Install Full Native Standalone Linux on an Intel / x86 Based Chromebook (ElementaryOS)

For users who want more than Chrome OS, there is the option to install Linux natively. This allows for a more complete OS that gets rid of most of the limitations of Chrome OS. This method removes Chrome OS from your Chromebook and turns it solely into a Linux machine.

 

Which Chromebooks are Compatible?

This will work on most Intel/x86-based Chromebooks. ARM devices are completely unsupported. I will be using a Broadwell based Intel i3 Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015 Edition).

As for the Operating System I will be installing Elementary OS purely out of personal preference, but you can install any popular Linux distribution and it will likely work fine.

I highly recommend Gallium OS for most users, as mostly everything will work out of the box and it is a Linux distribution optimized for Chromebooks. I suggest you check out this compatibility chart first.

Elementary OS is a fully featured nice looking Linux operating system. When paired with certain Chromebooks, you could say you have an alternative to a MacBook or a Linux Ultrabook.

Full Native Linux vs Other Methods

There are a lot of other ways to install Linux on a Chromebook, each with their own pros and cons:

Method Notes
Crouton Runs alongside Chrome OS. You can easily switch between Linux and Chrome OS by a simple keyboard shortcut. Recommended for everyone and beginners. Check out my Crouton guide here .
ChrUbuntu Traditional dual-boot environment. On boot, you can choose which operating system you want to run. Now defunct and not updated. See Chrx below.
Chrx Traditional dual-boot environment. On boot, you can choose which operating system you want to run. Only works on some Chromebooks. Allows you to install several different distributions, including GalliumOS which is made specifically for Chromebooks.
Full Native Linux (this guide) Removes Chrome OS from your Chromebook and turns it into solely a Linux machine. May require you to work out several bugs after installation depending on the distribution you’re installing. Will require you to flash your Chromebook with a custom BIOS. Often requires opening up Chromebook and removing ‘write protect’. For advanced users.

How to Install Linux on an Intel based Chromebook (Native Linux Method)

Before we begin, you should know that this process is reversible in that you can revert back to Chrome OS if you wish. After following this guide, if you decide you want to go back to Chrome OS, check out the last step.

0. Backup any data you may have on your Chromebook

I have been using my Chromebook for a while so I made sure I backed up any files that I hadn’t saved on my Google drive. This included files in my “Downloads” folder as well as files that were in my Ubuntu chroot installation from Crouton. Backup any files you wish to keep.

If yours is a brand new Chromebook, check to see if you are eligible for free storage, claim that first by going through the Chrome OS set up. You can get 100 GB free for 2 years with select Chromebooks.

1. Create a Chrome OS recovery USB drive

We will create a Chrome OS recovery USB drive by using Google’s free recovery tool and a quality USB or SD card you don’t mind erasing. Some users have stated restoring from an SD card gave them problems so I recommend using a USB. Either way, the USB or SD card you choose must be at least 4GB in storage capacity.

  1. Download Google’s free recovery tool on the Google Web Store: [Link]
  2. Once installed, start the app and insert your USB or SD Card into your computer. Click “Get Started” and type in the model number that is shown for your specific model. I would also write this number down elsewhere in case you lose your recovery media and need to make one using another computer.

3. After you have typed in your model number, click “Continue”.

IMPORTANT: All of the data on the USB or SD Card will be deleted if you continue.

Make sure the media you’d like to use for your recovery is listed. Click the “Create now” button.

The tool will then create the recovery image on your selected media. This process should take about 15 minutes. Don’t remove the flash drive or SD card while this is happening. After you see the message saying that your recovery media is ready, you can remove it from your Chromebook. Power off your Chromebook for the next optional step.

2. Create a live USB Drive loaded with your choice of Linux Distribution

You can create a live Linux USB right from your Chromebook by following these steps:

  1. Download your preferred Linux distribution in .iso form.
    – Here is a link to Gallium OS (recommended for most Chromebook users).
    – Here’s a link to Elementary OS (this may not work well with all Chromebooks but it has worked well with my Broadwell based one).
  2. Rename the .iso file to .bin.
  3. If you haven’t already, download Google’s free Chrome OS recovery tool on the Google Web Store: [Link]
  4. Insert your USB drive into your Chromebook.
  5. Start the Chrome OS recovery tool.
    This will delete all the contents of your USB Drive.
  6. Click on the gear icon in the upper right and select “Use local image”.
  7. Click start to begin the process. It should take about 10-15 minutes.

3. Upgrade your SSD (optional)

SSD upgrade in Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015)Chromebooks by default do not come with a lot of internal storage space. After all, they’re meant to be primarily cloud-based devices. But with a full installation of Linux, you would benefit from having extra storage space for software, games, and media.

Some Chromebooks allow you to swap the internal SSD to a bigger one. Depending on the model of your Chromebook will determine if you are able to do this. Some Chromebooks have their HDD soldered onto the board so it won’t be possible to upgrade them. If your Chromebook is compatible, I highly recommend upgrading the SSD.

I’ve written a guide on how to do this specifically for the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015) model here  . The process is basically the same for other models but will vary when getting into the internals and the location of the actual drive.

4. Enable developer mode

  1. This will wipe your Chromebook and allow full access to your Chromebook system files.
  2. With your Chromebook turned off hold down the ESC and Refresh button and press the power button once.
  3. This will take you into recovery mode. Press Ctrl+D to bypass this message.
  4. Press Enter at the next screen.
  5. On the next screen press Ctrl+D to bypass this message.
  6. Now wait and wait some more. Eventually the Chromebook will reboot you’ll see the screen with the red exclamation mark.
  7. Developer mode is now enabled, power off the Chromebook.

5. Disable Write Protect

These steps are ONLY for the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (2015) i3 model. These steps WILL be different on other Chromebook models. With a quick Google search of “Disable write protect (your-chromebook-model)” you will figure out where exactly your write-protect sticker and/or screw  is located at.

Additionally, these steps are only required if you plan on installing Standalone Linux. If you want to just dual boot Linux alongside Chrome OS you do not need to disable write protect.

You will need:

By default write-protect is enabled. This means the installed BIOS on the Chromebook can’t be modified. On the Toshiba Chromebook 2, write protect is a little round sticker and screw located near the SSD on the motherboard. To remove this you will need to remove the back cover. With a little care and patience you should be able to do it quite easily.

Steps:

  1. Make sure your Chromebook is off and you are doing this upgrade on a suitable surface to avoid static electricity which can harm your device (ie. do not do this on a carpet).
  2. Set your laptop with the back cover facing up. See below image for the screws you will need to remove with your standard Phillips screwdriver. You will need to remove two rubber feet with your flat tool to get to the two other screws.

Bottom of the Chromebook3. Once all of the necessary screws have been removed, use your flat tool to gently pry open the back cover and set it aside. You can now see the computers internals! (spooky)

4. This is the location of the write protect sticker. It is held down by another screw that you will need to remove. Remove BOTH the sticker and the screw.Do not screw this tiny screw back in. Stick a small square of electrical tape over the contacts to prevent anything else in the case from shorting across the contacts.

5. Gently re-attach the back cover and screw in any necessary screws. Place the rubber feet in their respective slots.

If you removed write protect correctly, you will clearly see “FW WP: Disabled” in the next step.

6. Modify the Chromebooks BIOS

Let’s now modify the BIOS to allow us to install Linux. This process is a little risky since you are dealing with flashing your BIOS. Please read everything carefully. We will use Mr. Chromebook’s Custom coreboot firmware installation scripts. I suggest you get familiar with his site and read about the different options and what each does.

1. Open a new Chrome tab and go to Mr. Chromebox’s website. Copy the command into a new terminal (CTRL+ALT+T)

At the top you should see “FW WP: Disabled”.  This indicates we disabled write protect correctly.

full native linux elementary os

The website explains what each option does. What we need to do is “Install/Update Full ROM Firmware” which is option 3.

2. Select option 3) Install/Update Full ROM Firmware. Read the instructions carefully.

If option 3 is not available to you although your write protect is disabled, your Chromebook does not have a Full ROM firmware available. You will need to look into RW_LEGACY firmware and dual boot Linux alongside Chrome OS, or just use Crouton.

3. Type Y when prompted to create a backup copy of your firmware.

4. Now, turn off your Chromebook and insert your Linux Live USB into one of your ports.

7. Boot into your live USB drive and install your Linux Distro

Finally, we get to install Fulll Native Linux. Turn off your Chromebook and insert your live Linux USB drive into any USB port.

  1. Turn the Chromebook on and it will immediately boot into your USB.
  2. You will see the GNU GRUB setup screen – setup your Linux distribution in the normal way.
  3. Unless you have a specific way you want to partition the internal hard drive I recommend you use the default option to wipe the whole drive.
  4. Once installed, reboot and everything should work out of the box. If it boots into the EFI shell see the Q/A directly below this (Some Linux distributions will cause this, including Elementary OS).
  5. Maybe not everything will work out of the box if you’re not using Gallium OS.
    In an effort to automate fixes, ‘fantastic captain’ has written a script to automatically apply sound fixes and keyboard tweaks for the Toshiba Chromebook 2. See his post on automating Chromebook fixes.This script won’t fix the backlit keyboard. Please see this post (scroll down or CTRL+F ‘keyboard backlight’) for backlit keyboard fix. Download and run the commands line by line. For backup purposes I have put the information in a Google doc as well.
    You’ll also want to look into installing laptop-mode-tools to improve the battery life of your Chromebook. See the site linked above or the Google doc.

Q: What if I installed my OS [Linux], and it still boots to the EFI shell – what do I do?

A: Sounds like your Linux distro doesn’t install the EFI bootloader in the default location – no worries, it’s an easy fix:

1. Type ‘exit’ to return to the UEFI settings menu, then select Boot Maintenance Manager. From there, select Boot From File, then navigate to and boot from /EFI/[distro name]/grubx64.efi (where [distro name] will be ubuntu, arch, debian, etc). Once your OS is booted, open a terminal/shell, and type the following (observing case):

Note: For elementaryOS the distro name is actually ‘ubuntu’. Replace [distro name from above] with ubuntu. You can also press TAB in the terminal window to autocomplete the last command to prevent typos.

2. Then reboot to test. What we’re doing is copying the grub EFI boot stub from the OS installed location to the location the firmware is expecting (/EFI/BOOT/BOOTX64.efi) on the EFI system partition (ESP), which most (Debian/Ubuntu-based?) distros will mount at /boot/efi. You may need to adjust slightly for your distro, but these instructions should work in most cases.

More answers to frequently asked questions here .

8. Want to go back to Chrome OS?

If, for some reason, you want to restore Chrome OS you can do so quite easily.

You will need:

  • x1 Recovery USB/SD created earlier (step 1)
  • x1 .rom stock firmware that was backed up earlier (step 5)
  • Supported Devices: All Chromebook devices running non-stock firmware (shellball ROMs provided for all Sandy/Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, Baytrail, and Braswell devices)
  • Requires firmware write-protect disabled: YES

1. Open up a terminal on your Chromebook

2. Copy and paste this the command:

3. We need to “Restore Stock Firmware” which is option 9.

4. Press 9 then ENTER then follow instructions.

This script function will restore the stock firmware, preferably from a backed-up copy on USB.

5. After restoring the stock firmware, you will need to reboot and reinstall Chrome OS from the recovery media.

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