Note: This post was updated after its original publication. It now notes that, while methods do exist to reset an enrolled/managed Chromebook, they are almost exclusively for pre-2018 devices, they may not work for devices that can’t access developer mode, and some involve buying specialty BIOS-programming hardware. They are not, in other words, worth it for most people looking to use a Chromebook in 2020.
Whatever form it takes, school is coming back. A Chromebook can be a great value for schoolwork. A used Chromebook, even better. And used or refurbished Chromebooks are some of the only models desperate parents can find right now. But there’s one important thing to watch for.
If a Chromebook was previously part of a managed system at a school, business, or some other organization, it may be “enrolled.” Enrolled Chromebooks, sometimes described as having “Enterprise Enrollment,” or being “managed,” limit who can sign into them, restrict settings and sites, and may have pre-installed extensions or apps. They are generally are not a useful Chromebook to somebody outside the organization.
So when you’re buying a used Chromebook, or perhaps aiming to fix up one found cheap on a sale site, you should check if it’s enrolled before you try to set it up for yourself. The most reliable way to un-enroll a Chromebook is to contact the previous institution that owned it and ask for it to be removed. If you purchased a Chromebook from a market or vendor that offers buyer protection, and you can’t get the Chromebook un-enrolled, now would be a good time to utilize that protection. Sites like Backmarket, eBay, and the refurbished stores of major Chromebook vendors likely have you covered in this regard.
But, wait a minute. You did a little web searching, and you’ve seen some answers that suggest you can un-enroll a Chromebook. In fact, if you looked on iFixit’s Answers forum, you might find five different variants of the “how do I remove enrollment” question asked, with some positive answers. In “Restoring/Resetting a school locked ChromeBook,” a person bought a used Chromebook on eBay from a vendor, who in turn was helping a school offload devices after an upgrade. “[I]s there a modern working way to get this school enrolled/locked ChromeBook cleared for actual use?”
I chatted with Chrome OS reprogramming expert CoolStar about methods for breaking a Chromebook out of enrollment. The best-case scenario is if your pre-cr50 enrolled device can be rebooted in developer mode (sometimes with the help of a battery disconnection); you then enter a series of terminal commands to change its serial number. If you can’t boot into developer mode, you might need specialty hardware tools to directly reprogram the Chromebook’s BIOS chip. At this point, the enrolled, well-aged Chromebook is more of a hobby than a reliable device you need to use—and there’s a chance you’re working in a gray or black market.
Back to a more practical response to discovering a managed device. Answers uber-member Mayer (Mayer!) suggests the Answers poster should try getting a refund through eBay. Heather Barnes, a tech specialist for Bolivar Schools in Bolivar, Mo., suggests asking the original school to un-enroll (or deprovision) the device. Barnes notes that “Removing the program screw and [performing] a [power]wash will not remove the enrollment status.”
Barnes would know, being both experienced with Google administration for schools, and an avid tinkerer and Answers … answer-er. When an organization uses its admin console to tie a device’s serial number to itself, it’s a lot like Apple’s activation lock: it’s meant to prevent theft. Google knows about the device, has stored data about its status in the cloud, and is waiting for the original owner’s blessing to release it.
Repair guides for many brands of Chromebook computer.View Device
Barnes has tried some of the techniques you can find on the how-to web for her own school’s sake. None have worked for her, or been worth the chance of bricking a device. “I have yet to find a way to get around enrolled devices,” she wrote in an email.
If you do find yourself with an enrolled Chromebook, and know the school or organization it came from, have your device’s serial number handy. You might get a positive response. Un-enrolling a device can free up a license for that organization, possibly saving them money or expanding their fleet. But, as Barnes knows, the beginning of the school year is a tough time to try and get a response from an overworked school—and this year, school IT departments are likely twice as overworked as normal. You might want to wait until at least late September, if it’s a school or university.
Unfortunately, finding a great deal on a used, enrolled Chromebook can also lead to a sad conclusion. Your serial number might reveal the device as stolen, and you may be obligated to turn over the device to your local police, if so. It’s something that happens, Barnes told me.