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Liberating a X200 (operand.ca)
70 points by greenhathacker on Feb 22, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 22 comments

Welcome to the bright side. I've been enjoying my Chromebook with coreboot and nerf'ed Intel ME for years. It's not as hard as many of us would think.

By the way, Chromebooks are cheap and is a fantastic platform to experiment with coreboot/de-intel-ME. Acer C720s are $100 right now.

There are 2 spererate tasks: Flashing coreboot and De-blob'ing Intel ME. If you just want to try coreboot with the Chromebook, then you can do it with software and don't need an external programmer. All you have to do is just remove the BIOS write-protect screws - MrChromebox's website is a great resource. If you need to de-blob the chromebooks, then you'd need an external programmer, such as a Raspberry Pi.

As a shameless plug, I have released a tool so one doesn't have to be an electrical engineer and/or a Linux expert to flash many Chromebooks/Thinkpads with a Raspberry Pi [1]. You don't really have to have a breadboard to flash the Chromebooks like you do with the Thinkpad in the article. Also, the cool thing about it is that it prepares the image on your x86 computer so you literally don't have to configure the pi and get/compile stuff afterwards. I didn't know that the X200 needs a patch. I will integrate the x200 support into ezpi4ME so people don't have to manually patch and wait for it to compile on the Pi.

1: github.com/htruong/EzPi4ME

Edit: I noticed OP has a blog post complaining about Acer 720s having problems. It hasn't happened to me, at least with MrChromebox's firmware. I did have problem with John Lewis' firmware builds, though.

> I noticed OP has a blog post complaining about Acer 720s having problems.

OP here - I've since been able to install 64 bit Debian on my C720, still not sure what the original issue was.

I also tried to compile my own C720 coreboot and flash that, but ran into problems. The X200 was way easier :) I may follow up with another C720 post if I get that working.

>The X200 was way easier.

I think to most people, the idea that one can have coreboot by just messing with the software seems appealing. From what I understand, one always need an external flasher for the Thinkpad while you don't with Chromebooks. So that's a huge factor in accessibility in favor of Chromebooks.

>I also tried to compile my own C720 coreboot and flash that, but ran into problems.

I actually didn't compile my own version of Coreboot. I guess at some point I'd have to trust someone. But it feels very funny to me that I trust a random guy on the internet nicknamed MrChromebox to do the right thing instead of Intel. But then, even when I compile my own firmware, I have to trust thousands of other people who work on Coreboot to not have performed any underhanded tricks, my compiler to be free of defects, etc. "Reflections on trusting trust" hits home hard. I think all in all it does sound like that "having software/hardware we can control when we want to" (aka Stallmanism) is a more realistic goal than "better security."

For the ezpi4me project though, I tried to make the scripts as simple and easy to understand as possible, so you do see all it does. This is one project that I completed recently that I'm quite fond of, especially given I haven't been very productive and inspired to do things for a while :)

How easy is it to put just a boring linux distro on a cheap chromebook? I'm thinking of going lightweight, cheap, and linux for a replacement to my 10 year old laptop, but I still want to be able to fool around with small programming projects and watch netflix in bed.

Extremely easy. http://galliumos.org will do. Even vanilla Ubuntu works. Everything works out of the box. The battery lasts a ridiculously long time.

Remember to buy the older generations so you don't have to deal with 1.8V chips (read the FAQs in the link above). I haven't figured out the 1.8V stuff yet.

The Acer C720 is extremely cheap and very well supported. I'm personally using a Dell Chromebook 13 7310.

I have two Asus Chromeboxes that now run Linux. I put GalliumOS on one for my kid and stock Debian on the other. I had to flash the firmware for both of them[1]. If you do this make double sure you're flashing the correct firmware for your device!

[1] https://mrchromebox.tech/

Browsed around to find an easy answer and left a bit confused, is this compatible with the original chromebook pixel?(both the ME flash and the OS mod)

I remember those having all kinds of driver issues and weird custom hardware that hamstrung efforts like this...

GalliumOS wiki is a good resource about this. They have your answer here:


You can do the coreboot firmware without the ME mod entirely within the Chromebook itself without needing a Raspberry Pi as an external programmer. Only when you want to eradicate the ME do you need the Pi.

Hardware wise: It's Ivy Bridge. You can flash an Ivy Bridge with Raspberry Pi+Flashrom because its chip is 3.3V.

Recently did something similar with a Pocket CHIP and an X230. This is a wonderful SPI programming setup: https://imgur.com/5KEo4Y5

Do you have a link to documentation? I have the pokcetCHI@ and the laptop, and would be interested in giving this a go.

I did this kind of in my spare time, but I'd be happy to write up something quick later tonight or this weekend.

Most important bit is a SOIC8 Pomona 5250 clip and some wires to connect it up properly. I ended up soldering some right-angle headers onto my CHIP so I can do other things besides SPI programming with it.

That would be awesome, and appreciated, I would love to give it a try.

That thing looks great, never heard of it before :) You can do that with an Android phone, too, btw.

Android phone doesn't have gpio sitting right there waiting for you to plug something in to it.

AFAIK, almost the same process is used for Bios whitelisting. Meaning, Lenovo(and I guess others) has hardwired in the bios that only secific vendors+versions off e.g. WIFI cards can be used. You would dump the bios, same as described in the article, do some magic, and write it the altered bios back. If anybody can enlighten me on the magic part, I would be very thankful.

Notice any problems with the RTC? Mine doesn't work on a T420 after flashing. The clock jumps ahead 50 years every time I power off.

No RTC problems seen here.

I fixed it by setting the system time (so that "date" returned the correct time), then I ran "sudo hwclock --systohc".

Been meaning to get this task done myself, but past attempts haven't worked out.

This post is making me give it another shot soon.

OP here - email me (jwm@my domain) with questions if you want, I can help diagnose problems :)

Excellent to see this. My X230 should arrive next week and I will give this a try. I haven't flashed a BIOS like this before so every high-quality write-up like this helps me understand some things to watch out for.

Are there any coreboot supported platforms that charge over USB?

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