Google's Pixel Chromebook is multi-OS friendly

Posted by Trent Nouveau

Samsung's $250 ARM-powered Chromebook is famous for running multiple flavors of Linux, yet Google's flagship x86 Pixel is even more friendly to loading alternative operating systems than its predecessors.

As Google engineer Bill Richardson notes, while it has always been possible to install a customized version of Chromium OS or Linux, the unconventional nature of the Chrome OS BIOS (fast, simple, secure) is radically different from the legacy BIOS environment that off-the-shelf PC OSes expect or require.

"Still, as with the rest of Chrome OS, we try to continually improve to meet our users needs. Since part of the Chrome OS BIOS is read-only, we generally only get to make major improvements in the BIOS by releasing a new Chrome device," he explained.

"The Chromebook Pixel is no different in that regard. As usual there are a number of changes that are (hopefully) invisible to the user, but one change that is not invisible is the support for a user-provided custom bootloader."

According to Richardson, Chrome OS firmware normally consists of three distinct BIOS images.

"First, there is the read-only BIOS, which is (duh) read-only. It can’t be modified without disassembly. Then there are two read-write BIOS images, called RW A and RW B. The read-only BIOS is what runs when the machine is first powered on. It checks the two read-write BIOSes (A, then B), looking for one that is correctly signed by Google," said Richardson.

"If it finds one, it jumps to that image, which then looks for a valid kernel, and so forth. If there is no valid RW firmware (or some other fault has occurred), the execution stays in the RO BIOS and enters Recovery mode."

And with the Pixel, Google added an extra (unverified) BIOS slot. It should probably be noted that the unverified slot only works in developer mode, which has to be explicitly enabled by the users. In any case, Mountain View loaded the Pixel with a copy of SeaBIOS, which makes it relatively easy to boot an alternate operating system.

Interested? Detailed instructions on loading alternate operating systems on Google's Pixel Chromebook can be found here.

As previously reported on TG Daily, Google's Pixel is a high-end $1,300 touch-screen Chromebook powered by a 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5 processor.

The body of the Pixel is made from an anodized aluminum alloy to create a smooth and durable surface; vents are hidden, screws are invisible and the stereo speakers are seamlessly tucked away beneath the backlit keyboard.

Additional specs include a touchpad made from etched glass, an SSD drive (32GB/64GB), a 720p webcam for clear video, a total of three microphones designed to cancel out surrounding noise, WiFi/LTE, Bluetooth, two USB ports, a mini displayport, a mic / headphone jack, an SD card reader and one terabyte of Google Drive storage.

The WiFi version ($1,299 U.S. and £1,049 U.K.) will start shipping next week, while the LTE version ($1,449) is slated to ship in the during the month of April.