Ubuntu on the $59 WinBook TW700 Windows 8.1 Tablet – Step 1: Installing Ubuntu

I recently stopped by Houston’s new MicroCenter (they recently moved into a new store), and walked out of the store with their WinBook TW700 tablet for about $40. This tablet is built around Intel’s Bay Trail Atom architecture, sporting a 1.33GHz quad core Atom processor, Windows 8.1, and a free (1) year subscription to Office 365. This little tablet only has a 7″ screen, 1GB of RAM, and 16GB of internal storage, but the Micro-SD slot and a full sized USB 2.0 port sealed the deal for me.

With the memory and storage specs, I needed to figure out how to get Linux on this little tablet as fast as possible. Windows reserves 7.19 GB for a recovery partition, and anyone with experience with Windows can figure out how far 8.74GB of useable space will go after a few updates. Also, with only a 7″ screen, Microsoft’s crossover interface in Windows 8.1 is a little difficult to use. I naturally gravitated towards Ubuntu, hoping to take advantage of Unity and perhaps one of their touch oriented images.

First, you will need a couple of common items – a USB hub, a USB keyboard and mouse, a linux compatible wifi USB dongle, and a couple of appropriately sized USB drives (8GB or more).

Use the first USB drive to create a recovery disk – unfortunately, we are unable to delete the recovery partition after creating the USB drive, a missed opportunity to almost double the storage space! See the following Microsoft link for instructions: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/create-usb-recovery-drive

After creating the recovery USB, we need to create an Ubuntu installer on the second USB drive. I recommend using Rufus, a Windows based bootable USB utility. Download the latest 64 bit Ubuntu Desktop image (32bit Ubuntu image does not support EFI booting), and install it on the USB, using “GPT Partition Scheme for UEFI Computer” and keeping the remaining defaults.

Ubuntu USB with Rufus


Here comes the caveat – the WinBook uses a 32bit EFI bootloader, but the 64bit Ubuntu image will install a 64bit bootloader. I referred to John Wells’ guide at the following link to steer me in the right direction: http://www.jfwhome.com/2014/03/07/perfect-ubuntu-or-other-linux-on-the-asus-transformer-book-t100/ Either grab a copy of his bootia32.efi file (or compile your own) and drop it into the EFI/BOOT folder on your USB drive.



At this point, we are ready to install Ubuntu on the tablet. Eject the recovery USB, and connect your USB hub to the T700, with the wifi dongle, keyboard/mouse, and bootable USB. Then on your powered on tablet, choose PC Settings->Update and Recovery->Recovery->Restart Now. In the Recovery Window, choose Troubleshoot->Advanced options->UEFI Firmware Settings->Restart. This will populate a traditional “BIOS” menu. Make sure Safe Boot is disabled on the security tab, change the boot order so the bootable USB drive is listed first, and exit, saving changes.

If all goes well, you should be prompted with the GRUB menu. Select “Install Ubuntu” and press “e” to edit the GRUB settings.

I recommend replacing “quiet splash” with “nomodeset”, which is a deviation from John Wells’ blog. This will show the verbose booting (removing quiet) and “nomodeset” instructs the kernel to not load video drivers until X is loaded. Press F10 at this point to boot the Ubuntu installer.

Install Ubuntu as normal – but at the “Installation Type” window, choose “Something else”. Remove all partitions, and create the following:

  • A 100MB primary partition, used as an “EFI boot partition” (100MB is minimum)
  • An EXT4 partition, subtracting your swap space. I simply used “/” as my mount point
  • A swap partition (optional, but I chose 1000MB due to limited RAM)

Take a note of your device partitions for a later step, I had the following:

  • /dev/mmcblk0p1 – efi partition
  • /dev/mmcblk0p2 – ext4 (Ubuntu) partition
  • /dev/mmcblk0p3 – swap partition

Finish the installation, but we still need to boot using the bootable USB upon the initial reboot.

At the reboot, we will face the GRUB menu from the bootable USB. Choose “c” for a command prompt. At the “grub>” prompt, type “ls” and note the visible partitions. The bootable USB should be listed as “hd0”, with the (3) partitions we created listed as (hd1,gpt1), (hd1,gpt2), and (hd1,gpt3). Using the partition notes above, issue the following commands:

linux (hd1,gpt2)/boot/vmlinuz-3.xx.x-xx-generic root=/dev/mmcblk0p2 nomodeset
initrd (hd1,gpt2)/boot/initrd.img-3.xx.x-xx-generic

PLEASE NOTE which kernel package you are using, and more than one may be available. I want you to be aware of this for every command line boot we perform with the bootable USB. Also both commands must have matching version numbers in the above commands! You may need to try different kernel versions also to boot. I was only able to boot consistently with kernel 3.16.0-23-generic.

Your tablet should boot to the login you set up during the installation. Go ahead and log in, and enjoy the first fruits of your labor. In the next blog, we are going to fix GRUB, and compile our missing drivers.

Until then, you must keep our initial bootable installer USB plugged into and use the GRUB command line to boot the tablet.

Proceed to step 2 of Ubuntu on the Winbook TW700:




11 Replies to “Ubuntu on the $59 WinBook TW700 Windows 8.1 Tablet – Step 1: Installing Ubuntu”

  1. I believe the reason the recovery partition can’t be deleted on the tablet is because it uses WIMBoot. From Wikipedia:

    “Windows 8.1 Update adds a new installation mode known as ‘WIMBoot’, where the WIM image that contains the Windows installation is left compressed rather than being extracted, and the system is configured to use files directly from within the system image. This installation method was primarily designed to reduce the footprint of the Windows installation on devices with small amounts of storage. The system image also doubles as the recovery image, speeding up Refresh and Reset operations. It is only supported in systems with UEFI firmware, where Windows is located on a solid-state drive or eMMC.”

    In other words, the recovery partition IS the operating system partition. Also, any idea when you’ll get around to writing the next step about the drivers? I’d love to get Ubuntu running on my TW700.

    1. I am slowly but surely ironing out as many items as possible for my second post on the TW700. It is looking like there will be a third post for some remaining items that I have been struggling to dedicate time to.

    1. Thank you for the link – I will definitely look into it and see if I can incorporate some of the strategies into my second post on the TW700.

  2. I do agree with all the concepts you have introduced for
    your post. They’re very convincing and can certainly work.

    Still, the posts are very short for beginners. May you please prolong them a bit
    from next time? Thank you for the post.

    1. I appreciate the feedback…

      I do struggle with the brevity of the subjects, and am attempting to discover the right balance for everyone that visits the site. I usually adhere to the “KISS” principle in my daily work habits, and it appears that I am carrying that over in my posts!

    1. Almost done with the follow up post on the TW700…

      I have been slowly attempting to iron out the remaining issues. I must caution, I may need to break off a third post for the remaining issues, and will commit in the next week or two.

      Thanks you for visiting!

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