Thursday, April 06, 2017

Acer Chromebook 14 running GalliumOS / Ubuntu Review 

This is Part 2 having described how to setup GalliumOS on a Chromebook, now we consider the overall user experience with the device and the Xfce4 desktop and applications.

Additionally by way of comparison to a HP ProBook laptop running Microsoft Windows 7 and equivalent experiences with common daily tasks. Including the value proposition here in terms of the functionality enabled and the overall cost and total ownership experience.

Comparing the HP ProBook running Windows and Microsoft Office we see that the HP has a dual core CPU 2.0GHz processor (3.0GHz burst mode) with 8GB of memory. However with Windows loaded the available memory is 5GB. The anti-virus software is disabled so that the significant 30% resource drag it imposes is not a factor. The display on the HP is an older 1366x768 resolution, newer ones have 1080p displays. The battery life is around 3.5 hours and the laptop weighs 5 pounds with battery. The full size keyboard and touch pad give a professional typing feel.

The Chromebook with GalliumOS and LibreOffice 5 suite has a quad core CPU 1.6GHz processor with 4GB of memory. The processor has a burst mode of 2GHz also. With the LINUX OS loaded there is 3.8GB of available memory. The full HD 1080 display is professional quality device output combined with the HDMI port. The battery life is at least 10 hours and the device weighs 3 pounds. When using an external display monitor battery life is significantly extended, 8 hours of use drains only 4 to 5 hours of battery. The Chromebook keyboard is acceptable for mobile use, I’m typing this travelling on the Metro Rail, but for daily use an external wireless keyboard and mouse are the better option.

For boot up time to OS load and application menu activation then the Chromebook wins hands down. Not only is Windows much slower to load anyway, but the accessing for the USB 3.0 based resident OS is faster than the laptop using the traditional disk hard drive. Similarly shutdown is dramatically faster.

Next we move to applications experience. For web browsing on the HP ProBook using IE browser and a single tab it opens quickly and web sites load rapidly. The dual code processor performs as expected. Similarly using FireFox on the Chromebook is very comparible, quick loading and web site navigation. When opening multiple saved tabs on both systems this drags down performance, its not going to be an instant load, but a wait period while all the various tabs are resolved. However, just for dedicated web browsing one can just simply boot the Chromebook natively into ChromeOS mode where it is optimized to provide the fastest web experience.

The two Office Suites are now very comparable. Microsoft Office is the industry benchmark, but LibreOffice 5 (LO) is now almost identical. In fact the LO Impress 5 may even be better than PowerPoint in many respects. Similarly I recently used LO Base 5 to manage a database for 4,500 users in a government office complex. Importing and exporting data to and from Excel spreadsheets, merging, updating and reporting. The SQL commands in Base work well and being able to do all this from a highly portable Chromebook in the field is ideal. LO Base also allows data sharing across the suite to be enabled (called connection pooling). This allows columns and rows to be seamlessly shared between Calc and Base. This functionality is certainly on a par with using Microsoft Access, while the SQL command option provides significant additional power.

There are caveats, the LO Base is held in memory, so as to optimize performance it should be run standalone normally. Also, make sure to save frequently, to clean up memory and make permanent record of the latest database content. I should probably write a separate blog entry on the how to and tricks and tips for LO Base operations. But this does give a sense of what can be accomplished on the Chromebook.

What about Windows applications generally? The Wine emulator works well in allowing a range of standard Windows programs to run on LINUX. So your favourite Windows programs can work over in GalliumOS too.

For software development the OxygenXML editor uses Java and works on both machines for supporting day to day content engineering. Other Java based solutions like MindPlane, VLC video player, PDF tools and more also work on both.

Moving on to using multimedia. I was able to save videos filmed on an action camera in full HD to the Chromebook. Each video is 0.5 GB (500Mb) in size. I then used OpenShot to edit down and produce both YouTube and Instagram video segments. This worked surprisingly quickly and only took a few minutes to do the final production generation. I did notice that all 4 CPU cores were being used 100% by OpenShot to compute that rendering. Impressive resource sharing. On the HP ProBook this is a more mixed experience. The Microsoft video editing software is less competent, but of course you can install OpenShot on Windows and then use that. I did not try that, but previously when I have I always found OpenShot performs vastly better on LINUX.

On both systems using Skype, Zoom or Google works well. The audio quality through the USB microphone is exceptional and of course the built-in webcam provides acceptable video too. The resolution of the Chromebook is a 1MB video chip the same as the 1MB on the ProBook.

Using the Bluetooth on the Chromebook to connect to Sony headphones and then streaming Pandora using the PinHos app is superb with A2DP support enabled. The ProBook does not have Bluetooth, but obviously you can use a USB Bluetooth adaptor to perform the same way.

Overall both systems perform acceptably and are comparable in many respects. The newer Acer Chromebook comes in ahead in display quality clearly and also battery life where the low energy mobile chipset gives 3 times the capability.

Value for dollars spent gives the edge to the Chromebook for around $370 for the system and the USB sticks, an USB + Ethernet extension hub and a simple USB boom microphone. The HP ProBook starts at around $560 for the older models. If I had a budget of $500 I would definitely look at the Dell Chromebook with its superior specifications.

To round out this review the results of the GeekBench CPU tests:
Clearly the Chromebook is not winning any performance awards compared to full CPU machines.

However in class it does well – for comparison to other Chromebooks see this review (http://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/acer-chromebook-14).
What I like is the portability, battery life and flexibility. Connecting an external display and keyboard clearly covers off other reviewers needs. And for commuting or classroom needs the Acer display and keyboard are fine. Similarly running GalliumOS makes a huge difference in terms of what can be accomplished on this machine. Hope this helps you make informed decisions for your own needs.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Acer Chromebook 14 Dual Boot with LINUX / GalliumOS / Ubuntu 


Following the success of running Ubuntu on an Intel Smart Stick, I realized I needed a portable solution for travel, along with more power for daily home desk use. Including developing software, editing media images and videos, and using office applications for work (including my own CAM Editor project).

After researching Chromebooks I settled on an Acer Chromebook 14 from my local MicroCenter store. The metal hard shell case, HD 1080p screen quality, light weight and great battery life all made this impressive and then quad-core CPU, 4GB of DRAM give it solid performance potential.

Using the Acer as a simple Chromebook and ChromeOS is a delight, super fast power up and log in to browsing. Perfect for those quick needs to hop on the Internet. Flip the lid, log in to Google account, surf.

Next is enabling the dual boot so you can also run serious desk applications, media tools and do software development. And of course work without being tethered to a WiFi connection.

There are several on-line resources setting out these steps (see below).

Essentially the steps can be summarized as:
The Acer Chromebook has 2 USB 3.0 ports that makes this straightforward. You need to purchase two sticks, an USB 3.0 128GB stick and an USB 16GB, or 8GB or 4GB stick. I went with the Samsung Ultra Fit for the 128GB and a 16GB stick for the install - since I figured I can reuse the 16GB stick for storage later too.

Fascinating Captain here provides the necessary overview instructions, but before you rush off to do all that, read my insights and the pitfalls to avoid. Plus use the tips and tricks and links here NOT those on Fascinating Captain (he is using a Toshiba not an Acer).

For the Acer Chromebook you need to install the Braswell GalliumOS which is tailored for Chromebook devices. The regular Ubuntu will not work. GalliumOS is also using the Xfce4 desktop and not Unity. Note that with Xfce4 you can make it look and use much of Unity functionality; more on that later.

Next thing to realize is that the ChromeOS is actually a parred down LINUX (GenToo) version produced by Google. What this means is that terminal mode is right there. Once you enable the developer mode, and boot to ChromeOS, you can now access command line bash, and then shell commands. This means you can download the Gallium boot ISO image and then use the Chromebook to create the bootable USB stick. The GalliumOS install page tells you how. It suggests the Etcher tool, but I used the LINUX dd command. It is vital you use the command exactly though e.g. sudo dd bs=1M if=galliumos.iso of=/dev/sdb ; sync

Again this is slightly different from how Fascinating Captain has it. Notice also that to run the dd command you open the terminal window.
  1. Press [Ctrl+Alt+T] to get a ChromeOS terminal ("crosh") window
  2. At the prompt, enter shell
Then cd to your download folder where you should find the GalliumOS ISO image you downloaded.  Then run the dd command.

Now you have the ISO boot stick ready, you need to enable dual booting. For dual booting on a Chromebook you should use the RW_LEGACY BIOS mod from the MrChromebox web site.

The way dual booting works is, the boot screen displays, and you then use Ctrl-L to boot LINUX, or Ctrl-D for ChromeOS. If you do nothing, it will time out, beep and boot to ChromeOS by default.

After pressing Ctrl-L, wait until the text appears directing you to press Esc, then pick option 2 to boot from the USB. Now the installer should boot. Insert your USB 128GB stick into the second USB slot. Fascinating Captain has good instructions for installing and setting up the LINUX partitions. Once done shutdown. Then you can remove the boot stick, place the 128GB USB in the first slot and now boot with Ctrl-L, Esc, 2 again and your brand new shiny GalliumOS should start.

I have added the USB 3.0 port extender and Ethernet connector and the external HDMI cable in the picture here. That allows me to use my HD monitor and wireless keyboard and mouse. The HDMI works well with a VGA adapter if you need that to use your monitor or a projector.

I also have an external Samson "Go Mic" USB microphone for Skype and recording with using tools like Audacity. The Bluetooth works also with my Sony DR-BT50 headphones and Pandora and Google Play and A2DP fidelity.

So now you have things working, its time to move in and set up the "furniture and fittings" as you like it.

 I have configured the Ubuntu Unity theme look and feel following these instructions for Xfce4. And set Nautilus as the default file browser.

The keyboard mapping you can get to by pressing the ? search key and entering search term - keyboard. More on Chromebook keyboard here.

You can also setup Weather services from My-Weather-Indicator here. The default Weather Update in the Xfce4 panel does a nice job too.

I also added the Caffeine service from the Software library to prevent screen sleep during video play. In addition I ran the Startup app from the Settings and disabled a range of services that I do not need generally, including the timeout manager.

There's a big laundry list of software to install; naturally those are to you own preferences. Open the launcher and enter search term - software to see the software center.

Then here is my top dozen list:

1) Firefox browser. It is noticeably faster than Chromium (and do not install extensions in Chromium; it will crawl then).
2) LibreOffice Suite 5
3) Wine for running Windows software
4) Screenshot tool
5) Skype
6) VLC video player
7) Pithos for Pandora
8) Google Play desktop
9) Freeplane mindmap
10) GIMP editor
11) Kdiff3 compare
12) Audacity audio and OpenShot video

For many more tips, see this what to do guide. For online help see the GalliumOS community links. And don't forget to install latest updates using launcher and run the GalliumOS Update app. Then last but not least, purchase a spare USB 128GB stick and do a complete backup so you have an image.

Welcome to GalliumOS on your Acer Chromebook.

Here is a desktop screen shot of the Xfce4 launcher, Ubuntu theme and nautilus file manager open.

Here is a of screen shot of several desktop items open and the system performance monitor.

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