How to turn your old PC into a new Chromebook with Chrome OS Flex

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Your old laptop or desktop was once your main computer, but now, because it contains older components that can’t run the latest version of Windows properly, it sits unused in a drawer. However, if you install Google’s new Chrome OS Flex operating system, you can turn that slow laptop into a useful Chromebook or turn that outdated desktop into a useful Chromebox. These revitalized devices will be so good at the things that matter most – web browsing, streaming and editing content in the cloud – that you can avoid buying a new computer for your kids or even for yourself.

Google Chrome OS may not be the place for intensive computer tasks or popular game versions, but it provides us with a solid and cheap platform to learn and work from. We can even push the envelope a bit and stream games from Xbox cloud or even Steam. We can even learn to code and build an electronic projects using CircuitPython.

Google recently released Chrome OS Flex, an operating system similar to that used on Chrome devices. In basic use, Chrome OS Flex is simply a way to open a Chrome browser session and use Google’s cloud services. But we can use this operating system on non-Google devices. This means that old equipment, which collects dust, can be repurposed to help children learn, adults work and families entertain.

In this guide, we’ll breathe new life into a 4th Gen Intel-based PC running Chrome OS Flex for zero expense!

For this project you will need

A laptop or desktop computer with

  • A 64-bit Intel/AMD processor
  • 4 GB or more of RAM
  • 16 GB or more of storage

An 8 GB or larger USB flash drive.

A PC running the Google Chrome browser

Our target machine was a Lenovo M93P Tiny desktop computer with an Intel 4790S processor and 16 GB of DDR3 RAM. Our storage drive was a 2.5 inch SATA hard drive.

Create the Chrome OS flexible installer drive

1. Open Chrome browser on your PC, not necessarily the computer you want to install Chrome OS Flex on.

2. Install the Chromebook Recovery Utility extension from the Chrome Online Store.

3. Click on Extensions, then select Manage Extension via the three dots next to Chromebook Recovery Utility.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

4. Slide the switch to the right to make sure the extension is enabled

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

5. Click on Extensions, and then Chromebook recovery utility to load the installer.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

6. Click Start to start the installation.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

seven. Click on “Select a model from a list”.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

8. Choose “Google Chrome OS Flex” and “Chrome OS Flex” from the drop-down menus.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

9. Insert your USB key, select it from the drop-down menu and click Continue.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

ten. Click Create Now to download and write the operating system to the USB key. Verify that the correct drive has been selected before clicking Continue.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

11. When the installation is complete, click OK to close the Chromebook Recovery Utility application.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

12. Remove the USB key from the computer.

Installing Chrome OS Flex

1. Insert the USB drive into the laptop/desktop you want to install.

2. To light up and select the USB drive as the boot device. Each machine handles this a little differently, please check your machine’s manual.

3. Select your location and then click start to install.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

4. Connect to your Wi-Fi hotspot and click Next. You can also connect an Ethernet cable to connect automatically.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

5. Accept Google’s Terms of Service to continue.

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6. Select who will use Chrome OS Flex and click Next.

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seven. Enter your Google account details and click Next. This will link this device to your Google account, this will also trigger a series of security settings to verify the inclusion of the device. This will depend on how your account has been set up.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

9. Check or uncheck the box to authorize Google to collect material data, then click accept and carry on.

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ten. Choose how Google Assistant will integrate with your device. Our device has no microphone or camera, so we skipped those screens.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

11. Click Begin to complete the installation.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Your new Chrome OS Flex device is ready to use.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

What can we do with Chrome OS Flex?

Chrome OS Flex offers much of the same functionality as Chrome OS. We can play games through Stadia, Xbox Cloud and Nvidia GeForce Now.

Unfortunately, we cannot play Steam Link games, unlike an official Chromebook device. The reason for this? Chrome OS Flex lacks Android app compatibility and official Steam support (unlike more modern Chrome devices). We can still use major cloud game streaming services, so we don’t lose any game.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

If you use online services extensively, such as Google Drive, Documents, and email services, then Chrome OS Flex will feel like any other Google device.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Makers and coders can use Chrome OS Flex to create electronics projects with devices running Adafruit’s CircuitPython. The device will appear as a USB stick, and we can write code directly on the device.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

Streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Disney+ and YouTube will all work as expected, after all we’re using a Google Chrome browser.

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