Acer C720 Chromebook

Recently I got an Acer C720 Chromebook and wanted to write a little bit about what I think of it. Basically, it's a small 11.6 inch screen laptop but instead of running a more typical operating system such as Windows 7 or Debian/Ubuntu (more on that later), it runs an operating system from Google called ChromeOS. To the user, it's pretty much just the Chrome web browser with some basic but nice operating system type features around it, such as a lock screen and notification area. While the world seems to be heading towards a cloud-based-always-online type environment, I'm not so keen on that idea on my own personal computers. So why did I get it? I got it because of its low price point (~£200), good battery life, good build quality, and its ability to run a more conventional operating system such as Debian or Ubuntu.

First, the build quality feels very good for the price point. I have used laptops that cost twice the price but don't feel as well built. It has a very plain appearance, definitely not as quirky and fun as it's competitor the HP Chromebook 14, but that's a positive for me. It's weighs just over 1.1 kg, which is a nice change compared to my older laptop that weighs about 2.7 kg. So while I may notice and appreciate the lightness more than some, I find it very portable. The 11.6 inch screen has a resolution of 1366x768 so while the pixel density for the screen size is pretty good, the quality of the display itself leaves a lot to be desired due to the dull washed out colours and poor viewing angles. The battery life on the C720 is fantastic however and I'm getting around 8 hours of use on a full charge, not much less than Acers claimed 8.5 hours.

To be honest, I haven't spent very much time in ChromeOS since my current way of working just doesn't fit into the web based workflow that ChromeOS kind of forces you to have. However, what I did see in the short time I used it was promising. The experience was smooth and everything worked nicely. I would have no hesitations recommending it to someone who doesn't need access to a more traditional operating system. However not using ChromeOS much doesn't mean I haven't been using the C720 chromebook much! In fact, it's quite the opposite. One of the first things I done when I unboxed it, after a quick tour of ChromeOS, was setup Ubuntu using crouton.

Crouton is a set of scripts that makes setting up a chroot extremely easy. If you aren't familiar with what a chroot is, don't worry. Crouton has abstracted away all of the messy details and all you really need to know is that it's a way of getting another Linux distribution running on your chromebook. It requires enabling 'developer mode' and you can do this by holding down esc and refresh and then pressing the power button. This puts it into 'recovery mode' and if you press CTRL+D at the recovery screen, you will reboot into ChromeOS with developer mode enabled. This process wipes all user data stored on the device including ChromeOS user accounts. Once you are running ChromeOS with developer mode enabled you can follow the instructions found in the README in croutons github repository to get your new operating system up and running.

However a brief overview of the steps required is as follows:
Download the crouton script from the following URL: This will save to your 'Downloads' directory.

Open a crosh shell using CTRL+ALT+T in ChromeOS and then type shell . Note this only works in developer mode.

Now type sudo -e ~/Downloads/crouton -r precise -t unity -e .

This will install the 'precise' release of Ubuntu with the Unity desktop. The final -e switch encrypts the chroot.

Simply running sudo -e ~/Downloads/crouton will provide you with more information, including how to find out about other releases that you can install.
The rest is pretty much automated and after it's complete you will have your chroot setup.

I typically enter my chroot with the command sudo -b startunity . The -b switch backgrounds the process so you can close the ChromeOS tab.

You can switch between the chroot and ChromeOS with CTRL+SHIFT+LEFTARROW and CTRL+SHIFT+RIGHTARROW .

Since the C720 has a x86 CPU, it doesn't suffer from having a restricted set of applications like ARM based chromebooks when running an OS like Debian. The C720 contains a dual core 1.4GHz Celeron CPU (2955U) with the current generation Intel Haswell microarchitecture making it an efficient and capable little device. So while I won't be keen to run any very intensive tasks on it, due to the limited 2GB of RAM and 16GB of SSD storage, it can run pretty much all of the applications you would expect.

While using crouton does have a negative effect on the default security of the device, you can take steps to recover some security. These are just some general tips and in no way comprehensive. First, make sure you set a root password on ChromeOS since it's not set by default when developer mode is enabled. You can do this with the following command:
sudo chromeos-setdevpasswd
Crouton supports encryption of your chroot and this is done by using the -e switch with the crouton script.
When using Unity on 12.04 I found that it was not possible to lock your computer on a default install, but that can be solved by installing the relevant package (gnome-screensaver) manually.

In summary, I am very happy with the C720 as it's a lightweight, long lasting and reasonably well performing Linux laptop.
This was posted on Tue 11 Feb 2014 (5 years, 4 months ago) by Ryan McConville