Chromebooks are a great alternative to traditional laptops and PCs. Running ChromeOS, they are cheap, powerful devices that provide all the functionality you could ask for. Even better, the best Chromebooks on the market are relatively inexpensive. But you don't need to buy a Chromebook to try out ChromeOS. Google lets you experience the OS on your old laptop or PC through ChromeOS Flex.
What is ChromeOS Flex? And how do you install it on your old PC or laptop? Read below to find out.
What is ChromeOS Flex?
In 2020, Google acquired the company behind CloudReady, an app that allowed installing ChromeOS on non-certified devices. Building on its acquisition, the big G announced ChromeOS Flex in 2022, a successor to CloudReady that promises to make your old Windows or MacBook usable again.
ChromeOS Flex is free to download and use. It is designed primarily for older PCs, laptops, and MacBooks used by businesses and schools that are now too slow to run Windows or macOS properly. Instead of discarding them, you can install ChromeOS Flex and repurpose them.
The OS promises faster boot times, a more reliable experience, background updates, and more. Further, Google aims to reduce e-waste and extend the lifespan of old PCs with ChromeOS Flex.
How do ChromeOS and ChromeOS Flex differ?
Under the hood, ChromeOS and ChromeOS Flex are the same. But since ChromeOS only runs on certified hardware, it has advantages. Chromebooks also have the TItan C security chip and provide a verified boot to prevent tampering with system files.
Additionally, since older PCs do not have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), ChromeOS Flex cannot provide hardware-level encryption. While the data is still encrypted, the encryption keys are not protected at a hardware level. This means it's possible to bypass this encryption with the right set of tools. Google supports TPM encryption in laptops and PCs certified by it on ChromeOS Flex.
The biggest drawback with ChromeOS Flex is that it misses out on Google Play access and does not support running Android apps. You also cannot run Windows virtual machines using Parallels Desktop on PCs running ChromeOS Flex. Lastly, support for the Linux development environment in ChromeOS Flex depends on your PC and whether it is certified by Google.
When it makes sense to update your computer with ChromeOS
If you have old PCs and laptops that are too slow to use, consider installing ChromeOS Flex on them. They are ideal for large enterprises and educational institutions with old computers that can't handle their current workload. You can repurpose these machines by installing ChromeOS Flex and using them for basic tasks. This way, you also reduce e-waste and do your bit to save the planet.
For enterprises, Google provides Chrome Enterprise Upgrade that lets you remotely manage all ChromeOS Flex-running PCs. You can remotely wipe them, control their updates, tweak system settings, and more. This is a paid service, though a 30-day free trial is available.
Google claims enterprises can get up to 295% return on their investment with Chromebooks and save three hours per device per worker over a three-year period. If your company cannot afford to switch to Chromebooks at one go due to the investment size, ChromeOS Flex is a great viable solution as it works on existing hardware.
If you haven't tried ChromeOS, ChromeOS Flex provides a great (and cheap) way to experience it. Google maintains a list of certified models for ChromeOS Flex along with their End of Support year. This is a great way to know how well the OS will perform on your old PC and whether you will encounter any problems. If the list says you will run into significant issues with ChromeOS Flex on your computer, consider waiting until the issues are resolved.
On certified devices, Google guarantees you get audio input/output, video output, network, touchpad, sleep, System UI and graphics, and webcam. Other functionality like SD card slots and keyboard shortcuts might have been tested but are not guaranteed to work properly.
Google does not guarantee that installing ChromeOS Flex will magically make your old PC as fast as a Chromebook. Your PC's specs and other factors determine ChromeOS Flex's boot speed, power savings, and battery life improvements.
How frequently is ChromeOS Flex updated?
ChromeOS Flex is on the same update cycle as ChromeOS. This means you'll receive an OS update about every four weeks, while minor security fixes can be rolled out once every couple of weeks.
Google rolls out ChromeOS Flex updates in stages, so they might not be instantly available for your PC. You can manually pull the latest ChromeOS Flex release if you are impatient.
To ensure a new OS build does not break your ChromeOS Flex installation, Google provides Smart Update Filtering. So, if the update server detects hardware components in your PC that could have some issues with the latest ChromeOS Flex release, the update could be tweaked or deferred. However, the filtering is limited to critical issues that could prevent your PC from booting or cause graphics or internet connectivity issues.
Install the Chromebox utility
Google Chrome must be installed on your PC to access the Chromebox utility.
- Open Google Chrome on your Windows, Mac, or Chromebook.
- Go to the Chrome Web Store.
- Install the Chromebook Recovery Utility by clicking the Add to Chrome button.
- Select Add extension from the dialog box that pops up.
- The Chrome Web Store adds the utility to its add-ons. You can verify this by going to Chrome settings > More tools > Extensions.
How to create a bootable ChromeOS Flex installation drive
You can now use the Chromebook Recovery Utility to create a bootable ChromeOS Flex USB drive for installation purposes.
You'll need an 8GB or higher USB storage drive. Plug the storage drive into your PC and ensure the device is connected to the internet during the process.
- Click the recovery utility from the Extension panel in Chrome. The panel is located in the upper-right corner, next to the Omnibox/URL bar.
- Click Get Started in the dialog box that pops up.
- When prompted to enter your Chromebook model, click Select a model from a list.
- Select Google ChromeOS Flex under manufacturer and ChromeOS Flex from the product list.
- Click Continue to go to the next step.
- Select the USB drive from the drop-down menu that you'll use to install ChromeOS Flex.
- Select Continue.
- Click Create Now to build the installation drive.
- You could be prompted to enter your PC's password or grant the necessary permission during the process.
- After the process is complete, remove the USB drive from the PC. Depending on your internet connection and the pen drive read/write speeds, this process can take a while. You can also use a speedy external SSD to speed up the installation process.
How to install ChromeOS Flex on your old laptop or MacBook
After creating the bootable USB, head over to your old PC or MacBook on which you want to install ChromeOS Flex. Insert the USB drive into a spare USB slot, then power on your computer. You'll need to boot using the drive instead of the hard disk. Depending on how old the machine is, you might need to jump into the BIOS settings for this.
On Macs, hold down the Option key after pressing the power button to bring up the boot manager. Select ChromeOS Flex from the boot menu to proceed with the installation.
Make sure to back up all crucial data from the drive, as it is wiped clean while installing ChromeOS Flex.
- Click Get Started on the welcome page.
- Select ChromeOS Flex from the installation menu, followed by Next. You can also use the Try it first option to test a live version of the OS before installing it on your old computer.
- Click Install ChromeOS Flex 2.0 to start the installation process.
- From the dialog box that pops up, click Install. Depending on the age and specs of your PC or laptop, the process can take a while. It will also reboot during the installation.
- Remove the USB drive or ensure your PC does not boot from it again after the reboot.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to set up ChromeOS Flex after the reboot. You must connect your PC or laptop to the internet during setup and log in to your Google account to sync your files and photos.
If your laptop freezes in the middle or gets stuck on a blank screen for a long time, boot from the USB drive and repeat steps 1 through 5 again.
Give ChromeOS Flex a try on your old PC
If you have an old PC or laptop, install ChromeOS Flex on it to give it a new life. Even better, you can install ChromeOS Flex on your Chromebook to get a taste of how ChromeOS is different from ChromeOS Flex.
Once you've updated your old computer with ChromeOS Flex, take a few moments to learn about our top ChromeOS tips and tricks that will help you become a power user.