Do you have an old laptop or computer? Give it a new lease of life with Chrome OS Flex


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Have an old laptop or computer sitting in the corner of your office collecting dust and taking up space? Instead of saying it’ll help you someday, take a few minutes of your day to breathe new life into it by installing Google’s free operating system, Chrome OS Flex. Essentially, Chrome OS Flex turns any computer it’s installed on into a Chrome OS device, giving that stack of electronics a new purpose.

Below I’ll walk you through the installation process of Chrome OS Flex, which is compatible with Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. At the moment Chrome OS Flex is in early access, through Google’s dev channel, so not all features work and not every laptop and configuration is supported. So expect to run into a few bugs or issues while using it as Google smooths out the final build.

System requirements to install Chrome OS Flex

There is a very long list of devices on Google’s Chrome OS Flex support page, each marked with different support levels. I wouldn’t see the list as something that if your laptop or computer isn’t on the list, you can’t try Chrome OS Flex. I even used a Huawei MateBook D – which is not on the list at all – for this article.

Google does list the minimum device requirements for a PC, Mac, or Linux machine to run Chrome OS Flex. Here it is, taken directly from a Google support page:

Minimum Device Requirements:

  • Architecture: Intel or AMD x86-64-bit compatible device
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Internal storage: 16 GB
  • Bootable from a USB drive
  • BIOS: Full administrator access. You will need to boot from the Chrome OS Flex USB installer and make some adjustments in the BIOS if you run into any issues.
  • Processor and graphics: Components made before 2010 may lead to a bad experience.
  • Note: Intel GMA 500, 600, 3600, and 3650 graphics hardware does not meet Chrome OS Flex performance standards.

As you can see, the requirements are minimal. Chrome OS Flex is designed to run on more or less any computer built after 2010.

Other requirements

In addition to a computer that meets the minimum requirements, you’ll need a computer with Chrome browser and an 8GB USB drive that you’ll use to flash the operating system to the old computer.

Create a Chrome OS Flex USB Installer


Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

If you want to install Chrome OS Flex on another computer, you must first create what is called a USB installer. The USB drive contains all the files and data needed to install the operating system. Google has made it easy to create the installer using the Chromebook Recovery Utility extension. Yes, it is an extension in the Chrome browser. Great, huh?

You need to add the extension to your browser from the Chrome Web Store. Here’s a direct link to it.

Once it’s added, open the extension and follow the prompts in the window. The process consists of formatting the USB drive you are using (erase everything currently on it, so make sure nothing important is on it). The second screen asks you to identify your Chromebook. click on Select a model from a listfollowed by the Manufacturer drop-down list, then find Google Chrome OS Flex in the list and select it. Then click Select a product and click on the only option, Chrome OS Flex (unstable for developers)† Finally click Get on

From here, connect the USB drive to your computer, select it from the drop-down list and click Get on followed by Create now† The extension takes a few minutes to download all the necessary files and then write them to the USB drive you are using.

Feel free to go for a walk, have a coffee or do some shopping on Amazon while the extension does its job. It took less than 5 minutes for me, but a lot of that depends on how fast your internet connection is.

Install Chrome OS Flex on a PC, Mac, or Linux machine


Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Once the installation disc has been created, you are ready to try out or install Chrome OS Flex on your old computer.

With the old computer turned off, plug in the USB installation disk. Press the power button and immediately begin pressing your computer’s boot key. If you don’t know what that is, Google has a list of commonly used keys, broken down by brand.

For example, on a Mac, hold down the Option key. On a Dell, press F12. If your computer is not listed, you may need to restart it a few times and try different keys during startup. Alternatively, you can search your laptop model plus the startup key to find it.

The process from this point on depends on the type of computer, but the essential steps require you to select the USB installation drive as the drive you want to boot the computer from, which in turn will reboot the computer and start the Chrome OS Flex installation tool.

If you’re having trouble with this step, I suggest you search for your specific computer model along with “Boot from USB” in the search.

After you boot from the USB installation drive, you will be asked if you want to test Chrome OS Flex before completely erasing your old computer’s drive. If that’s the route you choose, it will run the operating system on the USB drive.

Or, if you’ve already made up your mind, install Chrome OS Flex and follow the prompts. You’ll want to have your Wi-Fi information handy, and once you’re done, you’ll need to sign in with a Google account, so make sure you have that information handy too.

Once the installation is complete, your computer will reboot and you will be greeted by the standard Chrome OS login page, where you can then sign in with your Google account and start using your old computer, with a brand new operating system.

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