Linux blamed for Samsung laptop deaths

January 31, 2013 // 10:37 a.m.

Tags: #bricked #bug #canonical #kernel-driver #kernel-module #linux #linux-kernel #samsung #ubuntu #uefi

Trying to load Linux on certain models of Samsung laptop could lead to permanent damage to the system, as an incompatibility between the company's implementation of UEFI and a specific kernel module has been uncovered.

According to an in-depth analysis of the flaw over on The H Open, the problem was first noticed late last year when a Samsung laptop owner attempted to load Ubuntu 12.04 on his Samsung 530U3C laptop. Booting from a live USB installation - which, in theory, should make no modifications to the installed operating system - resulted in the system freezing, and a power cycle didn't resolve matters. Rather more seriously, even removing the USB stick didn't fix the problem - the system was well and truly dead.

The user returned his laptop to Samsung under warranty, and was given the unit back with a replaced motherboard. Assuming that it was a coincidental hardware failure, the user attempted to boot Ubuntu again - and once again trashed the hardware.

An official Launchpad bug report for the flaw reveals multiple users all having the same problem: booting Ubuntu, and other Linux distributions, on selected recently-launched Samsung laptops results in a dead device. The flaw, kernel developers claim, comes from an interaction between the Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) BIOS on the laptops and a Samsung-specific kernel module in Linux. When booting on a UEFI-enabled Samsung laptop, the module is loaded and proceeds to corrupt the system firmware - rendering the laptop little more than an oversized paperweight.

A temporary work-around has been introduced for inclusion in future versions of the Ubuntu Linux software, which detects the presence of UEFI on a Samsung laptop and disables the module. Samsung is also reportedly at work fixing the problem in their UEFI interface, planning to release a firmware update that will prevent the module from riding roughshod over the laptops' firmware. Linux kernel developers have also supplied patches for the module, one of which again deactivates the module in the presence of Samsung's UEFI implementation, but these have yet to be accepted and merged into the mainstream Linux kernel.

For now, users with recently-released Samsung laptops who want to play around with Linux would be well advised to do so in a virtual machine via the free VMware Player, VirtualBox or similar virtualisation package.
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