Upcycle an old laptop into a Chromebook

Laptop Repair Pro Blog - Upcycle old PC with Chromium OS

Introduction

Chromium OS is a stripped down Linux distribution which consumes very minimal resources and can be installed on just about any hardware. Because of its versatility it’s excellent for older PCs which are still perfectly functional, but unable to meet today’s demands. Chromium OS serves just one function – to provide the user with a web browser. The idea is that most things today can be achieved inside a browser, whether it’s writing documents, making spreadsheets, drawing, making music, etc. This Operating System is an excellent window to the Internet.

Prerequisites

  • Old laptop or desktop
  • 4GB USB disk
  • An Ethernet cable connected to your router (in case WiFi doesn’t immediately work)

Caution

Please make sure you’ve got all your files off the old PC as installing Chromium OS will delete everything from your disk.

Preparation

The first thing anyone should ever do before attempting something like this is get familiar with the documentation…
//www.chromium.org/chromium-os/developer-guide

However, we all know that’s never going to happen so let’s just jump straight in and use the trial and error method.

Download the latest version of Chromium OS from a website which hosts distributions:
//chromium.arnoldthebat.co.uk/?dir=daily

According to this website, there are only four steps to creating the installation media:

  1. Use 7zip to extract IMG file from the downloaded file.
  2. Use Win32 Image Writer, then select the IMG file and select the USB device from the menu.
  3. Click on “Write”.
  4. Boot from USB stick

Ensuring WiFi works

The first time I installed Chromium on an old machine, I discovered that the old Broadcom WiFi card was not functional. If you boot from the USB disk and you’re unable to connect to your WiFi, you may need to retry the media creation process with a different image.

If you have an older Broadcom WiFi card, download the Broadcom Special Edition build:
//arnoldthebat.co.uk/wordpress/2013/12/16/broadcom-special-edition-build/

Next, write the image to your USB disk and boot from it again.

After you’ve installed Chromium OS and you’re at the desktop, do the following:
(Source: //arnoldthebat.co.uk/wordpress/2013/02/24/how-to-get-the-broadcom-wireless-drivers-working/)

  1. On your keyboard, press CTRL + ALT + T to get into the terminal
  2. Type the command “shell” and press Enter to get a normal Linux command prompt
  3. Type the command “sudo su” and press Enter
  4. If you’re using the build above and you’re asked for a password, type “password” and press Enter
  5. Run the following commands (you can copy and paste the entire block below, right click on the terminal to paste)
    mount -o remount, rw /
    sudo echo “blacklist b43” >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
    sudo echo “blacklist b43legacy” >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
    sudo echo “blacklist ssb” >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
    sudo echo “blacklist bcma” >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
    sudo echo “wl” >> /etc/modules
    sudo touch /etc/modprobe.d/wl.conf
    sudo echo “alias wlan0 wl” >> /etc/modprobe.d/wl.conf
    cd /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/
    wget //chromium.arnoldthebat.co.uk/files/fw/lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/wl.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/net/wireless/cfg80211.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/net/wireless/lib80211.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/net/wireless/lib80211_crypt_ccmp.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/net/wireless/lib80211_crypt_tkip.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/net/wireless/lib80211_crypt_wep.ko
    sudo insmod /lib/modules/3.4.0/kernel/drivers/net/wireless/wl.ko
    sudo depmod -a
  6. Assuming everything went well, you should now see all the available Wireless networks in the WiFi menu

Installation

To install Chromium OS to your hard drive, you need to do one of the following. Try them in order to see which works and if you get an error, simply try the next method.

If your machine and the build you’re installing meet all the default criteria:

  1. On your keyboard, press CTRL + ALT + T to get into the terminal window
  2. Type the command “install” and press Enter
  3. Follow any on-screen messages

If your machine or build does not meet the default criteria:

  1. On your keyboard, press CTRL + ALT + T to get into the terminal window
  2. Type the command “shell” to get into the Linux command line
  3. Type one of the following commands:
    • “/usr/sbin/chromeos-install –dst=/dev/sda” to install to a SATA hard disk
    • “/usr/sbin/chromeos-install –dst=/dev/hda” to install to an IDE hard disk
  4. Follow any on-screen messages

If your machine does not meet the default criteria and your build insists your USB stick is not removable. When using the above method, you get an error stating something like this – “Error: Source does not look like a removable device /dev/sdb”

  1. On your keyboard, press CTRL + ALT + T to get into the terminal window
  2. Type the command “shell” to get into the Linux command line
  3. Type one of the following commands:
    • “/usr/sbin/chromeos-install –dst=/dev/sda –skip_src_removable” to install to a SATA hard disk
    • “/usr/sbin/chromeos-install –dst=/dev/hda –skip_src_removable” to install to an IDE hard disk
  4. Follow any on-screen messages

Success

When Chromium OS is successfully installed, you will arrive at the following screen:

Laptop Repair Pro Blog - Upcycle old PC with Chromium OS

At this point, do exactly as the final instruction states including crossing your fingers.

When you reboot, you should arrive at the setup wizard which will ask you to log in with your Google account again to create your user account.

If you’re using the Broadcom Special Edition build, please scroll back up to the “Ensuring WiFi works” section and run the commands required to get your WiFi working.

That’s it – install some apps from the Google Web Store and enjoy your laptop’s new lease on life.

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