|Notes on an ASUS X102BA laptop
||[Jun. 2nd, 2018|08:41 pm]
In April 2014 I bought an ASUS X102BA laptop cheaply from the Dick Smith store, back before that retail chain went out of business and was bought by Kogan. (The X102BA is also known as the F102BA; X has 2 GB memory, F has 4 GB, apparently. Their bigger, faster, brother is the X200CA/F200CA.)|
The X102BA (or F102BA) had some promise as a netbook: 4GB RAM, which is a useful minimum for Windows these days, a full touchscreen which could be used to experiment with Windows 8, and a decent number of ports. No Bluetooth on my machine, but that's no great loss. Not much speed and a slightly cramped keyboard, but at a good price.
I soon learned that Windows 8.1 was painful to use, and even had to use regedit to get the Windows Store to work. The 64-bit AMD A4 processor was fairly slow, the hard drive even slower. The touchscreen was not easy to use; the Windows interface simply doesn't handle touch well, and Apple is right about touch not being workable for an upright hinged screen. (A lower angle and rear support are needed.) The laptop didn't get that much use, even after I put a 32 GB flash card in its SD slot for ReadyBoost to speed things up.
A couple of years later, the X102BA had been upgraded to Windows 10 Home for free, as it just met the minimum threshold of 1 GHz processor speed. (But, with an AMD processor, 1 GHz is more like... 800 MHz Intel? The AMD A4-1200 has sub-Atom performance, anyway.)
But Windows updates were failing with odd status errors. In trying to fix that, I found myself reinstalling the Windows operating system a couple of times.
The December 2017 version of Windows 10 Home warned about a disk partition that was soon to fail, but did let me install Windows on it. The laptop was very slow, and getting slower. When Windows takes over two days to install, there might be a drive issue - though, no SMART errors were reported on the 320 GB 5400 rpm HGST drive, which probably doesn't support SMART. Windows 10 Home version 1803 later refused to install on that drive at all. I have questions about the reliability of that drive model Z5K500-320. I'd like to know why the hard drive is slow and warned about but not yet showing data loss or SMART errors. Still works, but sooo slow. (and I'm not alone in slow X102BA Windows installs.)
Yet I then installed Ubuntu 18 on the same hard drive, oddly far more quickly. Ubuntu would also warn about impending drive failure on each startup, though. And the laptop would always shut down, instead of sleeping, when put to sleep, or even if its lid was closed.
So, I bought a SanDisk internal 2.5" solid-state drive, and replaced the HGST drive with that. (There are five P0 screws to remove from the bottom plastic case, one under the peel-back label, two under the rear feet. There are tutorials on YouTube.) Windows 10 Home version 1803 installed rapidly on the SSD, and Windows updates now installed as they should. But the laptop would still shutdown instead of sleeping. Since this happened under both Ubuntu and Windows, it was clearly a BIOS, rather than an OS, issue.
Pressing F2 on startup to enter the American Megatrends BIOS showed that BIOS to be rather sparse in settings; nothing could be tweaked to fix the shutdown problem. The way to fix not being able to sleep is, according to web lore, to reflash the BIOS entirely. This is a series of non-obvious and non-documented steps that I have successfully worked through and documented:
- Download the latest BIOS from the ASUS X102BA Support page
- Regular visitors and long-time X102BA users may notice the emptiness of that page and how most of the ASUS drivers and packages have been deleted as if they never were. This page can fail silently with cookie blocking; do try fiddling with browser extensions if you cannot see any drivers to download. The number of Google and Facebook trackers is appalling. At one point Chrome on another laptop could see the drivers, while an identical install of Chrome on the X102BA could not. You may have to try different web browsers as well.
- Find and download WinFlash to reflash the BIOS
- Finding WinFlash is a difficult hunt through ASUS support pages. There's a version 2.3 and a later 3.01; either will do. But when you run the WinFlash installer, it will refuse to install WinFlash, because it believes that the X102BA is not an ASUS computer.
- Find and download the ASUS ATK hotkey utility for function key functionality
- It turns out that ASUS WinFlash installer looks for ASUS ATK, and won't install unless ATK is present. This is non-obvious and undocumented; you can wind up searching for this and then cherry-picking other useful drivers on the support pages of more recent ASUS laptops, working through a variety of model serial numbers with the ASUS search tool.
If you can see the ATK download on the X102BA page, it's of 1.0.0039 - yet later versions such as 1.0.0056 are available from other ASUS download pages. That also holds for other drivers, such as SmartGesture; finding each driver's latest version is a treasure hunt.
- Install and run WinFlash with a special hidden command-line flag
- Once you can run WinFlash, you can then reflash the BIOS - except you can't, because you can only refresh with a later BIOS, and if you already have the latest BIOS installed, the Winflash Flash button is disabled. It's an especially idiotic kind of idiot-proofing. You'll need to open a
cmd window and type e.g.:
cd "\Program Files (x86)\ASUS\WinFlash"
At that point the Flash button is now enabled and can be pressed. Flashing begins once you quit the application, which shuts the laptop down. Reflashing the latest BIOS with another copy of the latest BIOS is sufficient to fix the sleep issue.
Voila, a laptop that can sleep again! With the necessary SSD drive in place, it's working as it should, and the SD card slot is free for use, as ReadyBoost is no longer needed.
Now, none of this is documented by ASUS, despite reflashing to fix sleep problems apparently being common across many ASUS machines, given the number of unresolved complaints about the issue that I've read around the web in researching this. This is all incredibly non-obvious, and I had to learn it slow step by step from hints in answers to questions across the web - including finally learning of
/nodate from a deleted webpage. Even if you wondered whether a single-use GUI application had any useful command-line switches,
Winflash.exe /? tells you nothing.
ASUS really needs to work on its support and documentation, and must make its drivers easier to obtain. Forcing deliberate obsolescence through deliberately hiding information isn't going to make me want to buy ASUS again. That is neglect, and it is not benign.
(It's also possible to install the AMD Catalyst Control Center and AMD graphics driver to give more control over 3D rendering, OpenGL buffering, and the like. You can't increase performance with the Catalyst Control Center, but you could choose to slow the processor clock.)