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General OS News

Be careful about buying refurbished Chromebooks

By Adam Z. Lein March 11, 2020, 3:00 am

Some of our readers pointed out in the comments of “A $99 Chromebook is so much better with Gallium Linux installed” that most Chromebooks from the past couple of years now include native Linux app support. Google has an official list of older Chromebooks that now have native Linux support as well. However, just because a Chromebook is listed as having support for native Linux support, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work; particularly when you’re dealing with refurbished Chromebooks that may not have been refurbished completely or correctly.

For example, I recently bought two refurbished Lenovo N22 Chromebooks on Amazon with the intent on giving Chrome OS’s Linux and Android support a serious evaluation. As it turns out, neither of them have the Linux option available despite their model numbers being listed as compatible in the official Google site.

The device owner has disabled Developer Mode for this device. Please ask the device owner to remove the restriction if you want to use Developer Mode.

One of them can’t even switch to Developer Mode as seen in the above screenshot! No amount of power washing (hard resetting) or even using the Chromebook Recovery Utility from a USB disk will get around this. You’ll see numerous other’s complaining about this on the internet (1) (2) (3) (4), so it’s not just me.

Some people have been able to get around this enrollment lock down by taking the laptop apart, removing the write protection screw, removing the battery, and holding down the power button for 30 minutes or so to clear out the BIOS chips. From there, you might be able to get into Developer Mode and then run some Linux commands to change the device’s serial number.

Google Chromebook Enterprise enrollment locks down the devices based on the hardware serial number so that it’s difficult for students and users to get the Chromebook to do anything that the Enterprise Administrator doesn’t want you to do.

Find the original owner

Possibly the easiest way to get around Google Chromebook enrollment limitations is to ask the original owner to un-enroll your serial number.

Luckily with the two Lenovo N22s I bought recently, the Chromebooks became un-enrolled by themselves after about a week and a half. Perhaps some other customers who bought devices from the same lot complained and the seller then realized they had to un-enroll the devices from Google. Or perhaps the original owner was a school or company and realized they should un-enroll these devices that they had gotten rid of.


The moral of the story is: if you’re going to buy a refurbished Chromebook, be sure to confirm that the seller has un-enrolled the device from Google’s Chromebook Enterprise management software. Otherwise, it might be locked down with less features or capabilities than it should have.


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