Free 500 USD laptop proposal

Paul van der Vlis paul at
Wed Dec 24 09:01:54 UTC 2014

Hey Paul (hey everyone),

Op 24-12-14 om 00:34 schreef Paul Hänsch:
> 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. 

This has a few reasons:

- It's cheaper to make such a device without a flashrom, and load the
firmware every time by the OS.
- It's possible, on some other devices like SSD's or DVD players it's
not possible if you also want to boot from it.
- It's more flexible: the manufacturer can change the firmware later and
repair bugs etc. A friend of me once told: "you can do everything in
hardware what you can do in software, it's only less flexible". Now this
disadvantage is gone.
- Maybe it's important for different markets, in some countries they use
different regulations. Not sure about this point.

> 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 
> components.

Not sure how many other parts are in a laptop these days, except from
the chipset. Will devices like a keyboard or a display have it's own
processor? Not sure.

> The article you linked to is pretty l33t ("installing Linux on my hard 
> drive" made my day), 

I don't understand you here.

> though I still don't put the mass storage at a special place.

Something like an 3G modem is very interesting too. Or AMT...

>> 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: 
> NX.SHEEG.001
> I don't think that's important though.

Many devices are changing every few weeks.

>> 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.

Thanks for your info.

>> 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.

Hmm. Maybe John does provide a coreboot ROM for the Acer C720.

> 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.

Thanks, I am interested ;-)

>> 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).

There is an unresolved lockup bug in kernel 3.17 and later. Not sure how
important that bug is.

> 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

Windows RT needs UEFI so far I know.

With regards,
Paul van der Vlis.

> [1]
> [2]

Paul van der Vlis Linux systeembeheer, Groningen

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