Tech Matters: How to turn your old PC into a Chromebook
Google has released a specialized version of its Chrome OS designed give new life to old PCs and Macs by turning them into Chromebooks. The system is called Chrome OS Flex and was introduced as a beta product earlier this year and now is available for free to the public. If you have an abandoned laptop tucked away in your home office, you can likely install Flex and have an alternative machine for a family member or a backup for your primary computer. A win for you and a win for the environment.
If you are not familiar with Chromebooks, the essential difference from a PC or Mac is that they must be connected to the internet to work. This is known as a cloud-first system. Back in 2011 when the units were first launched, the need for an internet connection was problematic. Wi-Fi was not everywhere and data was very expensive. Today, that picture has dramatically changed. No internet is a valid reason to not work in most offices, and entertainment is impossible — few computers even come with a DVD drive now that streaming is the norm and updates are delivered over the internet.
While the Flex program is designed primarily for businesses and schools with large numbers of aging computers, individuals can also give the transformation a try. In other words, you don’t have to be an IT specialist to do it. There are three steps to the process, but before you start, you’ll want to check Google’s certified device list to see if your computer is on it. If it is, you’re cleared to proceed with certainty that Flex will work. If not, know that Google is continuing to add to the list, and that Flex may still work. “We’re working on more certifications every day, and even if your device isn’t yet certified, you can still try Chrome OS Flex,” wrote Thomas Riedl, director of product, enterprise and education at Google.
You will need three items for this project. First, a computer running the current version of Chrome browser. You will use this machine to create the USB installer. Second, you’ll need a USB drive with 8 gigabytes or more of storage. You can use a used drive, but anything on it will be erased. I recommend buying a new USB. Third, the old machine that you will convert to a Chromebook. Minimum requirements include: Intel or AMD x86-64-bit compatible device, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, the ability to boot from a USB drive and full administrator access.
The first thing to do is to install the Chromebook Recovery Utility. Open Chrome browser and go to the Chrome web store. Search for “Chromebook Recovery Utility,” open it and then click “Add To Chrome.” When prompted, click “Add extension.” You should now see a small wrench in the top right of your browser window near your user icon if there’s room. If not, click on the puzzle piece icon and pin the extension to the window. Make sure it is toggled on.
Next you will create the USB installer. Launch the Chrome Recovery Utility extension. Click “Get started” and then click “Select a model from a list.” For both boxes (manufacturer and product), choose Google Chrome OS Flex from the dropdown list. Click “Continue” and insert your USB drive when instructed. Follow the directions to create the installer, which may take a few minutes. When you get a message that your recovery media is ready, remove the USB.
Last part! Make sure your target device is off. Insert the USB, press the power button and immediately press the boot key for your computer. Each manufacturer has a boot key, and here are some common ones: Dell and Lenovo F12, HP F9, Toshiba F2 or F12. If you don’t see your manufacturer, you can search for the boot key. Select your USB installer as the boot device.
After you have successfully booted Chrome OS Flex from your USB installer, you can permanently install Chrome OS Flex, erasing the computer’s existing OS and replacing it with Chrome OS Flex. If you’re not yet ready to install Chrome OS Flex, you can temporarily run it using the USB installer. This allows you to test the new system and make sure everything is working. As long as you keep your computer turned on, you won’t have to use the USB again. When you’re ready, install Flex permanently.
Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at firstname.lastname@example.org.