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Linux appliance: Chromebook or Chromebox? Now with more info

Started by Nalioth, Aug 24, 2022, 01:03 PM

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So I'm in need of a small linux box / set top box / HTPC (home theater PC) sort of hardware.

Do not want a Firestick or a Rugo/Rexo/wahtever the fuck the box is called Roku or Google's Chromecast or any other commercially-available offering (they're all nothing but trojan horses, designed to spy on you)

Been looking at Rasberry Pi / single board computer types of solutions, but  they are far more expensive than a used Chromejob & offer less utility.

Ready-made HTPC solutions are crazy expensive for what they offer, and - again - don't offer the utility a used Chromejob running linux would.

Googles Chromebooks (and lesser known Chromeboxes) can have linux installed directly on them, and - since they've been making them since 2010 - there are many that are cheaply available.  "Cheap" because even the eldest of the line will be more than adequate for running linux in console mode (aka "home media server").  While ChromeOS is well known for its invasive nature, installing linux directly on the bare metal removes this possibility.

So, check the box and join in the conversation :)



Poll closed.

Chromebook on the way.


There are multitudes of Chromebooks out there versus Chromeboxes (the latter requires increased expenditures for displays, keyboards & mice) so surplus Chromebooks are lots cheaper than the Chromeboxen.

What can you do with a Chromebook?

Anything you want.

They have HDMI, USB2/USB3, 10/100 Ethernet, WiFi & Bluetooth as standard equipment.

They are designed to run linux natively (no pre-configured SD card or USB stick required).  When I say "natively", I mean "on the bare metal" (not running inside of ChromeOS).

As such, these little dandies can serve as (but aren't limited to):

- Kodi (or Plex or similar home entertainment software) box.  There's even an Android app that allows you to control your Kodi software with your cell phone.  Since the Chromebooks come with WiFi, Ethernet & HDMI, how you connect it to your television is up to you.

- Network Attached Storage - plug a USB hard drive into the Chromebook & install the NAS software and everyone in the house can have an "extra hard drive" they can use so long as they're connected to the home network.

- Home cloud server - need a backup solution for your SO/HO?  There are numerous open source cloud systems that can be run on linux (you'll need an external hard drive plugged in to the Chromebook, though).  Client apps run on each local machine that would need to take advantage of the cloud services, and - best of all - your information stays at home with you (not handed over to Google et al for them to read)  (Nextcloud is but one of these sorts of software offerings, and is linked as an example)

- Bittorrent server - So you're freshly emigrated from Lower Pickledicklestan and want to keep up with Pickledicklestani television shows.  You can run a torrent server on the Chromebook that'll keep up with and download the latest shows from Pickledicklestan (or wherever else it is legal for you to download shows from).  The nice thing about the most widely used torrent servers is that they can be accessed by any computer connected to the home network (no need to physically have access to the Chromebook to make additions or adjustments).  This is another service that'll need an external hard drive attached to the Chromebook.

There are many other uses for a home server appliance, but the preceding are the most common use cases.

A surplus Chromebook is more than adequate for any linux server usage, and will likely use less electricity while performing such a function than dedicated "appliances".

Besides, when you buy a dedicated Kodi box | NAS | cloud appliance | etc, you've got no idea what's in it (and how much it's spying on you), how long it'll last or how much power it will use.


Okay, folks, here's a quick overview of my adventures with a Chromebook.

Due to school districts ordering tens of thousands of new Chromebooks each school year, that means that tens of thousands of Chromebooks are surplussed each year.

One can find a large variety of fully functioning (albeit maybe carrying "battle scars") Chromebooks on fleabay for under $30 (of course you can pay more, if you want a "more special" Chromebook)

Anyhoo, I bought an Acer Chromebook C720.  It had the usual handling marks plus a bonus laser-etched bulldog & school motto on the lid.

It was listed for $30 shipped in "fully functional" condition, but when I received it the trackpad was found to be INOP so the seller refunded me $10 (making the total cost $20 shipped)

The Acer C720 does not need any special preparation to install linux, and I used chrx to install Ubuntu linux on it.  Everything works, with the possible exception of the trackpad (I can't tell you if Ubuntu works with it or not because the trackpad on this unit is fucked)

The "everything" on the C720 that works includes the following:

- 802.11ac WiFi
- Bluetooth
- 16gb M.2 2242 SSD (this is user replaceable)
- 11.6" display
- sealed keyboard

The battery is also user replaceable, but the 4GB ram is permanently attached to the mobo.

These Chromebooks are phenomenally efficient.  There is no discernible heat anywhere on them while they're running (I only know it's running cuz of the "I'm running now" status lights on it and the web pages its serving all work)

If you're thinking of buying an Apple TV, Amazon Firestick, Google TV, a Roku or some any other commercial home entertainment box, you really, really, really should consider recycling a surplus Chromebook.  Doing so will open up multitudes of other entertainment possibilities for you.


So, you've got your new Chromebook all set up with Ubuntu and it's time to deploy?

The Chromebooks are all "WiFi only", so you don't need to worry about finding a place near an ethernet cable.  All you need is a spot near a power outlet.

Before you "set it and forget it", you'll need to do a couple things in Ubuntu:

1) Turn off all "suspend" functions (when plugged in) in the power management system settings.

2) Install gnome-tweaks (sudo apt-get install gnome-tweaks).  In the "General" tab of Gnome Tweaks, set the option for "suspend when laptop lid is closed" to "off".

You are now able to close the lid and place the Chromebook in your media center (if running Kodi) or anywhere else out of the way.  Don't forget to plug it in!

The only time you'll need to mess with it is after a power outage (when the power goes out (when the Chromebook switches to battery power), the "suspend" behavior will kick back in.  You'll need to open the lid to wake it up, or reboot the Ubuntu so everything restarts properly (dunno, as I've not encountered a power outage yet)