Convert that old laptop to a Chromebook!

Before you throw away that old laptop, perhaps you should consider converting it to a Chromebook. These are light laptops who’s primary function is to surf the net and rely on cloud-based services for email, word processing and spreadsheets. The laptops run Chrome OS and your only application on it is the Chrome browser. Your files can be saved locally, but it’s configured and tailored to use Google Drive and Google’s apps and services.

An older laptop with a nice CPU processor and small amount of memory can make for one powerful Chromebook. Before tossing that old laptop out, it doesn’t hurt to try replacing the operating system with something light and which can be used to surf the net.

What You Need

The first thing you need to obtain is the operating system. Chromium OS (“Chrome OS”) is open source and free, and there are many places which will package it up for you with installation instructions. I downloaded my build from Neverware.com. They package it up and call it “CloudReady” which is appropriate for a cloud-dependent device such as a Chromebook. It was downloaded as a ZIP file, and I extracted the ‘image’ or ‘IMG’ or ‘.bin’ file using 7zip.

Next, you need an 8 GB USB stick. This will be used to install the operating system on your old laptop. My instructions in this blog post cover Windows machines, but Neverware has instructions for setting up old Macs as well. These instructions below explain how to setup the USB stick to install Chrome OS onto an old laptop.

To do that, you’ll need to create a new system image for the laptop. This is also referred to as ‘reimaging’ the machine. A system image is basically the expected operating system and processes which you want the laptop to run. In other words: set up the operating system to be Chrome OS rather than a Windows OS. To create the system image, you need to download and install a system image creator software. A popular and free one is called Win32 Disk Imager and is available at SourceForge.

Once you’ve extracted your system image file from the Neverware download and you’ve installed Win32 Disk Imager, insert the USB stick into an available port and launch Win32 Disk Imager.

Win32ImageWriter

Select the folder icon and then find your system image file. It could be showing up with the word “image” or letters “IMG” in it, or could be specifying as a file ending with BIN.

Win32DiskImager

After you have selected your system image binary, be sure to specify the drive (‘device’) which the USB port has been inserted into. My USB port being used was E:\ Then select the “Write” button to begin creating the system image on the USB stick. This will erase and reformat the USB stick, so make sure it’s one that you don’t need or doesn’t have any files on it. Creating a system image on a USB stick took just a few minutes to complete.

While you are creating your USB stick with system image, take a last minute look at your laptop’s hard drive and files. Anything you still want to keep? Better move it to the cloud, external drive or onto another USB memory stick. When you install the CloudReady system image, it’s going to prompt you to reformat the OS and it will also wipe the hard drive.

Something Old, Something New

System image completed on the USB stick? No files left on the laptop that you want? Now it’s time to change that old laptop into something new! Shut down and restart the laptop with the USB drive in one of the ports. When the laptop restarts, you’ll want to stop the laptop from launching Windows so that you can access the BIOS menu. There is usually a short time period of 3-5 seconds when a laptop starts up and BEFORE you see Windows icons on the screen. During that short interval, you have to press ESC or one of the function keys on your computer to stop the Windows launch. You might need to surf the net for your particular laptop model. You can also find more instructions on doing this here.

Once the BIOS menu appears, select the option to launch from USB stick. Sometimes, the BIOS menu option will simply prompt you “Launch from USB stick?” if it’s been inserted. Select the USB startup option, then let the magic start.

CloudReady from Neverware

If you successfully launched from the USB stick, you will get prompted to select the Internet router or wireless SSID. Once successfully connected to the Internet, you will be asked to sign into the laptop with your Google credentials. You can play around to become familiar with a Chromebook experience before actually installing Chromium OS onto the laptop. But when you are ready to reformat the OS and wipe the hard drive, select the bottom right corner of the screen for an option to “Install CloudReady.”

Install CloudReady
Install CloudReady

There is an option to pick as a ‘standalone’ or as ‘dual boot.’ Dual Boot means you want the ability to select either to boot up as a Chromebook or as a Windows laptop. Standalone means just replace everything with Chrome OS. I think the Standalone option is better because you no longer have any garbage (Windows programs never used or even worse – viruses!) on your laptop. Plus, Dual Boot isn’t going to be as big of a performance (speed) improvement because it still has to keep all that Windows stuff operating and available in the background. So – go for a clean slate and pick the standalone option, then pick the option to replace OS and wipe the hard drive partitions.

Now, your old laptop is becoming new. This takes about 10-15 minutes, and when it’s finished, the laptop will shut down automatically. When you start it up again – Voila’! – a brand new Chromebook which you will once again be asked for your network connection default and your Google login credentials.

When you start poking around with it, be sure to visit the Chrome Web Store for new apps and Chrome browser extensions. In the very near future, Google is also going to integrate Chrome with the Google Play Store, giving Chromebook users the ability to install Android apps on their machines.

My next post will be on the different cloud services available to Chrome users.

Tell me what you think! How did it go with your laptop conversion? Have you come across any useful Chrome Web Store apps or extensions? Have you found any other useful Chromebook links?

Advertisements