Linux is a common operating system, not least in its Android version, and it is universally assumed that a PC (or whatever “IBM compatible” is called these days) will be able to run it. In fact, machines that can’t run Linux are extremely rare since aficionados keep porting the open-source operating system to even the most obscure and outdated machine families.

One of the PC makers who sell Linux compatible computers is Samsung. That is, almost all of their machines can run Linux, and when it was discovered last January that some recent laptops cannot, it was universally seen as a bug. Nobody designs a Linux-incompatible PC on purpose. It became big news, though I myself didn’t learn about it at the time. It was also soon discovered that a Linux boot is not the only way the bug can be triggered — Windows users are also at risk.

The problem is known as the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug. I won’t go into details I don’t understand: suffice to say that it has to do with the bootup sequence, where Samsung’s engineers have embraced the new UEFI technology without testing it sufficiently with Linux.

The bug they inserted is pretty serious. The Samsung UEFI BIOS bug disables a machine’s bootup firmware entirely if you boot Linux under certain circumstances. This renders the computer dead, without even the distasteful option of reverting to Windows. Your computer becomes a brick.

This happened to me Friday before last. I bought a Samsung NP535U3C laptop in July, immediately installed the most recent version of Mint, the most widely used Linux distribution, and happily used my new machine for 3½ months. Then I fiddled around a tad too much (as Linux users are wont to do) and had to reinstall the operating system, using the same disc as back in July. This time though I seem to have touched the UEFI settings, and my machine became unresponsive. Only then did I learn about the Samsung UEFI BIOS bug.

I paid about $1000 for that machine, and I had expected to use it for years, not 3½ months. So I asked the retailer, Elgiganten, to reimburse me for the obviously flawed piece of hardware they had sold me. I mean, its 2013 and I expect to be able to run Linux on my laptop — and to be able to boot the machine afterwards. No dice: they refused on the grounds that a) “it’s a software error”, and b) “changing your operating system is like switching engines in your car from one make to another”.

Having become a former customer of Elgiganten’s, I turned to Samsung’s support desk. There one Jim likewise refused to help me, instructing me instead to “contact linux” (!) and ask for help. Where does Samsung find these people?

After continued prodding from me, Jim directed me to Samsung’s court of appeal, “Voice of Customer”, in Gothenburg. Their representative Madeleine refused to help too, making the somewhat odd claim that “no production flaw has been determined”. In my opinion, a non-standard BIOS bug that renders the machine unresponsive is a textbook production flaw.

Then she continued, “I’ve checked with our head technician for matters like these, and when the preinstalled operating system is changed or the customers installs a new one, that is their responsibility and sadly not something whose functionality we can guarantee.” No, I’m not asking Samsung to guarantee that Linux works. The Linux community has that covered for me. I’m asking Samsung to guarantee that it will be possible to boot my laptop at all.

I look forward to learning what the Consumer Protection Ombudsman thinks about this.

Update 31 March 2014: I did not get any reimbursement whatsoever. Avoid Elgiganten.

Comments

  1. #1 Erik
    October 29, 2013

    Please, take this further and keep us updated.
    I’m the process of buying a new laptop and read about the samsung UEFI bug. It is an obvious flaw in the hardware and Samsung should fix this for you!!!
    If there isn’t anything in the “contract” stating that you are not allowed to use another os the seller cannot refer to it.

    Elgiganten are wrong!
    Samsung are wrong!

    The way both those companies handled this situation is below par. I will be reluctant to buy anything from anyone of them in the future.

  2. #2 Thommy M.
    October 29, 2013
  3. #3 Eric Lund
    October 29, 2013

    According to your second PC World link, this issue has been known since August of last year. Which is plenty of time for Samsung to have fixed the issue. Especially since it has been known since at least February of this year that the bug can be triggered by running Windows on a machine that has never had Linux installed. I’d say you have a strong case that Samsung and Elgiganten sold you a product that they knew, or should have known, was defective.

  4. #4 Chris Adams
    October 29, 2013

    Emphasize the unsafe, not fit for purpose aspects of this bug. If there’s no way to reset UEFI, this means malware could also trigger it. No matter what the operating system, there should be a way to reset to factory config.

  5. #5 G
    California USA
    October 30, 2013

    Send this blog in to Samsung, letting them know that you’re a science writer and working scientist, and that ScienceBlogs’ audience is global and consists of working scientists & engineers.

    That ought to get action pretty darn quick.

    In the US, there might be the option of a class-action lawsuit for defective product. The fact that this also affects Windows users would be the definitive evidence that the product was defective even when used strictly in accord with Samsung’s instructions.

  6. #6 Art
    October 30, 2013

    About the only thing I could suggest is that it is unlikely that Samsung manufactures the motherboard.

    You need to to find out what motherboard the laptop contains, Samsung may tell you if you dig up the technical specs of the make and model on their website. It may be necessary, perhaps helpful in any event, to dig out the motherboard enough to read the manufacturer’s make/model/version because it is highly unlikely the manufacturer’s model designation is the same as Samsung’s nomenclature.

    Once you know the manufacturer and what they call it you can reference the manufacturer’s technical sources. Hopefully they have instructions for reinstalling the BIOS. With luck there may even be a BIOS without Samsung UEFI.

    This would be a lot easier on a PC but I’ve done it on a laptop. More of a PITA than it needs to be.

  7. #7 Birger Johansson
    October 30, 2013

    How the fuck is this “not their problem”? I was under the impression that computers need software to function.
    Suggestion: Send some Icelandic or Finn sejdkunniga to curse them this Halloween!
    “Bitchy Witchy” http://satwcomic.com/bitchy-witchy
    (Of course these days you should be able to find computer-savvy women for the stuff, making the service much easier to find locally)

  8. #8 Sammy
    Seattle, USA
    October 30, 2013

    Samsung is too busy to deal with this. At least, that’s their attitude.

    I would recommend a laptop from the likes of Dell or Lenovo for better support. I know that is a bit of a cop out, but sadly, because of the cost of validation testing, there isn’t a computer mfg out there who wishes that Linux would just go away.

    Also, the “cherry” jobs are not validation engineers. That’s where they stuff recent college grads, and say “write a test plan” and go to work.

  9. […] Read more here:  Samsung Sweden to Linux User: “UEFI BIOS Bug Not Our Problem” – ScienceBlogs (bl… […]

  10. #10 Douglas
    October 30, 2013

    I have some comments:

    (1) It is insanely difficult to test a computer today despite that things are “standard” (in reality they are not). Add the problem of using multiple suppliers of components from different batches with small updates and you can start to appreciate the need for vendors to not take responsibility for anything that they did not wrap themselves, in particular what a small group of fairly hackish-oriented people plug into Linux or not.

    (2) However, had an interesting experience with Dell a few years ago, so I can relate to Martin’s pain. I am a nerd, so I checked every piece of hardware that was supposed to be in my computer in advance against the FBSD compatibility list. Everything was ok, so I order a computer. I was a PhD student, so I worked for hours trying to make the thing run. Tinkering with everything. Then I give up and work myself up the food chain at Dell support until I finally talk to a real technician who informs me that Dell routinely RELABEL DIFFERENT chipsets, i.e., when it says mother board is XYZ, then it can just as well be RST. IMHO that is insane, but apparently it is legal if they state that they take no responsibility except Windows is used.

    (3) My current expensive Asus laptop is semibroken, but only on Windows. Keyboard is delayed and touch pad freezes. After fighting with it, re-installing, stripping, what not, I gave up and installed Linux. Now it works, so sometimes things that does not work with Windows works with Linux/BSD :-)

  11. #11 Jimmike
    USA
    October 30, 2013

    I’m starting to accumulate far too much negative data on Samsung’s lack of desire to be of any help to consumers:
    SSDs, computers, memory devices,entertainment electronics…you name it.
    I think I’ll pass on ANYTHING labelled ‘Samsung’ from now on.

  12. #12 Wesley Dodson
    October 30, 2013

    Get an Asus.

  13. #13 Art
    October 30, 2013

    I will add that reinstalling the BIOS can be quick and easy. A lot depends on the specifics of what MB we are talking about, who made it, and how well they support their products. Some make it rather easy.

    Last one I did I spent several times as long finding and looking up references to the information I needed. It is IMHO the most painful part of the process. But once I had it all, and had formulated a detailed plan of action, the whole thing didn’t take twenty minutes.

    Once the BIOS was reinstalled it was a brand new machine. There was, of course, no need to reinstall the OS or programs. As a bonus I found out that there were features on the MB that had been left out of the original BIOS. Evidently the difference between that model and the next price point up was you got a MB Nerfed in the BIOS. Updating the BIOS allowed access to those features. Sweet.

  14. #14 kirk
    United States
    October 30, 2013

    As an addendum to those who said, “get an Asus”, I have to add “be careful which Asus.”

    I bought my wife an Asus with the intention of dual booting (windows is used at her workplace). It’s been nothing but awful. I could rant forever about the 6 RMAs that I’ve received.

    The current status is that WIFI constantly drops when running windows 7. All she was doing with it was remote-desktop-ing to an old PC (running linux) upstairs. And using it that way, it was okay (but certainly not “good’). That is, until the WIFI bugged out. So now remote desktoping isn’t even possible if it can’t maintain a WIFI connection.

    So, I installed linux on it again. What do you know? WIFI is rock solid.

    But, as it was before, and always will be (thanks Asus) the ATI graphics are unusable with any driver. The problem is of course the BIOS. So I have it disable the dedicated graphics on boot to linux (runs cooler, saves power). The problem is that using the Intel graphics makes the CPU work real hard, and hot. And I have no way of even adjusting fan speeds (again because of the BIOS). So it must be so severely underclocked that the CPU (and GPU) that it has were a waste of money.

    So at the moment, it only really works for her, running an OS that is completely unsupported by ASUS, and severely hobbled.

  15. #15 Simon Skoglund
    Sweden
    October 30, 2013

    UEFI is only a way for Microsoft to control the market. Why won’t they use CorebBoot!?

  16. #16 starskeptic
    October 31, 2013

    How did you come up with Mint being “the most widely used Linux distribution”?

  17. #18 hue
    October 31, 2013

    i was thinking about buying a samsung laptop, but i guess i’ll go for a lenovo or a dell

  18. #19 Fool
    October 31, 2013

    According to Distrowatch Mint is no 1

  19. #20 Birger Johansson
    October 31, 2013

    Those who recall the launch of Pentium and the discovery of its inherent bug -and the arrogance with wich this was treated by Intel- could be tempted to assume the “not our problem” bug is genetically part of the computer industry…

  20. #21 Euan Thoms
    Singapore
    October 31, 2013

    I am an IT manager. This exact thing hapended to me. It was Ubnutu however. I tried to install PCLinuxOS, had issues, fiddled in BIOS, then tried Ubuntu just for diagnosis. BAM! and it it was a brick.

    Fortunately for me, this was the same day I bought it. I took it back to shop the next day, and they didn’t need too much persuation to exchange it for another one. Phew! I said to myself, since I knew it could easily have been a similar situation to Martin.

    It is ridiculous they haven’t got this sorted by now. A BIOS update and triaing to customer support should have been done. I swore never to buy another Samsung, then 6 months later I bought a Galaxy Nexus to run the Ubuntu touch alpha LOL. But I will definetely avoid their laptops! Now we buy Dell preloaded with Ubuntu, so far so good.

    Martin, If you need a written statement from me, I can assist.

  21. #22 starskeptic
    October 31, 2013

    Distrowatch ranks page hits – not usage.

  22. #23 dbmuse
    us
    October 31, 2013

    good to know. I’ll be buying apple hardware.

  23. #24 Anders Åslund
    Uppsala, Sweden
    October 31, 2013

    Lets boycott makers of products that break when you install linux on them. Does anybody know of a list of dangerous laptops?

  24. #25 Ryan
    October 31, 2013

    You can always reprogram the bios chip, there are companies that will do this for a small fee. Or simply buy a new chip. Or better yet, buy a samsung laptop from Elgiganten, swap the bios chip, and return the laptop.

  25. #26 Tommy Karlsson
    October 31, 2013

    I have not heard about this before.
    And it is a really,really serious bug that really needs to be seen by as many people as possible so they get off their asses and fix it.

    So i would recommend that you make one or two posts (both to samsung and elgiganten) on http://www.fairshopping.se where most companys do answer back and is pretty well read by many people.
    Also make a couple off posts on some big swedish forums (if you haven´t already) like swecklockers.se nordichardware.se and so on.

  26. #27 Sum Yung Gai
    October 31, 2013

    Call your credit card company and have them issue a chargeback. That will get the attention of this store you bought this broken laptop from…pronto.

  27. #28 Thomas
    October 31, 2013

    You made the greatest mistake any Linux user learns not to make soon: Do not tell your hardware vendor or internet provider that you use Linux. Simply claim that you don’t know much about computers and that it “just stopped working”.

  28. #29 Johnny
    October 31, 2013

    I think you stated the problem wrong.
    The problem is: “The computer you sold me doesn’t boot. I cannot boot any operating system on this hardware.”

    You should not discuss linux problems with them. Any mention of linux in this context will just give them a chance to disconnect themselves from real cause of this problem which is a flawed implementation of UEFI standard.

  29. #30 dude
    October 31, 2013

    samsung is a crap. only sell counts. after u buy, u hear f**ck off.
    no further support.
    i had Samsung dvd player, expecting new firmware release to address some issues. nothing was released.
    now i am using Samsung tablet with android. it has a known bug with keyboard clipboard. it turns the keyboard unusable. no app can access it. the only solution is to restore to factory settings. Samsung refuses to support.
    never buy Samsung again.

  30. #31 Geetu Vaswani
    India
    November 1, 2013

    Even Lenovo Ideapad Z580 has issues booting Linux, with UEFI dual boot enabled with Windows 8. Out of 10 times of starting up Linux, it hangs about 3-4 times. Fortunately, it does not brick.

  31. #32 Dar
    Canada
    November 1, 2013

    This is a completely unacceptable response from Samsung. I knew about this problem for some time now, and when I purchased a laptop recently, I just avoided Samsung altogether. In fact I decided no to buy anything with UEFI or the monstrosity Microsoft calls Windows 8.

  32. #33 Ed
    November 1, 2013

    This isn’t just limited to Linux. You can brick it from Windows as well, and there is a chance that a windows crash might do it…

    http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/22855.html

  33. #34 Vex
    November 1, 2013

    “Mint, the most widely used Linux distribution”. Are you kidding us??

  34. #35 Piero
    Brasil
    November 1, 2013

    Somebody is going to write a virus to brick some laptops with this bug. Not your problem samsung?

  35. […] Continued here:  Samsung Sweden to Linux User: “UEFI BIOS Bug Not Our Problem … […]

  36. #37 Adam Williamson
    Canada
    November 5, 2013

    Sammy: “I would recommend a laptop from the likes of Dell or Lenovo for better support.”

    I absolutely would not – at least, not one from Dell. Having bought a Dell XPS 13 ‘Developer Edition’ (the one with Ubuntu pre-installed), with their upgraded service plan, I found that Dell has apparently neglected to ensure that it employs a single person who knows about all of the following:

    * XPS 13
    * Developer Edition
    * Canada
    * Upgraded service plan

    And consequently it takes emails to eight different people over the course of three months to get a broken screen fixed without them insisting they need my ‘Windows password’.

    Dell is apparently happy to take Linux users’ money, but doesn’t think it’s worth going to the trouble of ensuring its customer service works for Linux pre-installs. At all.

  37. #38 Juan Castro
    November 5, 2013

    I am about to buy a new smartphone, and because of this article, it will be a Motorola instead of a Samsung. Until half an hour ago, I thought Samsung smatrphones were good. Now, I am convinced they’re all pieces of s**t.

  38. #39 Galane
    November 5, 2013

    Contrast this with the Samsung Epic 4G (not the Epic 4G Touch) phone. It shipped with Eclair, got updated to FroYo, then updated to Gingerbread *and* twice more got updates to Gingerbread.

    If they’ll push out updates to a phone for nearly three years, why won’t they fix this buggy laptop BIOS?

    My laptop is an Acer Aspire 5315. Acer America only released one or two BIOS updates. Acer Europe released several. I have it at the latest BIOS, swapped in a Core 2 Duo CPU, 2 gigs RAM, a dual layer DVD burner and a 500 gig hard drive. The EU BIOS also enables it to run 3 gigs RAM. For some reason it just won’t work with a pair of 2 gig sticks even though the chipset supports it. One of these days I may HackBook it.

  39. #40 Birger Johansson
    November 5, 2013

    This book is 15 years old, but the kind of organised stupidity it describes will probably be with us for as long as we have computers:

    CRASH: Learning From The World’s Worst Computer Disasters (With Year 2000 Update) http://www.amazon.co.uk/CRASH-Learning-Worlds-Computer-Disasters/dp/0684816873/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=2YBA0DQ0DMG3R&coliid=ILXG02CY600H3

  40. #41 peter foelsche
    sf bay area
    November 12, 2013

    After dealing with various unixs since 1991 professionally, I need to mention now, that the computers I’m running at home have/had windows installed since NT3.51 and before for a short period of time OS/2. I cannot really appreciate an OS which does not provide a system call to open AND lock a file at the same time nor would I trust people designing an OS which do not understand the utility of this.

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