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Droplet containers on Google Chromebook – Technical Requirements

Droplet containers on Google Chromebook – Technical Requirements

Date: 30 April 2021 | By: droplet

One of the most common questions that come up around Droplet containers on Google Chromebooks is the hardware specification. Whilst that is important and significant what I usually direct customers to validate first is what kernel generation is being used by the Chromebook. You see, it's entirely possible that a very modern and powerful Chromebook is using an older kernel, and that an old and underpowered Chromebook is using a modern kernel. There isn't any link between horsepower and the generation of the kernel in use.

Why is this significant? Well, kernels from 14.4 onwards were compiled by Google to allow grub (the bootloader) to expose Intel-VT attributes from the kernel to the wider ChromeOS. This attribute is passed as “VMX” in the grub bootloader. As probably know ChromeOS is a very lightly loaded and sealed environment – which drives great performance and security. For that reason, you can't just change the kernel or modify the bootloader. Well, you can – by using "Developer Mode" – but that essentially "breaks" the security model. For the uninitiated “Developer Mode” essentially gives you “root” access to the device – and often say it’s not unlike “jailbreaking” an IOS/Android phone or tablet. It's not so much the "kernel" that's the issue but the parameter passed to that kernel via grub.conf. It just so happens that checking the kernel version is the quickest route to determine the capabilities.

How does this impact Droplet containers? We leverage Intel-VT to deliver our hardware acceleration for our popular 32-bit containers and some of our 64-bit containers too (depending on their generation). It's worth saying not all Droplet containers benefit from this hardware acceleration – such as our DCI-X container. That's because some of the kernels we use pre-date Intel-VT anywhere – so there's no performance benefit to be had. I'm keen not to overstate the performance delta between accelerated or non-accelerated containers – often we are talking about the difference of seconds when the first Droplet containerized app loaded.

So how does one work out the kernel type on an existing Chromebook? First, you need to launch the Google Chrome web browser, and open a terminal prompt using [CTRL]+[ALT]+[T] on the keyboard, and then issue the command:

uname -a

This will print out the data needed to ID the kernel in use – in my case, this is a Lenovo laptop running Neverware’s CloudReady. This is an open-source flavor of ChromeOS used to repurpose laptops, PC and Apple Mac devices for ChromeOS. Performance can be stellar because often these devices have huge amounts of resources to run huge OSes – with ChromeOS being so light touch it means they are superfast. So, you know Neverware was recently acquired by Google – and think this is part of Google's strategy to get a foothold in the world of Enterprise IT. Neverware can be a great ‘get out of jail” card for devices that are powerful enough to run Droplet containers, but where the kernel can’t be updated.

As for new hardware – we would always recommend speaking to your preferred OEM provider, as their internal inventories should allow them to find the details of kernel generation. Another source of information is the community sharing their experience – but need to be careful as some of these devices are only available in certain geographical regions – plus you not just looking at the kernel type but the specifications of CPU/Memory and local storage.

My personal favorite (which is fantastically priced) is the ASUS C436 Flip 14in i5 8GB 256GB 2-in-1 Chromebook which is retailing here in the UK at the £799 bracket include VAT (or Sales Tax, if you are based outside of the EU).

It's a super-powerful unit for its price. In terms of CPU, my idea would some kind of Intel Core i3/i5/i7 device. Memory, I would say would be a minimum of 4GB, ideally 8GB. Storage-wise, capacity isn't the issue but IOPS is significant – so I would prefer an SSD or NVme drive, over eMMC fundamentally an SSD or NVme drive wipes the floor of an eMMC type – which is usually fine as simple boot media for ChromeOS, but I feel isn't up the job when it comes to run a Droplet container.

So, the main takeaway – Droplet containers run on Chromebooks and watch out of under-resourced Intel Celeron type devices and powerful machines with the old kernels. Once our Droplet software is installed you should be looking to see “KVM” is listed as the accelerator in the Help, About menus like so: