ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

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ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Wed Jun 04, 2014 7:20 pm

Just thought I'd share my experiences of running 14.04 on my shiny new chromebook. I got this thing to replace my old Lenovo s205 which got a bit wet and hasn't dried out satisfactorily. Anyway since I was going to void the warranty by opening it up to fit a 128GB ssd I got one of the many nearly new 720s from ebay and a new ssd from amazon, total cost £220. For that fairly small amount of money I've got something that looks and behaves like an expensive ultrabook (if you squint a bit). The 1.4 celeron is an amazing little chip, subjectively it feels much quicker than the E450 in my lenovo, TBH it just clicking around the desktop and browsing the net feels as fast as my (old) i7 desktop though this is probably because the desktop doesn't have an ssd.

I'm not going to go into all the gory details, there are many howtos already out there. You can either install into a chroot inside chromeos (thought about this but figured there would be more breakage in the future going this way), dual boot (what I actually did), reflash the bios to completely remove chromeos (chance of bricking the laptop + power management is meant to be quite broken on the current version).

Here's very roughly what's involved...

Make a backup of chromeos.

Take the bottom off the laptop and swap out the ssd. (I found pushing in the base in towards the centre helped get it off without damaging any clips)
NB make sure you look very closely which way up the new ssd goes in, DON'T GO BY WHICH SIDE THE LABEL IS ON AS ONE HOWTO SUGGESTS! Look at the contacts on the connector, there should be 4 on the left hand side notch. It is possible to put it in upside down so be careful. I brought the exact same MyDigital ssd suggested by one howto and the label was on the opposite side from the one they had.

While the bottom is off, move the bios write protect screw over to the power enable screw (this lets you to make some changes to the bios and allows you to power it up without putting the bottom back on, be careful there isn't anything metallic on your desk! you can always put the bottom back on if you're a chicken)

Power the laptop back up and reinstall chromeos from the backup made earlier.

Put chromeos into developer mode.

Download and run the chrubuntu script to first automatically repartition the ssd and then install ubuntu (I understand you can change distro etc but I left it on the default ubuntu 14.04 64bit).

Once you're happy ubuntu is running OK it's time to make some bios changes so boot up is a little easier. By default you get a scary screen where you're steered towards putting the chromebook back into normal mode (which will wipe your install so you don't want to do it accidentally), you'd nornally press ctrl+d for chromeos or ctrl+l for linux. You can change this so developer mode can't be turned off and linux autoboots in 1 second. From the terminal in chromeos, switch to root and run set_gbb_flags.sh 0x489 then shutdown. (you can go back to the defaults by running set_gbb_flags.sh 0x0 but remember you need to remove that write protect screw before running this script)

Once shut down, move the bios write protect screw back into place, then reassemble and it's finished.

So what's bad:
Long boot time, (probably 30-40 seconds which is pretty bad)
Internal mic doesn't seem to work UPDATED FIX BELOW
Touchpad is a bit flaky (it's a clickpad and it doesn't deactivate the touch part so the curser tends to move around as you click other than this it's perfect)
Suspend seems to be broken.
No delete key (only backspace)
No caps lock (by default it maps to the super key SO IT'S REALLY HARD TO SHOUT ON THE INTERNET, maybe this is a good thing)
No function keys (like brightness, volume etc. It can be fixed but I'm not going to bother)
The keyboard doesn't have much travel in the keys, but maybe that's to be expected on a thin laptop like this.
I had to buy a usb3 gigabit lan adaptor as I sometimes need a cabled network connection.
When chromeos is in developer mode you can't use netflix not really that big of a deal any more since you can do netflix under linux now.

What's good:
Speed, besides the slow boot it's amazing :o
Battery life, I've actually had over 7 hours use out of a charge
Bluetooth and wifi work perfectly
webcam works
Price (there isn't anything even close to this thing)
Size and weight.
Plays the few simple games I've thrown at it on steam (Little street racers and world of goo, nothing heavy)


So if you're prepared to put up with the assorted annoyances it's a really, really nice little almost-ultrabook for peanuts.

I just wish someone like System76 would sell this as a proper product with all the rough edges smoothed off, even at double the cost of the chromebook version I'd still buy it.
Last edited by cheesyking on Tue Dec 23, 2014 6:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Thu Jun 05, 2014 12:41 pm

What SSD did you get?
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Thu Jun 05, 2014 1:17 pm

Glorious wrote:What SSD did you get?

This one:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/128GB-MyDigital ... AA7ADDQM3M

In theory any NGFF (M.2) drive should work but apparently there's the potential for for problems with power management with some models.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Thu Jun 05, 2014 1:38 pm

Yeah, I was wondering. I have a C720 with ubuntu 14.04 on it too, I just didn't replace the SSD. Previously I was using an atom-based netbook with a 16GB SSD so I didn't really miss the space...

But now your post made me wonder if I should ;)

I also haven't had the courage to disassemble it and play with the write-protect screw. I just very carefully press ctrl-l on boot and very rarely do I ever turn it off. At some point I probably should make the seabios permanent, and putting a larger SSD in it might be enough incentive...

What howtos have you read? There are indeed a bunch out there, but as you've noticed sometimes the signal-to-noise isn't so good. Can you link to any that you find reliable?

Also, with pipelight you can indeed watch netflix on it. I've done it. :)

Anyway, I'm glad you made this post. I agree 100%. It's utterly incredible for the price and it blows my old netbook out of the water in every way, including power consumption. It's just slightly bigger, but it weighs less to compensate. I'm a huge fan. I wanted something to fill the now-missing niche of ultra-low cost netbooks, and this fit the bill almost perfectly.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Thu Jun 05, 2014 2:18 pm

I must admit I was quite nervous about mucking around with that write protect screw but it really isn't that hard and I suspect the risks are actually quite low.
This page has handy info on making bios changes:
http://johnlewis.ie/how-to-make-seabios-the-default-on-your-acer-c720/

This page shows where the write protect screw etc can be located:
http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-information-for-chrome-os-devices/acer-c720-chromebook

This pages describes opening it up:
http://www.androidcentral.com/how-upgra ... chromebook
however it's also the page with the duff advice about being able to go by which side of the ssd the label is on. Also I don't think his technique for prising the bottom off is very good. You don't need to jam anything in there, just gently push the base in and up and it pops off (well mine did anyway and I didn't break any of the clips).
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Tue Dec 23, 2014 5:49 pm

Internal mic not working?

I pinched this from reddit:
http://www.reddit.com/r/chrubuntu/comments/2gegpp/acer_c720_mic_fix_for_ubuntu_1404/

Create the file: /etc/modprobe.d/snd-hda-intel.conf
containing:
options snd-hda-intel model=,alc283-chrome
or if you've updated to kernel 3.17 and up:
alc283-chrome with alc283-dac-wcaps

One reason for mentioning kernel 3.17 is that that apparently it has various fixes for the crappy touchpad. Haven't tried it myself yet, I usually can't be arsed to upgrade kernels between distro updates :oops:
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Mon Jan 05, 2015 9:02 am

Well, I guess I should post an update as well.

I upgraded the internal SSD as cheesyking recommended, and now it's got a 128GB one and it's really nice. I don't have to worry about space like I used to.

I also changed the firmware to John Lewis's modified coreboot one, available at http://johnlewis.ie/ This of course requires the procedure as described by cheesyking below where you remove the write-protect screw. Anyway, Lewis's firmware removes all the chromeOS stuff and basically changes it into a regular old laptop. It makes the boot times very fast again, I'm at LXDE within like 10 seconds.

I'm not sure if suspend or the internal mic work, as I've never used those. As Cheesyking notes, there are fixes for both.

With the 3.17+ kernels, the touchpad driver is built-in. There is only one remaining gotcha: there is an annoying a gpu hang bug with the i915 driver. Thankfully, there are patches now and even before that there were viable workarounds, but it's the *only* remaining complaint that I have.

https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=83677

Currently I'm running a 3.17 kernel on lubuntu 14.04 32-bit, with a bunch of grub kernel cmdline options as described by John Lewis's blog entry: https://johnlewis.ie/tentative-fixwork- ... gpu-hangs/

Those patches are already in the 3.19 RCs, so once the 3.19 kernel is finished I'll switch over to it and be EXTREMELY satisfied with this amazing little laptop I got for $200 + $60 (SSD) dollars.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Fri Jan 30, 2015 7:27 pm

To continue this discussion from my thread in the laptop section:

Is it possible to put a a 64GB SD card in the card reader and have all my Plex video files there? Would be cheaper for me than sourcing an M2 drive as they are currently all >$120 here locally. I wonder if transfer rate would be an issue with streaming HD?

I'll have to read up on all the different Ubuntu install methods available (Crouton, full rewrite as per this thread etc...).
Acer AO521, Asus EEE2G, and an e6300 (EP45-DS3L, 4GB Corsair, 320GB 7200.10, EVGA GT250, Corsair VX450W and Samsung 2043BW)
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Fri Jan 30, 2015 7:41 pm

I've had a 32GB SD card in there that was streaming multiple files over plex without issue (running as an AP in vehicle to several users simultaneously watching different content on various devices). So that should be fine. It's obviously not going to be any transcoding powerhouse though, so keep that in mind.

I'd assume that a 64GB SD card would work. But, you should know that the SD slot is *NOT* a flush-fit. That is, about half or so of the card sticks out when it is inserted. It's annoying, so I'm just putting that out there.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Fri Feb 27, 2015 5:08 pm

Does the Mate desktop work with that install?
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Tue Mar 03, 2015 6:55 pm

Hinton wrote:Does the Mate desktop work with that install?


I haven't tried it but I don't see why not. I'm running stock ubuntu with unity which is much heavier than mate.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Tue Mar 03, 2015 7:01 pm

Glorious wrote:Anyway, Lewis's firmware removes all the chromeOS stuff and basically changes it into a regular old laptop. It makes the boot times very fast again, I'm at LXDE within like 10 seconds.

I've been meaning to ask but how is the power management since you flashed the firmware? The last time I looked (which was a long time ago now) I saw something about it reducing battery life quite a bit.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Mon Mar 09, 2015 8:59 am

Anecdotally, it doesn't seem as good. That's about as far as I can go though, I really don't even pay that much attention to that stuff.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:19 am

Glorious wrote:Anecdotally, it doesn't seem as good. That's about as far as I can go though, I really don't even pay that much attention to that stuff.

Thanks for the info.

I think I'll be leaving the standard firmware in place. I could probably live without chromeos (even though is somewhat handy of have access to every now and again) but battery life is the main reason I got a chromebook over other hardware at the same sort of price :cry:
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Mon Mar 09, 2015 10:30 am

Yeah.

I understand entirely, if my use case was such that extended battery line was of extreme importance I might reconsider it too. But it isn't, and that's why I can't really quantify the difference in the first place.

Really, though, the only major difference is probably the boot time. Once you've set the flags so that you can't inadvertently revert out of developer mode (thereby trashing your linux install), the longer boot isn't even a big deal.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Thu May 07, 2015 9:09 am

Inspired by Matthew Garrett's recent patches to the linux kernel, I think we now know the reason for the dismal battery performance between ChromeOS and Linux: SATA power management. If it is in full power mode(which it is by default), you will never go into package's PC7 state, which is a lower power-saving state.

This difference is substantial.

You can use the patches or you can install Intel's powertop (available in the repos) and turn SATA low power link management. You can also enable a lot of other powersavings options there, though depending on your configuration you might have most of the other ones enabled already. It's the PC7-SATA link that provides the big savings.

If I turn them all on my idle power usage is literally 50% less.

This is almost assuredly the different between chromeOS and linux: Google has all of this enabled by default and linux doesn't.
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Re: ubuntu 14.04 + Acer C720 Chromebook

Postposted on Sat May 09, 2015 9:35 am

Just enabled that with powertop and it seems to have made a difference.

I've also just noticed that enabling usb booting and legacy bios from inside chromeos has fixed my ridiculously slow boot times ( sudo crossystem dev_boot_usb=1 dev_boot_legacy=1 ). I'm not sure why I didn't turn them on before but I suppose you don't technically need them for a chrubuntu install.

Anyway I enabled them to test ubuntu 15.04 from a live usb stick and ran into a little problem that is apparently quite common on with ubuntu these days. I was getting an error about " Not enough memory to load specified image". I had to hit TAB and boot the installer with "live-install mem=1560M". I didn't spend long playing with 15.04 on it because the thing I was really interested in (having a working touchpad without messing around with patches) isn't there yet. On stock ubuntu the touchpad does indeed "work" out of the box in so far as I can move the cursor around the screen but it doesn't work to the point that it's usable (the built in synaptics touchpad driver has to be replaced)

This page:
https://blogs.fsfe.org/the_unconvention ... 20-ubuntu/
has a brilliant summary of pretty much all the fixes you possibly need (including getting the touchpad to work in 15.04).
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