How to Backup an Old Laptop by Installing Chrome OS Flex

Chrome OS isn't just for Chromebooks anymore.

It’s not nice to see a once beloved laptop (or desktop) computer slowly slide into obsolescence as it grows too old and tired to meet the demands of modern computing, but Google has now provided an option for these struggling machines in the form of Chrome OS Flex.

Chrome OS Flex is the standard Chrome operating system that runs on Chromebooks, in a form you can install on computers that are not Chromebooks. The idea is that the lightweight OS won’t weigh down your old device to the same extent as Windows or macOS. It’s basically just a web browser, and presto, your laptop or desktop has a new lease on the life.

We must warn you that this project is still in its infancy: Google says it is in “early access” mode and is “still unstable” at this stage. Therefore, you should expect some weird behaviors and bugs – for now, it’s really something to try on laptops that you’ll get rid of otherwise.

Chrome OS Flex is in the early stages of testing.

Chrome OS Flex is in the early stages of testing.
Screenshot: Google Chrome

That said, you can try. Google has a list of computer models which it plans to eventually certify for Chrome OS Flex. He also published some minimum requirements for the operating system: an Intel or AMD x86-64 bit compatible device, with at least 4 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage space, with the ability to boot from a USB key.

If your Windows or macOS device meets these requirements, you can try Chrome OS Flex. Make sure, however, that you no longer need the laptop in its current state and that you have moved all important data elsewhere before trying this.

The same limitations that apply to Chrome OS apply to Chrome OS Flex: you won’t be able to run full desktop apps, for example, and the software will save files to the cloud by default. However, you may find that it contains everything you need, meaning you can continue to use your existing hardware.

Create a Chrome OS Flex install drive

You will need the Chromebook Recovery Utility.

You will need the Chromebook Recovery Utility.
Screenshot: Google Chrome

Get yourself an 8GB USB flash drive capacity or more, and get all the files you need turn it off before continuing. Plug it into a Chromebook, Windows PC, or Mac (this doesn’t have to be the laptop you’re installing Chrome OS Flex on), then visit the Chrome web store: Chromebook Recovery UtilityClick on Add to Chromeso what Add extension.

Once this process is complete, launch the utility: you should be able to find it by clicking the extensions button on the Chrome toolbar. Go through the on-screen setup wizard and when prompted to identify your Chromebook, choose Select a model from a list. The options you want are Flexible Google Chrome OS for the manufacturer and Chrome OS Flex (developer-unstable) for the product.

You will also need to choose the USB drive you want to use, and then the installation drive can be created. The software takes a few minutes to download the necessary files and install them on the USB drive, and you will see a message when you can remove the drive from its port. The next step is to get Chrome OS Flex running on your old laptop.

Installing Chrome OS Flex

After creating an installation drive, you can boot from it.

After creating an installation drive, you can boot from it.
Screenshot: Chromebook Recovery Utility

Perhaps the hardest part of installing Chrome OS Flex is figuring out how to boot your computer from the USB drive you just created. On a Mac, you hold down Option while your computer restarts; on Windows PCs, the key you need is usually F2, Esc Where From (the instruction manual or a quick web search should help if you’re not sure).

Choose the USB drive as the boot device and you should see a screen welcoming you to CloudReady, the technology used to deploy Chrome OS Flex. Click on To start and then you have two options: Try it first, lets you try out Chrome OS Flex without erasing anything from your old computer. You can make sure everything works as it should in terms of display and peripherals, but you don’t get all the functionality of the operating system (you won’t get automatic updates for example).

Take Install CloudReady 2.0 instead of Try it first and Chrome OS Flex will be fully installed, erasing everything already on the computer. When you see a message that the process is complete, remove the USB drive, restart your computer, and you can start using Chrome OS Flex. Like on a standard Chromebook, you’ll be asked to sign in using a Google account to get started. If you need more help, check here.

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