Mint laptop unable to suspend, (which may have been a blunder on my part with the drivers.)

    Also, did you only use the USB to get the installation of Mint onto the machine? I’m making the assumption that you aren’t using it permanently as a boot-drive, similar to Crouton? (I’m a newbie, apologies)

    • Hello, I did the full install onto the eMMC drive with the boot sector on the eMMC itself. To be honest I didn’t manage to get a working USB installation (other than the live install media as a USB stick which I created from my desktop mint install).

      Some installs that others have done have worked differently to mine e.g. getting a 64 bit system running which I couldn’t make happen. I think it depends on the firmware version of the BIOS as that was the only obvious difference. The boot up is still a bit slower than would be nice, as there seems to be a read issue of the initial blocks on the drive that is beyond my understanding! 🙂

      The suspend/sleep seemed to work fine without too much messing around.

      The biggest headache I found was the installation of the new kernel as there seems to be something in one of the associated packages which it needs to find the filesystem. At least using grub you can still boot the previous kernel if there are problems.

      Don’t forget to make a backup of the recovery partition onto a USB stick, so if you totally screw things up you can get the machine back to factory settings again 🙂

  2. Appreciating you for taking the time to write this. My Wi-Fi has been driving me crazy. Thanks a lot

  3. So i made my root partition too small and launched a live disk session to extend it however when running gparted it shows my entire disk as unallocated. Reason being unrecognized partition table. Does this occur with your installation as well? Thanks a million

    • I didn’t have this problem no, but I let Mint do it’s own automatic partitioning so it would use the full 32GB. Will it let you do a clean install onto the MMC? Failing that doing a restore from your backup USB stick (to the win8.1) should mean you can start from the factory position again.

      • Yes. I reinstalled Mint and made a: 200 mb /boot, 15gb /, a 14gb /home and a 2gb swap. The reason for doing this, I’ve read, is because when i upgrade my /home partition remains untouched. (I hope)

        This is an invaluable reference you have made, thank you so much.

        • Michael, this partitioning isn’t very useful in practice, especially not on such a small drive. You’re better off putting everything on one partition. If you need to upgrade and there’s no upgrade path just backup your files to a usb stick, nuke and pave.

          • Completely agree on this. Really a case of keeping it simple. Not least as the hardware becomes more ‘standard’ in terms of linux support, you’d probably want to do a clean install in the future. Whilst having partitions might be the normal logic, I think with the small eMMC you’ll probably acquire more headaches with partitions than they’d otherwise solve

  4. Thank you so so very much for the track pad fix. It’s been driving me mad. Two finger click and drag now work. You’ve made linux usable to me on my laptop. Thank you.

  5. I wanted to say thanks for posting this. While I do not have Linux installed to the eMMC I do have it installed to a 64GB USB3 flash drive. The touchpad fix worked great!

    This particular Stream has a Broadcom BCM943142HM wireless chip. While it can connect to a network usually the transfer rate is so slow I have to use an USB wireless adapter. Other than that it works pretty well.

  6. Hi. This page basically saved my entire experience with this frustrating little machine, which I happen to love. I love this machine, I love this post. So hear me attempting to be constructive.

    I have spent several months trying to make the wifi work properly on the HP Stream 11 w/Linux Mint (all .x releases of 17 have been attempted). One thing that I can say is that the rtlwifi driver is a marked improvement upon the ones released in the kernel. However it is not perfect, not at all. It is at best a stop-gap. This machine still loses connection, walls out, etc. It is incredibly frustrating. I keep wondering when someone who is more technically capable and knowledgeable than myself will make a ‘perfect’ driver for this machine.

  7. Kenton MacDowell | December 26, 2015 at 7:56 pm | Reply

    Easy to install 64 bit version. Problem is the UEFI bootloader, but this can be fixed by putting bootia32.efi into the EFI/BOOT directory. No problem for me fixing trackpad, now I will try to fix internal WiFi using your links. Thanks!

    • Cheers Kenton – have you got the details of where to find bootia32.efi and how to get it into the right place. I’ll add it to the guide then 🙂

  8. Install of LM 17.3 went fine, I activated the Broadcom wifi drivers on the stick before installing.
    However after installing of course no wifi, so tried Driver Manager and I get the message “Drivers cannot be installed.
    Please connect to internet or insert DVD or USB stick”

    I put in the usb stick, but of course no wifi unless I bootup to the stick.

    Where do I go from here to get wifi working?

    • The way I did it was I used my smart phone (Android) as a usb hotspot. Then the HP connected to the Internet, I went into additional drivers and the Wifi driver was there. Note you also have to have the installation USB inserted if I remember right.

      • That’s a good tip. I had a USB wifi dongle which seemed to be more reliable than the stock driver which at least got me started. The difficulty at the outset was that the trackpad didn’t work, wifi didn’t work and I had the usb installation stick required, so quickly ran out of USB slots to actually get things up and running. In fact that’s the main reason I gave up trying to run Mint off a USB installation and just blitzed the eMMC with a full installation there.

  9. Did you manage to get the display brightness control keys working?

  10. This isn’t strictly ‘on topic’, but I’ve had success installing Xubuntu 16.04 – nightly build on a similar machine (Lenovo S21e). After booting from usb the touchpad works, wifi no, so wifi dongle is required. Once Xubuntu is installed everything works perfectly!

    • In theory it ought to become ‘easier’ to do as the hardware has been around for longer as there’s time for drivers to be improved. My worries are still around the SecureBoot systems which are seemingly bespoke to manufacturers, if not devices. But good to hear another device is working well post linuxification 🙂

    • Having just got one for someone else…

      To get the wifi working under 16.04, you need to install the Broadcom drivers using the ‘additional drivers’ feature of updates. This can also install the Intel microcode update.

      Doing this needs a working internet connection and because the Stream 11 prioritises thinness, of course it doesn’t have an ethernet port. (I thought only Apple did this sort of thing.) I used a usb-ethernet dongle rather than a wifi one.

      I was planning to upgrade from Win 8.1 to 10 and back up that prior to doing the Linux install, but the Win 10 upgrade wanted more disc space than was available even on a brand new machine. I could have faffed around with deleting the recovery partition, but in the end said ‘who cares?’ – the owner doesn’t want to see Microsoft software again – and didn’t bother.

      If I ever do care 🙂 it would be nice if there is a source of recovery disc images.

  11. Jeffrey Cannell | March 22, 2016 at 8:20 pm | Reply

    Any advice for migrating from Ubuntu to Mint without resetting the computer back to windows?

    • I’m not sure why you’d need to go back to Windows?

      Can you not boot from a Mint live USB stick and tell the installer to blow away all the data and to install itself as it sees fit?

      Obviously you’d need to save off your user data prior to this (as you would regardless if you were restoring back to Windows) and just make sure you’ve grabbed the various wifi files and anything else you’d need to set up the Mint installation. I’ve not tried installing any later version of Mint from scratch so I’m not sure how well the wifi works ‘out of the box’ – perhaps someone else reading can give their experience?

      • Jeffrey Cannell | March 23, 2016 at 9:27 pm | Reply

        wifi does not work- tried plugging in a wifi stick and that does not work either.
        🙁

        • It will depend on the chipset in the wifi stick.

          Some are supported straight from a new install, some need you to download a driver.

          It’s the same with usb-ethernet dongles. I have one that ‘just works’ with any kernel from the past few years and one that ‘just doesn’t’.

  12. HP smart 11 run with linux mint 17.3 xfce 64 bits. I installed it on automatic mode with a live USB key and a mouse. The Pad run too but there are some problems with WIFI. The WIFI signal level changes suddenly and randomly from 4 bars to 2 bars. I used your fix for WIFI. WIFI works but if I don’t stay near the internet box, around about 3 meters, I will lose connection. I bought it with windows 10, WIFI works under windows but the internet is very slow… I think windows 10 it’s to heavy for this small machine. So don’t buy this pc, you can look at ldlc.com for an equivalent pc compatible with linux. I regret my choice!

    • After hours of researches, I fixed the problem. I had to set up option ‘ant_sel=2’ in the file rtl8723.conf in ‘etc/modprob.d’. So now, all well work with 4 bars level.
      you have to create this file manually in etc/modprob.d with administrator rights.
      here it is the script of this file :
      # /etc/modprobe.d/rtl8723be.conf
      # Realtek wifi card ‘rtl8723be’ driver configuration options
      # It fixes an unstable connection
      options rtl8723be fwlps=N ips=N ant_sel=2

  13. Just installed on LM 17.3 cinnamon following these instructions.

    Everything works out-of-the-box, except WiFi, which works with the new driver & with the extra options to disable power saving.

    The graphical boot menus don’t work with grub, so best to disable them. If you use an encrypted drive (with LVM) grub doesn’t prompt properly for the password, but after a few (10) secs, just type it into the blank screen 🙂

    Great! Thanks!

  14. Linux Mint 17.3 64-bit Cinnamon worked without any problems. Any chance updating your great article with Linux Mint 18 64-bit? Thanks

  15. These laptops have replaced all our computers as they have solid state drive (SSD) (very quick), 64-bit Celeron processor, USB 3 port (faster speed), full HDMI port (better resolution for external monitor and projectors), no fan (very quiet which is great for presentations and Skype calls), thin and light (great for travelling), long battery life.

    When reformatted with Linux Mint 17.3 64-bit Cinnamon the computer turns on and off in 2 seconds, the battery lasts for 12 hours in addition to the many other improvements over Windows.
    https://www.linuxmint.com/download.php

    • I am using Linuxmint18 XCFE 64bit, so far wifi is still having issue just like andre, but its quite hard for me typing the command, newbie here.
      The boot takes almost a minute, its so looong… 2 seconds? not even close.
      Touchpad still issue, having hard time copying the files “target is not directory” keeps appearing…
      SD card reader doesnt work, HDMI I dont know yet.
      Do you guys mind give me solutions for these problems? thanks beforehand

      • Touchpad is working now, having hard time learning the commands, hahaha… thank you guys. but actually the touchpad is quite slow(respon) I try to adjust the settings but is not quite helping. Also havent test the front camera.
        Thanks again

  16. Be aware that there is a serious downside to the cloud notebooks with the soldered in place eMMC drive. The eMMC can go bad reducing your options severely. I bought a used Lenovo 100s-11. Seller showed pics of it booting to win10 lock screen, then said it went to black from there. I though win10 was just fubar. I got it and wouldnt even boot that far for me. Win10 reset stopped at 51% saying it couldnt continue. I then did frugal install of Puppy Linux latest 64bit Slacko versions that supports UEFI. Puppy is very small in compressed frugal install so would boot and run ok. Created save file, but save file wouldnt function. Then tried 32bit full install of Sparky Linux 4.3 with kernel 4.5. This is distribution of choice especially for those cloud notebooks with baytrail atom processor and 32bit UEFI. It supports UEFI install and with that newer kernel lot more hardware out of box. Again problems with stability. The live demo version of Sparky on thumb drive fine. So finally figured out the eMMC is bad, and since its soldered in place no way to replace it. USB is only option for bootable drive once eMMC is dead. So I had a little 32bit SSD card in usb converter thing. Did full install of Sparky to it. Thats what I am using now as its more stable than thumb drive. Just velcro’d it to lid with short usb cord so its out of way when I use it, much safer than just having it hang off side of the notebook in usb port.

    Oh by way also have a cheap used Acer Aspire Cloudbook 11 that I replaced screen on. So something similar to compare to though celeron instead of atom. I reset win10 successfully on it. My gosh what a mess win10 is. First had to ditch lot bloatware ACER put on there for extra profit (yea its included in the reset partition! Thanks Acer.) Then attacked win10, since I did reset instead of fresh install, couldnt use win10-LITE script during installation like I had on another older low spec computer. But did run Destroy Windows Spying. That let me uninstall good bit of the metro cloud apps that you cant uninstall normally and blocked secret contact with all known M$ servers existing at time of last DWS updated version using win10’s own firewall. Yea they got some new ones since then. This blocks the mandatory mystery updates so dont have to deal with that. And also a winaero tweaker app that let me further modify win10 restictions. Then fresh Firefox with NO-SCRIPT, adblocker ULTIMATE, self destructing cookies, and ZoomPage (this helps a lot with the small screen while surfing). Its still not perfect, but at least its now usable on such a minimum spec machine. At least usable in sense its not like its swimming in molasses. Sparky on the Lenovo is faster and obviously much smaller install, but if you are determined you can make win10 semi functional. All the flashing, jumping bits and bobs are gone. Unfortunately its not really usable as it comes out of box and lot of the people buying these cheap minimalist notebooks arent really wanting to make a hobby of bringing win10 under control nor of installing linux and making all hardware work under it. So you read the reviews on Amazon, and lot angry disappointed people that bought these.

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