Got a Screwdriver? GalliumOS Can Turn Chromebooks Into Linux Boxes

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Got a Screwdriver? GalliumOS Can Turn Chromebooks Into Linux Boxes

Got a Screwdriver? GalliumOS Can Turn Chromebooks Into Linux Boxes

GalliumOS is a Chromebook-specific Linux variant. It allows you to put a actual Linux distro on a Chromebook.

My latest review of a new Chromebook function — the flexibility to run Linux apps on some Chromebook fashions — sparked my curiosity in different applied sciences that run full Linux distros on some Chromebooks with out utilizing ChromeOS.

GalliumOS is just not a good answer. It requires making a bodily adjustment contained in the {hardware} and flashing new firmware earlier than the GalliumOS set up ISO will boot. However, it may be a helpful workaround in case your Chromebook doesn’t help Linux apps and/or Android apps.

If you observe instructions explicitly and may wield a screwdriver to take away the underside panel, GalliumOS is an ingenious Linux distro that may provide the better of two computing worlds. You can set up it as a totally practical alternative for the ChromeOS on a suitable Chromebook. You can set up it as a twin boot to provide you each ChromeOS and a full Linux distro on one light-weight moveable laptop.

After I efficiently flashed the replace firmware to the growing old Chromebook and succeeded in booting the reside session GalliumOS, I used to be inquisitive about how supportive the adjustments can be for different Linux distros. I attempted booting the Chromebook into two different Linux reside classes I beforehand examined for evaluations on USB drives.

The GalliumOS firmware alternative solely works with this distro. Both Puppy Linux and Quirky Linux did not boot with the Gallium OS firmware. It additionally doesn’t work on all Chromebooks. The GalliumOS builders hope to have variations for all {hardware} combos finally. Older know-how makes use of Crouton to put in different suitable Linux distros, resembling Ubuntu or Linux Mint or Arch Linux.

Checking Out GalliumOS

My splendid computing platform is in a state of transition this previous yr. I began to combine the Chromebook with its added flexibility from Android apps. Then I expanded that flexibility by including a few Linux apps to the combo on a Chromebook.

I began to benefit from the extraordinarily light-weight Chromebook {hardware} with its superpowers from Android and Linux apps working on the ChromeOS. I discovered myself spending extra time working exterior of my workplace and its giant screens with full-blown Linux working programs. The Chromebook’s smaller and lighter footprint provided a good change of tempo from engaged on bulkier laptops working full Linux configurations.

I efficiently repurposed an older Chromebook to remodel it into a totally practical Linux machine working GalliumOS. Now I’ve to rethink my requirements for what contains my splendid computing platform.


GalliumOS Xfce desktop

GalliumOS runs the Xfce desktop as a substitute of ChromeOS to place a trendy spin on a conventional Linux platform.

What It Offers

GalliumOS relies on Xubuntu. GalliumOS contains optimizations and lots of fixes for the ChromeOS-based {hardware}. This retooling significantly reduces system stalls and improves general responsiveness.

It runs the Xfce desktop. This is the default desktop for Xubuntu, and it’s a good selection for the light-weight {hardware} specs of most Chromebooks. The OS carried out quick, each within the reside session delivered from the USB drive and later as totally put in.

GalliumOS has a noticeably quicker bootup. It boots quicker than different Linux distros, virtually matching the practically instant-on efficiency of ChromeOS on Chromebooks. Much of that pace outcomes from fewer companies, a smaller kernel, and the Lightweight Display Manager (LXDM).

The Xfce desktop GalliumOS runs is filled with options and configuration choices. You can use the default settings for a pleasing, environment friendly, out-of-the-box expertise or create a extra personalised desktop look.

What It Is

GalliumOS 2.1 was launched early final yr, which makes the distro a bit overdue for a main launch improve. However, it really works moderately effectively and does get common bundle and system updates.

The newest alpha model of GalliumOS Three is model 3.0alpha1 launched this summer time. Since I’m experimenting with this course of, I examined the older secure model. This ranges the sector by utilizing a recognized dependable ISO with fixes and updates already in place.

You can obtain GalliumOS 2.1 set up photographs here. The make and mannequin of your Chromebook, together with its processor title, will decide which ISO to get. You can discover that info from producers’ web sites, the Chromebook’s documentation, or from the GalliumOS {hardware} compatibility chart referenced on this assessment.

You can preview GalliumOS in a “live boot” surroundings from the identical picture with out totally putting in it. However, attending to the reside session is just not so simple as burning an ISO to a USB drive and rebooting the Chromebook.

Challenging Process

This distro requires appreciable preparation to the Chromebook earlier than you’ll be able to run the reside session or set up it. Of course, you’ll be able to reverse the adjustments and restore the ChromeOS in case you dislike GalliumOS.

However, be forewarned. Getting to the reside session stage takes some work. Undoing that work is a bit quicker, since you are already acquainted with the method.

The further effort in transitioning the Chromebook into a Linux field could be well worth the effort. The course of is a bit daunting when you have by no means toyed with the innards of a laptop. That stated, the quite a few hours I spent researching the steps and making an attempt trial-and-error conversations paid off.

Before beginning this course of, save any regionally saved paperwork, audio and video recordsdata. Along the way in which, your Chromebook will reset and take away these recordsdata. Files already saved in your cloud account — Google Drive or Dropbox, as an example — is not going to be harmed.

One of probably the most essential steps within the course of is opening the Chromebook to disable write safety. You is perhaps fortunate and never must carry out this process in your Chromebook mannequin, however extra Chromebooks than not want this accomplished. Otherwise, the ISO is not going to load.

That is the primary a part of the conversion process. The second half is flashing firmware to allow the brand new OS to run in your Chromebook.

Know What You Have

Depending in your Chromebook, the BIOS is write-protected both by bodily or software program strategies. The common method controls write safety with a screw on the motherboard. Some fashions have conductive stickers. Just a few older fashions have a jumper. Another variable is their location and look. In all circumstances, you’ll be able to entry them solely by opening your gadget.

Check the {hardware} compatibility chart here. Write down three key objects from the chart: Model, Hardware ID and Processor. You will want them for getting the proper firmware alternative and write defend location.

Chromebooks with Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge or Bay Trail processors want the bodily write safety eliminated. To discover out what to do about eradicating write safety, do a Web search utilizing the mannequin or {hardware} ID. Use this search string. Do not embody citation marks or caret symbols.

chromebook disable write-protect”

In most circumstances, the process is similar to what I did with my Acer C720 Chromebook. Use a small Phillips head screwdriver.

  1. Remove the 12 or extra screws that rim the underside panel of your Chromebook.
  2. Carefully loosen the perimeters of the panel and pull it from the remainder of the chassis.
  3. Then observe the knowledge you discovered on eradicating the write safety bodily gadget.

Chromebook remove screw from the motherboard

Chromebooks with Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge and Bay Trail processors require elimination of the bodily write safety. On some items, you try this by eradicating a screw from the motherboard.

Making a Bootable USB Drive or SD Card

This course of is a bit completely different from utilizing normal Linux instruments to burn the set up to DVD from the downloaded ISO. Use one other laptop to arrange the USB drive or SD card. Download Etcher here. You can maintain the Etcher file in your Download folder together with the proper ISO file you downloaded from the GalliumOS Website.

It is a three-step course of. Etcher has a easy consumer interface. Some USB drives are finicky with regards to creating a bootable partition, so have a number of completely different producers’ drives available. I went by two USB drives earlier than it labored.

Click on the Etcher utility to start out the method. When Etcher hundreds, click on the primary button labeled “Select Image.” Point the file picker to the GalliumOS ISO file.

Then click on on the second button, “Select Drive,” to click on on the placement of the USB drive or SD card. Do not choose the incorrect gadget. The formatting course of will destroy all current knowledge on the chosen gadget.

Lastly, click on the button marked “Flash.” After a couple of minutes, the file burning course of will full. You at the moment are able to proceed with the software program infusion onto your Chromebook.

Moving to Developer Mode

In order to let the Chromebook boot from the reside session USB drive or SD card, it’s essential to boot it into Recovery Mode to change over to Developer Mode. First, with the Chromebook turned off, plug in your bootable USB drive or SD card with the GalliumOS put in. To activate the Chromebook, press Esc + F3 (refresh) + Power.

Some Chromebook fashions lack perform keys. Look for the refresh image on a key on the highest keyboard row. It exhibits a round arrow.

The display screen now shows the Recovery Mode boot warning that “ChromeOS is damaged or missing.” Do not panic. It is neither lacking nor broken.

Switch the Chromebook into Developer Mode and allow legacy boot mode. This is completely different from switching to the Developer Channel from inside a working ChomeOS session. Enabling Developer Mode will erase all consumer knowledge in ChromeOS.

Press [Ctrl+D] to allow Developer Mode. Then observe affirmation steps by urgent enter when requested.

This will take a whereas. When the method is accomplished, the Chromebook will beep twice and show a new white display screen. Click the blue “Let’s go” button to proceed.

The Chromebook will reboot to a white display screen that claims “OS verification is OFF.” This is Developer Mode.


Developer Mode on the Chromebook

This display screen show confirms a profitable swap to Developer Mode on the Chromebook.

Ready to Go

Well, possibly. If your Chromebook’s firmware already helps booting from USB or SD gadgets, you now are able to run GalliumOS in reside session.

With the Developer Mode display screen seen, press the CTRL + L keys to reboot the Chromebook from the exterior gadget. Each time you exit GalliumOS or energy off the Chromebook, once you restart the pc it can boot into the Developer Mode display screen. Start GalliumOS once more by urgent CTRL + L.

Once you put in the Linux OS, the Chromebook will boot instantly into the GalliumOS.

Transplanting Firmware

If your Chromebook has one of many processors famous earlier, You have yet another main step to perform — flashing the firmware.

Now that you’re working Chromebook in Developer Mode, signal into WiFi and settle for the Google Chrome OS phrases. Or you’ll be able to check in as a visitor for the firmware replace.

Once you might be signed into ChromeOS, open a ChromeOS terminal or Crosh window by urgent CTRL+ Alt + T. At the immediate, enter the command “shell” and press the Enter key. (Do not use the apostrophe marks.)

At the [email protected] / $ immediate, enter this command line:

sudo crossystem dev_boot_legacy=1

Once once more, you will have the Hardware ID and CPU household from the chart beforehand talked about.

Use the Chromebook’s Web browser to return to the Hardware Compatibility Custom Firmware web page. Go to the column the place your Chromebook’s title and mannequin are listed.

Find the hyperlink supplied and click on it to start out the firmware obtain. This course of will take a number of minutes to finish

When the firmware obtain and set up are accomplished, reboot your Chromebook. At the BIOS display screen, press the Esc button after which choose the USB or SD gadget.

Your Chromebook will boot into reside session mode. When you put in GalliumOS and reboot the pc, it can boot into Linux routinely with no hint of the ChromeOS.


GalliumOS boot screen

Success: After modifying {hardware} and firmware, the Chromebook boots from USB or SD gadgets to run GalliumOS.

Keyboard Tinkering Needed

The fewer keys on the Chromebook keyboard is a matter. The Chromebook-specific mixture keys don’t work within the Linux distro. For occasion, there isn’t any caps key. There isn’t any delete key. There aren’t any capabilities keys. No num lock key or quantity pad.

Instead, you depend on workarounds designed into GalliumOS. The distro contains 5 keyboard layouts personalized for Chromebooks. Configure them from the GalliumOS/Whisker Menu, in Settings >> Keyboard >> Layout >> Keyboard Model.

You entry media and performance keys both with or with out urgent the chosen “Overlay” key first, relying in your selection of keyboard format. These layouts are saved in /usr/share/X11/xkb/symbols/chromebook.

To modify the performance of a key, change the suitable file. For occasion, to remap the ability key to Delete, add the next line within the acceptable file: key {[ Delete ] }; and set the ability button to “Do nothing” within the Power Manager menu.

Solid Impressions

GalliumOS performs very reliably. The extra I used my favourite Linux apps on the Acer C720 Chromebook, the extra happy I grew to become with this light-weight and really practical Linux mini laptop computer. The {hardware} configuration contains an Intel Celeron 2955U 1.four GHz (2 MB Cache) processor with 2 GB of DDR3L SDRAM. The unit has a 32-GB Solid-State Drive, a 12-Inch Screen and Intel HD Graphics.

GalliumOS with the Xfce desktop drives this {hardware} a lot better than did the ChromeOS. I used to be not happy with the sluggishness that resulted when too many Chrome browser tabs had been opened. The ChromeOS typically appeared to simply limp alongside. I detected a few of that very same sluggishness with quite a few tabs opened within the default Chromium browser.

The optimized Linux innards the GalliumOS builders designed to interchange ChromeOS significantly improved this Chromebook’s efficiency. The default Chromium browser was much less peppy. I solved that weak spot by working the Firefox browser as a substitute.

The Chromebook was giving me eight hours of battery life. The “revitalized” Linux Chromebook stays alive for practically 9 hours. That positive beats the battery energy of my latest laptops working different Linux distros.

The Synaptic Package Manager handles a regular stream of system updates and software program additions/removals. The default software program is often mild for Xfce. No workplace apps are put in. The Chromium Web browser is the one supplied browser. It is lighter than Google Chrome however nonetheless gives entry to Google’s software program infrastructure.

Bottom Line

The variety of purposes you construct into GalliumOS depends on the SSD or HD storage of the host Chromebook. In the case of the Acer C720’s 32-GB Solid State Drive, the default set up — together with a few giant added Linux purposes that embody LibreOffice 5, Firefox browser, GIMP and the Geany IDE textual content editor — left me with 7.6 GB of free house.

The C720’s {hardware} is growing old. I’ve no doubts that GalliumOS performs far more energetically on newer {hardware} configurations. Still, given the unique low value I paid for the Chromebook a bunch of years in the past, and the zero price of downloading the Linux OS and the firmware, I’ve no complaints.

Turning a Chromebook into a “Linuxbook” additionally eliminates one of many long-standing criticisms of nonbelievers. I by no means had a difficulty with not having an Internet connection to make use of the ChromeOS apps. That is a non-issue working Linux on the Chromebook.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software program utility or distro you’d prefer to recommend for assessment? Something you’re keen on or want to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I’ll contemplate them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Reader Comments function beneath to supply your enter!


Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His primary areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open supply applied sciences. He has written quite a few evaluations of Linux distros and different open supply software program. Email Jack.



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