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How To Run Chrome OS in VirtualBox and Try Out Chrome OS Before Buying a Chromebook

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With Google’s new Chromebooks out at just $249, many people who once wrote them off as too expensive for their limited functionality are giving them a second look. But will you really find Chrome OS useful?

You can easily run Chrome OS in a VirtualBox virtual machine, although you’ll need to tweak a few settings before it will run properly. Once you have, you can run Chrome OS in a window on your computer.

Getting the Virtual Machine

To run the virtual machine, you’ll first need to download and install VirtualBox.

Once you have, visit Hexxeh’s Chromium OS Vanilla website and download the VirtualBox image for the latest version of Chromium OS.

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We’re downloading this from an unofficial website because Google doesn’t provide any official binaries for Chrome OS. Chromium OS is a build of the open-source version of Chrome OS, just as Chromium is the open-source version of the Google Chrome browser.

We’re also using the VirtualBox image because it’s sure to work. While you can try downloading a USB image and booting it on your computer, it’s very possible that it wouldn’t support your computer’s hardware. (If you want to try booting from USB, you should probably download Chromium OS Lime instead. It’s a tweaked build of Chromium OS with more hardware support.)

Running the Virtual Machine

Once the image is downloaded, open the downloaded ZIP file and extract the VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) file from it.

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Open VirtualBox and click the New button to create a new virtual machine.

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There’s no Chrome OS option in VirtualBox, but the Linux operating system option should work just fine.

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The default 256 MB of RAM is probably a bit low. If you have a decent amount of RAM in your computer, feel free to increase the amount of RAM allocated to Chrome OS.

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On the Hard Drive screen, select the Use an existing virtual hard drive file option and browse to the Chrome OS .VDI file you extracted earlier.

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You’ll now need to change the network adapter type or Chromium OS won’t be able to access the network and you’ll see a “no networks available” message. To do so, right-click your Chrome OS virtual machine and select Settings.

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Click the Network tab and expand the Advanced section. Click the Adapter Type drop-down box and select Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop (82540EM) in the list.

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Click the OK button after changing this setting. You can now boot your new Chrome OS system by double-clicking its entry in your VirtualBox library.

Using Chrome OS

When you start Chrome OS, the mouse won’t work. To make it work, click the Machine menu and select the Disable Mouse Integration option.

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You can now click inside the virtual machine’s window to make it grab your mouse cursor. To release the mouse cursor from the virtual machine, press the right Ctrl key. (If you’ve set a different “host key” instead of right Ctrl, it will appear at the bottom-right corner of your virtual machine window.)

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Chrome OS will take you through a few screens of setup (press Esc to skip the update check when prompted.) You’ll then be able to sign in with your Google account. If you use the Chrome browser, all your Chrome apps, extensions, and settings will be synced if you sign in. You can also click Browse as Guest to try Chrome OS without signing in. Of course, one of the big advantages of a Chromebook is how well it syncs with your Google account and integrates with Google’s web services, and you’ll lose that if you opt not to sign in.

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Chrome OS will start up as if you’d just purchased a Chromebook, although the performance on a real Chromebook will be better than what you’ll get in a virtual machine.

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If you haven’t tried Chrome OS in a while, you’ll be a bit surprised by how much it’s changed from the early days. It’s no longer just a full-screen browser. The new Aura interface provides a Windows 7-style taskbar and window management. Apps can run in separate windows, there’s a special app launcher, a system tray settings pop-up, a dedicated Downloads window, and more.

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Feel free to explore and imagine whether you can imagine yourself using Chrome OS exclusively on a Chromebook. You can also install Ubuntu on ARM-based Chromebooks, but you definitely won’t be installing Windows.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 11/4/12

Comments (24)

  1. rKiller

    I gave it 12(1/2 of my total RAM) GB of ram still it wah laggy than I figure out that the video ram is only 12MB than I increased it to 256MB (max) and all was well!

  2. JonK

    Sooooo. I’m spending $249 for a smart terminal?

  3. Darakus

    This is kinda cool. I’d never buy a chromebook for myself, but I’m always game for poking around in a new virtual machine. Also, this is a good way for me to check out chrome OS and see if its something that I might recommend for some of my less tech savvy friends and family.

  4. Paul

    @JonK
    Why not?
    The iPad mini goes for $329 and the iPad2 for $399.
    It’s all relative.
    ;-)

  5. Henry

    I had to enable PAE under processor settings to get it to boot using the latest of hex’s vanilla builds

  6. Brian

    Trying to run this on my MacBook Air… No dice on the network adapter.

  7. Dominick

    An alternative to doing this…is to……instal the chrome browser. And save yourself 30 mins. Just sayin

  8. Jonas

    Does HTG have any (working) advice on how to choose a different resolution?

  9. tech27

    Can I install this build on VMware?

  10. Jason

    Installed it but it will not find the network? Any help????

  11. Tinker22

    I have used Chrome browser for several years. Beats the heck out of IE8 or any IE and/or Foxfire.

    I love it!!!!

  12. Jonathan

    I love my quad-core Nexus 7, that I bought for $174 ($199 minus $25 dollar rebate). I run the Chrome browser on it as well as the Dolphin browser. Why would I get a Chromebook?

  13. deno

    jonathan where did u get rebate from I ordered the nexus 7 32 gb for 249 from walmart please advise

    Thanks

    Is google chrome OS available for free?

  14. Hogar the Wise

    I could not use this operating system daily in my life, it’s just to “light weighted”. I’m used to the taskbar, desktop and other stuff. This OS is just “empty”…

  15. Sasikumar

    I have followed above mentioned step but i am not able to start Chrome Virtual Machine. I am getting error as “This kernal requires the following features not present on the CPU:pae Unable to boot – Please use a kernal appropriate for your CPU.” while trying to start virtual machine.

    Additional Details
    OS :windows 7 ulitimate 64 bit
    RAM : 4GB 1333Mhz
    Processor : core i5 2500k
    MB : Asus P8H76 – V
    Virtualbox Version : 4.1.22

    So anyone please help me to run Chrome OS in Virtualbox

  16. JCJ

    Reply to Sasikumar, I have the same problem, I wish someone knew the answer.

  17. JCJ

    I had to enable PAE under processor settings to get it to boot. Going to increase video ram next.

  18. Steve

    @Sasikumar and others
    With the new release of ChromiumOS Vanilla you have to select your virtual machine, select settings, then system and select the processor tab. Your last option on the bottom will be Extended features: Enable PAE/NX. Check the box for that item. Click OK and you’re good to go!

    Don’t forget, in order for your mouse to work, after you start your ChromiumOS virtual machine, click on Machine, Disable Mouse Integration. Put your mouse in the window and push . You are now in control of your ChromiumOS computer.

  19. Steve

    For those not getting a network with Chromium OS. Chromium works with a limited number of NICs, and the default one in VirtualBox is not one of them. Fortunately, VirtualBox has a wide variety of virtual NICs to choose from. Let’s pick one that works.

    Now, after creating your ChromiumOS Virtual Machine, but before starting it up, select the ChromiumOS machine and then settings from your button bar. Now it makes sense to go to the network tab, but it might not make sense to click the arrow after the word advanced. Do it anyway.

    Your first box will be Adapter Type: use the down arrow there and select the Intel/PRO/1000 MT Desktop (8254OEM). That changes VirtualBox’s virtual network interface card to one that the ChromiumOS understands how to use. Click OK and enjoy ChromiumOS. Or not. But you get to find out for free!

  20. cj

    help idot know what to do

    it goes to a blck screen and says

    “this kernel requires the following features not present on the cpu:
    pae

    Unable to boot —- please use a kernel appropiate for your cpu”

  21. Cars

    Thank You!

    My host is an AMD Quad Core with 8gb memory that supports virtualization and has been proven to work great with all sorts of Windows virtualbox vm clients..

    I was really excited about getting this to work, but am finding it to be very slow and laggy .. mouse feels sticky – even with 2gb memory and maximum of video memory. Had to enable PAE too. I was hoping to replace an old windows 2003 vm client I was using for just surfing. But that is feels much worse. Tried several network configurations. It works, but its just slooooow. Not just the mouse, but when you type and it bring web pages back.

    I’m still looking for a VM for browsing, something I can isolate. Someting lite, fast and that resist viruses. This would work, but get twitchy when I use it.

    Thanks.

  22. Cars

    more info.

    I’m on recent version of VirtualBox 4.2.4r18. Noticed that when I do anything on the ChromeOS VM, it feels like my host CPU is going to blow up. My host is 64 bit.

  23. Adam

    Got it to work but it is way to slow even with 2GB of RAM. Would of been nice to try but I’m deleting this VM.

  24. Marcel

    Thank you for the instructions. Had to switch on PAE as noted and changing the video RAM to 128M had a marked increase in speed, but overall it still runs too slow under Virtualbox to be practical. My Samsung X360 is maybe getting a little long in the tooth to run Windows 7 + Virtualbox + Chrome OS. I suspect other OS’s will equally run slow.

    I also installed the USB stick version, and this runs much quicker. As fast if not faster than Windows and very effective for demo purposes.

    Maybe allocating a chunk of my SSD and creating a dualboot option will work (http://www.squidoo.com/build-a-chromebook#module150247988).

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