A Lesson In Not Recycling Old Hardware

(THIS IS AN OLD POST FROM MY OLD WEBSITE.)

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way responsible for damage to your devices, do this at your own risk!

It bothers me so much to see hardware that is otherwise perfectly fine, lose its value all at once when the company that you bought it from decides not to update it anymore. That is why I like to repurpose it and breathe new life into it.

Such is the case with old Chrome devices. Chromebooks, Chromeboxes.\ I work for a public school, and per state rulings, when a device no longer receives updates to its OS, we can no longer allow it on our network because it is considered a security risk. This is super unfortunate for us however because we are what is called a "Google School", this means that we are Google everything, Google Docs, Google computers, Google Chrome... You get the point I'm trying to make here.

Recently we have been literally just throwing out (Recycling) our old Chrome devices when they were no longer supported, I hated this. I asked my boss if I could try something with one of the old Chromebooks and much to my delight he agreed. I grabbed one of our old HP 14 G3 laptops and got to work. I had previously played with some of our Chromeboxes that we had gotten rid of and I had an idea.

In each Chrome device, there is a single screw that you can remove to gain write access to the BIOS. Using mrchromebox.tech's BIOS utility script we are able to overwrite this BIOS with a REAL PC BIOS that will allow us to use the computer like, well, any old computer. I tried this script on that HP 14 G3, it worked! My next thing to try was to install a version of ChromiumOS that is maintained by NeverWare called CloudReady. Cloudready is a ChromiumOS that you can install on just about anything, therefore my though was "If I can install it on a PC, whats stopping me from trying it on this "dead" Chromebook?"... Nothing... It worked! I now had in front of me a Chromebook running a different version of ChromeOS that will still be getting updates even though the device is no longer officially support. For those of you that have modified android before you know the feeling that I got at this point. My boss and myself could not for a good while believe that it was working.

This discovery of course means that we can save thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in hardware. And we are also now able to keep the "Dead" devices out of landfills and recycling dumps. YAY!\ Not to mention, the hardware is built for ChromeOS... Neverware's CloudReady runs on it FLAWLESSLY. Of course there are the caveats: The device is no longer officially supported and this had voided your warranty and over time with more updates, the device WILL slow down. But, doing this saves you optimistically a few years!

Now I'll tell you how to do it... I will not be providing images due to the nature of electronic devices. Each device will have a different layout, different ways of opening it, etc.

  1. Begin downloading CloudReady. It is a large file and will take some time. Follow the instructions on their website to create a USB boot device.
  2. Power down your Chromebook and boot it back up while holding ESC and refresh
  3. Press CTRL+d to enable developer mode and follow the on-screen prompts.
  4. Power the device back down and disassemble it. Don't worry, it is not Number 5 and won't scream "No disassemble Number 5"
  5. Locate and remove the BIOS write protect screw.
  6. Do not close the device, but assemble it enough to get a working keyboard, power button and mouse.
  7. Start the device and open guest mode.
  8. press CTRL+alt+t to open Crosh (The Chrome terminal)
  9. type "shell" into Crosh and press enter
    1. open a new tab and visit Mr. ChromeBox's site and go to the Firmware Utility Script.
    2. Run the command provided on the website in your shell. "cd; curl -LO https://mrchromebox.tech/firmware-util.sh && sudo bash firmware-util.sh"
    3. When prompted with the FUS, type 3, enter, y, enter, y enter, n enter < Change the last N to a Y if you want to back up your current firmware.
    4. Once the script has finished, type p, enter to power off the device.
    5. Remember how we left the machine in pieces? Re-install the write protect screw.
    6. Reassemble the machine.
    7. Plug in your CloudReady drive.
    8. Power on the machine and start repeatedly pressing the ESC button. This will bring us into the BIOS screen. Or in this case the UEFI.
    9. Navigate to Boot Options and select your EFI USB Device
    10. Wait for CloudReady to boot and click on the clock followed by "Install OS"
    11. Follow the on-screen prompts and wait for the computer to power down. This takes in my personal experience about half an hour contrary to their documentation.

That's it! Now you can boot your device and use it like normal again, but now with updates.

In conclusion, I only ask that anyone who has made it this far, please do some research for this kind of thing before recycling your old hardware. There will likely be a lot more life left in it.

Considerations:

Security is of utmost importance when dealing with your personal (Or in my case student) data. This is why we re-installed the write protect screw. Despite this however, it is up to you to decide whether you would like to trust a modified BIOS/UEFI. In our case I was previously familiar with this BIOS provided by Mr. ChromeBox and am comfortable using it.

Stability is a requirement for modern computing. In my experience using this BIOS I have had no issues. However, this may not be the case for you. In the even that this is an unstable solution you can easily return to the factory OS and BIOS by removing that screw and running the same script.

Other OSs can be installed on this Chrome devices, this includes but is not limited to: Linux, Windows, BSD, even MacOS if you try hard enough. It is a fully unlocked BIOS and behaves just like a real PC now. I am personally fond of installing Linux on these devices to bring them back to life and even add more functionality to them.

This information provided is my own and is not to reflect on my employer. This was my discovery that I provided to them and the public.

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