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25 February 2013, 10:33

Booting desktop Linux on the Chromebook Pixel

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The Chromebook Pixel running Linux Mint
Zoom The Chromebook Pixel running Linux Mint
Source: Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson, a software engineer for Google, has detailed how to boot a conventional Linux distribution on the company's new Chromebook Pixel. Google released the Chromebook Pixel last week – the device costs £1,049, has a 13" touchscreen with a resolution of 2560×1700 pixels, a 1.8GHz Core i5 CPU, 4GB RAM and 32GB (64GB for the LTE version) of internal SSD storage. Where previous Chromebooks only supported booting Google's ChromeOS directly, the Pixel has an added option to support a third-party bootloader which enables it to be relatively easily modified to boot stock Linux desktop distributions.

Like previous Chromebooks, the Pixel is equipped with Google's own BIOS (based on the open source coreboot) that features three different components: a read-only recovery image which handles the boot-up sequence and two slots for ChromeOS images that have to be cryptographically signed by Google and are verified before boot. New on the Pixel is a fourth slot that can contain a third-party bootloader, in this case, Google has pre-installed the open source SeaBIOS. To boot a stock version of Linux Mint, Richardson put the device into developer mode and then installed a 64-bit image of Linux Mint to a USB stick or SD card. This can then be booted from the SeaBIOS boot drive selector. In his post, Richardson does not explain how to install the distribution to the internal SSD, but hints that it is possible.

However, installing a conventional Linux desktop distribution on the device comes with some downsides. The Chromebook has to remain in developer mode, which means users will see what Richardson calls "a scary boot screen" at every boot of the device; this remains on screen for 30 seconds or until the user presses Ctrl-D. It is also not possible to set the SeaBIOS loader as the default boot option, so users will have to manually select their boot choice each time they boot the device. According to Richardson, Wi-Fi connectivity on the device works, as does the keyboard. The trackpad is currently inoperable, but Benson Leung, another Google engineer, has submitted patches to the upstream Linux kernel developers that should enable the trackpad, touchscreen, light sensor and other hardware on the device.

In the comments to Richardson's original Google+ post, the developer explains the process he went through to install Linux Mint in detail. He also explains several aspects of the Chromebook Pixel's hardware and software components in response to questions in the thread. Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman, for example, expressed interest in replacing the SeaBIOS with a more modern UEFI solution, to which Richardson replied: "You have 2M to play with, so it might fit."


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