Free 500 USD laptop proposal

Paul Hänsch paul at
Tue Dec 23 23:34:11 UTC 2014

Hey Paul (hey everyone),

some more info regarding the Chromebooks. I just catched up with the 
discussion and learned, that it might be of special interest for you 
(regarding selling Debian notebooks, etc ;-).

Paul van der Vlis <paul at>, Mon 2014-11-24 00:42:
> A SSD has it's own processor and firmware, and that's always non-free
> so far I know.

OK, I'm still assuming there is more chips in a modern computer which 
contain bits of non-free firmware. In case of the wireless chip it 
usually shows because the code is so big/complex/dynamic/idontknow, that 
the OS is expected to provide it. For the rest of the chipset I wouldn't 
put the hard disk at a special place. Obviously non-Free firmware is 
always bad, even when it doesn't affect your Free OS, I was just 
confused that this was pointed out for the SSD but for no other 
The article you linked to is pretty l33t ("installing Linux on my hard 
drive" made my day), though I still don't put the mass storage at a 
special place.

> Interesting, so the Acer Chromebook C720. Do you have an exact
> type-number of what you use?

There is what seems to be a sub model number on the package: 
I don't think that's important though.

> There is a version with touchscreen too,
> do you know more about it?

My previous two laptops were convertibles and I noticed that I don't 
have much use for a touch screen, even though I like working with 
external graphic tablets. The touch screen version comes with almost no 
increase in price (maybe +10€) but it has one hour less battery run 
time, so I wasn't interested in it. The touch screen variant is *not* a 
convertible, the screen still has to stay in an upright position.
> Do you know more of such Chromebook
> devices what work fine with free distro's?

Well, the ASUS chromebook looked very promising too, so my girlfriend 
got one of those. However she returned it a day later, as to her 
disappointment, the Coreboot didn't provide a SeaBIOS (the extension for 
enabling the legacy IBM boot) and thus installation of a common Linux-
Distribution would have been tricky if at all possible.

Aparently I got especially lucky with the C720. Though the entire 
Chromebook brand is promising.

It is possible to build your own versions of Coreboot and replace the 
ROMs on existing Chromebooks. John Lewis [1] provides prebuild ROMs and 
flashing scripts which have the reputation of beeing very safe. There is 
currently no ROM for the ASUS Chromebook. I got another Acer C720 for 
one of my clients and learned the hard way, that with the stock ROM it 
is much too easy to accidentally reenable the OS verification when 
booting. Enabling OS verification with a Not-ChromeOS installed 
immediately renders the device unbootable until you insert a ChromeOS 
recovery medium, which will erase the hard disk in order to restore 
ChromeOS. After that, you can start over again.

For this reason I recommend you flash the ROM of all Chromebooks before 
selling them with Debian. I'm going to do that as soon as I have an 
adapter to read the mSATA SSDs in case of emergencies. I'll probably 
hold one in my hands by the beginning of the year, and I'm going to keep 
you posted.

> The Chromebook C720 is supported from Linux 3.17, but many people will
> use an older kernel.

This is much less of a problem than it first seems. The only device 
which is not supported with kernels prior to 3.17 is the tuchpad. 
Everything else works (I choose to not use the proprietary firmware 
image required for running the bluetooth adapter).
There are Free kernel patches to make the touchpad work with older 
kernel versions as well, but I've decided to apt-pin a 3.17 kernel from 
Debian Experimental instead (my client is still using an external mouse, 
but I'm going to install the newer kernel there as well).

I copied a couple of rc.local hacks from the web blog of another Fellow 
[2] to make suspend work (didn't check if that's still needed in 3.17, I 
actually use *only* the lines for rc.local). I haven't modified any 
settings for the touchpad.

> And you get problems when the accu is really
> empty because you cannot boot anymore:
> erhaft-aktivieren/

I let my C720 die in suspend one time and didn't experience this. The 
fix described in this article might be a good alternative to flashing 
the ROM. I'd recommend one of the two anyways.

The best thing about the Chromebooks: no matter what hacks you require 
to operate a GNU/Linux-Distribution on the devices, it seems there is no 
way at all of running Windows on the things! Yeah, how does *that* feel 
for a change? *gg


Paul Hänsch                     █▉            Webmaster, System-Hacker
Jabber: paul at    ▉▉     Free Software Foundation Europe

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