Picking a Laptop
After my last machine broke down last summer I needed a new laptop. I’d been using an ancient HP Pavillion g6 which was bulky and had a dismal battery life (less than 30 minutes) that had finally begun failing after years of service.
- long battery life
- low cost
- small & lightweight
It turns out that there aren’t a ton of modern laptops that match this criteria. Chromebooks are one of the few products that strike a balance I was happy with.
After far too much research, I picked up a Samsung Chromebook 3. It has a dual-core Intel Braswell processor, 4GB of RAM, an 11” display, and weighs in at just two and a half pounds. Although prices have bounced higher recently, I saw it selling on Black Friday for $120. It comes with a minuscule amount of storage (mine’s got 16GB of SSD) but has a micro SD card slot to expand with.
I decided to install GalliumOS as a Linux distro to replace ChromeOS (the OS that Chromebooks ship with). GalliumOS is Ubuntu-based and designed for Chromebooks.
Installing involved a few extra steps before beginning the normal Linux ISO install process:
- Enabling Developer Mode on the Chromebook
- Removing the write-protect screw 1
- Flashing custom firmware
The GalliumOS wiki provides a guide as well as a useful table for hardware support.
I’ve really enjoyed using the Chromebook so far. It’s pretty snappy, really light, and the battery life is unreal. The portability is further enhanced because it’s so cheap to replace that I don’t second-guess taking it places where it could stolen or broken. I think it’s ideal for developers who are looking for a basic, no-frills laptop.
There have definitely been some issues. The built-in microphone currently only records static. Switching audio output when plugging in/out headphones took some effort to sort out. I had a recurring problem where audio would occasionally break when suspending under memory load.
Things aren’t perfect but because GalliumOS focuses on supporting ChromeOS devices the community is aggressive about fixing things that could easily fall by the wayside with larger distros. One of the project maintainers writes 2:
We have a history of fixing audio (in/out) on ChromeOS devices even when it is not fixed upstream or in other distros, and it is a priority for us
Overall I’m pretty happy with my Samsung Chromebook 3 and I think it’s a great option as a simple Linux machine.