Google’s Free Chrome OS Flex – How To Turn Your Old PC Into Chromebook

Google has announced Chrome OS Flex, which allows you to replace the operating system on older Windows and Mac computers and make them into Chromebooks.

This is interesting because Windows 11 has very strict hardware requirements, which could leave a lot of older PCs without a place to go when Windows 10 expires in 2025.

The notion is intriguing, even if Google calls Chrome OS Flex an “early access” and “unstable” project.

You may convert an outdated PC that is nearing the end of its life into a Chromebook instead of throwing it away.

On Google’s dedicated Chrome OS Flex site, you can download the new operating system. To get the instructions, you’ll need to sign up for an account with an email address.

Google appears to be pitching Chrome OS Flex as a method for consumers to test out the benefits of Chromebooks while also allowing businesses to assess how well they can be handled.

According to Google, a Chrome OS Flex “fleet” can be controlled using Chrome Enterprise Upgrade.

If any of this sounds familiar, you’re correct:

Google purchased CloudReady a few years back and used its technology to convert laptop PCs into Chromebooks.

CloudReady is a “prior version of Chrome OS Flex,” according to Google.

“When Chrome OS Flex is stable, Google will automatically update CloudReady devices to Chrome OS Flex,” the company noted.

DIY PC enthusiasts used to either leave an older PC running, get parts from it, or change the Windows operating system with a resource-light version of Linux. Now, they can do all three.

Google is now presenting them with a new option: replace Windows with Chrome OS and reap the benefits of a more streamlined operating system.

That’s a point worth repeating: Chrome OS Flex does not support running Chrome OS in a windows or in a virtualized environment, as the new Android apps for Windows do.

Rather, it takes the place of Windows and all of its files.

It won’t be possible for Chrome OS Flex to give you the same system-level access that CloudReady Home Edition gives you, like command line access through shell and command line access through teletype (TTY), Google says.

Also, don’t expect things to go smoothly.

Google says that because this operating system is still in the early stages of development, it may not work as well as it should.

Google warns that installing Google Chrome OS Flex on an older PC may result in you using Chrome with a keyboard that wasn’t built specifically for it, which may cause certain functionality to fail or perform erratically.

IDG/Matthew Smith

Is it the same as installing Windows 11 on a new computer with an installation disk for Google Chrome OS Flex?

You’ll need a USB flash drive with at least 8 GB of storage. At least 4GB of RAM and 16GB of storage will be required on PCs.

The CPU requirements are less stringent: you’ll need a 64-bit processor, period. That is, any processor produced after the year 2000.

Also, there are several GPU limitations:

This is what Google says about Intel GMA graphics cards: They don’t meet Chrome OS Flex performance requirements. This is what Google says about Intel GMA 500, 600, 3600, and 3650 graphics cards

However, the real catch looks to be the wide range of supported PC hardware and how it will interact with Chrome OS Flex.

Many, many of the “certified models” that are either now certified or slated to be certified with Chrome OS Flex are listed with the caution “minor difficulties expected” next to them on Google’s website.

“Models likely to support at least basic functionality, but are still being worked on by our team,” Google writes, a little cryptically.

There’s a chance you’ll run into some minor trouble. Both PCs and Macs are included in the certified models.

Why wouldn’t you want to put Chrome OS Flex on an older computer?

So, there’s a long list of exclusions that come with the installation.

For starters, forget about Android apps, Google Play, and Parallels Desktop support, according to Google.

Google is unable to manage firmware updates or provide verified boot capabilities on Chrome OS Flex devices.

PCs with ARM processors?

Nope.

All of this suggests that installing Chrome OS Flex on an older PC is a “use at your own risk” project—albeit one that can still turn your older PC into a Chromebook for free.

Before you toss it out, have a look at it.