Chromebook Air

Posted on Mon 29 September 2014 in Articles • 3 min read

A week ago I gave away my MacBook Air to my wife and replaced it with a Chromebook. The Air was getting long in the tooth; the battery was slowly dying and 2GB, just didn't cut it on OS X Mavericks. Top it off and I only had 64GB as the primary storage and the price of the OWC replacement SSD (especially here in the Australia), quite frankly took the piss.

So it was time to upgrade but I simply could not justify shelling out $1100 AUD (plus Apple Care) for a secondary device. My alternatives then were to get a Windows 8/8.1 device or take a gamble with a Chromebook. I chose the latter and picked up an Acer C720 on special from JB HiFI for $336.

On face value you might think it was a poor trade off. The C720 packs a Celeron processor clocked at only 1.4 Ghz and it has a paltry 2GB of RAM. The internal SSD is 16GB and Chrome OS is a subsidised excuse for Google to hoover up your personal information.

I bought it however because of the form-factor and the outstanding battery life. It's also got a comfy keyboard, acceptable trackpad and lacks the sharp edges that made the Air uncomfortable for sustained writing.

Oh, and from the outset I never intended to use Chrome OS. Instead I bought a larger SSD, cracked it upon (voiding my warranty in the process) and installed Ubuntu 14.04.

The experience so far has been excellent. Like most Haswell Chromebooks, the C720 ships with CoreBoot and features a legacy SeaBios bootloader that lets you boot and install alternative operating systems. Once that was enabled installing Ubuntu was simple. However since Haswell Chromebook drivers are only in Kernel 3.17 and later I had do some minor tweaking to get the trackpad, suspend and keyboard shortcuts working. I also replaced Unity with Gnome 3.12, which is my preferred Desktop Environment these days.

Usage so far has been restricted to writing, email, surfing and a little light development. I've also tinkered with hardware video acceleration and got that to work quite nicely too. Under Ubuntu, I'm getting 6.5+ hours depending on what I'm doing. Not for a minute have I yet felt like I'm on an underpowered system thanks to the SSD and Linux's performance. At some point I plan on trying some gaming with it, nothing heavy, just some Steam games and some of my favourite classic RTS games under wine.

After a week of use and I think I've made the right decision. I've been falling out of love with OS X for quite some time and in truth I've only stuck with it so far because of some of the OS X only applications that I've been dumb enough to buy from the Mac App Store but which I rarely use. In fact, I prefer Gnu/Linux-based operating systems because not only do they respect my freedom but because in my experience they are more performant and they have everything I need to work and play at the things I like to do with my computers.

I'm not sure how long this Chromebook will last. At worse case though, I could replace it three times in three years and still come out in front financially speaking versus the price of a single MacBook Air with Apple Care.

Share on: Diaspora*TwitterFacebookGoogle+Email