Yeah! I Did It Again!

By Martin Jansen, Owner of Jansen-PCINFO

In November of 2019, I wrote about My $75 Laptop.  I took an old chromebook and converted it to a laptop running Linux Mint.  I am happy to say that my laptop is still alive and has seen many Linux Mint updates and upgrades over time.  It’s still a very viable computer thanks to Mint’s relatively low system requirements compared to Windows.

A few months ago, my wife started using Linux Mint after I purchased a barebones mini pc – added memory and storage – and another Linux user was born.  I documented that story here.   What she left behind was an aging Acer CXI2 Chromebox.  This Acer has reached End of Life according to Google.

Rather than recycling the Acer, I wanted to convert it into an upgraded personal computer.  To do this, much like my laptop, I needed to put the Chromebox in developer mode.  Unlike my laptop, this is accomplished by pressing in a recovery button via a pin hole on the back panel.

I will be the first to say that taking apart this Acer is not fun.  The goal is to remove the case and many screws to get to the underside of the motherboard.  Pry open the case, remove a metal plate, remove the heat sink from the processor and flip over the motherboard to get access to the memory slots and SSD.  Here’s a guide with links to pictures:  Unlike most Chromebooks where the components are soldered on, the CXI2 has two memory slots and a replaceable SSD.

I had an extra 4GB SODIMM that matched the specifications of the existing 4GB SODIMM for a total of 8GB of RAM.  Then I purchased a cool looking 128GB GamerKing M.2 2242 SSD to replace the original 16GB SSD.

It’s quite tiny, about the size of two quarters placed end to end.

When reassembling the Acer, it is important to clean up the old thermal paste under the heat sink and apply new paste.  I also removed the screw that allows overwriting the ChromeOS BIOS.  I then reassembled the rest of the Acer.

Now comes the fun part where I use the instructions from Mr. Chromebox and their special commands to download and install SeaBIOS.

After installation, a restart brings me to the ability to get a boot menu by pressing the Esc key.

I write the latest version of Linux Mint Cinnamon “Uma” 20.2 to my trusty 4GB USB Stick and use it to load the OS on the Acer.  Presto Chango! With a bit of technical magic, a Chromebox becomes a computer with no End of Life in sight.

My daughter is going to try this computer out to see if it will fit her needs.  She uses a Citrix client to remote into work and Citrix offers a Linux version of their software.  I’ll let you know if it works out.  If so, it will save her hundreds of dollars compared to a new computer.