New PCs and laptops are released regularly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to rush to upgrade to the latest model. Older computers still have the power they need to handle most of the typical day-to-day office tasks that most users will look for, even if they aren’t suited to the latest PC games
If Windows seems a little slow on your laptop, you might consider switching to a Linux distro with less resource usage. But if you’re a Google user, there is a better option: Chromebook. You can buy a new Chromebook, but there is a way to convert an old laptop to a Chromebook for free. Here’s what you need to do.
What you’ll need (and potential limitations)
If you want to turn your laptop into a Chromebook, there are a few things you need to know before you start.
It’s not possible to replicate all the capabilities of a Chromebook on an old laptop, but you can get close. ChromeOS, the operating system that runs on Chromebooks, is limited to Google-approved hardware. To get around this, you can install ChromiumOS, an open source version that uses most of the same code.
However, you will be missing some key features. The biggest one is the lack of support for Android apps and games that is available for newer Chromebooks. Another missing feature is powering up the Chromebook, but you can reset the device in the same way by manually reinstalling ChromiumOS.
To install ChromiumOS you can use the CloudReady project. It offers the capabilities of ChromiumOS, but with additional features and enhancements to help you run software on older devices. Although a free version is available, you can pay extra for technical support if you work in a business, education, or non-profit organization.
CloudReady has a list of certified models for devices that it knows work well with it, but you’ll be able to install CloudReady on other devices if you have at least 2GB of RAM and 16GB of free space. It is also not recommended to use devices manufactured before 2007.
You will also need an 8GB (or larger) USB drive for installation. However, SanDisk discs are not supported due to some incompatibility issues that can cause installation to fail.
Make sure you back up your old laptop before installing CloudReady as the hard drive will be cleaned up during the installation process.
Create a CloudReady Installation USB Drive
To turn your laptop into a Chromebook using CloudReady, you first need to download the installation files You can do this automatically with CloudReady USB Maker, which will download the files you want and automatically turn the USB drive into a CloudReady installer for your laptop.
Alternatively, you can download the CloudReady image file and write it to a USB drive using the Chromebook Recovery Utility extension for Google Chrome Most users will find it easier to use the CloudReady USB builder, but if you are a Mac or Linux user, you can use the Chrome extension method instead.
- To use the CloudReady USB Builder, click the Download USB Maker button on the CloudReady installation page. Once downloaded, open the app to begin the installation process.
- In the CloudReady USB Maker window, you will see the minimum requirements (8GB or larger disk). Insert your USB drive at this point, then click Next to continue.
- Select the inserted USB drive from the next menu, then click Next.
- CloudReady USB Maker will start downloading the installation files. This will take a while, depending on the speed of your internet connection. Once this is complete, the installer will begin erasing and flashing the USB drive to create an installer.
- When the installer is complete, click Finish. You will need to safely remove the USB drive, then insert it into your old laptop to begin installing CloudReady and creating a new Chromebook.
Install CloudReady on an Old Laptop
When you plug a USB drive into an old laptop, you need to change the boot order in the BIOS so that the USB drive is selected first. Once this is done, you are ready to start the installation.
- If the USB drive has been flashed correctly, you should see the CloudReady logo when you boot your laptop. Select “Let’s Go” to start the installation.
- Confirm your network settings in the next step. If you are connecting to a wireless network, do so now by clicking on your Wi-Fi network and entering the correct password, then click Next to continue.
- CloudReady will ask you if you want to accept anonymous data collection to improve the service. Select or clear the Submit metrics to improve Cloudready check box, then click Next.
- In the last step, you will need to sign in with your Google account. Enter your username and password here to login.
- After logging in to CloudReady, it will take a few minutes to complete the installation and configuration. Select Get Started to start using your new CloudReady-enabled Chromebook
Using CloudReady Chromebook
You will be able to use CloudReady as soon as the installation is complete. If you’re already using Google Chrome, your existing extensions, bookmarks, and other settings will sync with CloudReady so you can use them out of the box.
Except for the lack of support for Android apps and some proprietary multimedia features, your CloudReady Chromebook will work just like any other Chromebook focused on web apps and the web browser.
Many of the apps you can use with CloudReady are Google-based. For example, you can immediately access Google Drive, as well as the suite of productivity apps Google Docs.
While CloudReady does not include Google Chrome, it does include the open source Chromium browser that Chrome is based on. If you want to use other services, you can access them directly through the Chromium browser or by installing the appropriate Google Chrome extension (which supports Chromium).
Most apps require internet access to work, but others (including Google Docs) allow you to work offline by syncing your data the next time you connect to the internet.
Bring new life to an old laptop with CloudReady
Using CloudReady on an old laptop, you can check email, use Google Docs to work, use numerous Chrome extensions for work and play, and more. If you’d like to give it a try before installing, you can install ChromeOS in a virtual machine to see how CloudReady compares to a real Chromebook.
There are other ways to repurpose your old PC. If you are a gamer, you might consider playing games on older hardware Don’t expect high-quality gaming, though, without using a game streaming platform like GeForce Now If speed is an issue, you can also try speeding up your old PC before replacing it.