Installing Fedora 17 ARM on a Samsung Google Chromebook

Posted: November 30th, 2012 | Filed under: Fedora, libvirt, Virt Tools | Tags: , , , | 9 Comments »

Today I purchased one of the lovely new ARM based Samsung Google Chromebooks. While ChromeOS is very slick, I don’t have much interest in running that, I got this machine to serve as a dev machine for doing ARM work on libvirt and related projects. Not co-incidentally, this machine has the ARM Cortex A-15 CPU which is the architecture targeted by the new KVM for ARM work.

Obviously the first task at hand is to actually get Fedora onto the machine. Fortunately Christopher Hewitt has been here already and wrote up some notes for Fedora 17 on Google+. The notes look good, but when you look, the first step in installing Fedora is to use an Ubuntu host to build a SD card. So what follows is my slightly tweaked instructions for doing the same starting from a Fedora 17 host.

Building the bootable SD card

We don’t want to blow away ChromeOS entirely, so this guide is focused on booting using an SD Card. I have a bunch of 8 GB SD cards for my SLR, so one of those is re-purposed for this task.

Creating partitions & filesystems

The first part of the process is to create the partitions and root filesystem. All the instructions below are to be run as root on the Fedora 17 host.

  1. Insert the SD card in the host machine, let GNOME automount it, and then look to see what device it is
    # df
    Filesystem                              1K-blocks       Used Available Use% Mounted on
    rootfs                                  151607468  127703344  16202828  89% /
    devtmpfs                                  1958948          0   1958948   0% /dev
    tmpfs                                     1970892        284   1970608   1% /dev/shm
    tmpfs                                     1970892       1656   1969236   1% /run
    /dev/mapper/vg_t500wlan-lv_root         151607468  127703344  16202828  89% /
    tmpfs                                     1970892          0   1970892   0% /sys/fs/cgroup
    tmpfs                                     1970892          0   1970892   0% /media
    /dev/sda1                                  198337     126585     61512  68% /boot
    /dev/mmcblk0p1                            7753728    7668960     84768  99% /run/media/berrange/NIKON D90

    So in this case, I see the device is /dev/mmcblk0 (ignoring the p1 suffix which is the partition number)

  2. Take a look at the SD card and double-check there are no important files still on it, then unmount it. I found a few photographs that I hadn’t transferred, so happy I checked
  3. Being a nice modern platform, the Chromebook doesn’t want no stinkin’ MS-Dos partition table. This is a GPT world we live it. Using parted we re-format the SD Card with a GPT table (well, ok, if you must know, this creates a MS-Dos partition table too for back compat)
     # parted /dev/mmcblk0
    GNU Parted 3.0
    Using /dev/mmcblk0
    Welcome to GNU Parted! Type 'help' to view a list of commands.
    (parted) mktable gpt                                                      
    Warning: The existing disk label on /dev/mmcblk0 will be destroyed and all data on this disk will be lost. Do you want to continue?
    Yes/No? yes                                                               
    (parted) quit                                                             
    Information: You may need to update /etc/fstab.
  4. Now time to create 3 partitions, 2 for storing kernels, and one for storing the filesystem. You could just create 1 for the kernel, if you don’t care about having a backup sane kernel for emergencies
    ## gdisk /dev/mmcblk0
    GPT fdisk (gdisk) version 0.8.4
    Partition table scan:
      MBR: protective
      BSD: not present
      APM: not present
      GPT: present
    Found valid GPT with protective MBR; using GPT.
    Command (? for help): x
    Expert command (? for help): l
    Enter the sector alignment value (1-65536, default = 2048): 8192
    Expert command (? for help): m
    Command (? for help): n
    Partition number (1-128, default 1): 1
    First sector (34-15523806, default = 8192) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
    Last sector (8192-15523806, default = 15523806) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: +16M
    Current type is 'Linux filesystem'
    Hex code or GUID (L to show codes, Enter = 8300): 7f00
    Changed type of partition to 'ChromeOS kernel'
    Command (? for help): n
    Partition number (2-128, default 2): 2
    First sector (34-15523806, default = 40960) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
    Last sector (40960-15523806, default = 15523806) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: +16M
    Current type is 'Linux filesystem'
    Hex code or GUID (L to show codes, Enter = 8300): 7f00
    Changed type of partition to 'ChromeOS kernel'
    Command (? for help): n
    Partition number (3-128, default 3): 3
    First sector (34-15523806, default = 73728) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
    Last sector (73728-15523806, default = 15523806) or {+-}size{KMGTP}: 
    Current type is 'Linux filesystem'
    Hex code or GUID (L to show codes, Enter = 8300): 
    Changed type of partition to 'Linux filesystem'
    Command (? for help): w
    Final checks complete. About to write GPT data. THIS WILL OVERWRITE EXISTING
    Do you want to proceed? (Y/N): y
    OK; writing new GUID partition table (GPT) to /dev/mmcblk0.
    The operation has completed successfully.
  5. With that out of the way, it is time to format the filesystem on the 3rd partition, and ext4 is the choice we’re going for here
    # mkfs.ext4 /dev/mmcblk0p3 
    mke2fs 1.42.3 (14-May-2012)
    Discarding device blocks: ^C76960/1931259
    [root@t500wlan ~]# 
    [root@t500wlan ~]# mkfs.ext4 /dev/mmcblk0p3 
    mke2fs 1.42.3 (14-May-2012)
    Discarding device blocks: done                            
    Filesystem label=
    OS type: Linux
    Block size=4096 (log=2)
    Fragment size=4096 (log=2)
    Stride=0 blocks, Stripe width=0 blocks
    483328 inodes, 1931259 blocks
    96562 blocks (5.00%) reserved for the super user
    First data block=0
    Maximum filesystem blocks=1979711488
    59 block groups
    32768 blocks per group, 32768 fragments per group
    8192 inodes per group
    Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
    	32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632
    Allocating group tables: done                            
    Writing inode tables: done                            
    Creating journal (32768 blocks): done
    Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done
  6. A filesystem isn’t too interesting, unless it has some data in it. Lets download a suitable Fedora 17 ARM filesystem archive and copy its data across
    # wget
    # mount /dev/mmcblk0p3 /mnt
    # cd /mnt
    # tar Jxvf /root/Fedora-17-armhfp-xfce.tar.xz

    When unpacked, the filesystem will consume about 2.4 GB of space, so a 8GB SD card isn’t strictly needed – a 4GB one would suffice.

  7. The core F17 image is now installed on the SD card, so unmount the card. The next step will move onto the ChromeBook
    # umount /dev/mmcblk0p3

Getting the Chromebook into Developer Mode

Before moving onto the next stage, the ChomeBook must be in Developer Mode.

  1. Booting into Recovery Mode is the first thing todo. This requires holding down the Esc and Refresh keys, while pressing the Power key.
  2. It should now display a nice scary message that the installation is broken. This is of course a lie, so ignore it.
  3. Pressing Ctrl-D now will start the switch into Developer Mode.
  4. It should now display a less scary message asking if you want to turn off verification. We do indeed want todo this, so press Enter.
  5. The ChromeBook will reboot and tell you that verification is disabled.
  6. Wait a short while, or press Ctrl-D, and it’ll display another message that it is transitioning to Developer Mode.
  7. Erasing local data can take a while, so be patient here. Strangely, there’s a crude ascii art progress bar along the top of the screen here, while everything else remains pretty & graphical.

Copying the ChromeBook ARM kernels

Fedora 17 doesn’t come with a suitable kernel for the Cortex A-15 CPU, so this step grabs the one already present in ChromeOS.

  1. Assuming the ChromeBook is now booted in Developer Mode, insert the SD card.
  2. Bring up a croshprompt by typing Ctrl-Alt-T
  3. From here, run ‘shell’ which gives you a bash session.
    crosh> shell
    chronos@localhost / $
  4. Become the root user
    $ sudo su -
    localhost ~ #
  5. The kernel image has the boot arguments embedded in it, and these need to be changed for Fedora. This involves a fun little command which bundles up the vmlinuz file, config args and boot keys into one magic image
    # cd /tmp
    # echo “console=tty1 debug verbose root=/dev/mmcblk1p3 rootwait rw” > /tmp/config
    # vbutil_kernel –pack /tmp/newkern –keyblock /usr/share/vboot/devkeys/kernel.keyblock –version 1 –signprivate /usr/share/vboot/devkeys/kernel_data_key.vbprivk –config=/tmp/config –vmlinuz /boot/vmlinuz-3.4.0 –arch arm
  6. Assuming that worked, the new kernel image can copied across to the new SD card partitions created earlier
    # dd if=/tmp/newkern of=/dev/mmcblk1p1
    # dd if=/tmp/newkern of=/dev/mmcblk1p2
    # rm /tmp/newkern /tmp/config
  7. Having the kernels in a partition isn’t much use, unless you mark those partitions as bootable
    # cgpt add -i 1 -S 1 -T 5 -P 10 -l KERN-A /dev/mmcblk1
    # cgpt add -i 2 -S 1 -T 5 -P 5 -l KERN-B /dev/mmcblk1

    This says try to boot from the first partition 10 times, then fallback to trying the second partition 5 times. This fallback behaviour is handy if you want to test out custom kernel builds, and have an escape route for when it all goes belly up.

  8. Much of the ChromeOS kernel is built as modules, so those also need to be copied across to the filesystem image
    cp -rf /lib/modules/* /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/lib/modules/
    cp -rf /lib/firmware/* /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/lib/firmware/
  9. Even in Developer Mode, the Chromebook will ignore the SD/USB card when booting, unless explicitly told to look at them
    # crossystemm dev_boot_usb=1

    It might print out a couple of warnings, but those can be ignored – it will have done what is required.

  10. Xorg will work fine out of the box, but the TouchPad sensitivity can do with improving
    # cat > /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-touchpad.conf <<EOF
    Section "InputClass"
      Identifier "touchpad"
      MatchIsTouchpad "on"
      Option "FingerHigh" "5"
      Option "FingerLow" "5"

    Some other guides suggest copying across the Xorg drivers and, but I wanted to keep my system as vanilla & open source as possible

  11. For sound to work, copy the alsa profiles across too
    # cp -a /usr/share/alsa/ucm/ /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/usr/share/alsa/ucm

    WARNING: Under no circumstances use ‘alsamixer’ to adjust setting on your ChromeBook. Multiple people have reported (with pictures) melting/burning out the speakers (no seriously, you can kill the hardware)

  12. Set things up so that the alsa settings are loaded on startup
    # cat > /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/etc/rc.d/rc.local <<EOF
    alsaucm -C DAISY-I2S set _verb HiFi
    # chmod +x /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/etc/rc.d/rc.local

    Note that some instructions miss off the ‘set _verb HiFi’ part of this command line. My experiance is that audio did not work unless that was set.

  13. The final thing todo is configure the root password and user account
    # mount -o remount,suid,exec /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/
    # chroot /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/
    # passwd
    ...enter new root password...
    # mkdir /home/guest
    # rsync -a /etc/skel/ /home/guest
    # chown -R guest:users /home/guest
    # usermod -d /home/guest -g users guest
    # exit
    # umount /media/removable/External\ Drive\ 1/

That’s it, you’re now ready to rock-n-roll. Power-cycle the Chromebook, and when the initial boot screen appears press Ctrl-U to boot from the SD card.

First impressions of Fedora 17 on the Chromebook

Writing these instructions was interrupted part way through, when I began to realize that the TrackPad on my Chromebook was faulty. I didn’t work at all on first boot of ChromeOS, but second time around it was working fine, so I thought nothing of it. It just got worse & worse from then on though. Looking at the kernel dmesg logs showed the hardware did not even appear visible 60% of the boot attempts. It is probably just a loose cable inside, but I didn’t fancy opening up the case, so I took it back to PC World for an exchange. Thankfully the 2nd unit worked flawlessly.

The first annoying thing to discover is that it is only possible to boot custom distros on the ChromeBook while in Developer Mode. This means that at every power-on, the boot screen pauses 30 seconds with a scary warning. AFAICT, there is no ability to sign the kernel images, such that you can boot in Release Mode, without the warning. So before distros have even done any work, it appears guaranteed that their user experience will be worse that ChromeOS on this hardware. Thankyou “verified boot”.

Booting up Fedora 17 is significantly slower than booting ChromeOS. While some of this might be Fedora’s fault, I’m not prepared to lay any blame here, since I’m comparing booting from the internal drive for ChromeOS, vs booting from an SD-Card for Fedora. It just isn’t a fair comparison unless I can get Fedora onto the internal drive. It also isn’t as pretty, though again that is mostly my fault for not using graphical boot with Fedora.

If the procedure above is followed, you will get a pretty functional Fedora 17 XFCE desktop environment. Since I skipped the part others recommend about copying over the binary Xorg driver for the graphics card, X performance isn’t going to win any benchmarks though. Playing youtube video in firefox with HTML5, in a smallest video size consumes 95% CPU time. I expect proper graphics drivers would help that significantly.

In anycase I’m not doing any of this for Xorg / graphics performance. This is primarily going to be a dev machine which I remotely access for doing libvirt work

The hope is that when Fedora 18 is released for ARM, there will be a remix done specifically for the new ChromeBook which will simplify the setup process, use a normal Fedora kernel, and just generally “do the right thing”. I may well try to re-do this image using a F18 alpha filesystem as the source instead.

9 Responses to “Installing Fedora 17 ARM on a Samsung Google Chromebook”

  1. Where are the pictures with the melting/burning speakers?

  2. Daniel Berrange says:

    If you want melted speaker evidence see this post :-)

  3. Jon Masters says:

    So I got Fedora 19 (rawhide) installed on mine, without X so far (due to the move to the newer armsoc drivers). However, like you, I’m not really interested in graphics. I’ll put together an image for F19, then look to the remix for F18 I guess (others will help). Question is, how useful is this so far for libvirt, and so on?

  4. Daniel Berrange says:

    Yep, when I get down to working on libvirt / KVM, I’ll definitely be aiming to use F18 or even F19-rawhide. I’ve already done a few libvirt tests on F17 and identified & filed 5 bugs to improve ARM support. I’m expecting to find many more to address.

  5. Manuel says:

    Hi, I have problems whit the wireless conecction, I can’t activate in Suse or Fedora, can you know why?

  6. Nicholas M says:

    The vbutils_kernel command no longer works with the –vmlinuz /boot/vmlinuz-3.4.0 flag… the /boot folder was removed. any ideas on how to complete this guide now?

  7. Bob Smith says:

    I found the same thing. It looks like /dev/mmcblk0p12 might be a boot partition. I tried vmlinuz.A but the resulting system does not boot.


  8. Eric says:

    Hi, this thread looks very old, but i was hoping someone would see this.

    has anyone got a image of the end result which i can just copy to an sd card and boot?
    if not do you know i could find any other images? i have managed to find an old debian image but then i couldnt get it to install a DE. i just want anything which will run on the ARM chromebook with a Desktop Environment.


  9. asdf says:

    the vbutil_kernel –pack /tmp/newkern –keyblock /usr/share/vboot/devkeys/kernel.keyblock –version 1 –signprivate /usr/share/vboot/devkeys/kernel_data_key.vbprivk –config=/tmp/config –vinuz /boot/vmlmlinuz-3.4.0 –arch arm is not working help

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