Best Chromebooks for Linux

For Linux users (or readers who want to start using Linux), this is my round up of some of the most popular Chromebooks that support Linux.

Linux is an amazing operating system and I think it’s unfair that we consumers are forced to buy Windows licensed laptops when all we need on them is Linux. Chromebooks are excellent well designed laptops that can be turned into Linux ultrabooks without having to pay for Windows licenses.

I first became aware of them a couple of years ago when I read the headline Chromebook’s biggest fan: Linus Torvalds (Linus is the creator of the Linux kernel). I thought if ol’ Linus thinks they’re good, well it’s an opinion worth considering.

When I did need to buy a laptop, after a bit of research I realised how right he was and ended up buying the Toshiba Chromebook 2. I realised that Chromebooks come with excellent hardware, are very reasonable priced, and have a sleek ultrabook look.

Yes, I could have brought a normal laptop but would have ended up paying twice the price for a bulky laptop with the same spec. Linux isn’t as resource hungry as Windows so the battery focused specs of Chromebooks work really well.

I’ve put together this list to help those of you who want a Chromebook to dual boot Chrome OS and Linux OR run Linux on its own natively. All models on this list have variants that usually physically look the same but differ in terms of their processor, RAM and hard drive capacities.

The ones featured in this post are those which I think are models that have the right specs to be an effective Linux ultrabook.

Is modifying the BIOS difficult and can I replace the SSD?

Chromebooks are designed for cloud storage and so the internal drives tend to be only 16GB or 32GB. You can easily replace these because most new Chromebooks (except the Acer Chromebook 14) use M.2 NGFF SSD’s that can be purchased relatively cheaply. I have included links to compatible SSD’s for each model featured in this post.

Replacing the drive does require opening the Chromebook up but it’s a fairly simple process of removing the screws from the underside (including any under rubber feet or warranty stickers). You can see how I opened my Toshiba Chromebook 2 in the video in this post and my guide to dual booting Linux and Chrome OS in this post.

Toshiba Chromebook 2

 

Processor 2.1 GHz Intel Core i3-5015U Dual Core (Broadwell)
Memory (RAM) 4GB DDR3L RAM
Storage 16GB (replace with 128GB or 256GB SSD)
Display 13.3” IPS screen (1920×1080)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5500
Connections 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 and SD card reader
Extra and Features HD webcam and built-in mic
Bluetooth and WIFI
Backlit keyboard
Battery life About 8 hours battery life
Weight 2.97 lbs (1.3kg)
Buy

The stand out feature of this Chromebook is the IPS HD 13.3” screen – it’s a high end screen at a low end price. Viewing angles and colours are nice although the screen is quite reflective especially outdoors.

I have the 2014 HD version and would have loved to get this new 2015 version because it has a speedy i3 processor and a backlit keyboard. This version never made it to the UK and it seems never will. According to a recent announcement, Toshiba is pulling out of making consumer laptops in favour of the business laptops market. Inevitably as stocks runout, these laptops will become harder to buy – so grab one while you can!

At only 2.97 lbs and a screen size of 13.3” this is an ideal portable ultrabox that is slim and sleek. Yes it doesn’t have an aluminium or magnesium alloy casing but it has the best display out of all the current Chromebooks on the market at the moment.

Linux users who want more storage without replacing the SSD will like that an SD card can be inserted fully into the card reader so that the card becomes barely noticeable.  I recommend installing Linux on the internal drive and using the SD card as storage though. Even ultra-fast SD cards have slower read and write speeds so installing Linux on them will slow things down.

With a powerful i3 processor the 8 hours battery life is expected but a bit disappointing at this price point. Although there is a cheaper version of this Chromebook with a Celeron processor, I think as a Linux ultrabook it’s worth paying a bit extra for the more powerful processor.

Other great features are the chiclet keyboard, multi gesture touchpad and the Skull Candy sound. In fact it’s surprising the depth of sound you get from such a slim laptop.

For some, the higher end price may be something that stops them buying but the snappy processer and gorgeous screen in my opinion, makes this Chromebook well worth the money. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is currently selling for: Out of stock.

Dell Chromebook 13

 

Processor 1.7 GHz Intel Celeron 3215U Dual Core (Broadwell)
Memory (RAM) 4GB DDR3L RAM
Storage 16GB (replace with 128GB or 256GB SSD)
Display 13.3” IPS screen (1920×1080)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Connections 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 and MicroSD card reader
Extra and Features 720p HD webcam and built-in mic
Bluetooth and WIFI
Backlit keyboard
Glass touchpad with integrated button
Battery life About 12 hours battery life
Weight 3.23 lbs (1.47kg)
Buy

Dell have improved on their previous 11” version with this new 13” version. It’s got a premium look and feel but is slightly heavy for a 13” Chromebook, in fact it weighs about the same as the bigger Acer Chromebook 14.

The casing is made of durable magnesium alloy rather than plastic and along with the nice grip casing it’s a beautifully designed high quality build. There’s also the convenient front battery indicator light and glass trackpad that make this an elegant machine.

With quality comes cost and compared to similar Chromebooks it’s priced higher. If I were buying it I would justify the extra spend by telling myself that I was still saving money by not buying a Windows licensed laptop 🙂

Hardware wise it’s got similar internals as other 13” Chromebooks like a Broadwell Celeron processor and 4GB of RAM. I should mention there is also an i3 version but in my opinion the price is too high to justify buying as an affordable Linux ultrabook.

The glass trackpad is large and responsive and the backlit keyboard is pleasant to use. The full HD IPS screen may not be as good as the Toshiba Chromebook 2 but it comes close. It’s also an anti glare display which reduces reflections particularly useful outside.

The 720p webcam is ok but nothing special and the sound from the speakers is average. It has a MicroSD card reader so if you plan on using your existing SD card you’ll need a USB card reader instead.

The stand out features of this Chromebook are it’s design and battery life coming in at around 12 hours. Although it’s on the high price end it’s a popular choice if you want a 13” premium solid durable laptop. The Dell Chromebook 13 is currently selling for $304.62.

Acer C740 Chromebook

 

Processor 1.5 GHz Intel Celeron 3205U Dual Core (Broadwell)
Memory (RAM) 4GB DDR3L RAM
Storage 16GB (replace with 128GB or 256GB SSD)
Display 11.6” LCD screen (1366 x 768)
Graphics Intel integrated HD Graphics
Connections 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 and SD card reader
Extra and Features HD webcam and built-in mic
Bluetooth and WIFI
Battery life About 8 hours battery life
Weight 2.87 lbs (1.3kg)
Buy

The C740 looks the same as the earlier C720 model and is another good Chromebook from Acer. For Linux the 4GB RAM one is recommended.

It uses the newish Broadwell processor, is lightweight at 2.87 lbs and is thin and portable. This well-built durable design has a nice matte finish with strong hinges that will please those who what a minimal plain look.

The screen is a slight let down compared to the other Chromebooks in this post since it’s not full HD at 1366 x 768 and viewing angles are not as good as an IPS display. The trackpad and keyboard are nice overall but the keys feel a bit small.

Some Linux users that use an SD card for extra storage will find it annoying that the card sticks out of the side considerably but overall this is an impressive ultrabook.

If you’re looking for a smaller more portable solid Chromebook, this 11.6” screen laptop is a great choice. It retails at an affordable price and has a good battery life and works really well as a Linux machine. The Acer C740 Chromebook is currently selling for Check on Amazon.

Acer Chromebook 14

 

Processor 1.6 GHz Intel Celeron Quad Core N3160 (Braswell)
Memory (RAM) 4GB LPDDR3 RAM
Storage 32GB eMMC (internal drive is NOT replaceable)
Display 13.3” IPS screen (1920×1080)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 400
Connections 1 HDMI and 2x USB 3.0
Extra and Features 720p HD webcam and built in mic
Bluetooth and WIFI
Aluminium alloy casing
Battery life About 12 hours battery life
Weight 3.42 lb (1.54kg)
Buy

At first glance this Chromebook looks like it should be double the price because of the amazing aluminium casing. It oozes style and it’s premium look and feel will be a major selling point for some.

It comes with the newer Braswell processor with 4 cores which is great for multitasking and is a powerful processor for your Linux ultabook. Combined with the 4GBs of RAM and a 32GB internal drive, it’s a powerful laptop.

The LPDDR3 RAM and internal eMMC drive are designed to use less power and so help conserve battery life. Unfortunately, eMMC drives cannot be swapped our for higher capacity drives which could be a problem for some under Linux. There is also no SD card reader so the only option is a compact USB 3.0 flash drive for boosting storage space.

Luckily this Chromebook has 2 USB 3.0 ports but it’s weird that Acer hasn’t included a MicroSD or SD slot. No backlit keyboard I can understand but those slots are really useful not only for Chrome OS users but for Linux users as well.

If you don’t need an SD card reader and a 13” Chromebook is a bit small for you, the Acer Chromebook 14 has some other useful features like a 14” full HD IPS display, a 720p webcam and 12 hrs battery life. The bigger size means that it’s a bit heavier than some of the other Chromebooks on this list but it’s still portable and lighter compared to other normal laptops close to this price range.

On the point of price I think combined with it’s amazing aluminium casing and 14” IPS screen, this Chromebook makes a very affordable Linux ultrabook. The Acer Chromebook 14 is currently selling for $299.99.

Acer C720P Chromebook (Touchscreen)

 

Processor 1.4 GHz Intel Celeron 2955U Dual Core (Haswell)
Memory (RAM) 4GB DDR3L RAM
Storage 32GB (replace with 128GB or 256GB SSD)
Display 11.6” LCD screen (1366 x 768)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics
Connections 1 HDMI, 1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0 and SD card reader
Extra and Features Touchscreen
HD webcam and built-in mic
Bluetooth and WIFI
Battery life 8.5 hours battery life
Weight 2.98 lb (1.4kg)
Buy

Acer’s 11” C720 released in 2014 but is worth mentioning for those of you looking for an 11” laptop. Even though it’s an older model, sales are still going strong and I think it’s because it’s a solid touch screen Chromebook – not bad at this price point.

This is a popular choice for people wanting to install Linux on a Chromebook because it has the powerful Haswell processor, 4GB of RAM and a 32GB internal drive. Haswell processors tend to be less power efficient than newer processors but are as fast as the newer ones in some cases.

The touch screen is nice to use and is responsive. Touch screens have very good support under Linux with almost all gestures supported under the newest Linux kernel. I’ve found that the Gnome desktop environment works well using touch screens although touch to right click is always a problem.

At less than 3 lbs and 11” this Chromebook is portable too. If you really want a touch screen Linux ultrabook you can get this one for about the same price as some of the newer Chromebooks. The Acer C720P is currently selling for Check on Amazon.