You don’t need to buy a Chromebook to enjoy the features of Google’s web-based desktop operating system. In fact, all you need is a working computer and a USB drive.
Google officially offers a way to try out ChromeOS using a USB drive, and there are also unofficial ways for you to experiment with the OS. These methods work whether you are running Windows, macOS, or Linux. And no, you won’t be overwriting your existing operating system.
Here’s how you can try ChromeOS on any PC using a USB drive.
The Official Way: Running ChromeOS Flex
ChromeOS Flex is an OS by Google that is available publicly to be installed on any PC. It is lightweight and intends to run smoothly on newer PCs as well as older devices with low specs.
ChromeOS Flex eliminates technical complexities that might have hampered you from installing and using ChromeOS on your PC in the past. This version of ChromeOS has increased support for tons of devices and lets you enjoy the official build on your PC.
So, here is how you can boot ChromeOS from a USB using ChromeOS Flex.
Step 1: Prerequisites for Running ChromeOS Flex From a USB Drive
You’ll need the following hardware and software for this purpose:
- First, you should have a USB drive that you need to make bootable with a minimum of 8GB of storage. It is better to use a bigger USB if you plan on booting and using the OS from your USB.
- If you’re on a Linux machine, you can use Etcher to make a bootable USB drive. Here, you’ll find the ISO or BIN file for the latest ChromeOS Flex release that you’d like to burn. More on using Etcher in the unofficial method below.
- For this guide, we’ll go for the official method using Chromebook Recovery Utility. So, go ahead and install it on your Chrome browser as an extension. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work on Linux as of this writing.
- And finally, you need a PC to make the bootable USB and run the OS from your bootable USB. Needless to say, it must have a working USB port.
Step 2: Open Chromebook Recovery Utility
After installing Chromebook Recovery Utility from the above link, open Chrome and click on the Puzzle icon in the top-right corner to access Chrome extensions. Click on Chromebook Recovery Utility to open it, and press Get Started to continue.
Step 3: Choosing ChromeOS Flex
On the second screen, click on Select a model from a list. This lets you choose the BIN file manually.
Now, on the next page, select Google ChromeOS Flex as the manufacturer and ChromeOS Flex as the product. After that, press Continue.
Step 4: Insert Your USB Drive and Prepare Your Bootable USB
Select your USB drive from the dropdown menu on the next page. Please note that this process will erase the data on your USB drive, so make sure you select the right one.
Once you’ve made the selection, click on Continue and then Create now on the next page. Once the process is complete, you’ll have your bootable ChromeOS Flex USB drive that you can use to try ChromeOS on any PC.
Step 5: Booting ChromeOS Flex From the Bootable USB Drive
Whether you’ve used Etcher on Linux or Chromebook Recovery Utility on Windows or macOS, you can now load ChromeOS Flex on your PC. To do so, shut down the PC and turn it on again. Go to the BIOS one-time boot menu and select the USB drive. The system will then boot from the USB.
Now that ChromeOS Flex is ready, you can install it on the primary hard disk or keep using it through the USB drive with some memory limitations. Please note that installing ChromeOS Flex on a hard disk will remove your existing OS, and you can’t undo this process.
The Unofficial Way: Running the Open-Source Chromium OS
In this method, we will create a bootable USB drive loaded with the Chromium OS disk image. Chromium OS is the open-source version of ChromeOS where all the development happens. You will need a few things before you start:
- A working computer with a USB port
- A USB drive with at least 4GB capacity (8GB or more recommended)
- An archive manager (7-Zip, Keka, or p7zip)
- A bootable disk creator (Etcher)
Download: 7-Zip for Windows (Free)
Download: Keka for macOS (Free)
Download: p7zip for Linux (Free)
Download: Etcher (Free)
The USB drive will be completely erased in the installation process. If you have any valuable data on the drive, please save it elsewhere.
Following this step-by-step guide, you can create a Chromium OS live USB.
Step 1: Download the Latest Chromium OS Image
Google doesn’t have an official Chromium OS build that you can download. The best alternative source is Arnold The Bat repository.
Download: Chromium OS
You will now have a 7Z file on your hard drive. Extract this file using the archive manager on your device.
Step 3: Format the USB Drive
Plug the USB drive into a port and format it as FAT32. The process is the simplest on Windows, but macOS and Linux aren’t difficult either.
For macOS users, the built-in Disk Utility can format it as FAT32. If you see it labeled “MS-DOS FAT” instead, don’t worry, it’s the same thing.
For Linux users, we recommend using GParted for a quick format.
Download: GParted (Free)
For added comfort, when asked to name the new drive, give it the name “ChromeOS.”
Step 4: Run Etcher and Load the Image
By now, you should have a fully formatted USB drive named “ChromeOS” plugged into a port of the computer (as shown in step three). You will also have an unzipped image file of the latest Chromium OS (as shown in steps one and two).
And you have Etcher installed on your computer. So, launch Etcher now to proceed.
- Click Select Image and browse the Chromium OS image file. Add it in Etcher.
- Click Select Drive and choose the ChromeOS USB Drive you have created.
- Begin the process of installing the image and validating the installation by clicking Flash.
Etcher validates the burning process, i.e., once it’s done creating the image on the USB drive, it will verify that everything is right. Make sure you wait till it says 100 percent. Once Etcher finishes, you’ll have a bootable USB drive with Chromium OS.
Step 5: Reboot Your Computer and Enter Boot Options
“Boot” is the process of choosing the OS. Every computer lets you select which drive it should boot the OS from, whether it’s a hard drive, a USB drive, or even a DVD drive. You need to enter the boot menu and choose the USB drive you just created.
For a Windows or Linux PC: Different computers have different BIOS settings. Usually, the Boot Options menu has the keyboard shortcut F5, F8, or F12.
For a Mac: As soon as the Mac shuts down and restarts, press and hold the Option key. You will be doing this while it’s a black screen, but that’s okay. Keep holding it till you see the boot menu, which lets you choose between a Macintosh hard drive or the USB drive you have plugged in (usually denoted as “EFI”).
Step 6: Boot Into ChromeOS
Choose the USB drive in the boot menu, hit Enter, and the computer will boot from the drive. You are now experiencing all the glory of ChromeOS without affecting your main hard drive and OS.
You will have to set up ChromeOS the first time you use it, ideally with your existing Google account. Don’t worry. This setup is only during the first time you boot up. It will go directly to the login screen whenever you run it in the future.
ChromeOS With Android App Support
ChromeOS Flex and Chromium OS do not support Android apps. To get Play Store support, you’ll have to look into Brunch Framework. However, it is a complex process that still might not give you a fully functional ChromeOS at the end. So, we don’t recommend it if you’re looking for a daily-use OS.
Turn Your PC or Laptop Into a Chromebook
Now that ChromeOS is running on a USB drive, you can take it for a spin. You’ll be surprised by how similar it is to full-fledged desktop operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can even install several Linux programs and some Windows software too.
Now that you’re running ChromeOS, you can learn more about Crosh, the ChromeOS terminal.