How to install Ubuntu on laptop with a busted display

I have a reasonably high end mechrevo/mechrev0 laptop (Core i9, 64GB RAM, decent GPU) with a busted display (the panel literally falls out of its case). I’ve tried to get the display repaired several times, but it keeps falling out, perhaps through poor workmanship or poor design or just a defect. I don’t know which and I can’t fix it right now for a bunch of reasons not germane to this question. The display is basically inoperable in its current state.

Aside from that, the laptop appears to be in working order and has Windows 11 installed and running fine. I can access the laptop through built-in and/or USB keyboard/mouse and an attached HDMI secondary display.

I’d like to install Ubuntu desktop or server on the laptop, but the installer (on a USB stick) doesn’t auto-detect the HDMI display or just doesn’t display there by default. I’ve tried this with different external HDMI displays, to no avail. I don’t know the exact settings of the BIOS, but I believe it may be set to boot from USB drive first. When I press F2 repeatedly on restart with the USB installer plugged in, Windows doesn’t come up (though of course the laptop display stays dark), so I assume it’s sitting in a prompt that I can’t see.

Is there a way I could get an installation going on this machine, preferably in a way that won’t destroy the existing Windows 11 partition? I already have wsl on this machine, but I need to do certain things with virtualization that are impractical under wsl, so the question is really about getting Ubuntu installed directly on the boot drive.

I’m hoping for some magical key combination that will auto-switch the display or some other trick of that type, but any answer that gets me there would be amazing.

The laptop has USB a & c ports, HDMI, and Ethernet, but nothing else. I’m handy with a command-line and even gcc, but I don’t hand roll my own device drivers or even build my own kernels. I can sometimes handle a screwdriver without anyone getting hurt.

After opening up the case, I see that it’s unlikely I’ll be able to make any modifications myself. So, I’m looking for a pure software solution, if one exists.

Asked By: fromscratch

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Closing this out with my own answer, which is what I ultimately did to resolve the problem, helped along by all the comments I received.

Adapting @sudodus’ suggestions, I installed ubuntu server on a separate M.2 drive on another computer, removed the drives in the laptop, and just started up the laptop with the newly installed drive instead. Ubuntu server started up with ssh pre-installed and I was able to ssh in to use the hardware. This seems like the most general approach, though it is not really the kind of software solution I was hoping for. It also doesn’t resolve how to change the UEFI-BIOS settings without repairing the display. Presumably due to UEFI-BIOS settings, booting off of a pre-installed server USB stick did not work on my laptop, which is why the M.2 change was required.

The comments by @guiverc were closest to what I was hoping for, but I was unable to find out whether there are keystrokes to re-point mechrevo/mechrev0 to HDMI display.

Answered By: fromscratch