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1 Why Switch to Linux

2 Linux to the Rescue

3 Create Your Own Linux Computer

4 Set Up Linux Mint

5 Benefits of LibreOffice Writer

6 How to Use LibreOffice

7 Edit Images with Free Linux Tools

8 More Free Linux Tools

9 More Reasons to Switch to Linux

3.3 Upgrading an Acer C910 Chromebook to 256GB SSD
In our previous article, we explained some of the benefits of the Acer 910 Chromebook. This revolutionary new 15 ½ inch laptop only has a couple of drawbacks. The first is that it comes with a Solid State Drive (SSD) that only has 32 GB of capacity. The second drawback is that the Chrome operating system is extremely limited in terms of the programs it can run. A 32 GB SSD is simply not enough for folks who want to store their own images, videos and documents on their own computer. We will therefore explain in this article how to replace the 32 GB SSD with a 256GB SSD – for a cost of about $90. Then in the next article, we will explain how to replace the Chrome operating system with a much more functional and completely free operating system called Linux Mint – which will allow us to access tens of thousands of free open source programs.

There are 9 steps to the SSD Upgrade process:
#1 Order the Correct 256 GB SSD Replacement Drive
#2 Set Up Your New Acer C910
#3 Save your documents to a USB drive.
#4 Create a Chrome Recovery USB Stick.
#5 Open the Rear Cover of our Chromebook.
#6 Remove the 32GB SSD.
#7 Insert the 256GB SSD.
#8 Replace the Cover.
#9 Restart the Chromebook, Insert the Recovery USB Stick and Follow the Recovery process.


We will review each of these steps in more detail. You’ll need a 4GB USB stick or SD card, a small cross-head screwdriver and the 256 GB M.2 SATA drive. The process will take 30 to 60 minutes including the Chrome system recovery process.

#1 Order the Correct 256 GB SSD Replacement Drive
As we noted in the previous article, solid state drives are 50 to 500 times faster than traditional Hard Drives that use a spinning disc. Because of the rapid decline in price of solid state drives, they are now within the reach of virtually everyone. There are several kinds of Solid State Drives. The most common is called SATA. The second most common is the MiniSATA also called mSATA. The third most common and newest option is called M.2 SATA. The SATA part is often dropped from the description which is not good because there is a newer option that is not SATA called M.2 PCI (PCI has one notch in the connector while M.2 SATA has 2 notches). M.2 is pronounced “M dot 2.” The Acer C910 uses the M.2 SATA Solid State Drive. The M.2 SATA is 3.5mm thick, 22mm wide and comes in three lengths. These are 42mm, 60mm and 80mm.

Below is a picture of the three lengths for the M.2 SSD models.

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The Acer C910 uses the shortest of these three lengths. This short SSD is often described as a “2242” which is simply the width followed by the length.

Brand Options for our 256GB SSD
There are several brands of 256 GB M.2 2242 SSDs on the market. One of the most recent is made by Intel. The Intel Model 530 M.2 240 GB SSD costs about $185 at cdw.com and has a 5 year warranty. However, it can be difficult to get. If you have the funds and want the most reliable M.2 2242 SSD, then this is the model we recommend. However, because this huge extra cost places the entire computer cost outside of the budget of most low income parents and most school districts, we will use a less expensive alternative.

Transcend also makes a 256 GB M.2 2242 SSD called the MTS 400. The Acer C910 is not yet listed as compatible with the MTS 400 on the Transcend website. However, it has been confirmed as the correct model by several C910 users on the Internet. The 256 GB version of the MTS 400 costs about $115. However, it appears that this SSD will crash your Chromebook unless you disable a power management feature called ALPM. If you decide to use this SSD, see the following link for how to disable ALPM: https://superuser.com/questions/887916/transcend-mts400-ssd-crashes-my-acer-c720-chromebook-how-to-disable-sata-power

The third and most common 256gb SSD option is called MyDigitalSSD. It is available at Amazon for about $90 and directly from MyDigitalSSD for $87. Here is the full name of this SSD: MyDigitalSSD 256GB Super Boot Drive 42mm SATA III (6G) M.2 2242 NGFF SSD – MDM242-SB-256. Here is the direct link to MyDigitalSSD:
https://www.mydigitaldiscount.com/mydigitalssd-256gb-super-boot-drive-42mm-sata-iii-6g-m.2-2242-ngff-ssd/

A problem with this brand is that in the past, about one in twenty of these SSDs may have failed. An SSD failure would cause us to lose all of our data if our laptop is not backed up frequently. In speaking with the technical support person at MyDigitalSSD, he said that most of the claimed failures were due to folks not following the proper procedures such as not using the Chromebook Restore function. Folks then wrote bad reviews but his testing of the SSDs indicated that there was nothing wrong with them. There are two versions of this SSD. The slightly better version is called SuperBootDrive and comes with a Toshiba A19nm MLC Toggle NAND Flash. This SSD comes with a three year warranty. There is a slightly cheaper version called the SuperBootDrive Eco which uses a Micron flash instead of a Toshiba flash. Either way, MyDigitalSSD seems to be pretty good about replacing a failed SSD. But this warranty does not cover getting your lost data back. One option would be to get a free Cloud storage system linked to your SSD which makes a constant backup of your SSD every time you go online. Another option would be to backup your current folders every day or every week. This is the price of working with very new technology. My own view is that this SSD is not likely to fail if we are careful about following all of the proper steps.

The main reason we have chosen to use the MyDigitalSSD 256 GB Super Boot Drive SSD is that there are a huge number of positive reports and tutorials for installing this SSD on Acer Chromebooks. While the Intel option or other brands may seem more reliable on paper, there are almost no reports of these actually being successfully installed on a real Chromebook. Finally, the reports of SSD failures came mainly from the prior versions of MyDigitalSSD's that used a prior firmware program that may have had problems. Welcome to the cutting edge of technology!

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SLC, MLC or TLC?
When researching SSD options, it is important to know the difference between a TLC versus MLC NAND. This is important because MyDigitalSSD uses the MLC NAND while some other brands use the TLC NAND. An M.2 SSD consists of a controller that connects the memory to your computer and the memory itself which is in a chip called a NAND.

Most of the price of an SSD is in the NAND. The price and durability of a solid state drive is directly related to the type of NAND it comes with. There are three common types of NAND. These are Single Level Cell (SLC), Multi-Level Cell (MLC) and Triple Level Cell (TLC). The MLC NAND is three times more durable than the TLC NAND.

NAND Type

Single Level Cell

(SLC)

Multi-Level Cell

(MLC)

Triple Level Cell

(TLC)

Number of bits per cell

1

2

3

Number of Values per cell

2

(0,1)

4

(00,01, 10, 11)

8

(000,001,010,100,
011,101,110,111)

Space per value in a 16 nm cell (more is better)

8 nm

4 nm

2 nm

Durability – Read/Write Cycles

100,000

10,000

3,000

Cost

Very High

Moderate

Low

Use

Commercial

Computer

Operating Systems

Personal

Computer

Operating Systems

Only USB Data Sticks such as Thumb Drives



The problem with TLC NANDS having 8 values per cell is that modern cells are now under 20 nanometers wide. A nanometer is one billionth of an inch – meaning that a billion cells can take up one inch. The more values that are crammed within this tiny space, the more difficult it is to distinguish between them. Eventually, the tunneling oxide in the Triple Level Cells degrade to the point where the cells are no longer viable and stops working. Therefore TLC memory devices should not be used to store the operating system or any other critical programs on your computer.

Yet despite this warning from the makers of Solid State Drives, some companies such as HP are actually offering TLC SSDs as a $186 upgrade on their $2,000 laptops!

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As a simple if less than accurate example, if you turn on your laptop three times per day and used the entire 240GB of storage each time, a TLC NAND might only last 1000 days or three years – whereas the same usage with an MLC NAND would last 10 years and an SLC NAND would last 100 years (but also cost 10 times more than an MLC NAND). This is why we believe that the MLC NAND in the MyDigitalSSD 256GB SSD will be sufficient for students and teachers.


#2 Set Up Your New Acer C910
If this is a new Acer C910, we should first set it up to verify that it is working. We will need an Internet Connection and a Power Source. Because this Chromebook does not come with an Ethernet port, if you are using an Ethernet Internet connection, you should buy an Ethernet to USB adapter which costs about $15. If you are using a WIFI connection, then an Ethernet to USB adapter is not needed. You will also need your Google Email Account and password (although you can create this account while setting up your Chromebook).

When you unpack the box your Chromebook comes in, the C910 will be inside of a white foam bag. Keep this bag as we will use it to pad the Chromebook when we replace the SSD. Assemble the two parts of the battery pack and plug one end into a power supply, then the other end into our new Chromebook. Then press the Power On button located in the upper right corner of the key board. After turning on the Chromebook, the Chrome logo displays on a white background. After a few seconds, this welcome screen appears.

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Select your network. If your network requires a password, enter the password. Then click Continue. The next screen is the Google Terms screen.
If you do not want to automatically send reports to Google, click the box to remove the check mark next to Optional: Help make Chrome OS better by automatically sending usage statistics and crash reports to Google. To accept the Google Chrome OS Terms and proceed to the sign in screen, click Accept and continue.

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The next screen is the Google Account Sign in screen. A Google Account is required for signing in to your Chromebook for the first time. The first Google Account added to your Chromebook becomes the Owner account, and is given special permissions that cannot be transferred to a different account without resetting the Chromebook. On the Sign in screen, enter your primary Google Account email address and password, and then click Sign in. You are automatically signed in to any Google products and services associated with your Google Account. At this screen, you can also create a new account or sign in as a Guest by clicking Browse as a Guest. The next screen is to select an account picture. You can either have the camera take a picture of you or select a picture from several existing images on your Chromebook. Then click OK to continue. You then can view a series of instructional screens which we will skip.

Now that we have set up our Chromebook, we are ready for the next steps.

#3 Save your documents to a USB drive.
This step is not needed if you are upgrading a new Acer C910. However, if you have been using your Chromebook for awhile, you should save any documents on your Chromebook to a USB drive before replacing the 32 GB SSD.


#4 Create a Chrome Recovery USB Stick.
You will need a a USB stick or an SD card that is at least 4 GB and an Internet connection. Turn on your Chromebook and insert this USB drive or SD card into your Chromebook. Then type Chrome://imageburner in your browser. This will take you to a page that says "Create Recovery Media". It should detect the drive you plugged into your Chromebook. Press the "OK" button under "USB Memory Stick Detected". This will wipe your USB drive clean, and place a recovery image on it which we will use later to restore the Chrome operating system after we have replaced the SSD. Remove the USB stick or SD card when the process is finished. You can then shut down the Chromebook.

#5Open the Rear Cover of our Chromebook
First, turn off your Chromebook and disconnect it from the power supply and electrical outlet. Turn it over and place it on a clean towel to stop the case getting scratched. You can also place it on the white foam bag that the Chromebook came packed in. Unscrew all 18 of the cross-head screws from the rear of the unit. You will need a small Phillips head screwdriver. There are four screws on each side plus two in the middle.

04

One screw is hiding under a warranty sticker. Note that removing the screws on the back of your Chromebook will invalidate your warranty. This is pretty sad. But we also invalidate the warranty when we replace Chrome with Linux Mint.

05

As you remove the screws, store them in a safe place. They are very small and easily lost. After all of the screws have been removed, we need to pry off the back cover. You can use a large guitar pick, a flat head screwdriver or any sort of relatively thin plastic or metal separation tool to pry the bottom cover from the top cover.

Start at the front to one side of the touch pad and gently pry it open first in the front, then the sides and then the back (which is the hardest part). Once you have the body separated, slide your prying tool in either direction until you hit the first snap point. Once you pop one out, the case will open wide enough that you can simply use your fingers to pull the plate off one snap at a time around all four edges. Be as careful as possible with these snap points, as they are fragile. Breaking one of them will not cause a problem but breaking several snap connections could be a problem. When the unit is open it will look like this. The M.2 SATA 32 GB SSD is clearly labeled near the middle just to the right of the mother board, just above the fan and just below the very large black battery cover.

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#6 Remove the 32GB SSD
Some SSD makers recommend removing the battery in order to avoid a potential electrical discharge. However, none of the demonstrations actually did this. But you should disconnect the Chromebook from the electrical outlet. Once the bottom plate is off, look just above the fan for a blue Kingston SSD wedged into a slot on one end and held down with a single Phillips screw on the other. Remove the screw from the SSD and gently wigglethe SSD out of its socket. Place the drive off to the side in a safe place. Remember this is still a fully functioning drive with Chrome OS on it and we may need to put it back if the new SSD does not work for any reason!


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The single screw holding in the SSD is on the left. The pins connecting the SSD to the Chromebook are on the right.

#7 Insert the 256GB SSD
It is important to insert the new SSD properly so that the pins line up. This may require turning the new SSD upside down. But in general the label on the SSD goes up. Then screw it into place with the single screw.


08 #8 Replace the Cover
Gently reattach the rear cover by putting the back part of the cover on first and then the sides and the front. Position the bottom cover and move your hand along the edges, pressing down hard until you hear each of the clips click into place. Once you think you've put them in place, go around the edges another time or two pressing harder to really make sure the clips have been connected. Then reattach all 18 screws.


#9 Restart the Chromebook, Insert the Recovery USB Stick and Follow the Recovery process
Flip the Chromebook back over, reconnect it to the power supply, open the lid and press the power button. When you turn on your Chromebook, you will see an Error message complaining that there is no operating system.


09

Insert the USB or SD recovery card and it will be recognized automatically. The rest of the recovery process is automatic. The Chromebook will automatically recognize the recovery disk and start the restore process. It will take a few minutes. There will be a progress bar while it restores the Chrome operating system. Make sure to plug your Chromebook back into its power supply just in case the battery was low before you started the drive replacement. It will take about 5 minutes to do the recovery. When the recovery is complete, remove the USB drive or SD card and your Chromebook will automatically reboot and greet you with a fresh start screen.

Move through the setup process just as you normally would, add in your Google credentials and you'll be logged in. You'll be greeted by a pending system update after you power the computer on. It will take a few minutes to download your settings, extensions and preferences.

To confirm that the new drive storage is working, open the Files app, click the settings button in the top right corner of the window and you'll see down at the bottom a reading of how much available storage you have. Due to formatting and the space Chrome OS takes up, you'll have less than the 256 GB advertised on the SSD. But it should be more than 220GB. If the restore fails, you may be one of the unlucky few who got a bad 256GB SSD. You will have to replace the old 32 GB SSD – which still has the Chrome OS on it. Then, create another recovery SD card and try again – perhaps with a different 256 GB SSD.

Now that we have a 256GB SSD installed on our Chromebook, in the next article, we will review how to replace the Chrome operating system with Linux Mint. 
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