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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.

16 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).

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