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Installing Debian on a Thinkpad T14s

Written on 2021-02-10.

Recently, I got a new work laptop. I opted for Lenovo's Thinkpad T14s that comes with AMD's Ryzen 7 PRO 4750U Processor. Once everything is installed, it works like a charm: all hardware is supported and works out of the box with Debian. However, the tricky part is actually installing Debian onto that machine: The laptop lacks a standard Ethernet port and comes with Intel's Wi-Fi 6 AX200 module. So if you don't happen to have a docking station or an Ethernet adapter available during install, you'll have to install everything over WiFi. The WiFi module, however requires non-free firmware and this is where the fun starts.

First, I downloaded an official netinst image and copied it onto a USB drive. Halfway through the installation, it complained that firmware for the WiFi module was missing, and I was stuck as I couldn't continue the installation without network access.

Ok, then -- missing non-free firmware it is. The wiki suggests using an unofficial image instead, as it supposedly contains "all non-free firmware packages directly".

So I tried an unofficial netinst image with non-free firmware. That also did not work, with the same error as above: the required firmware was missing. I checked the image later and actually couldn't find the non-free firmware either. Hum.

In the end, I had to prepare a second USB drive with the firmware downloaded from here. I unpacked the firmware into /firmware on the second USB. The installer checks at some point during the installation for firmware installed on other removable media and (hopefully) finds it. In my case it did, and I finally could install everything.

I'm quite happy with the laptop, but I have to admit how incredibly difficult it still is to install Debian on recent hardware. As a Debian Developer, I do understand Debian's position on non-free firmware, on the other hand however, a less technical person would probably have given up at some point and just installed some other Operating System.

This entry was tagged debian, firmware and thinkpad