Liberating a Dell Chromebook 11 3120 with GalliumOS/Linux
Last Updated: 2022-10-23
I recently picked up a Dell Chromebook 11 from eBay for only $35 for a project I'm working on. I specifically wanted a cheap, lightweight, and low-end machine that could run Linux and stumbled upon GalliumOS.
GalliumOS is a lightweight Linux distribution based on Xubuntu designed specifically for ChromeOS devices. Although Xubuntu wouldn't be my distro of choice, this is a fantastic project and a great means to breathe new life into low-spec ChromeOS machines, unshackling them from the chains of Google. It's important to note that GalliumOS's most recent release was 3 years ago (Dec 2019). After flashing the Corebook firmware, you could easily install something like Xubuntu or Arch Linux with XFCE (which is what I eventually did), but there are some configurations that need to be done post-install such as binding the ChromeOS function keys. Below are the steps I took to enable developer mode, flashing the coreboot firmware, installing GalliumOS, and my concluding notes.
Keep in mind that this process does completely remove ChromeOS from the machine. It also requires a USB drive for the GalliumOS installation image, another computer to write the image, and a screwdriver. This whole process took under an hour.
When prompted, select the "Install/Update Full ROM Firmware" option.
Confirm that you accept the risks and continue.
Confirm that you understand that ChromeOS will no longer be available, that you will need to install a new operating system, and that you don't need to make a backup of your stock firmware.
Once it's completed, it will prompt you to hit enter to return to the main menu, then press R to reboot.
If all went smoothly, the machine will reboot and you'll be presented with this beautiful coreboot logo, followed by another screen stating that booting from the eMMC failed because it doesn't have a 64-bit UEFI OS.
Download the latest version of Gallium OS here. You'll need to download the version for the Chromebook. For the Dell 3120, it's the Bay Trail ISO.
Write the ISO image to the USB drive using something like Gnome Disks, Etcher, Rufus, etc
Insert the USB drive into the Chromebook and power it on.
At the startup screen hit Esc to go into Boot Options/Settings, and select Boot Menu
From the boot menu, select the USB device you have inserted.
The GRUB menu will appear. Boot into GalliumOS Live Image and Installer.
A live version of GalliumOS will boot up. Go through the installation process by clicking Install GalliumOS on the desktop.
Note: Before installation, I launched Gparted to remove all partitions from the previous ChromeOS installation just to clean things up. This could have been done during the installation process, but I wanted to be 100% sure all the partitions were removed so I got the maximum storage available.
The installation process is like most other Linux installations and is pretty straight forward. I did encounter an installation error, but it was resolved when I selected to NOT download updates during the installation process.
In terms of performance, it's far smoother than I expected and much better than ChromeOS in terms of stutter, software availability, and customizability. Regarding the physical quality of this laptop, it's quite bad - especially the trackpad. I'm also disappointed at the lack of a Super/Mod key. But I can't complain since this is a $35 Linux laptop that has better battery life than my Thinkpad.
I'm really impressed at how easy this process was and the end result. I've decided to make donations of a few bucks to both mrchromebox.tech as well as the GalliumOS project. However, as mentioned above, I decided to switch to Arch Linux install with XFCE.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to send comments, questions, or recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.