How to Turn an Old Laptop Into a Chromebook

edited August 2023 in PC Tech

As technology evolves rapidly, it can be sad to see a once-trusted laptop fall behind in performance. However, Google has now offered a solution to revitalize these aging machines with Chrome OS Flex.

Chrome OS Flex is the same operating system that powers Chromebooks but can be installed on non-Chromebook computers like your trusty old machine. The lightweight nature of Chrome OS means it won't bog down your older device in the same way as Windows, which is more resource intensive.

A simplified Chromebook eliminates the need for driver management, regular system updates, and malware protection, making it a far more user-friendly option.

With Chrome OS Flex, you can breathe new life into your old laptop or desktop. We'll show you how to convert your old laptop into a Chromebook. The conversion is free and takes around 20 minutes.

One nifty feature is you can run ChromeOS Flex off a USB flash drive to test drive before completely overwriting your current OS.

What is ChromeOS Flex? 

ChromeOS Flex is a cloud-first operating system that offers fast performance, robust security, and easy management for Mac and PC computers. It is designed to refresh older devices, increasing their performance and efficiency. With ChromeOS Flex, you can expect a seamless and streamlined experience with improved:

  • speed 
  • security 
  • management

This is not just an upgrade. It's a complete overhaul for older devices and a must-have for anyone looking to get more out of their hardware.

Another vital aspect of ChromeOS Flex is its environmental impact. It is an operating system that makes your machine perform better and positively impacts the environment. ChromeOS Flex devices consume 19% less energy on average, making it an energy-efficient choice. With 40 million tons of e-waste generated each year globally, the equivalent of throwing away 800 laptops per second, upgrading to ChromeOS Flex instead of buying a new device is a simple yet effective way to reduce waste and make a real impact. 

Warning: Before proceeding with a ChromeOS Flex install, backup all files on your current operating system. This process is similar to a clean install of Windows and will erase all data on your drive.

Step 1: Check that your laptop meets the ChromeOS Flex requirements 

ChromeOS Flex is designed to run smoothly on older hardware manufactured over the last 10 years. Making it an excellent option for machines that can no longer keep up with the latest versions of:

  • Windows 
  • macOS 
  • Linux

Google maintains and individually certifies a list of models you can use with ChromeOS Flex. While Google only guarantees full functionality and performance on a growing list of certified models, that doesn't mean you're out of luck if your device isn't on the list.

ChromeOS Flex may still work on your device with the following minimum hardware requirements:

  • Processor: Intel or AMD x86 64-bit 
  • RAM: 4GB or more 
  • HD: 16GB or more storage 
  • BIOS: Full administrator access. 
  • Bootable from USB Drive 
  • Google Chrome Browser Installed 
  • Processor and graphics: Components are made after 2010. You're out of luck if you have Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500, 600, 3600, or 3650 models, as they don't meet the performance standards.

You can create a bootable USB to test the operating system without permanently changing your device. This allows you to test ChromeOS Flex's performance on your device without risk.

Step 2: Create the USB installer 

If you've met the minimum hardware requirements, it's time to create the ChromeOS Flex USB installer. You'll need a:

  • USB thumb drive of 8GB or larger

Remember: The USB will be entirely erased when creating the installer, so backup any required files first.

a) Install the Chrome Recovery Utility Extension 

  1. Open the Chrome Browser 
  2. Install the Chrome Recovery Utility. In the top right, click the Add to Chrome button. 
  3. Click Add extension when prompted. 
  4. Verify that the extension is enabled. Click Extensions (the jigsaw puzzle icon next to the address bar), then click Manage Extensions at the bottom of the dropdown extensions list. Search for Chromebook Recovery Utility and ensure the toggle switch is to the right.

b) Build the USB installer 

Launch your Chrome Recovery Utility extension in Chrome, and proceed with the installation process:

  1. Click Get started
  2. Click the Select a model from a list link. 
  3. From the Select a manufacturer dropdown, choose Google ChromeOS Flex
  4. In the Select a product dropdown, find and click ChromeOS Flex. 
  5. Click Continue
  6. When prompted, insert your USB drive. 
  7. Select USB drive from the dropdown menu. 
  8. Click Continue
  9. Click Create now.

The utility takes around 15 minutes to install the files on your USB drive. When you get a message that it's ready, remove your USB drive from the device.

Step 3: Boot to flash drive 

Now, get the laptop you want to convert to a Chromebook. You'll use the USB installer you created to boot the computer from the USB instead of your hard drive. To do this:

  1. Turn off the laptop you want to run ChromeOS Flex on. 
  2. Insert your ChromeOS Flex USB installer. 
  3. Boot the device from the USB drive. 
    1. Press your power button. 
    2. Repeatedly press your boot key. For Acer, the Boot key is F2. For other models, check Google's boot keys list
  4. Select your USB installer as the boot device.

If the setup process is successful, you'll see the ChromeOS Flex splash screen, followed by the Welcome screen.

Step 4: Start using ChromeOS Flex 

When the ChromeOS welcome screen appears, you can either: 

  1. Wipe your laptop's drive to install ChromeOS Flex immediately 
  2. Configure ChromeOS Flex on your USB drive.

If you're unsure if ChromeOS Flex suits you and your device, try running it from the USB drive first. 

This will allow you to try out the operating system without making any destructive changes to your current system.

Option 1: Full Installation 

  1. Boot your laptop from the ChromeOS Flex flash drive and wait for the welcome screen to appear. 
  2. Click the Get started button and choose Install ChromeOS Flex on the next screen. 
  3. The default option is to wipe your laptop and permanently install ChromeOS Flex. Make sure that your old data is backed up before proceeding. 
  4. Confirm that your data is backed up. Proceed with wiping your hard drive and ChromeOS Flex installation. Depending on your hard drive size and flash drive speed, this process may take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. 
  5. After the installation is completed, your laptop will shut down. Carefully remove the USB drive, and power the system back on. Remember to undo any changes you made to the BIOS's automatic boot order if you did so during the installation process. 
  6. Upon booting up, you'll be greeted with the welcome screen running on your laptop. Click the Get started button to start the setup process. 
  7. During the setup process, be aware of checkboxes that allow Google to collect your usage and device data. These checkboxes are pre-checked, so make sure to uncheck them if you wish to keep your information private.

Option 2: Demo ChromeOS Flex from the flash drive 

  1. Boot your laptop from the ChromeOS Flex flash drive and wait for the welcome screen to appear. 
  2. Click the Get started button to start setup. 
  3. Pass through the configuration screens for Wi-Fi, account type, and Google account login. You'll reach the desktop. 
  4. You can skip the Google account login and browse as a guest for a faster setup process. 
  5. To install ChromeOS Flex, log out of your account (or exit as a guest) and select the Install ChromeOS Flex option. 
  6. You can also install ChromeOS Flex later by clicking on the lower-right-hand corner of the screen (where the clock is) and logging out of your account or exiting as a guest. 
  7. In the screen that appears, look for the Install ChromeOS Flex button at the bottom of the screen. 
  8. Upon completion of the installation, your laptop will shut down. Carefully remove the USB drive, and power the system back on. Remember to undo any changes you made to the BIOS's automatic boot order if you did so during the installation process. 
  9. You'll see the welcome screen again, now running from your laptop; begin setup by clicking on the Get started button.

Step 5: Log into your Google Account 

If you installed ChromeOS Flex correctly to your laptop's HD, you'll:

  1. Connect your laptop to the internet. 
  2. Log into your Google account. 
  3. You'll be taken to the ChromeOS Flex desktop and see a welcome message, close it to start using your newly installed ChromeOS Flex.

Now, you're all set to go and enjoy the experience of ChromeOS Flex on your device.

Why let an old laptop collect dust in your closet when you can give it a new lease on life? With ChromeOS Flex, you can quickly turn your outdated device into a Chromebook with all the speed, security, and simplicity it offers. And the best part? It's free. All you need is a USB flash drive and an old laptop. It's a small investment of time and effort that could breathe new life into your device. Don't let your old laptop go to waste. Give ChromeOS Flex a try and see the difference it can make.

*The opinions reflected in this article are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect any official positions or claims by Acer Inc.

About Robert Stark: Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech. 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.


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