How to turn an old laptop into a Chromebook

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Sometimes, a Chromebook beats a Windows laptop. Complexity often makes life harder for users easily confused by computers—and the people who provide them IT support. A Chromebook’s simplified interface does away with driver management, endless system updates, and even malware avoidance.

More importantly, Chromebooks run a lightweight operating system that feels fast and responsive on older and budget hardware, making them far more affordable. In fact, you can create your own Chromebook for free if you have an older laptop lying around. You just have to install the equivalent of Chrome OS on it. 

The process takes less than an hour, and the end result often feels snappier than today’s dirt-cheap Chromebooks. Here’s how to do the conversion.

How to convert a laptop into a Chromebook

For this project, we’ll be using Neverware’s CloudReady operating system, which is based on Chromium OS—the same open-source code that Google built Chrome OS on. You can read more about the basic differences between the two if you’re curious, but all you need to know is that Neverware has made the experience of using CloudReady all but identical to Chrome OS.

Note: CloudReady lacks access to the Google Play Store—so if support for Android apps (like Minecraft) is integral to your needs, you’ll have to buy an official Chromebook. That’s true even after Google’s purchase of Neverware in December 2020, as CloudReady and ChromeOS currently remain on separate development tracks.

Step 1: Check that your laptop will meet the requirements

Neverware CloudReady system requirements PCWorld

CloudReady’s system requirements are very minimal: Just 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, full BIOS access, and manufactured after 2007.

Like Chrome OS, CloudReady’s system requirements are very minimal. The laptop must have 2GB RAM, 16GB storage, full BIOS access, and ideally been manufactured after 2007. You will still need to check your CPU model, though, as Neverware says that processors with Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 500, 600, 3600, or 3650 graphics hardware don’t meet CloudReady’s performance standards. (In other words, Atom processors from the Silverthorne, Lincroft, and Cedarview families, which were found in low-end laptops between 2008 and early 2012.)

Your best-case scenario is to find your laptop on Neverware’s list of certified devices, which clearly outlines support for features like a webcam or touchscreen. (Click on the model’s name to see those details.) We lucked out that our test model, a 2013 Lenovo ThinkPad X240, had full feature support across the board.

Neverware CloudReady Lenovo ThinkPad X240 feature support PCWorld

We lucked out with our test machine, a Lenovo ThinkPad X240: All of its major features are supported.

Note: On the compatibility list, you’ll see desktop systems like iMacs and NUCs listed as well—so if you have a spare monitor, mouse, and keyboard, you can instead spin up a Chromebox. Systems running integrated graphics work best.

If your laptop meets the hardware requirements but isn’t on the certified devices list, don’t worry. You can try out CloudReady from the flash drive you’ll create next, which will allow you to test out how well it works without having to nuke your system.

FRIENDLY REMINDER: Before you begin installing CloudReady, back up any files within your existing OS! The process is the same as a clean install of Windows, Linux, or MacOS and will completely wipe your drive.



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