Computers & Electronics

Converting a Chromebook into a Linux laptop

  • Last Updated:
  • Jan 15th, 2018 9:28 pm
[OP]
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Markham

Converting a Chromebook into a Linux laptop

I need a light weight laptop for browsing the web, viewing photos, youtubing and simple word processing etc while I am travelling away from home with the family.

Bought a Acer Chromebook CB3-131-CR5A with 11.6" ISP monitor during the Christmas and Boxing day sales and very satisfied with the display quality, audio output and light weight except it only runs ChromeOS. But this is not a surprise as it is called a Chromebook. :)

After some googling and with the help of a RFDer darethehair in the now expired thread of the sale of this Chromebook, I have managed turn it into a light weight Linux laptop.

I think my experience of installing Linux on this Chromebook may be of interest to some RFDers. Here are some useful links for your information.

1. Here is a picture to show which write-protection screw to remove on the motherboard of the Acer CB3-131 to allow flashing of firmware.
Image

2. Here is a video showing how to dissemble a Acer CB3-131 - watch only the very first portion of the video to open up the back case and you will find the screw as shown in picture of the URL above.


3. Here is a comprehensive firmware flashing script for many Chromebooks including the CB3-131.
https://mrchromebox.tech/#fwscript
I have used only two items in the menu of the script - Item (1) Install RW_LEGACY firmware and Item (4) Set Boot Options
Image

4. Here is a Linux distro called GalliumOS which is based on Xubuntu (a variant of the popular Ubuntu) and specially tailored to suit the Chromebook hardware.
https://wiki.galliumos.org/Welcome_to_t ... iumOS_Wiki
Image

Please discuss and share your experience of turning a Chromebook into a Linux laptop.

Note 1: Some Chromebooks including the Acer CB3-131-CR5A has crippled firmware that cannot be booted from a USB drive or SD card. This makes a barrier to install Linux. Furthermore, some Chromebooks have a write-protection screw or jumper on the motherboard to prevent flashing of firmware. This is a second barrier to install Linux. Thus I need to open up the Chromebook to remove the write-protection screw and the flash firmware to facilitate booting it up from a USB drive to run Linux Live and to install Linux subsequently.

Note 2: Some may like to run Linux under ChromeOS using Crouton. I have not chosen this option as I consider 16GB storage of Acer CB3-131-CR5A is a bit tight to have two OS co-existing. Nonetheless, here is one tutorial of using Crouton to install Ubuntu on a Chromebook.
https://www.linux.com/learn/how-easily- ... ok-crouton
22 replies
[OP]
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May 2, 2010
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Markham
What are the benefits of running Linux instead of ChromeOS on a Chromebook?

Here are the things I found beneficial to me:
1. Enjoy the light weight of the Chromebook but not bound by ChromeOS which is cloud based.
2. Loads of Linux apps to choose for off-line non-cloud use when wifi is not available e.g. Libre Office or WPS Office.
3. Continue to use the Google Chrome browser under Linux for surfing the web - you miss nothing due to no ChromeOS
4. Skype is available under Linux but not ChromeOS - Google wants you to use Hangouts instead.
5. Kodi player is available under Linux - Android apps including Kodi Player are available in Google Play Store running on only selected ChromeBooks as of now.
6. Linux provides a familiar user interface similar to that of a Windows PC

YMMV.
Last edited by drdtyc on Jan 8th, 2018 11:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
[OP]
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RFDer darethehair has several useful posts on this topic. I have gathered them from the expired thread on the sale of the Acer CB3-131-CR5A in a single post here for easy reference. Credits are due to darethehair.
darethehair wrote:
Dec 22nd, 2017 4:14 pm
There are two (or three) ways to use Linux on a Chromebook. You need to decide which one best suits your needs and abilities.

- *Inside* of Chrome OS (via 'crouton'), easy, limited choice of distributions to chose from
or
- *Outside* of Chrome OS (via 'dual booting'), more complex, many more choices of distributions to chose from

I believe that almost any (?) Chromebook can use the 'crouton' method, but subtle hardware differences between various Chromebook models makes some more or less able to run a desired Linux distro via 'dual booting'. I personally have experience with both methods, on various Acer/ASUS/Dell Chromebooks/Chromeboxes. In all cases you need to activate 'developer mode' to get started. For the 'dual booting' technique, you have to enable the ability to boot from USB -- and possiblity to do so you may need to replace the firmware in order to do so.

The 'crouton' method uses space on the Chromebook's internal SSD/eMMC, or possibly USB/SD card external storage. The 'dual boot' method can either use space on the SSD/eMMC (via partitioning to make space for the Linux distro = a bit riskier), or again on USB/SD card. My own 'preferred' method these days is 'dual-booting' Linux from an external USB 3.0 compact stick.

Installing and running Linux is not all that difficult, but if you have never done it before, there is a lot to learn about.

I have a detailed web page talking about my experiences, but it might be overwhelming at first, so this is just a short explanation of what your options are. Let me know if you want more :)

P.S. Gallium Linux is a distro designed specifically for Chromebooks (all required/desired tweaking has already been done). I do not use this distro myself, but it is popular, and this page shows that this particular Chromebook is 'compatible' with it:

Hardware Compatibility - GalliumOS Wiki

This Chromebook is an Acer Chromebook 11 (model CB3-131-C5RA), which is one of the 'Bay Trail' Intel CPU line. As an example of another popular Chromebook, the Acer R11, which has a 'Braswell' CPU, and for this model is NOT completely compatible with running Linux 'dual boot'.
darethehair wrote:
Dec 23rd, 2017 10:38 am
OK, you asked for it! ;)

Dare's Chromeos Page

This is probably going to be big 'overkill' for you, but I created it so that I would be able to reproduce my success in the future. One step at-a-time. Go slow. Ask questions.

If you want 'easy success', my advise would be to pick one of the popular 'crouton' options. The next easiest would probably be 'Gallium' (never tried it myself) with 'dual-boot', but for that you need the firmware fixes, USB booting/installing, etc.. Let us know how it goes!

For myself, I wanted Mint Linux (for dual-boot), since that is what I use everywhere else, and it works great and looks nice. For the 'crouton' option, there is no such choice -- so I had to make it more difficult for myself by using 'Debian' + 'Cinnamon Desktop' -- which is a pretty good approximation of the look&feel of Linux Mint.

My thoughts on using 'chrx' to partition the internal SSD/eMMC drive to make room for Linux: That used to be my primary method, and it worked OK (especially when I replaced the internal SSD with a larger version), but one day my dual-booting got messed up, and I had to *recover* my Chromebook (a bit drastic but easy) -- and I lost my Linux partition entirely by doing so. From then on, I took the safer/easier approach and installed Linux onto a Sandisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 drive (small form factor) -- not quite as fast as SSD, but fast enough on the Chromebook USB 3.0 port.
darethehair wrote:
Dec 23rd, 2017 10:20 pm
Some brief answers, for now:

1. On my Chromebook(s), I use 64gb and 128gb Sandisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 sticks for dual-booting. Due to a very strange bug/behavior in the 32gb version, it *cannot* properly boot any OS (at least not the generation that I tried). Advice: buy some during the next sale on Amazon.ca (Boxing Day?). On my Chromebox, I dual-boot Linux on a portable *external* USB 3.0 drive (whatever size, like 1TB or 2TB).

2. Remember, it is 'crouton' *or* 'dual-boot'. With crouton installed on a Chromebook, you start a Linux session *within* the running Chrome OS itself, from a shell/terminal tab session. With dual-boot, you have either have Linux installed on an internal or external drive, are reboot *into* your Linux-of-choice that way -- Chrome OS/crouton has nothing to do with it.

3. If you use the 'dual-boot' approach, any Linux distro that you installed on the USB drive is the one you can use -- in fact (as with regular Linux machines) -- you can have multiple Linux distros on one hard drive, and pick whichever you want at that moment. Is this what you meant?

4. Yes, my impression is that SD cards are (much?) slower that USB drives, but (of course) if you use a slow cheap USB 2.0 drive, it might actually be slower than a fast SD card. From my experiments on running 'crouton' from an SD card, I wasn't very happy with *reliability* of SD for doing that.

5. Yes, for some types of firmware changes required, you might need to remove the 'write protect screw' inside the Chromebook. On my website, I show where it is for the Acer model that I have. If you run the 'Mr Chromebox' firmware script, it should tell you if you need to do that for what you want to do. For example, one of the changes that I like to make is to remove the annoying window that shows up when 'developer mode' is activated (for doing all of this crouton/dual-boot stuff) -- and replace it with a dark screen that avoids the risk of someone hitting the 'space' bar and turning off developer mode -- which would erase all my hard work! For simply allowing dual-boot from USB port, I don't think I needed to remove the 'write protect screw' on my Acer. For the 'crouton' method, you do not need to mess around with it either.

NOTE: In a previous thread you mentioned the desire to *replace* Chrome OS with Linux. You can do that if you want, but I prefer the 'best of both worlds' approach where I can either pick Chrome OS *or* Linux.
darethehair wrote:
Dec 24th, 2017 1:29 pm
Well, if your ultimate goal is to *replace* Chrome OS, then I guess there is not much benefit to the 'crouton' approach. Suggestion: when you try the 'dual-boot' method, make sure that your USB device can successfully be used to boot your Linux on a different machine -- so that you can be confident that your media actually works (and not blame the Chromebook for any difficulty that may arise).

P.S. My entire web server is currently running a text-only 'crouton' environment inside a used eBay Dell Chromebook 11 laptop. I got it cheap since the screen wasn't working, but during my initial efforts to remove the screen entirely, I got it working again my re-seating the monitor connector cable. Linux is *so* cool!
[OP]
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May 2, 2010
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Markham
What to consider when buying a Chromebook for Linux?
https://www.howtogeek.com/185039/4-thin ... for-linux/

1. Intel cpu vs ARM cpu.
2. 16GB vs 32GB storage space
3. Switching OS without rebooting vs dual-booting one OS at a time (OS = Linux or ChromeOS)
4. Some software run on Linux alone or ChromeOS alone or both.
Member
Jun 10, 2006
324 posts
45 upvotes
Good post for those interested in the topic! :)

So are you dual-booting, or did you wipe ChromeOS?

Small correction: The web-based version of Skype works well in the Chrome browser of ChromeOS. Before that, there was a convoluted way to use the Android APK for Skype within ChromeOS, and now (I have not tried it yet) there is the actual Android version of Skype for those Chromebooks that already have Android app support. My Acer C740 Chromebook just got Android support the other day -- I have been waiting over a year for it to arrive.

My latest adventure: bought a used Acer R11 touch-screen convertable Chromebook off eBay with a bad battery. Of course one of the first things I set out to do was to run my favorite Linux distro on it (with dual-boot) after doing all the firmware/write-protect-screw stuff. Except for sound (which I knew is not yet working), it works fine -- though I had to install a bleeding-edge kernel in order for the touch-screen to work. Also ordered and installed a replacement battery. For sound, if I want to, a bluetooth speaker works fine.
[OP]
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darethehair wrote:
Jan 9th, 2018 8:28 am
Good post for those interested in the topic! :)

So are you dual-booting, or did you wipe ChromeOS?
I have used a Sandisk Ultra Fit USB 3.0 64GB drive to boot up GalliumOS. Everything does work OK on the Acer CB3-131-CR5A except that GalliumOS on a USB3.0 drive runs a bit slow and thus not to my liking. I already tried 2 other distros - Xubuntu and Lubuntu - and both had problem with no audio output when watching Youtube videos. I thus decided to adopt GalliumOS for my permanent use wasting no time to troubleshoot the problem.

I have now wiped out ChromeOS from the stock 16GB eMMC drive which is reserved for the sole use of GalliumOS. The running speed is now very acceptable to me.

Note: the Sandisk Ultra Fit USB3.0 drive boots up the Acer CB3-131 without any problem. In contrast, my other no brand cheapo USB drive cannot boot it up. Thank you for sharing your use of the Sandisk Ultra Fit USB3.0 drive in your previous post.

One question: After wiping out ChromeOS, I then realized that I should have taken a backup of the stock ChromeOS image on a USB drive before wiping it out. Is there a mean to get hold of the stock ChromeOS image? I do not think I can switch back to ChromeOS Developer Mode any more as there is no ChromeOS.

Not a dire situation right now. I only need ChromeOS when I send the Chromebook back to Acer for warranty. Hopefully, there is no need to do warranty servicing of my Chromebook in the next 12 months.
[OP]
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drdtyc wrote:
Jan 9th, 2018 9:34 am
One question: After wiping out ChromeOS, I then realized that I should have taken a backup of the stock ChromeOS image on a USB drive before wiping it out. Is there a mean to get hold of the stock ChromeOS image? I do not think I can switch back to ChromeOS Developer Mode any more as there is no ChromeOS.
To answer my own question, I have found a guide of how to download the stock ChromeOS image for any Chromebook which is running Linux and with no ChromeOS on the main drive.
http://www.fascinatingcaptain.com/blog/ ... chrome-os/


Very easy to make a recovery USB drive of the ChromeOS image for my ChromeBook.
Thanks to the author of that guide.
Last edited by drdtyc on Jan 9th, 2018 12:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Member
Dec 7, 2015
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Ottawa, ON
Thanks for this info. Even though I can't use it right now, I can keep it available for the future.
Member
Jun 10, 2006
324 posts
45 upvotes
drdtyc wrote:
Jan 9th, 2018 12:18 pm
To answer my own question, I have found a guide of how to download the stock ChromeOS image for any Chromebook which is running Linux and with no ChromeOS on the main drive.
http://www.fascinatingcaptain.com/blog/ ... chrome-os/

Very easy to make a recovery USB drive of the ChromeOS image for my ChromeBook.
Thanks to the author of that guide.
Yep, that page looks correct. I have had to 'recover' a Chromebook a few times in the past -- including corruption (!) but also when installing a new SSD drive (the C720 had a replaceable drive). It was because of the occasional need to do this that I realized the risk of creating and using a Linux partition along side ChromeOS on the internal drive -- that if I ever did need to 'recover', I would lose my Linux partition (and hard work) entirely -- unless I made a Linux partition backup ahead of time. That is why I like an *external* USB drive for my Linux world :)
[OP]
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Markham
GalliumOS is indeed a very good distro for Chromebooks as the OS is specially tailored to suit Chromebook hardware. It save me heaps of time to trouble shoot problems.

Firstly, audio output works right out of the box after installing GalliumOS. No tweaking of any sort is needed. I tried Xubuntu Live and Lubuntu Live booting up from a USB drive - both distros had problem with no audio output when streaming YouTube videos.

Secondly, the non-PC-conventional keyboard of the Chromebook is also managed well using GalliumOS. I click the Start Button (with GalliumOS icon) on the bottom left of the desktop. Select [Settings] and then [Setting Manager]. The window below comes up.
Screenshot_2018-01-10_09-16-24.png

Select the [Keyboard] icon and a second window comes up.
Screenshot_2018-01-10_09-17-19.png

Click the [Layout] tab. Choose [Chromebook (most models) l Right alt Overlay l F keys mapped to media buttons] as the keyboard model.


Now the screen brightness up and screen brightness down keys and the volume mute, volume up and volume down keys on the top row of the keyboard are fully working as what any user would expect them to do.

The Alt key (to the right of the space bar) is an additional overlay key in the keyboard model I have chosen. This provides the following key mapping effects:
1. Pressing the right side Alt key and the Backspace key simultaneously gives you the effect of the Delete key - which is missing in the Chromebook keyboard.
2. Pressing the both Alt keys (to the left and right of the space bar) and the right side Shift key simultaneously gives you the effect of the Capital Lock key - also missing in the Chromebook keyboard.

Further key mappings are as shown in the table below - noting the Overlay key in the table = right side Alt key :
Screenshot_2018-01-10_11-14-14.png
[OP]
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I have got an extra 100GB of storage in Google Drive free of charge for 2 years after buying my Chromebook and claimed such a bonus from Google online using the serial number of the machine.

After some googling, I have found a way to auto-sync Google Drive in the cloud with a local folder on my Chromebook inside Thunar, the default file manager of GalliumOS. I am able to make changes locally, and those are reflected in the cloud – vice-versa is also true.
Screenshot_2018-01-11_10-18-14.png

My local folder is ~/gdrive_local

After every reboot, all you need to do is to open the Terminal Emulator and input the following command:
google-drive-ocamlfuse ~/gdrive_local
The second parameter is the local folder name.
The command can also be put into a script file and be auto-executed after each reboot.

See the step by step guide below.
https://www.maketecheasier.com/mount-go ... ve-ubuntu/
Last edited by drdtyc on Jan 11th, 2018 10:05 am, edited 2 times in total.
[OP]
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What To Do after installing Gallium OS: A noobie's Guide for other chromebook noobies

https://www.reddit.com/r/GalliumOS/comm ... a_noobies/

These are useful tips.
Choose whatever features you like to install.
Watch out for the storage space available on your Chromebook.
Install only those that you need so as to preserve the scarce storage space on your Chromebook.
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This thread is a great resource. I used to use Crouton to run Ubuntu on my Acer C720. It worked well but other users kept writing over the boot info that permits access to the Crouton install.

Is it possible to configure a Chromebook to boot into something like Gallium OS from a USB stick, without making modifications to the Chromebook hardware? I now have an Acer R11.
[OP]
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JHW wrote:
Jan 11th, 2018 10:46 am
This thread is a great resource. I used to use Crouton to run Ubuntu on my Acer C720. It worked well but other users kept writing over the boot info that permits access to the Crouton install.

Is it possible to configure a Chromebook to boot into something like Gallium OS from a USB stick, without making modifications to the Chromebook hardware? I now have an Acer R11.
You can boot into GalliumOS on a USB stick, provided your Chromebook allows booting from a USB stick.
For my Chromebook, I need to flash firmware to overcome the crippled stock firmware which prevents booting from a USB stick. This in turn requires removing a screw from the motherboard of my Chromebook so that the revised firmware can be written to the protected portion of the system memory.

Your Chromebook may have different requirements in order to boot from a USB drive. Mostly flashing of firmware is needed. May or may not need to remove a screw or jumper on the motherboard.

Look up GalliumOS wiki for the details specific to your Chromebook.
https://wiki.galliumos.org/Installing/Preparing

Once GalliumOS from a USB stick is able to boot up on your Chromebook, you may just run it from the USB drive without installing it on the main drive of your Chromebook.

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