A Chromebook defiled

So I was one of the lucky ones (68,000+ according to Wikipedia) to get one of the original prototype Chromebooks from Google, the legendary, all black, totally murdered-out CR-48 Chromebook.

I had forgotten that I even signed up for it when it showed up on my doorstep several weeks later about this time three years ago.

One look. One click. One foray into the browser-as-an-OS concept and I was smitten. I resolved then and there to hold the CR-48 near and dear to my heart, to keep it forever and treasure it as another item in my huge junk heap of out-dated computers nascent computer museum.

CR48-previewOf course, the CR-48 wasn’t much to write home about. This was no Model 100 or Apple Macintosh. No, this was more like a Lisa, Apple Mac Cube or Windows Me. Nice to look at, neat concept, but once you turned it on, it kind of sucked. It was slow, and back in 2010-2011, ChromeOS was truly just a browser. There were no “apps” for desktop, NaCL hadn’t been implemented yet, and this thing ran on a single core Atom, a CPU architecture so slow that you had time curse it and every Intel exec responsible for  fumbling the mobile revolution so badly (by name!), all while waiting for the wimpy Atom to render a single website.

Neat novelty laptop, and I’m glad I didn’t pay a dime for it, but really, I couldn’t do work on this thing, as my colleagues relentlessly teased. So after several months of non-use, I cleaned it up, looked up instructions on how to wipe/format it, and prepped it for sale on eBay.

Alas I’m a man of conscience. Google gave this laptop to me for free. How could I go and turn a profit on it? What kind of Google fanboi would I be if I did that?!? A pretty shitty one, I reflected.

So I didn’t sell it. I couldn’t. And so back into the box it went until this weekend, when an acute need for an extra laptop arose in my house after family members took some of my old ragged and spare netbooks.

“What’s that in the colorful cardboard box,” I thought when I came across the CR-48’s original packaging. “No. It couldn’t be!”

And yes, there it was, just as black and menacing and monolithic as the day I got it: the CR-48. Still looking good, three Mac Book Air cycles later.

My other Chromeboxen, all of which have been used and abused in multiple ways.
My other Chromeboxen, all of which have been used and abused in multiple ways.

I’m an experienced Chromehead, owning not one or two, but three (possibly four if you count the Chromecast) Chrome devices, including a Google IO 2012 edition Chromebox and the ubiquitous, best-selling series 3 ArmBook. And so I didn’t really need this CR-48, but I couldn’t sell it either…what to do what to do.

And so naturally, since I’m the sort who would really enjoy the irony, I resolved then and there to build myself a Windows laptop, and not just any Windows laptop, but a Windows 7 Thin Client laptop on my free Chromebook CR-48.

That’s right. Win 7 Thin PC.  Not just the familiar closed-source proprietary operating system of yesteryear, but the thin client version, the version that is/was pined after by PC efficiency nuts & custom system builders for so long, the version that isn’t available to the public, even more closed, locked away, and protected than Windows 7 itself.

Let me just repeat that and let it sink in: this is an exclusive, hard to get version of Microsoft’s last real successful operating system that weighs in at just a hair over 2.5GB installed!

The 16GB hard drive has slower random r/w than my first 512MB USB stick. Not even worth an upgrade, really.
The 16GB SSD has slower random r/w than my first 512MB USB stick. Not even worth an upgrade, really. And I’m a sucker for hard disk upgrades.

Truly putting this OS on this type of laptop would be a tech sin of the worst order. And so, naturally, I dived into the process post haste, tearing the CR-48 apart, placing masking tape over the BIOS safety switch (no electrical tape in my house and no time to get some!), losing a few screws in the process before finally booting the black beast up, sliding in the USB drive with the Win7TPC .iso and formally sticking some Redmond code way up where it didn’t belong.

Felt good. For awhile anyway. A sort of tech high, a mega byte of temporary euphoria. Yum.

Of course even Win7 TC can’t make up for the horribleness that is the Atom. You can’t really term what the CR-48 does as “performance,” it’s more like the opposite of performance; perhaps “level of degradation off baseline” is more accurate. “Is it any faster,” is replaced with, “How much and to what extent is it slower?” even with a thin PC operating system.

And what’s even worse about this experience is that I skipped the section on remapping the ChromeOS keyboard to Windows and sat for a good 5 minutes trying to figure out how to do CTRL-ALT-DEL after joining the machine to my domain. Thank god for the on-screen keyboard.

So that was the highlight of my weekend. I defiled my free Chromebook with an OS straight out of Linus’ dystopian hell-scape, experienced the thrill of doing something so naughty followed by the inevitable disappointment & headaches such experimentation is bound to yield.

Author: Jeff Wilson

20 yr Enterprise IT Pro | Master of Public Admin | BA in History | GSEC #42816 | Blogging on technology & trust topics at our workplaces, at our homes, and the spaces in between.

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