A look at ubermix on the Acer C7 Chromebook

Posted by ubermix On Sunday, February 10, 2013 1 comments

I'll say it now, the Acer C7 Chromebook is a nice little piece of hardware. The 1.1 GHz ultra-low voltage Intel Celeron 847 it runs is basically a snappy, trimmed down Core i3 (for all intents and purposes), based on last-generation Core i Sandy Bridge architecture. And it has a real 3D graphics processor, making it a much stronger performer than any Atom-based netbook that's ever been released. In my own compile tests, I found it to be twice as fast as an Atom N2600 and nearly three times that of the latest generation AMD C-series found in most low cost 11.6" devices. Only the AMD's graphics processor was able to hold it's own with the Celeron.

Rounding out the specs is a roomy 11.6" 1366x768 display, 2 gigabytes of standard RAM, 320 gigabyte hard drive, both HDMI and VGA output, and an excellent keyboard and trackpad. And at a cost of just $199, you wouldn't be called crazy for asking, "what's wrong with it?"

As it turns out, there are a couple of biggies in the "what's wrong with it" category. First, it has a pretty feeble 2500 mAh 4-cell battery. While the Celeron truly sips power, don't expect more than about 4 hours and 15 minutes of battery life. There are aftermarket batteries which should nearly double the battery life for as little as $50, but I can't imagine why you can't buy the device with one out of the box.

And of course the second is that it runs ChromeOS. While I appreciate the vision, the idea of a device being fully functional when equipped with only a web browser still lacks a firm foundation in reality, presently solidifying this devices position in the "extra" or "third" device in most users' toolbag. And at $199, it can afford to be.

This is a shame for such capable hardware. Luckily, it's fairly easy to get ubermix on this device, turning it into a fully-capable low-cost powerhouse - with a few caveats:

  • Chromebooks must be in Developer Mode to run any software other than ChromeOS. Developer Mode introduces an huge startup delay as the Chromebook splash screen sits and waits for 30 seconds at bootup, letting you know your are running in Developer Mode and offering the option to "turn Developer Mode off" by pressing the space bar. It also beeps twice (loudly) as a final warning before finally booting up. Luckily on the C7 you can skip the wait by pressing ctrl+d.
  • Google could, theoretically, decide to update the way ChromeOS and the hardware work at a future date. While this is highly unlikely, it is theoretically possible that you could boot into ChromeOS, install an automatic update from Google, and no longer be able to boot into ubermix.
These make the idea of deploying Chromebooks with ubermix at scale troubling, but probably wouldn't be a big deal for individual use.

For further details and instructions, see ubermix on Chromebooks


Unknown said...

Incidentally, I did think of one other limitation, and that's deployment. There is no such thing as a 5 minute install on a Chromebook, as is normal with ubermix on standard hardware. The initial setup takes about 20 minutes to complete on a Chromebook, as it insists on reconfiguring itself when the partitions get changed around. Subsequent installs and upgrades would, however, only require about 5 minutes, but there is nothing that can be done to speed up the initial install.

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