Flash Google CR-48 BIOS Without Luigi or Ubuntu

Apr 10

Flash Google CR-48 BIOS Without Luigi or Ubuntu

A while after Google started sending out the CR-48 netbooks, it’s write-protected security system was undoubtedly compromised. Shortly after Hexxeh created a tool called Luigi, which has actually been taken down since then due to a bug he’s found which causes the system to lose its original and unique BIOS. I personally feel he is over-reacting as hundreds, if not thousands of CR-48’s have had their BIOS flashed with his tool, and flashed back to a stock BIOS (albeit from a different CR-48 unit) and NONE of the units have been bricked to my knowledge.

I had a goal for the weekend to install a slimmed down (possibly embedded) copy of Windows 7 on my CR-48, simply because I don’t use it when it has Chrome OS on it. The lack of apps to install for specialized functions drives me nuts. While I had known Luigi had been down for months, I knew of a mirror that was brought up by jim2013. A friend of mine (James Kaczynski) used this mirror a few prior with no issues, so that was my plan as well.

Unfortunately when the time came, I realized the mirror was also down. Being the impatient person I am, I decided to look for another alternative. Everything I found involved installing Ubuntu on the device to run flashrom to write a custom BIOS.bin file. To be frank, I didn’t feel like doing a wget on Ubuntu and waiting all day for a download just to flash a tiny BIOS file.

I took a pretty risky move in trying my own way of flashing the BIOS without Ubuntu or Luigi, and while I admit that this isn’t something that should be done lightly at this point after Hexxeh’s warnings, but it does work, and can be used to install any OS on your CR-48 device. If you’re interested in how this is accomplished, just follow the steps below.

  1. You’re going to need to disassemble your CR-48 device. THIS STEP CANNOT BE SKIPPED. There is a small metal strip inside the case that touches a sensor on the motherboard of the unit. This protects against the BIOS being written over. To do this you want to remove all the screws on the case (circled in the image below). You’ll need a very tiny screwdriver for the small black screws, be careful not to strip them like I did or you may never get the casing off. You also have to remove the back two rubber feet (they’ll stick back on without issue don’t worry!) and remove the screws underneath as well. Once the screws are removed, start removing from the monitor hinges pulling upward carefully, work your way around to the side OPPOSITE of the power input, that side will come off very cleanly and allow you to avoid any breakage on the side with the input ports.
  2. After you have the case removed, go ahead and flick the developer switch ON as shown below. Set the netbook on a smooth surface (since it doesn’t have it’s bottom, make sure its nothing metal) and plug the device in and turn it on. The CR-48 should tell you that the verification of Chrome OS is turned off, let it sit at this screen for a moment and it will eventually start “erasing the stateful partition”. Let the process complete and reboot. Upon reboot you’ll be at the Chrome OS setup screen as if it was out of a new box. You’ll want to at least get as far as when it lets you select your WiFi network. Be sure you’re connected to the network before continuing!
  3. After you’re on WiFi, press Ctrl+Alt+Forward to drop to a shell.
  4. Enter the username as chronos with no password required.
  5. Now that you are logged into the shell, we need to download the BIOS file. issue the following command. wget http://www.techjawa.com/cr48bios.bin
  6. It’s up to you to backup your current BIOS, you can do this by the issuing the following command. sudo flashrom -r backup.bin
  7. It’s also up to you to BACK UP THAT FILE! Do something, copy it to your flash drive, boot into the CR-48 developer mode and email it to yourself or something. You’ll figure it out if you want it badly enough.
  8. After you’ve taken care of that, or not if you don’t care about restoring it, we need to flash the new BIOS. Just issue this command. sudo flashrom -w cr48bios.bin
  9. Wait for the process to complete, reboot, and that’s it. Now follow whatever guide you’d like for your specific operating system, and remember if you’re installing Windows 7, reset the BIOS to optimized defaults!
  10. Enjoy! And don’t forget to replace the cover and attach all the screws again!

92 comments

  1. I stripped one of the tiny black screws as well =( I am going to have to drill out the head very carefully to make things work.

    Once that is done, I’m going to try your guide.
    I’ll let you know!

    • Yeah I stripped one pretty bad and had to use a really sharp kitchen knife and push very carefully so it finally grabbed into the screw so I could get it out. I almost was out of luck!

      • Wow, nice way to take the screw out once its stripped. I stripped mine and it was so bad I had to SAND that thing out…took HOURS! Lol.

  2. Michael P /

    Any ideas on how to do what you’re asking once Luigi has already been used?

    I don’t think I backed up my *.bin originally, so I’m one of those sorry cases.

    I can’t get the machine to boot into anything other than CrOS and Jolicloud despite numerous attempts to get Ubuntu running from a flashdrive.
    Any ideas?

    I just want the CrOS auto-update back! πŸ™‚

    Great tutorial, by the way!

  3. Devin Breeding /

    just curious where this bios came from? is it a similar computer or something?

    • It’s a custom BIOS that has been out there since the CR-48’s were shipped (shortly after). I’m not sure if it’s from a similar machine or custom built but I have not had any issues with it whatsoever.

      And in my opinion it seems custom built/tailored to the CR-48, but it’s just a guess.

  4. Devin /

    Just successfully flashed the BIOS. Waiting for Ubuntu to download so I can try to install. It tries to restore chrome os for some reason after the Intel flash screen. Haha. Thanks for the write up

    • It’s trying to restore Chrome OS because you have no other boot media inserted. Once you put Ubuntu on a bootable USB drive and put it in, you’ll never see that Chrome OS screen again. This was normal behavior and to be expected, so no worries.

  5. Devin Breeding /

    Hey cool. If I let it erase the partition after flashing the bios it reinstalls chrome OS but I still have the flashed bios. I wonder if that means I can dual boot chrome os and ubuntu in that way? We shall see when Ubuntu finishes downloading. Again, thanks for the write up.

    • You CAN dual boot it, but I’m not entirely sure I recommend that, as the SSD drive that came with the CR-48 is only 16GB sadly.

      • Devin Breeding /

        Do you know anywhere I can download the stock bios and how I would flash it using Ubuntu? Ubuntu works great by itself and I did not dual boot because Chrome OS creates many partitions and I didn’t want to spend the time trying to move those partitions around. I also lost my backup in the Ubuntu install. Which is no big deal because Ubuntu works great but I would still like to provide support to Google for their product if it is possible to get it back. If not, I have always been a fan of Ubuntu anyways. I think ChromeOS would be more successful if they created a notebook that boots into Chrome immediately while loading Ubuntu or a full OS in the background. I think many applications will be impractical through cloud computing.

    • Yeah, Chrome OS is nice for an extremely casual user of the internet, not much more. I have Windows 7 installed on my CR-48 right now.

      As far as the restoring of the stock BIOS, I’m sure you can get someone you know online to make you a backup. I also don’t have mine, but it shouldn’t be TERRIBLY hard to find out there. Once Luigi is back online you can use the instructions here to restore.

      http://hexxeh.net/?p=328117655

      • Devin Breeding /

        oh, I had no idea luigi was planning on being back online. I did see those instructions in my tutorial. I’m glad flashing using your method works. I was not looking forward to doing it the traditional way of loading ubuntu first and reinstalling after it was flashed. How well does Windows work? Bluetooth? GPS? 3G? I still have 9.8GB left after all my music and pictures using Ubuntu so it works great for me.

    • Windows works really well, there’s drivers for all the devices, even the 3G works, but you have to pay for service with it, so I don’t use it.

      I modified my Windows 7 image with a tool called RT Seven, which let me strip out components I wont use to save on disk space. After the install and software installed I’ve got about 6-7GB free amazingly!

  6. Jesse /

    Thanks for the writeup. I’ve been looking on the web but haven’t found anything yet, but is it possible to run off a usb drive (like the pendrivelinux.com link above) while skipping all the steps?

    I’d like to run a distro of linux off of the USB while leaving chromeOS on for when I don’t need linux. Basically I want to compile / code and haven’t found good way to do that on Chrome yet. (I’m on Cr-48 btw).

    Thanks

    • You’ll still have to follow the steps of flashing the BIOS, and you can leave ChromeOS in-tact as long as you don’t do anything destructive to the partitions (like overwrite them by INSTALLING linux) so PendriveLinux should be fine to just run it live off the USB while leaving ChromeOS intact. But again, you’ll still need to follow the guide and flash the BIOS.

  7. Rick /

    I used your method and it worked great. now i want to try to flash back to chrome. do you have a guide for that. thanks

    • 1. Make yourself an Ubuntu USB stick from: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/ubuntu/download

      2. Boot the USB stick by plugging it into your Cr-48 and then switching it on, making sure your casing is removed as before.

      3. Once Ubuntu has booted, open a shell.

      4. Run the following command, saying yes to any prompts you get: sudo apt-get install flashrom

      5. Then run the flashrom -w command from my guide above, but replace the custom bios.bin with the file you backed up (your original bios).

      • Rick /

        I get an error that says unable to locate package flashrom

    • There’s links out there — you’ll likely have to add the repository/source for your version of Ubuntu to get it downloaded.

      • Deven /

        i’m having a problem logging into chronos. does it not work anymore?

      • It should work just fine? Are you sure you’re following the steps correctly? There shouldn’t be a password needed to log into it?

  8. Chris /

    Corey,

    I noticed you said the 3G works fine in Windows but you have to pay for it. Does the 2 years free with Verizon not work after flashing this BIOS?

    Also, do you happen to know if the 3G and Bluetooth work in Ubuntu after flashing?

    • As far as the 3G working after flashing the BIOS, it does, but the free-activation process is only available under Chrome OS, so that’s why I’m assuming you have to pay for it.

      I’d imagine the Bluetooth works fine under Ubuntu, as BT is a well documented protocol and it’s hardware is common, but I’m unsure about the 3G.

  9. Hey thanks for the guide! I am having problems with installing Mac OS X. The Cr-48 won’t boot off of the flash drive. I know the flash drive is bootable I have used it before for other computers.

    • Try tapping F10 on the keyboard to get to the boot screen. I had an issue before trying to install Windows as well, it turns out the CR-48 just couldn’t read the specific USB drive I was using, I just tried another and it worked.

  10. Bassam Bokhowa /

    To copy the bios backup file (backup.bin) you created of your cr-48 to a safe storage (for those without linux experience):
    > sudo su
    > cd user/downloads
    > cp /home/chronos/backup.bin .
    now hit ++ to see your browser, go to your e-mail, click attach, and you should be able to see the backup.bin file in the file browser. Attach and e-mail it to yourself.

    • Great tutorial for those non *nix savvy individuals. I should have included this in my tutorial as well. Thanks!

  11. Coward /

    After installing Windows 7, my cr48 hangs at the “Starting Windows” screen. Any idea?

    On a side note, I recommend that you cover that metal grounding tab with vinyl tape before putting the case back on. Otherwise you would not be able to save any settings in bios.

    • Not sure what to do about it hanging, it installed correctly so that’s good. Maybe try making sure your BIOS settings are correct.

      I like your idea about taping down that tab, I didn’t realize BIOS settings wouldn’t save, but it makes sense now. Thanks!

  12. Derp /

    Hey, after doing this, is there any way to revert back to the original CR-48 BIOS? I made a recovery drive with the method specified on the google site, but I can’t run it since there is no way of entering dev mode now. Help?

    • You need to have backed up your original BIOS and flash it with Flashrom under an Ubuntu Live USB stick or similar.

      • Derp /

        Which, of course, I did not back up. Oh well.

        • If you look around you can likely find a BIOS for a stock CR-48 you can re-flash, but be warned, this is why Luigi was taken down (the automated flashing tool) because there’s some concern that your original BIOS was unique. Personally though, I’ve flashed to other CR-48 BIOS files before without issue.

          • Derp /

            So is there any way to completely replace the InsydeH2O BIOS with ChromeOS? I’d really like to be able to have my CR-48 function as it did on the day I got it.

    • (nested reply is getting way to crazy)

      Yeah there’s a way, but you’ll have to find/ask somebody with a CR-48 and dump/get them to dump their BIOS and send it to you, then you can use flashrom from an ubuntu command line (live boot USB disk) to flash it back.

      • Tim Davis /

        I have successfully went back and forth twice without using luigi. The stock fw is here: http://tinyurl.com/6j8pyug and the modified bios http://tinyurl.com/658lqu9 you can use flashrom to go either way http://www.flashrom.org/Flashrom
        I kept ChomeOS on my CR-48 while I tried different linux distros on my flashdrive until I found one I liked. Still couldn’t get the 3g to work although everything else worked fine, wifi bluetooth mic and camera. Eventually I went back to ChromeOS because I really needed the 3g more than anything else.

      • Thanks for the links Tim, I edited your comment to TinyURLify your Google Doc’s links, they were so long it broke the theme, haha.

  13. David /

    Will this work for the Samsung Chromebook too? If not, what can I do get it to work?

  14. Derik /

    Hey Corey, thanks for the tutorial, I successfully flashed my bios, and now I’m trying to install Windows 7 via this tutorial – http://www.chromeoslounge.com/cr-48-chrome-notebook/881-my-guide-installing-windows-7-your-cr-48-a.html

    I copied the files to my SD card via a USB SD card adapter straight from my Windows 7 ISO file, but when I go to boot manager and choose the SD card it will still boot to Chrome OS. How do you change the bios to optimized settings? And do you know what could be causing the problem?

    Thanks, Derik

    • There should be a “Load Optimized Defaults” in BIOS, do that, as well as change the boot order to USB/SD card to be first. (*You’ll need to have the case apart again to write to the BIOS settings*)

  15. Mohammed /

    How can i save my bios to my email after “sudo flashrom -r backup.bin”? I tried
    > sudo su
    > cd user/downloads
    > cp /home/chronos/backup.bin
    and ++
    but it doesn work could you help please?
    Nice tutorial by the way.

    • If you’re able to copy it to /home/chronos/backup.bin you should be able to use the cp command to copy it to a /dev/USB device to get it offloaded on a USB stick. – Or once it’s in ~ (home) You should be able to email it to yourself?

  16. Scott /

    First off, thanks for the tips, I got Ubuntu working fine. Problem is, when I wanted to re-flash the stock BIOS and reinstall CrOS, I forgot to switch to dev mode and pull the bottom off. Now when it boots up, I get nothing on the screen (not even the backlight).

    Pretty sure it’s bricked, but if you have any ideas to remedy this, I would be grateful.

    • Well if you wont even get backlight or the sad CR-48 logo it’s probably toast πŸ™

      Google has replaced these for some users, so you might try contacting? πŸ™

  17. Bill /

    Corey,
    Thanks, I have read so many options on the CR-48, yours was the one that made the most sense to me. I followed your instructions to the tee. After flashing the bios I was ready with an Ubuntu 11.04 thumb install. Plugged it in and rebooted, went right into the Ubuntu install and installed flawlessly. I did put a piece of tape over the board where the ground touched and have successfully changed and kept the changes to the bios. Runs like a champ. Thanks

  18. Hi, I’m an idiot and didn’t save my bios..lol Could anyone post a link for a bios? I can host it if someone wants to send me a file or any files that need hosting, I don’t mind doing. Please though, someone send me the backed up bios. my email is anthonychesser@gmail.com
    Thank you.

  19. Duderino /

    Thanks for the great guide. Regarding W7, does two finger scroll work? Is the video performance any better?

    • The trackpad works with the latest Synaptic drivers, as well as the 2-finger scrolls, and video performance is all based on the intel integrated GMA drivers, it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not bad.

  20. Works like charm! Thanks! Got backtrack running on mine now!

  21. Duderino /

    The bios flash was so simple, thanks Corey! W8 runs rather well considering its a development version.

  22. Duderino /

    at the very least its a cheap way to get windows on the machine without buying a W7 license.

  23. Seth Kalekamuela Russell /

    Dear, all users who have flashed there bios if you haven’t backed up your bios from the original Chrome OS then your in luck as i backed mine up in stored it in Google docs if you post your email i can send you the backed up Bios to flash your CR 48 back to the Luigi Bios.

    P.S. That was a great post on how to flash Luigi to InsydeH20 Bios woked flawlessly i was even able to go back to my original Luigi Fish Bios

  24. Thank you for this great tutorial!! Worked like a charm except . . .

    I flashed to the custom BIOS. Now, when I boot into Chrome OS I can’t get Developer Mode. Any ideas?

    I’ve seen a few other posts around the net that describe this but I’ve found no solutions mentioned.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    • Unfortunately that is simply “how it is” there is no way around it. If you’re flashing a custom BIOS onto the machine though it should be to install a different operating system. If you want Chrome OS to function as it should, you should leave the stock BIOS on it.

      • That’s cool. I have no problem with that. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t an error.

        Thank you again Corey. I have to say I’m rather impressed with how long you’ve maintained support on this tutorial. Usually bloggers bail on replying after about 3-5 months. Well done and mad respect to you.

        Be well and best of luck for continued success.

      • Do you know of any tutorials out there for creating the Mac OSX Lion Bootable USB stick from *Windows*??

        Everything I’ve found on Google is performed using a Mac.

        Thanks!

    • (Avoiding crazy nested comments)

      Generally everything is done using a Mac, I remember having a Lenovo S10 netbook that I put OS X on but needed a Mac to do it in the first place.

      Generally people just ask to borrow their friends for a few hours to follow the tutorials or have their tech-savvy Mac owner friends create the image they need and stuff for them.

      But, if I may… I used to own three macs and one PC, but now I’m over to three PCs and one Mac (and that Mac is dedicated to run Boxee for my TV). The “ease of use” and the “showyness” of a Mac really wears off fast for me, there’s just more things I can do on my old Windows and Linux boxes πŸ™‚

    • After some research, it appears that there’s a way of using a VMWare installation to create the bootable USB stick. Some of the information suggests using Chameleon with netbookinstaller (combined with kexts, a special boot file and a modification to the boot.plist).

      Hopefully I’m on the right track. :fingerscrossed:

  25. Antoine /

    Hey Corey,

    A bot (very) late to the party, but since, this CR-48 BIOS will not be flashed without harm on a Samsung Series 5, I was wondering if you ever heard about a similar BIOS available for my device?

    My searches were unsuccessful, to say the least. Crossing my fingers.

    Thank you.

    • Unfortunately I don’t know of anything for the series 5 devices at this time. I didn’t really enjoy or like Chrome OS too much, so I never really explored the retail options at all, sorry.

  26. I made a backup.bin file and flashed the bios. Installed windows 8 and tried to flash back to cr48 but keeping getting a message that says I can enforce execution with a warning of possibly bricking. I’m using ubunting from a Usb stick with flashrom installed and it keeps aborting the flash. Any ideas?

  27. Aerotrike /

    Thanks for the instructions. Had no problems updating the bios.

    Now I need to figure out which is the best ANDROID build.

  28. first and most useful – you dont to take it apart to disable flashrom write protection! You can use a very thin plastic or paper (cardstock) between the case where the pad is. Examine photos and you’ll see what i mean. Once you do this you dont need the tape either. you can actually run flashrom with ability to disable that switch for write protecting the rom iirc.

    finally i dont want to spam other sites. This is a good blog. However I just found this wiki today with very thorough and complete cr-48 guides. Its maybe up to day http://cr-48.wikispaces.com/Home

    Its a little late to reply but some info. The issue with luigi was security concern with your ESN and MEID type stuff from your 3g modem being in there. We talked with firmware dev team even found some firmware building tools but in the end it became too complex for me and for hexxeh as well, probably not for lack of skill but more time (student).

    Its now my understanding that you can recover fine with a random fish or pony bios but at the time this was all new and no one really wanted to get their 3g stuff all messed up. so anyway rock on

  29. Michael P /

    Any thoughts on a good, bootable thumb drive, I have struck on 3 8Gb models from various manufacturers and I’m really tired of testing… πŸ™‚

    Thanks!

  30. I have /

    Hello!!! I seriously like this web-site, especially the pattern. πŸ˜€ Anyhow, I just thought to say thanks for all the posts and also please keep writing. I really look forward to reading through more.

  31. I’m an idiot and somehow I skipped the step where you cover the contact after disassembling the chromebook. So if I skipped straight to step 2 and now all I get is the “chromeos is missing or damaged” screen, how screwed am I? I’ve tried recovering at least 20 times, used custom images that are meant to re-insert the bios, checked the SSD cables, and done a few other things but I can’t find anyone who’s made the mistake that I have who has fixed it. Any ideas?

  32. Great,Should i flash Luigi bios on my chromebook series 5 550 ?

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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  2. Running Linux Mint Debian on my CR48 « Lev Alexandrovich Neiman - [...] step is necessary to allow booting of non-signed images. I followed directions on this page: http://corey.degrandchamp.com/2011/04/10/flash-google-cr-48-bios-without-luigi-or-ubuntu/ with much [...]

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