HP Stream 11: Lubuntu 14.10 -> BSD
TL;DR I am (distractedly) working on installing an open source BSD¹ operating system on an HP Stream 11.
One fine rainy day last year I bought this HP Stream 11 at the Tottenham Court Road PC World when they were on offer for £150. HP intends it as bottom end chromebook competitor. I got it because it’s small and solid and cheap and a fab shade of blue (there are some other colours available). As you might expect, it came with Windows 8 preinstalled and an invitation to sign up for some sort of HP cloud service. The cloud marketing aspect means that it has a 32GB SSD, which is really small. I can work around that.
The machine was immediately wiped and reinstalled first with Debian Linux and then Lubuntu. There were two installation annoyances: wireless networking, and the SSD. Wifi was initially achieved during its short time on Debian with a £5 button wifi adapter I already had. Lubuntu 14.10 has everything working ‘out of the box’. Thank you, Lubuntu (and Debian).
Plus points: It looks and feels well built. I happen to like typing on it. The display is decent.
Minus points: The trackpad is bloody annoying (this is mentioned in published reviews). The wifi is ropey, requires manual drop/reconnect from time to time, might be the driver.
Overall, for the price, this is more than fine for what I wanted. I can use this as a beard laptop when I go to open source events and don’t want to be hassled by FLOSS extremists. 😈
Spoiler: I know someone else with an HP Stream 11 who managed to get OpenBSD running on it. I probably wouldn’t have embarked on this quest otherwise.
Caveats: I’m not documenting anything related to backup/data recovery. Info here may be helpful but that’s not guaranteed. It’s not a tutorial. I’ll change/remove a lot of text here until I get sick of working on it.
Starting point was Lubuntu 14.10. I messed with NetBSD and that was easier in some ways but it doesn’t have support for the SSD at time of experimentation. I’m not able to help with that either. So OpenBSD it is, as FreeBSD also doesn’t support the hardware yet either.
I downloaded miniroot60.fs
- Found a usb stick and stuck it in the laptop.
- Typed lsblk to find the usb device name. /dev/sda
- umount /dev/sda
- sudo dd if=miniroot60.fs of=/dev/sda bs=1M conv=sync
At some point during this process, I searched for the recipe for getting HP Stream 11 into BIOS mode. Press ‘Esc’ about 1 second after it starts the boot process. Most of the time, a tiny prompt appears in the lower left side of the display indicating the ‘hot period’ for hitting the escape key. Be prepared to do this multiple times.
OpenBSD supports UEFI which the HPS11 requires for booting automatically from USB. If you try another OS which doesn’t, there is a BIOS Boot Manager which can explicitly invoke boot from the usb stick.
I destroyed (intentionally) the Lubuntu installation by messing around with the miniroot image. I had heard and seen that the built-in Broadcom wifi was a dead loss and there is no RJ45 ethernet jack on the HPS11. I have read at least one forum posting written by someone who sounded sensible having trouble with the wifi on the operating system platform the machine was intended for. The button wifi adaptor mentioned previously wasn’t getting a good enough signal in my house, so I stopped fooling around with the installation and left it for awhile.
I ordered a wifi dongle with an antenna. It’s an Anewish (Shenzhen XinChengOu Co) doodad that cost £4.99 from Amazon, and is built with a Realtek chip. Seems pretty good.
With some swearing and cajoling, I used the full installation tarball and my wonderful new network connection to complete the installation of OpenBSD 6, and ended up with a pleasantly retro desktop. I have FluxBox installed right now. Thanks, OpenBSD team and everyone else who made this possible. :-)
Random notes: I installed the packaged Go (version 1.6.3), but haven’t done anything interesting with it. My intention is to build later versions, but I haven’t had the time yet. I tested a patch bundle for the latest Perl5 (5.24.0) for its maintainer (https://github.com/afresh1/OpenBSD-perl), which appears to be more or less perfect. I will probably have a go at Perl 6 one rainy day. Firefox-esr crashes fairly frequently, the wifi is moderately stable. One plus: I think OpenBSD’s trackpad driver is rather better than the linux equivalent (which I don’t get on with very much). I will not rush to put it back on Lubuntu, but then again I don’t need to.
¹ Specifically, one of FreeBSD, NetBSD or OpenBSD