Turn an old, slow laptop into a faster Chromebook for free

A computer and an 8GB USB flash drive are all you need to use Chromium.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do a web search for “how to install Chrome OS on a laptop” or something like that and you’ve probably found that it can’t be done…at least not the same way you can install the latest windows operating system or a version of Linux. Google’s Chrome OS is not available for consumers to install, but you can get the following best thing: Neverware CloudReady Chromium OS.

CloudReady looks and feels almost identical to Chrome OS, but it can be installed on almost any laptop or desktop, whether Windows or Mac. And although Neverware has paid versions for enterprise and education users, its home edition is free for personal use. You don’t get technical support, and it can’t be managed with the Google Admin console, but again: free.

Google acquired Neverware in December 2020and in February 2022, he announced the first public fruits of this acquisition: Chrome OS Flex, a more robust version of CloudReady that’s still free for home use. A stable version of Chrome OS Flex is expected to roll out in the second quarter of 2022. At that time, computers already running CloudReady will be automatically updated to Chrome OS Flex. Until then, you can download and use an early build, although the company has warned that you should expect bugs while it improves the system.

However, the current version of CloudReady Home Edition is still available. It was incredibly helpful to me during the early days of the pandemic, converting an old HP netbook that could barely function under the weight of Windows 10 into a Chromebook capable enough for online schoolwork via Google Classroom and other services.

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To be clear, you don’t need a Chromebook or Chrome OS to access Google Classroom; any web browser will work. However, it is easier to use Google’s free Chrome browser, where your child just needs to sign in to their Classroom (aka G Suite for Education) account. If you do it in Chrome, however, you can install the Classroom web app to make things easier the next time you sign in.

Upgrading to a Chromebook or CloudReady from Neverware will give your child a more secure controlled environment than working in a browser on a Windows PC or MacBook. They won’t inadvertently install malware or viruses, or access things blocked by your school district. Plus, since everything stays in sync with their account, it’s easier for multiple kids to use one device.

03 PC to Chromebook

You can boot CloudReady from a flash drive if you want to try it out first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You choose: trial or full installation

Installing CloudReady is completely painless. In fact, you don’t even have to overwrite your current operating system to test it. If you have a Windows 7 or newer PC, all you need to get started is an 8GB or 16GB flash drive to create a bootable USB drive. (SanDisk drives are not recommended as some, but not all, fail for one reason or another. a workaround you can try if that’s your only option.) The basic steps are below so you can see how little involved it is, but you can go to the Neverware installation page for full instructions. Note, however, that older Windows PCs and Macs require manual installation.

  • Download and install CloudReady on the flash drive (it takes about 20 minutes and you don’t need to keep it).
  • Turn off the laptop or desktop computer where you want to run CloudReady and plug in the flash drive.
  • Turn it on and press the necessary function key to access your computer’s boot menu options. (CloudReady has a list of function keys for different manufacturers in case you are unsure.)
  • You should then see a screen giving you the option to boot from internal storage or the flash drive (see photo above). Select the USB key and press Enter.

CloudReady will boot live from the flash drive and you can use the operating system as if it were installed on the computer. You can also continue to use it this way, although it will slow down performance. Or you can erase your internal drive and install it. Instead of overwriting my laptop’s old drive, I simplified the process by dragging a $35 Kingston 120GB Solid State Drive. I just removed the old hard drive – a few screws and a cable – and replaced it with the SSD, then rebooted from the flash drive. Also, this way I still have the original Windows installation if I need it for some reason.


If you want to install, click on the clock in the bottom right and click Install Operating System.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Once you are back in CloudReady, you can click on the clock in the lower right corner of the screen. The settings menu will open and you will see an option to install the operating system. Once installed, you don’t need the flash drive anymore, it just boots from the internal drive.

Ta-da, Chromebook! At least, close enough for my children’s needs. It doesn’t start up as instantly as an actual Chromebook, but it’s still quick at around 30 seconds to go from shutdown to connection. Performance will depend on what your PC contains. With the Pavilion dm1z netbook specs, loading sites and opening web apps might take a few extra seconds, but it’s noticeably faster than when performing the same tasks on Windows 10.

If you have a thumb drive and an old laptop, it’s definitely worth a try and, again, it’s free.

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