Debian GNU/Linux on a HP Elitebook 845 G8

Some time ago, I received a new laptop, the HP Elitebook 845 G8. This is a 14″ laptop with an AMD CPU of the Renoir family, in my case an AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 5850U. As always, I run Debian GNU/Linux testing (currently Bookworm) on it. In this post, I will explain how to get all hardware working. This guide probably also works for other G8 Elitebooks, such as the Elitebook 835 G8 and Elitebook 855 G8, because they are all quite similar.

You can find detailed logs and reports of people running Linux on the Elitebook 845 G8 in the Hardware for Linux database.

Installation

I used a USB disk to boot the installer and a USB-C dock with an Ethernet interface to do a network installation. If you use the Debian installer with non-free firmware, you can also do the installation over wifi. I have not tried the current stable release Debian 11 Bullseye on this system. For best compatibility I strongly recommend testing because it has a more recent kernel and drivers.

Download the installation cd for Debian testing with non-free firmware: you need the file firmware-testing-amd64-netinst.iso.

Now we need to write it to a USB disk. Make sure there is no data on the drive you want to keep, because this process will completely wipe the disk.

To write the ISO image to a USB disk, Windows users can use the application Rufus, MacOS users can use Balena Etcher. If you are using Linux, you can dd the ISO image on your USB disk, or use a GUI like Fedora Media Writer.

Reboot the system and press F10 when the HP logo appears to load the BIOS/UEFI setup. Go to the Advanced page and select Boot Options. There make sure that USB Storage Boot is enabled. If you want to work with custom kernels, it can be handy to disable Secure Boot in SecuritySecure Boot Configuration, but it’s not needed to install and use Debian.

Save the changes you made (if any) and reboot the system and press F9 at the HP logo to get the boot menu. In the boot menu, select your USB drive to start the Debian installer.

Enabling non-free repositories

We will need to configure the non-free repositories for apt because we need several firmware packages from non-free. Edit /etc/apt/sources.list and check whether any deb line has main contrib and non-free at the end. If not add it, and then run

# apt update

Updating the BIOS/UEFI firmware

If you have a Windows installation, you can update the firmware from there, even before you install Linux. But you can also update the firmware without Windows. Follow the instructions in that blog post. It’s important to do this, not only because this gives you essential security fixes, but also bug fixes, some of which specifically for Linux compatibility.

Updating CPU firmware

Install the package amd64-microcode to ensure your AMD CPU is always running the latest microcode, which includes security fixes:

# apt-get install amd64-microcode

Flashing other firmware

The fwupd utility can download and install firmware from the LVFS. The firmware of the fingerprint reader of the Elitebook 845 G8, can be updated like this, and may be necessary to get the fingerprint reader working in Linux. First make sure fwupd is installed:

# apt install fwupd fwupd-amd64-signed

Now update all available firemware:

# fwupdtool update

If you have a HP USB-C Dock G5, then new firmware is also available in the LVFS, but it’s in the testing repository. To enable this repository, run this command:

# fwupdmgr enable-remote lvfs-testing 

Radeon Vega GPU

lspci identifies this GPU as

04:00.0 VGA compatible controller [0300]: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD/ATI] Cezanne [1002:1638] (rev d1)

First make sure the firmware is installed for the GPU. This is needed to get any hardware acceleration.

# apt install firmware-amd-graphics

Then make sure these packages are installed in order to get Vulkan, VA-API, VDPAU and OpenCL support:

 # apt install mesa-va-drivers mesa-vulkan-drivers mesa-vdpau-drivers mesa-opencl-icd

Now add this to /etc/environment so that it uses the correct VDPAU driver:

VDPAU_DRIVER=radeonsi

In order to get GStreamer based players to use VA-API, you need to intsall this package:

# apt install gstreamer1.0-vaapi

After installing the firmware and editing /etc/environment you will need to reboot your system.

Unfortunately most video players and web browsers still don’t use VA-API hardware acceleration by default, but this needs to be configured manually. I will write a separate article about that later.

Realtek wifi adapter

The wifi adapter is a Realtek RTL8822CE according to lspci:

01:00.0 Network controller [0280]: Realtek Semiconductor Co., Ltd. RTL8822CE 802.11ac PCIe Wireless Network Adapter [10ec:c822]

Install the firmware to get it working:

# apt install firmware-realtek

This laptop can also be delivered with an Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6 adapter (which is actually a better option than this one from Realtek). If you have this one, you will need to install the firmware-iwlwifi package instead.

Smartcard reader

lsusb identifies this smartcard reader as an Alcor AU9540:

Bus 005 Device 004: ID 058f:9540 Alcor Micro Corp. AU9540 Smartcard Reader

Note that it only sees the smartcard reader when a card has been inserted.

You will need pscd with the CCID driver to use this smartcard reader:

# apt install pscsd

Fingerprint reader

The fingerprint reader can be seen like this in lsusb:

Bus 003 Device 003: ID 06cb:00df Synaptics, Inc. 

Make sure you have installed all firmware updates with fwupd and then you need to install these packages:

# apt install fprintd libpam-fprintd

In GNOME, under SettingsUsers you can enable login on fingerprint and add your fingerprints.

Sound

lspci:

04:00.5 Multimedia controller: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD] ACP/ACP3X/ACP6x Audio Coprocessor (rev 01)<br />04:00.6 Audio device: Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. [AMD] Family 17h/19h HD Audio Controller

Sound is working out of the box. I recommend switching from Pulseaudio to Pipewire.

Webcam

lsusb:

Bus 001 Device 002: ID 0408:5348 Quanta Computer, Inc. HP HD Camera

The webcam works out of the box. Many applications will see the IR camera as a second camera.

Bluetooth

lsusb:

Bus 003 Device 002: ID 0bda:b00c Realtek Semiconductor Corp. 802.11ac WLAN Adapter

If you use lsusb -v you will see that this is actually the Bluetooth Radio adapter. It is combined with the wifi adapter, hence the confusion.

Suspend/resume

HP does not support S3 (traditional suspend-to-ram/standby) in its recent Elitebooks any more, but instead uses s0ix (s2idle/suspend-to-idle/modern standby). S2idle support for AMD CPU’s was only added in Linux 5.11 with the amd_pmc driver. I recommend a very recent kernel, because later kernel versions had bug fixes in this regard too. However suspend regressed in stable update 5.17.3 (and others), a bug which was fixed in 5.17.5. I’m using a custom-built 5.17.5 kernel, but a fixed kernel will appear soon in Debian.

If you have HP Drivelock enabled, then your system will fail to resume. Drivelock is a security feature which can be set up in the BIOS and requires you to enter a password when starting up the system in order to access the contents of the disk. When trying to resume the system, fans start running, the keyboard backlight reacts to key presses, but the screen remains blank, nothing is written to logs and also network does not come up. Apparently this is a bug in HP’s BIOS/UEFI firmware which can be worked around by adding iommu=pt to the kernel command line. To do so, edit /etc/default/grub and add this to the variable GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT. For example:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet iommu=pt"

Then update the GRUB configuration:

# update-grub

Install isenkram to help install drivers when plugging in hardware

Isenkram is a utitliy which will show a message when you connect hardware to your system and extra software or firmware is available for that hardware.

# apt install isenkram

Enabling trimming of the NVME SSD

Enable the fstrim timer to make sure the SSD is trimmed on regular intervals:

# systemctl enable – now fstrim.timer

Increasing battery time

Switch to AMD P-state driver

AMD developed the amd_pstate driver which was introduced in Linux 5.17. amd_pstate offers better performance per Watt than acpi-cpufreq

/etc/modprobe.d/acpi-cpufreq-blacklist.conf

blacklist acpi-cpufreq

/etc/modules-load.d/amd-pstate.conf

amd_pstate

Set up TLP

TLP is a tool which optimizes power consumption of your system in order to increase battery time. TLP also has an options Radio Device Wizard, which I will use here to automatically disable wifi when the system is connected via an Ethernet cable.

# apt install tlp tlp-rdw

Configure the Radio Device Wizard by creating the file /etc/tlp.d/10-tlp-rdw.conf:

# tlp-rdw - Parameters for the radio device wizard

# Possible devices: bluetooth, wifi, wwan.
# Separate multiple radio devices with spaces.
# Default: <none> (for all parameters below)

DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_LAN_CONNECT="wifi wwan"
DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_WIFI_CONNECT="wwan"
DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_WWAN_CONNECT="wifi"

# Radio devices to enable on disconnect.

DEVICES_TO_ENABLE_ON_LAN_DISCONNECT="wifi wwan"
DEVICES_TO_ENABLE_ON_WIFI_DISCONNECT=""
DEVICES_TO_ENABLE_ON_WWAN_DISCONNECT=""

# Radio devices to enable/disable when docked.

DEVICES_TO_ENABLE_ON_DOCK=""
DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_DOCK=""

# Radio devices to enable/disable when undocked.

DEVICES_TO_ENABLE_ON_UNDOCK="wifi"
DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_UNDOCK=""

To enable best ASPM power saving features when on battery, create /etc/tlp.d/20-aspm.conf:

PCIE_ASPM_ON_AC=default<br />PCIE_ASPM_ON_BAT=powersupersave

You will also need to edit /etc/default/grub file to add pcie_aspm=force to the Linux command line, for example

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet iommu=pt pcie_aspm=force"

And run update-grub to update the GRUB configuration.

Disable Bluetooth and wifi when on battery and they are not in use by creating /etc/tlp.d/30-disable-devices-on-battery.conf:

DEVICES_TO_DISABLE_ON_BAT_NOT_IN_USE="bluetooth nfc wifi wwan"

Submitting your system to the Linux Hardware database

The Linux Hardware database is a useful tool where users searching for hardware, can check the compatibility of systems with Linux. I recommend running this tool on all your Linux systems. After submission, you will get a link where you can view the data and indicate whether all hardware works and which work-arounds you had to apply. Click on the Review button on the page to do so.

# apt install hw-probe
# hwprobe – all – upload

Conclusion

Actually Linux compatibility of the HP Elitebook 845 is actually in good shape. It’s not perfect, but all hardware can be made to work. On distros like Ubuntu, which install non-free firmware by default, it should even be easier to make everything work. Still HP lags behind Dell and Lenovo in Linux support, because they don’t make it possible to flash the BIOS/UEFI firmware using fwupd, while all recent Dell and Lenovo business laptops have their firmware available in the LVFS. Also the problem that iommu=pt needs to be used to successfully resume the laptop when Drivelock is enabled, is a problem that HP should address in a BIOS update.

Updating HP BIOS firmware from Linux

I have an HP Elitebook 845 G8 laptop. I wanted to update the BIOS/UEFI firmware to the latest version. This is important because firmware updates include essential security fixes.

On Linux you can use the LVFS (Linux Vendor Firmware Service) to easily install firmware updates with the fwupd utility or any of its graphical front-ends (such as GNOME Software or KDE Discover). Dell and Lenovo offer firmware updates for many of their systems via LVFS, however HP only has a very small number of firmware updates available on LVFS.

Fortunately it is possible to install firmware updates without having Windows installed, but it’s a bit more manual work. Here I will explain how I managed to update my Elitebook 845 G8, but this should work for most recent HP laptops and desktops.

First you need to download the firmware update for your system. Use your favourite web search engine and search for the model name and add the word downloads to it, for example: HP Elitebook 845 G8 downloads. The first hit will probably bring you to the right page, in my case: https://support.hp.com/us-en/drivers/selfservice/hp-elitebook-845-g8-notebook-pc/38492638

If you don’t know the exact model of your system, use this command (as root):

# /usr/sbin/dmidecode | grep "Product Name"

On the HP downloads page, you will probably get a mssage that it was unable to find drivers for your product. Click on the link Choose a different OS and select any Windows 10 version. Now you will find the latest firmware for your system under BIOS-System Firmware. Click on Download. It will try to let you install a Windows Download and Install Assistant: click on No thanks, I will download and install manually to directly get the firmware file, which should have a name similar to sp138978.exe.

Once you have downloaded this file, we need to extract it. You can use 7-Zip for that. Make sure it is installed on your system:

# apt-install 7zip

Then we will make a directory and extract the firmware package in it:

$ mkdir /tmp/hpfirmware
$ cd /tmp/hpfirmware
$ 7zz x  ~/Downloads/sp138978.exe

You will see many files in the /tmp/hpfirmware directory, such as the History.txt file which you can read if you want to know which changes and bug fixes this update brings. The firmware itself is stored in a file with the extension .bin, in my case it’s named T82_01082000.bin.

To install this firmware, we have to copy it to a directory HP/DEVFW/firmware.bin in your EFI directory (this assumes that you are booting your system in UEFI mode and not in legacy BIOS mode). So as root run these commands from the /tmp/hpfirmware directory:

# mkdir -p /boot/efi/EFI/HP/DEVFW
# cp *.bin /boot/efi/EFI/HP/DEVFW/firmware.bin

Now reboot your system. In GRUB’s menu, choose UEFI Firmware Settings. You will get HP’s Startup Menu of which the last menu item is Update System and Supported Device Firmware. This should now automatically install the firmware update. This takes several minutes , and you screen will go blank during some time: don’t panic and let it run.