Those of you who know me personally will probably have heard me talk about how much I like Chromebooks. I like Chromebooks. Not because ChromeOS is amazing, or I love Google (they’re both OK.). Mostly because they are cheap, reasonable quality computers and absolutely because you can run Linux on them. My latest purchase is an Acer Chromebook 14 and here I’m going to describe how I installed Linux on it.
Here’s the outside – very shiny aluminium, I’ve yet to run it under the laser engraver. I’m still trying to decide what I should put on the lid.
As you can see it has a really nice, vibrant 1080p screen. This was one of the things which sold me on it. I should add that I bought the 4/32GB version with the HD screen. The 2/16GB version comes with a standard definition LCD so it’s definitely worth the upgrade.
To install Linux, first flip over your new computer and void it’s warranty by opening the back. There are 10 screws to remove and the cover will snap off. Note that not all screws are the same length, so be sure to take note for re-assembly.
With the back removed you’ll be greeted by the insides of the machine. We need to remove the write protect screws which prevent modifications to the BIOS.
Here is one of the screws, located next to the Wi-Fi module. I unscrewed it, covered the electrical contacts on the motherboard with some plastic (PVC or masking tape would probably be the best thing if you have some), and put the screw back in. Since this laptop has apparently two write protect screws it’s probably better to replace them for mechanical stability into the future.
And here is the other screw, the same procedure applies. It is located at the top of the motherboard next to the battery. When both screws are masked or removed, you can replace the back of the laptop (it will snap into place as you put the screws in) and boot the machine.
First boot into developer mode – press and hold the Esc and Refresh keys together, then press the Power button (while still holding the other two keys), then at the recovery screen —the screen with the yellow exclamation point—press Ctrl+D. Everything on the device will be wiped and you’ll have to re-login and re-configure the Wi-Fi. When this is done (it might take 2 reboots), head on over to MrChromebox for the bios modification script. I’ve used scripts from JohnLewis.ie in the past, which have been excellent – however the Acer Chromebook 14 (model CB3-431) is a Braswell based device and MrChromebox seems to have the better BIOS payload at the moment. When the device restarts (after you’ve configured Wi-Fi again) don’t login, but instead press CTRL+ALT + => to get into the CROSH shell. The username is chronos and there’s no default password set.
From here you can download the BIOS update and the script to upload it. I flashed a new SeaBIOS (RW_Legacy) and also changed the boot flags to shorten the developer screen to 1 second. After this I rebooted the machine and inserted a USB key with the latest Gallium OS image onboard. Specifically, I downloaded the nightly build targeted for Braswell (so it’s a bit bleeding edge) and then flashed it using Win32DiskImager as per these awesome instructions. When powering your Chromebook back up, make sure that the USB key is inserted and press ESC at the SeaBIOS screen to open the boot menu, from which you should choose USB. From this point Gallium OS installation was straightforward, completed by following the prompts on screen. Unless you perform some additional steps, this process will completely erase ChromeOS from the device and give you a formatted 32Gb eMMC drive with Linux with any free space left for your use. Unfortunately the eMMC (like the RAM) is non-upgradeable.
It’s worth noting that my first choice OS for this device was Ubuntu, however due to some graphics card driver issues, it doesn’t boot (yet). This is why I’ll be running Gallium OS at least until Ubuntu catches up. So far I’m very happy with the new OS, however it’s worth noting that there are still some open issues with Gallium OS on the Acer Chromebook 14, most significantly the soundcard doesn’t work (and in some cases has been melting). I anticipate these things will get fixed in time, however there’s no guarantee. I plan to acquire some bluetooth headphones which will make the sound issue irrelevant for most use cases.
I’m really grateful to Mr.Chromebox and John Lewis, and a bunch of Linux gurus way smarter than me for doing all this work to get Linux running stably on these nice, cheap laptops. I hope this little not very in depth guide has cast some light on the process of installing Linux on your Chromebook and in particular the new all aluminium Acer Chromebook 14. If you do try to install Linux, it’s entirely at your own risk (and you’ll invalidate your warranty in the process) – however, I would say it’s definitely well worth doing if you succeed. Best of luck!