Another Rescue Chromebook

I hate dumping old electronics just because they’ve reached OS end of service, and Chromebooks are notorious in that regard. Google is getting better about extended lifespan, but in the meantime there are countless “worthless” old Chromebooks headed to a landfill. 

But I’ve also come to love Chromebooks themselves for the role they fill: inexpensive, lightweight, quick start up browsing and writing.

With each passing year, my tether to Windows frays. It’s expensive, full of bloatware, resource hogging, and not that portable. And from my experience, Apple is no better. As for Microsoft Office, I seldom use anything but Word and Excel from that suite, and despite 40 years of personal experience with Word in particular, I’m just using it less and less, replaced by Google Docs, which I can access from whatever device is convenient at the moment—desktop, laptop, tablet, or even phone.

What Chromebooks cannot do is run PC games. In my case that’s not a big deal; I was already sliding away from PC gaming, to tablet and phone for those spare moments in a day, and the family’s gift of a Steam Deck virtually swept the desktop off the table as for PC games themselves.

My first Chromebook, that Acer CB3-431 at the bottom of the stack in the photo, was released in June 2016 and reached end of OS support in June 2022. Windows 11 had been released just eight months prior, signalling the writing on the wall for Windows 10’s demise.

As luck would have it, while researching for a new OS for my now “extinct” Chromebook, I stumbled across instructions for installing Windows 11 on out-of-service Chromebooks. It requires flashing a new BIOS on the Chromebook, which requires disabling the Chromebook’s write protect in the hardware, voiding any warranty, so not something you’ll want to do with a new machine.

But it works. Not as quickly or robustly as a PC actually built for Win11, but honestly usable enough for my purposes—and certainly for an introduction to the OS. I set it up to install any new software to a button USB drive, because the 32GB internal drive is nearly filled with the OS itself. Unfortunately, Steam, GOG, and Epic games managers all insist on using the internal drive, so I can’t have all three installed at once, but the machine is great for the family’s library of Big Fish Games. And, of course, for browsing. That big, clear screen is also great for streaming media!

The blue Chromebook in the middle of the stack in the photo is an HP Chromebook x360, meaning that the touchscreen can fold all the way to the back like a big tablet. Its end-of-OS date is June 2029, so I’ll be using it as intended, an “actual” Chromebook device, for another 5 years. It’s big but slim, making it nicely portable on the road.

As for the Acer C710, knowing my inclination to repurpose old devices, someone gifted that to me recently when they upgraded to a new machine. Released November 2012, it has only 2GB of RAM and a 16GB drive. Trying to find an OS to work within the limitations of this 12-year-old device proved a challenge.

I figured pretty obviously some light sort of Linux. The Steam Deck interface itself runs atop SteamOS (a proprietary Linux system), with an easily accessable desktop mode, and I’d been familiarizing myself with that interface to get unsupported PC games to run, specifically Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodlines with the fan-made War Games WII setting, so I’ve been eager to sink my teeth deeper into a Linux distro without potentially bricking the Steam Deck. The trouble is, nearly every Linux version I could find requires at least 4GB of RAM and 20GB hard drive space, most of them actually a 32GB drive or more. Well, anything I could find that wasn’t beyond my fledgling Linux knowledge.

Gallium OS is a Linux distro developed specifically for Chromebooks, and it worked great on this little old thing. But OS support ended in 2022, leaving me in the same situation as with the machine’s original Chrome OS.

Eventually I settled on the minimalist Bodhi Linux, the desktop you can see in the photo. A basic install requires only 760 MB of RAM and 10 GB of drive space. This Acer C710 runs it smoothly, and there’s enough drive space left for an open-source office suite, not to mention the three USB drives to extend that.

The keyboard is the same comfortable size as on the other two Chromebooks, though that means that instead of the x360’s big speakers either side of its keyboard, the Acer 710 has some pretty tinny ones, even compared to the CB3-431’s. The webcam and mic work perfectly, so there’s a good chance I’ll use the new old machine sometimes for video chat gaming on Messenger, maybe on browser Discord. For headphones, there’s only an earphone jack on this model. No Bluetooth, though 3 USB ports if I want to see about adding a dongle. (Bluetooth mouse with dongle works just fine, so I’m hopeful.)

That’s the saga so far of rescuing another perfectly useable Chromebook. The saga of wading into Bodhi Linux has just begun.