Install Linux on your x86 tablet: five distros to choose from

What's the best distro for you new x86 based tablet?

Distros for x86 tablets

We live in a world where the tablet or smart device dominates - both on the high Street and online. Instead of people going out at Christmas to buy a shiny new laptop, they opted for one of the many 10-inch tablets that appear to be everywhere at the moment.

It's funny really - 15 years ago the only tablet device was Captain Jean-Luc Picard's DataPad on the Enterprise: the old axiom of science fiction becoming science fact has never been more true.

We're now almost midway through 2013 and the tablet is still growing, in numbers and in strength, and regardless of whether it's an Android or Apple device. So, as the old saying goes, if you can't beat them, join them.

We had a clever idea (which just proves that it does happen now and then): why not get hold of an x86 tablet, and install Linux on it? After all, if it's x86-based then we can install pretty much anything on it, right? So, here's our roundup of tablet-ready distros.

How we tested...

We managed to get our hands on a rather nice Acer Iconia W500, with a dual core 1GHz AMD-C50 CPU, 2GB DDR3 RAM, a 1280 x 800 10.1-inch WXGA capacitive screen, an AMD Radeon GMA 6250 and a 32GB SSD. It all comes with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, dual cameras (front and rear), USB ports and MicroSD - so in essence it's not a bad little bit of kit.

In addition, there's also the accelerometer function which, among other things, allows the tablet to flip the screen when it is turned on its side.

We wanted an all-out distro to satisfy the needs of every function the tablet has to offer, preferably straight out of the box, so we picked five recent releases - Ubuntu, Android x86, Fedora, Kubuntu Active and OpenSUSE - and put them through their paces, as either a live USB, or installed, to see just how far we could go with this interesting little endeavour.


Did everything actually work?


We're fairly sure you don't need to be told how to install a Linux distro - most now use an identifiable and easy-to-navigate installer - but we thought it would be interesting to see how well they coped, first as a live image, via a bootable USB, then secondly as a fully installed OS.

Ubuntu doesn't need much introduction. It's the most popular Linux distro and you probably already know that Canonical is releasing an Ubuntu for smartphones, so the latest edition of its desktop OS seems like a pretty good place to start.

The boot up into a live session went well, as did installation onto the Iconia's SSD. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, both sets of cameras, the touchscreen and sound all worked out of the box. Unfortunately there was no onscreen keyboard access when we tapped in a text box, but we solved this by fiddling with the Onboard settings (opened from the Dash) and the keyboard then appeared when we started typing.

The x86 Android port wouldn't install (it kept rebooting the Iconia), but the live session went very well. Everything worked, including the flip-screen, but there wasn't an onscreen keyboard, so we had to plug in a wireless version. Within minutes, though, we were logged in and playing games.

Kubuntu Active was the first of the Plasma Active environments, and although it looked impressive, not much worked in the live environment. The installation went pretty smoothly - everything worked apart from the flip-screen - but after less than a minute it ground to a halt. The same thing happened after a reboot.

Fedora 18 runs Gnome 3.6.3, which in some ways makes the touchscreen look and behave better than earlier versions of Gnome. The hot corner is easily activated, scrolling is as good as anything Android has to offer, and the program icons are big enough to launch without hitting everything else around them. Sound, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and the cameras worked out of the box, and we could activate the built-in onscreen keyboard by touching the Accessibility icon on the top of the desktop (it also appears when you tap in a text box).