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Install Linux Mint on a Chromebook with a separate home drive

The ever popular Linux Mint on a Chromebook paired with persistent SD card storage – what's not to like?

In this post I’ll install Linux Mint on my Chromebook and give you a quick look at the distro. My Chromebook only has a 16GB hard drive so I’ll use an SD card permanently plugged in to boost home drive storage.

Linux Mint is a hugely popular distro based on Ubuntu 16.04 and according to the developers it’s the 3rd most widely used home operating system behind Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS. I wouldn’t be surprised if many Windows XP users switched to Linux Mint after it reached it’s end of life.

I decided to go for the Cinnamon desktop environment which includes some pretty cool menus and layouts and lots of options to customize as you see fit. The general out of the box experience of Linux Mint appeals to both beginners and those users that just want their OS to work. The software management and system updates are designed to provide a stable system for everyday computing.

Linux Mint 18 comes with kernel 4.4, Cinnamon 3.0 and security updates supported until 2021.

Anyway enough jabbering, let’s get to it!

What you’ll need:

Step 1: Modify the Chromebook’s BIOS

In order to run Linux on a Chromebook, you’ll need to modify the BIOS so that it allows you to boot from a USB drive. Take a look at this post where I show you how to dual boot Linux and Chrome OS and follow the first 3 steps.

Step2: Boot into Linux Mint and begin the install

Plug in your SD card or USB 3.0 that you want to be used as your home drive. The PNY elite performance SD card  that I’m recommending has excellent read and write speeds and comes at a good price.

If you don’t mind using a USB 3.0 drive and losing that port, I recommend a small and compact one like the Sandisk Ultra Fit 128GB drive. You’ll get faster speeds and USB 3.0 drives are usually cheaper than SD cards.

You’ll also need to plug in your Live linux Mint drive into the other spare USB port on your Chromebook. If you don’t know how to create this you can see my video and written guide.

Start the Chromebook and at the developer screen press Ctrl + L to get to the modified BIOS screen. Choose to boot from your Live linux Mint drive and choose to start Linux Mint.

Once you get to the Mint desktop, connect to your wireless connection and make sure the internet works. Now double click the Install Linux Mint icon to begin the install. Follow the on screen prompts until you get to the Installation Type window (I recommend agreeing to install 3rd party software).

installation-type

Step 3: Choose manual partitioning and use the SD card or USB drive for the home drive

The installation type window is where we can manually setup partitioning of the hard drives. Choose the something else option and you’ll see lots of partitions for the first drive. This is the Chrome OS drive and this is where we’ll install Linux Mint. Choose the new partition table button to wipe all the Chrome OS partitions.

You should now be able to see the other drives more clearly. All drives that begin with sd are USB or SSD drives and drives with mmc in them are SD or eMMC drives.

manual-partitioning-in-linux-mint

You can use the + and buttons to add or remove partitions on drives. Add a swap partition of 4GBs and make the rest of the space the root partition.

Locate your SD card or USB 3.0 drive and make that your home partition. This will be your extra storage for your files and folders while the Chromebook’s internal drive will be for the Linux system.

For the rest of the install, just follow the on screen prompts. When you restart, press Ctrl + L and your Chromebook will boot directly to your Linux Mint install with separate home drive.

Linux Mint 18 is pretty awesome!

Linux Mint with the Mint-Y theme and dark window borders

Linux Mint with the Mint-Y themes and dark window borders.

If you look in the Mint menu, you’ll see lots of applications installed by default. Don’t forget to do a system update (you can just type this into the menu and run the update from there). You’ll find lots of software in the software manager (including Steam) and lots of ways you can customize your install.

For beginners, users who want lots of customization options and those that just what something that works out of the box and carries on working, Linux Mint is an outstanding choice.

53 Comments

  1. Mike

    Good job on the video. I have a Dell Chromebook 11 that I am using crouton for Linux. Tried using Gallium but then I kept running out of space in my downloads folder. I actually came here to see how you loaded the 5 Linux distros on an external drive and how well they ran like that. I’ll be keeping an eye on your YouTube channel.

    • Captain

      Thanks Mike,

      For multiboot, make sure you partition the drive using logical partitions otherwise you can only use four.

      Install the first distro leaving a good chuck of the drive empty and then install a 2nd distro using some of the free space using a logical partiton. When the 2nd install finishes grub2 will automatically create the config for you so that you see both distros on boot.

      You can install the other distros in the same way and grub2 will do it’s job. I also manually changed the entries in the grub config so that they looked nice and neat for the video.

      There are some things to consider, some distros might wipe your grub2 config completely and also whenever you get kernel updates the grub config will get changed again. I think this way of doing it is good for testing but not for using on a daily basis. I’m sure there’s a proper way of doing it but I think I’ll tame that beast some other time.

      If you haven’t already subscribed to my YouTube channel, you’re welcome to do so 😉

  2. Fazup

    Hi,

    I enjoyed your detailed explanations, still haven’t got a satisfactory solution on my Toshiba Chrome 2 (2015).

    Following your dual-boot guide I was able to get to the usb-boot enabled situation. Very happy about this. Thank you very much.

    However, I still cannot get a fully functional Linux in my Chromebook. Most of the distributions I have tried stuck with the gfx boot problem, unsolved yet.

    Today I have installed the Mint Linux 18 Cinnamon (Sarah), but have 2 serious issues:

    1. The mouse pad is dead. I was able to overpass this temporary with an usb mouse.

    2. The WiFi is not working. It seems this is a mint linux bug, apparently solvable using an wired connection. However, this is not able on the chromebook since there is no LAN port available.

    Surprisingly, both (the mouse and WiFi) are working just fine during install with live edition.

    It is very frustrating to get as far and end with nothing. Any tip about how to fix offline the WiFi driver? Since it worked from the live image I suppose everything we need is in there, but I don’t know how to get out and put in use what I need. Some modprobe command line would be great, but I am not such an expert in Linux.

    Many thanks.

    • Captain

      Hi Fazup,

      There is a known issue with the GFX error but the trackpad and WIFI should work. Check the date and time is correct, that should sort out the WIFI.
      Since you’ve had so many problems, I highly recommend GalliumOS, your model of Chromebook should work out of the box.

      • Fazup

        Thank you for your reply.

        Actually, I’ve tried GalliumOS, but can’t advance the GFX error, so I gave it up immediately.

        After one whole day of fighting, I was finally successful to get a fully functional Linux on my Chromebook by installing Bodhi Linux 4.0.0 Alpha 2 (http://www.bodhilinux.com/). This really works out of the box on my machine, so I really recommend it for people in similar troubles.

        Two minor issues left:

        1. I can’t get all the function keys working properly. After executing your Tweak_master script I’ve got the last 3 keys working, that is the sound keys, however the others are dead. I am especially willing to get the display brightness key working because the screen is too bright draining my battery. Of course having the other keys working would be cool. BTW Neil Barnes’ script has blocked all my key board, so I had to reinstall everything from usb image. Any suggestions? Any tutorial to follow for making a script for my Linux version on my machine?

        2. The right side of the Chromebook, around the usb memory stick where the Linux systems lives, gets quite hot. I am using the SanDisk 128GB Ultra Fit that you recommend. Is this OK when I am using Linux on a daily basis?

        Thank you

  3. Carl

    Hi Captain – how does Linux Mint on the Toshiba 2 Chromebook compare (in terms of speed / any lagginess etc.) to the more lightweight distros you reviewed such as Elementary OS, Xubuntu and so on?
    Thanks
    Carl

    • Captain

      Hi Carl,

      Mint 18 Cinnamon is actually quite fast and could have been included in the lightweight distros review I did. I can only think of 2 things that were slower, boot time and Firefox takes about 5 secs longer. Also, Mint comes in several desktop environments like Mate and XFCE that you can download from their site. Keep reading and watching I plan to review other distros as well.

  4. a_nomad

    Thanks Captain! I have the same chromebook as you and i would like to dualboot off an SD card. I just saw the same SD card onsale so I will probably do that. Between Ubuntu and Mint, which would you recommend? thanks!

  5. Jay

    Hello Captain,

    Mint was great for the last month or so on my Toshiba swanky, but I just got this firmware error starting today. It is:

    [ 1.447645] tpm_tis 00:07: [Firmware Bug]: TMP interrupted not working, polling instead

    Any help would be appreciated, thanks!

    • Captain

      Hi Jay,

      Take a look at this

      • Jay

        Hi Captain,

        Seems like I need to run fsck on the Chrome OS, but can’t find how. Also, don’t know the how to name where I installed mint (used the scandisck thumb drive on this one).

        • Captain

          Hi Jay,

          You said you only have Mint installed. So boot from a live Linux USB drive and in a terminal type:
          lsblk
          This will show you all the drives on your system. The USB drive that you have Mint installed on will be /dev/sdxx. Once you identify your drive (let’s say it’s /dev/sda1), now run the check:
          fsck /dev/sda1
          (Since TMP is not supported on the Chromebook, it’s normal to get this error on boot).

  6. ilan

    Hi Captain.
    well. i’m no dumb as it gets to windows environment but played around with linux, customed android for PC (i dont remember the names of…) and some mac OS for windows-but thats it !
    now i got my acer cb3-131 as a gift…
    could it be possible to run some linux straight from the internal drive ?
    must be sure wifi, video and sound cards drivers will work.
    i can see the great job that you do here-nice !

    • Captain

      Hi ilan, the cb3-131 is supported and would assume that everything will work in most distros. If they don’t this chromebook if fully supported in GalliumOS.

  7. walter

    I used your excellent instructions to enable my usb/legacy boot. I chose Mint 18 KDE. I believe it failed writing grub2, I had left it at default. I used an 8gb Corsair and a 64gb usb 3 SanDisk Ultra. Where is the boot loader to be written?
    Chromebook is a CB35-b3340. I will try LM18 Cinnamon or Mate next. I have Mate on a PC.

    • Captain

      Hi Walter, I assume the 64GB USB was for the home drive. Since Mint will still be booting from the internal drive, that’s where the bootloader will should be installed.

      In the video, look over that part again.

      • walter

        Thanks, I will dl Cinnamon, pay attention to the video and tail dmesg if it fails again. At failure a popup was invoked and a red message referred to a Root problem. I will give it another go. I am also posting this on the wrong section. I was doing part 4 of the Legacy boot using this sections video since KDE install isn’t the same as Ubuntu Cinnamon so I was doing it wrong. I will follow your Ubuntu 16 video.
        Walter

  8. walter

    Hi Capt
    Tried with LM 18 Cinnamon. On first try answered no to the mounted partitions question and yes on the last attempt. Both same message failure notification.
    Unable to install grub
    Execution grub-install /dev/mmcblk0 fail
    fatal error
    I had left the default /dev/mmcblk0 MMC 16GE2 15.8g
    Might be something with my eemc. Chrome is ok but there is now a problem with blutooth mouse in chrome. I may start with gallium but grub is pretty uniform.
    Thanks

  9. walter

    Hi
    I re read from the beginning about legacy, stub etc. I was not trying to add home. I was dual booting. Used /dev/sda for the grub install and all is well, (no sound yet). I will install the Mr. Chromebox script later.

    That SanDisk is fast.
    Thanks

    • Captain

      Hi Walter, that’s good you got it working. Please note not all features are supported on all Chromebooks so you should check supported devices along with any issues on the GalliumOS site.

  10. BJ

    Hi Captain,

    Thank you for another great video. I am somewhat new to Linux. I have a Toshiba CB2 (Swanky) I fist started using Linux via crouton. Then, I found your site and successfully installed Elementary OS via dual boot from a USB 3.0.

    In this new video it looks like you installed Mint directly onto the Chromebook internal eMMC drive and then created a second home drive using your SD card. Is this correct? If so, that means you completely wiped Chrome OS, correct?

    I am considering doing the same, but may look at installing the new Zorin 12 distro with the Zorin 2.0 desktop environment. Do you see any issues with running Zorin on the Toshiba Chromebook?

    Thank you for any advice.

    • Captain

      Hi BJ, good job getting Linux on your CB! Yes, in this post I completely wiped ChromeOS and installed Linux Mint on the eMMC. When installing, I pointed the home drive to the SD card (it’s not a 2nd home drive). The reason being that those with non-upgradable drives can increase their storage using an SD card. With the Toshiba CB 2 you just forget the SD card is in the slot and carry on as normal.

      I haven’t used Zorin OS because the last time I looked at it, it looked too much like a Windows clone. I had a quick look now and wow it looks really nice now, especially since it’s based on my favorite DE Gnome. Zorin is based on Ubuntu so there shouldn’t be any problems with the install but be aware that sound will not work (as is the case for any distro with a newer kernel on the Toshiba CB 2 -Swanky).

      • BJ

        Captain,

        Thank you for the very quick reply. I do have a follow up question. Again on the Toshiba CB2 Swanky I am running Elementary OS and I checked the kernel is 4.4. From what I can find the new Zorin 12 is also based on kernel 4.4. I certainly do not want to create problems for myself but I would like to give Zorin a try.

        Since I am dual booting Elementary OS on a USB 3.0 drive, could I simply shutdown, remove the USB containing Elementary, replace with a new USB in the 3.0 slot then take a live Zorin USB in the other slot and install Zorin on the new USB 3.0? Does this make sense? Essentially I could swap the USB 3.0 drives to boot into Elementary or Zorin or I could boot to the internal eMMC to go back to Chrome.

        Again, thank you for all you do for this community!

        BJ

        • Captain

          Hi BJ, yes sure, the whole install of Linux is on the USB drive, so if you have another one, give Zorin OS a try. ChromeOS is installed on the internal drive and will remain untouched. Appreciate the kind words.

          • BJ

            Hi Captain,

            Just checking in with an update. I just completed installing Zorin OS 12 on my Toshiba CB2 using the dual boot method per your instructions. I also ran your fix it script to get the function buttons and sound working correctly. I am not sure about the microphone; have not tested that yet.

            I am going to try Zorin out as my daily driver to see how it compares to Elementary OS. I may report back in a few months to let you know how I am getting on.

            Thank you again for all of the great videos and instructions!

            BJ

  11. Prash

    HI, I have a Acer Chromebook 14 and i cant seem to boot up from the USB. It is already in developer mode. on the developer mode screen i press on CTRL+U and CTRL+L nothing happens, the screen just flashes, if anyone has a fix to this please assist me.

    Thank you

    • Captain

      Hi Prash, ctrl u ??
      Please reread this post and follow carefully.

  12. Jeff Grant

    Captain – I’ve been running Mint 18 Cinnamon now on a Toshiba Swanky for about two months – installed on a fast Lexar SD card.Thanks to your excellently clear instructions, it’s worked just about faultlessly. I have however, one problem and I’ve seen no-one else refer to this. But I’m writing a book and need to do so often on the Toshiba. I touch type and what bugs the life out of me when working on it is the touchpad. You know the problem – a wandering finger or the heel of your hand accidentally hit the touchpad and you’ve deleted half a word or the cursor had migrated way up the screen etc. Is there a way of disabling the touchpad? I’ve read that one exists if you’re using just Chrome OS, but if, like me, you’re running a full Linux?

    • Captain

      Hi Jeff, I know what you mean it can get irritating on laptops in general when the the touchpad gets in the way! You can try the Touchpad-indicator by Lorenzo Carbonell.

      Run the 2 commands in a terminal window as described in the ‘Adding this PPA to your system’ section on the website and then type
      sudo apt-get install touchpad-indicator
      After the install you’ll find the app in your applications menu. I haven’t tried it myself but it looks like it should work in Mint 18.

      • Jeff Grant

        Captain – that is totally brilliant! Took all of one minute and worked a dream. Thank you so much. You run a really superb service here.

  13. Peter Huckle

    I just wanted to report that I got the keyboard backlight working on my Chromebook 2 using the instructions at http://www.pants.nu/~jmcminn/toshiba-2015-chromebook-linux.html – only a small thing but sometimes these small things nag at you until you find the answer!

  14. Christian Gould

    Hi Captain,

    I have been using the 2013 Google pixel to boot into linux mint. Everything worked like a charm, until I tried to use my track-pad. The touchscreen on the google pixel worked, but the track-pad was unresponsive. Do you have any advice on getting the track-pad working? I don’t mind if the touchscreen doesn’t respond, but the track-pad is a must.

    • Captain

      Hi Christian, use a USB mouse and try a newer kernel (you’ll find the option in update manager) OR try GalliumOS, I believe everything will work out of the box.

  15. johny

    Hi, really appreciate all your hard work. I have tried many lightweight Linux in the past on my old laptop that used to run windows XP. Mint is definitely one the best lightweight Linux out there. However, i finally settle with antix MX-16. It is faster than Mint and it is more stable and uses less resources. Hopefully you can try to install MX-16 on the Chromebook. thx

    • Captain

      Thanks Johny for the suggestion, MX-16 is already on my list of distros to review, but I should warn you the list is quite long…

  16. karim

    If I have linux installed I can reuse chrome os sistem

  17. singingfalls

    I purchased the Toshiba CB35-C3350 at your recommendation. It is a refurb which is fine for my purposes. My original purchase was a Lenovo 22. That didn’t turn out so well with Gallium OS. I fried my speakers. That issue has since been resolved. The OS worked fine otherwise but the unit has no sound because of the experimental install. My bad. The Toshiba install went very well. Thanks for the excellent guidance. I run straight Linux Mint on all of my systems and now I have a high res chromebook 2 to carry with me. My original laptop was a system 76 monster. It has the computing power of a Desktop PC but weighs three times as much as the Toshiba. I second the motion to use http://www.pants.nu/~jmcminn/toshiba-2015-chromebook-linux.html to get your backlit keyboard up and running. Thanks again for this great blog.

  18. Steve

    Thanks for the tutorial, following your instructions Linux Mint is running on my HP Chromebook making for a great sub $150 laptop.
    I assume I can use MrChromeBox Seabios script to remove the dual boot function and just go straight into Mint but after reading descriptions for the various options for the ChromeOS Firmware Utility Script I am not sure which to use. Can you tell me which option to choose if my assumption is correct?
    Thanks again for making this so easy.
    -Steve

    • Captain

      Hi Steve, great to hear you found my posts useful.

      Older HP models have a full ROM option but newer ones do not. You can check by going to Mr Chrombox’s hardware list but be aware that you will need to open your CB up and remove write protect first.

  19. karim

    Hi capitan, I can not change the BIOS of my chromebook (I have a chromebook CTL J2 CHROMEBOOK) I think it’s because of the incompatibility of my chromebook.

    • Captain

      Hi Karim, you have a ARM processor in your CB and so this is not supported. You could try crouton to still run Linux though…

  20. Steve

    sorry- another question.
    After running linux for weeks on my chromebook it is now booting into the Chrome recovery screen without the option for ctrl+L to boot linux from seabios. The only thing I can guess to do is restore chromeOS from usb and then reinstall linux mint.
    I thought I would check to see if there is any way to turn off the “chrome missing” flag and get back to the option to boot linux.
    Thanks for your time.

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