How I turned an old Chromebook Pixel into a native Linux laptop running Ubuntu

If you’ve visited the Chrome OS subReddit, you’ve surely seen posts by Mr. Chromebox there. For several years, he’s been the go-to authority for doing major operating system and firmware changes to dozens of Chromebook models so you can natively install Windows or Linux on your device.

I haven’t delved into this type of esoteric but useful project in a while but a CompSci classmate is thinking about switching from Windows 10 to Linux. So I dug around the closet where good Chromebooks go to collect dust and found the 2013 Chromebook Pixel I bought new seven years ago.

This is a perfect candidate for a Linux installation because the last software update pushed to it was Chrome OS 69. So it’s not the most secure device for browsing at the moment.

Before installing any firmware updates to support a different operating system, I had to crack open the Chromebook Pixel. Google put a physical write-protect screw on the motherboard and as long as that screw is in place, Chrome OS is the only game in town.

To open the laptop, I turned it over and carefully removed the four rubber pads that act as the “feet” of the Chromebook Pixel. They’re stuck on with some light glue and are pretty easy to remove.

And they hide four screws that attach the bottom of the laptop to the chassis. It took all of ten minutes to remove the feet and the four screws, leaving me with this:

At that point, it took less than another minute to remove the write-protect screw. It would have gone quicker but that sucker was on super tight. Not all Chromebooks have one of these and use another method for protection, so if you ever go down this route, check Mr. Chromebox’s page listing of supported models and see which your device uses.

For the 2013 Chromebook Pixel, it’s this screw here, next to the USB Type-A ports:

With that screw removed, I simply reversed the disassembly steps: Put the cover back on the device, replace the four screws and finally, the four feet. I didn’t even reglue them because they were still quick tacky.

Next was to put the Chromebook Pixel in Developer Mode. Note this is very different than switching to the Dev Channel of Chrome OS.

Developer Mode removes some boot security features and I wouldn’t recommend using it for Chrome OS. However, to flash the BIOS and install another operating system, it’s required in this case.

After I rebooted into Developer Mode and logged in to Chrome OS, the next step was to open up the old crosh shell with the CTRL+ALT+T keyboard shortcut.

That brings up a terminal-like browser tab, where you then execute the shell command. From here, it’s a command to download and install Mr. Chromebox’s Chrome OS Utility Script:

cd; curl -LO https://mrchromebox.tech/firmware-util.sh && sudo bash firmware-util.sh

A few minutes after the download and install, I rebooted the Chromebook Pixel and was greeted by a menu similar to this:

From here, it’s just a matter of choosing which firmware options you want to be installed. I opted for choice 3, was asked if I wanted my Chrome OS image backed up (I said no but you should probably say yes!) and the install begins.

After a reboot, I was greeted with a traditional BIOS settings screen: success!

At this point, the device is ready for an OS installation just like nearly any other computer! You’re not limited to Chrome OS any longer.

Using another computer, I downloaded the latest Ubuntu LTS image on to an SD card since the 2013 Chromebook Pixel actually has a memory card slot. I changed the Boot Device options in the BIOS and restarted the Chromebook to boot from the memory card.

After that, it was a typical Ubuntu install. And if I had chosen Windows, I’d be off to the races with Microsoft’s software from here on out.

Given that the 2013 Chromebook Pixel only came with 4 GB of memory and uses a third-generation Intel Core 5 processor, this won’t be a performance powerhouse by any means. Just for kicks after installing Ubuntu, I ran an Octane 2.0 benchmark test and got a score of 9,379. That’s probably about the same as or even a little lower than what a modern $250 Chromebook would score today.

But that’s OK. This won’t likely be a fulltime device for my classmate. She’s just curious about the development experience on Linux as compared to Windows. And this will let her see the difference while also giving my trusty Chromebook Pixel a new purpose in life.

18 thoughts on “How I turned an old Chromebook Pixel into a native Linux laptop running Ubuntu

  • April 5, 2020 at 2:35 pm
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    How did you change the Boot Device options in the BIOS for the Chromebook to boot from the memory card? That’s the only step that isn’t explained.

    Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 12:14 am
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      During boot you press escape and you will be given options. Select whatever device you would like to boot from.

      Reply
  • April 5, 2020 at 7:11 pm
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    Is it possible to open a chromebook and add more storage capacity?

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    • April 5, 2020 at 7:14 pm
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      Most if not all of them have soldered on memory, so no.

      Reply
      • April 5, 2020 at 11:09 pm
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        Yes – the Dell Chromebook 13 (7310) (code name Lulu) is listed on MrChromeBox.tech. It has a removable M.2 Sata SSD – I bought a used Dell on ebay for $35 and i bought a 128 GB M.2 SSD for $45. Having read this artilce I am going to install either Kubuntu or Lubuntu Linux. Another plus for the Dell Chromebook 7310 unlike many, it has backlight keyboard too! –

        Reply
        • April 6, 2020 at 10:01 pm
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          Happy to report that after removing the “write protect” screw from inside the Dell Chromebook 13″ (7310) & installing a 128 Gb M.2 sata SSD card in place of the 16 Gb OEM, things went very smooth using these instructions. I loaded Linux Kubuntu 19.10. The system is working great thus far. It only has an Intel Celeron 1.5 GHz CPU & soldered 4 Gb RAM so it’s not going to win any speed awards – but for $80 I have a solid little Linux machine resurrected from a Chromebook that won’t recieve Chrome updates after Jun 2021.

          Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 12:16 am
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      If you know someone who works with electronics it is possible to replace or expand storage that is soldered on, however I would not suggest do so unless you know how.

      Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 12:12 am
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    On the Google chrombook pixel 2013 model there is a plastic cellular dummy card. This card is plugged into a mini PCIe slot. This slot will NOT support m.2 drives, however you can get a mini PCIe to USB 3.1 adapter. As I have. Then you can take a low profile 256gb USB 3.1 drive (remove the plastic casing so that you are left with just the USB plug) and most distros of linux can run on it.
    Ubuntu doesn’t work out of the box, however Manjaro Gnome works quite well.

    Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 2:51 am
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    The original article is about hardware, more than software. Intl i5, OK. Assume it is Ubuntu 19.10 (October, 2019), not 20.04 due in a few weeks, but available as release candidates. Lite all installed Ubuntu systems, it auto-updated its Linux kernel & parts of the operating system.
    There are many Ubuntu systems. I think he chose the usual default, with the GNOME desktop environment. In my expert opinion Ubuntu Budgie is best, because it can easily be made to fit the user’s preferences.
    Mos users have had experience before: Mac, XP, Windows 7, Windows 1o, etc. Budgie can easily fit these user expectations.

    Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 10:19 am
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      Installed the current stable LTS version which is 18.04. It’s easy to upgrade to 20.04 LTS when that arrives soon.

      Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 8:48 am
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    Did you find all of the hardware works properly? Such as speakers, trackpad, keyboard, Wifi, etc.? Anyone tried this with a Pixelbook? As much as I like the simplicity of a Chromebook it would be nice to utilize the same OS I use on my desktop.

    Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 10:18 am
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      So far, everything seems to be working except for some keyboard shortcuts: volume and screen brightness, for example. But I can change those in Ubuntu as a workaround. Speakers, trackpad, Wi-Fi all working fine.

      Reply
      • April 6, 2020 at 10:27 am
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        Sounds good. Ubuntu isn’t the lightest distro either, so you could probably get better performance using something like Lubuntu or another one of the lightweight distros.

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        • April 7, 2020 at 3:49 am
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          The goto OS for old Chrome devices is GalliumOS https://galliumos.org/ which is a fast and lightweight Linux distro for ChromeOS devices based on Xubuntu.
          I did this same procedure recently with an old Chromebox and it was great.

          Reply
  • April 6, 2020 at 6:05 pm
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    Do you think I could do this on my CR-48?

    Reply
    • April 6, 2020 at 6:21 pm
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      Unfortunately, I don’t see the CR-48 on the list of supported devices for the BIOS firmware flashing.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2020 at 4:14 am
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    I owned one of these second hand and sold it. After seeing your article I found one brand new for £260. Annoyingly Goolge have removed the free 1TB for 3 years or it would have paid for itself! You only get 100GB for 1 year now (Google One). There is a great video on youtube that will tell you how to remap the keys and create a custom resolution (native for the Pixel 2013). I also had issues with the headphone jack but is alsamixer you enable the HP/speaker auto detect using M and ti sorted it. Just need to add a script to control brightness of keyboard (there are some on github). I tried ubuntu but have settled on Elementary OS with flathub and terminal loading a few apps. It works really well on this hardware. I wanted a dedicated Linux laptop and you can’t find this quality for £260 new anywhere else!

    Reply
  • July 16, 2020 at 3:18 pm
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    Hi!
    I’m looking to buy one of these, but it doesn’t come with a power adapter, and I can’t find an affordable dedicated one. Could you please measure and tell me what’s the diameter of the power plug?
    I’d really appreciate your help.
    Cheers,
    Arek.

    Reply

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