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Spinning up aronian, the C720 x86 Chromebook
Tags: [debian] [chromebook] [x86]
Published: 09 May 2015 09:06

Using the Samsung ARM Chromebook as my daily driver since June 2014 has been great, but during the beginning of this month I started looking for something different. I had found myself recompiling the kernel too many times after forgetting something. The latest trouble was connecting to my new workplace’s VPN: xl2tpd + ipsec didn’t work, and neither did l2tp-ipsec-vpn-daemon (which autoconfigures xl2tpd + ipsec). Was it because I forgot a CONFIG option, or was I misconfiguring the two daemons? I didn’t know, and never figured it out, but I started to question using the ARM Chromebook with my own kernel as a daily driver if using it continued to be problematic.

Not only was kernel misconfiguration a concern, but there were parts that still didn’t work: the USB 3 port, the headphone / speakers, and HDMI output, to name a few. To get those to work would require hours of effort, effort that could be directed at other things - I didn’t want to spend the majority of my time on maintenance, I wanted to complete other projects.

So I started looking for a replacement laptop - x86, lightweight, good battery, etc (the ‘wants’ list hasn’t really changed).

I had heard that some x86 Chromebooks could have SeaBIOS flashed on them, and they would essentially be normal computers afterwards. John Lewis’ page on custom Chromebook ROMs has a list of Chromebooks that can be reflashed, and I chose the Acer C720. I chose it because it was inexpensive, had an upgradable SSD, and was x86. I chose the i3 edition because I wanted a more powerful daily driver, and had the idea in my head that a more capable instruction set would reduce battery usage (one instruction instead of many where applicable).

The process for converting the Acer C720 from a Chromebook to a normal x86-64 machine is detailed in a post on titled “Another new Free Software machine: the Acer C720 Chromebook running Ubuntu”. Switching to SeaBIOS involves removing the write-protect screw on the motherboard, and calling a few commands from the Crosh shell in ChromeOS. This was a very easy process, and I had Debian Jessie installing off of a USB stick in minutes.

Everything works out of the box. A simple rsync from tal to aronian transfered my working set of files, and tal has a new home now.

It was also my intention to follow the process detailed in another post on titled “Switching to true coreboot on the C720”, but this didn’t work - I had to install the i386 version of Debian because the x86-64 version wouldn’t install off of the USB, and the flashrom that John Lewis’ site has is an x86-64 executable. In the future, I will compile an i386 version of flashrom myself and flash this machine - I suspect (given no evidence or reason) that the old version of SeaBIOS on this machine isn’t properly initializing something related to the processor, and for that reason x86-64 doesn’t work.

nosuchuser@aronian:~$ uname -a
Linux aronian 3.16.0-4-686-pae #1 SMP Debian 3.16.7-ckt9-3~deb8u1 (2015-04-24) i686 GNU/Linux