2nd life for the chromebook

laptop troubles

dell laptop

The 12yo Dell Latitude is great for heavy lifting because it has 16GB of RAM. The Achilles’ Heel is that it overheats badly and shuts off at random. I’ve already repasted the CPU and usually run a fan over it but I lose lots of work from crashes. It also maxxes at 90w.


The 6yo Samsung Chromebook 3 is power-sipping goodness; the wall wart for it is only 16w. Sometimes I forget to charge it for days. But the 16GB SSD is a serious limitation given that

  • ChromeOS keeps a complete copy of the OS in a backup dir
  • the linux container uses ~2GB.
  • it won’t use the microsd card seamlessly

I’ve wanted to strip ChromeOS out and run straight linux on it but my reading had suggested this particular chromebook is problematic. It is, but at least it’s possible.


There is a screw that needs to be removed from the motherboard to allow flashing firmware. It is on the bottom of the mobo and at least two tiny and fragile ribbon connectors have to be removed to get to it.

Nerves may have been wracked. While I was in there I cleaned out some dustbunnies where they crept in at the hingepoints.

Got it buttoned back up and the ‘book wouldn’t power on. Wouldn’t even charge. I pulled it apart again and reassembled. No go. Pulled it apart yet again and gazed in despair. I pulled the battery connector and reconnected it; we have lights!

I thought it was a goner.


After booting it had to be shut back down and put in Developer Mode, which requires a total wipe. Fine.

Got that done and cranked up a Crosh shell to pull down the MrChromebox firmware hackification. Updated that in a cold sweat and rebooted.

Error. Tried again. Error. Oh no.

I tossed in a LiveUSB of the OS I was going to load (see below) and it started to load. I think I just misunderstood this part.


The OS is GalliumOS, a lightweight linux distro optimized for these light-duty boxes. The geneaology is Debian -> Ubuntu -> Xubuntu -> GalliumOS.

I started the install and got about halfway done when it crashed. Some research suggested turning off the wifi could help. It did. The box as hopelessly confused so I hardbooted it and reran the installation offline. Victory is mine.

it’s alive!

On Gallium the chromebook uses about 1/3rd of the available RAM and diskspace; I have ~10GB of free space instead of constant panicky messages from Chrome about low diskspace. And it mounts the sdcard seamlessly so it is effectively unlimited for storage of userspace files.

It will be a couple days before I have it set up with the tools and config I prefer, but I am already quite happy with this arrangement. Booting and suspending work great. Power consumption is good; didn’t realize it but it’s been unplugged for hours and we are still at 81%. More importantly, no more annoying google “features” like downloading whenever we want, or losing linux-related configuations between reboots/updates.

My joy will be complete if it can run optifined Minecraft but that’s another box of snakes entirely.

power in the shade

My physical comfort during the adventure was assured because I am sitting mostly in shade. Temps are into the 80s near Flagstaff so I needed to be able to hide. Hiding in the shade, you are surely about to warn, is not optimal for solar. Right.

The spot I picked has about 2 hours of exposure to the sun mid-day then is basically shaded. The portables are about 20ft away, angled to catch afternoon sun.

This is what the harvest looked like yesterday:


The critical line is the green one, third from top. It’s net charging power after loads are subtracted; it’s what is actually going into the battery bank. I aim for 85%-95% state of charge and I hit that target at 93%:

  • until about 0945 the green line is below zero; it is discharging. Then we break into a very slight charge.
  • about 1030 we start to get some direct light on the main array
  • around 1100 the main array is in full sun and the bank is getting ~500w of love
  • there is a dip in charging in that full sun period when I turned on the evap cooler and some other loads.
  • then the process starts to reverse as the sun passes the hole in the forest canopy

The portables climb steadily as the sun moves to the west. The rising trend flattens around 1400 when the 200w of panel hits the limitation of the 10A MPPT I have them on.

Conclusion: I have enough to get fully charged every day but I can’t run any oportunity loads like crockpots or electric water heating. The newly-useful chromebook will help keep power consumption under control.

an update

This is an update about an update. Updated the box and got this warning, which does not inspire confidence. I pushed through it, ran the update a couple more time to be sure. Then I held my breath and rebooted. Came back up fine.


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