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How To Run Chrome OS From a USB Drive and Use It On Any Computer

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Google only supports running Chrome OS on Chromebooks, but don’t let that stop you. You can put Chrome OS on a USB drive and boot it on any computer, just as you’d run a Linux distribution from a USB drive.

If you just want to test Chrome OS, your best bet is running it in a virtual machine. This ensures that you won’t run into any hardware-related issues. Your computer may not be able to run Chrome OS properly.

Note: You’ll need a USB drive with at least 4 GB of space for this.

Hardware Compatibility

Chrome OS is based on Linux, so it comes with drivers for a wide variety of hardware devices. Chrome OS may work properly on your computer even if no one has ever tested it on your hardware before.

Google’s Chromium Projects website has an official developer hardware list. This page lists computers that have been tested with Chrome OS – if you’re lucky, you may find your system on the list.

Note that Wi-Fi does not seem to work properly on many computers. You may have to use a wired network connection (in other words, plug an Ethernet cable into your computer) to use the Internet after booting into Chrome OS. However, you can also try a build of Chrome OS with improved Wi-Fi support.

Putting Chrome OS on a USB Drive

Google doesn’t provide official builds of Chrome OS, so we’ll be using unofficial builds of the open-source Chromium OS. There are two options: Vanilla and Lime. At the moment, Vanilla is the most current version, while Lime hasn’t been updated in several months. If you want the latest Chrome OS software, you can try using Vanilla. If you have hardware issues, you should try using Lime, which is just the Vanilla version with improved hardware support – it includes drivers for Broadcom, Ralink, and Realtek Wi-Fi chipsets, in addition to nVidia and AMD graphics support.

Head over to Hexxeh’s Chrome OS website and download the USB build of Chrome OS you’re interested in: Chromium OS Lime or Chromium OS Vanilla. This download is less than 300 MB – fairly small for an operating system.

If you have a Mac, you can just download the Builder application instead. Linux users can use the dd command after downloading the image; there are instructions on the download page. Be careful when using the dd command however – you could overwrite a hard drive if you use it incorrectly.

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Next, open the downloaded ZIP archive and extract the IMG file to a folder on your computer.

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Download Windows Image Writer to your computer – make sure you download the binary.zip file, not the source.zip one. Extract it on your computer in the same way as above and launch the Win32DiskImager.exe application.

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Insert your USB drive into your computer (make sure it’s at least 4 GB in size), select the IMG file, choose your USB device, and click Write.

This will erase the contents of the drive – back up any important files on it before doing this! You should also ensure you select the correct device in the Device box, or you may end up wiping the wrong drive.

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Changing Boot Order

Once the write process is complete, you can now reboot your system into Chrome OS. Just leave the USB drive plugged in and restart. If you’re lucky, your system may be configured to boot directly from USB. If not, you’ll often need to press a specific key to access the boot menu, where you can choose to boot from your USB drive. The exact key you’ll need differs from computer to computer, but it’s generally mentioned on-screen during the boot-up process. You can also find this key in your computer’s manual. (Look in your motherboard’s manual if you build your computer yourself.)

If your computer doesn’t have a boot menu, you’ll need to enter its BIOS and change the boot order instead. To access the BIOS, press the appropriate key – often F2 or Delete – during the boot-up process. (The BIOS may be referred to as “setup” during the boot-up process.) This key is also generally displayed on-screen. If you don’t see it, you can locate it in your computer’s manual.

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Booting Into Chrome OS

With the USB drive selected as your boot device – or the computer’s boot order changed – you can now boot directly into Chrome OS. Chrome OS won’t boot quite as fast as it would on a Chromebook, as the USB drive is slower than an internal solid-state drive (SSD).

You’ll see the initial set-up wizard the first time you boot up, but you’ll go directly to the log-in screen on future boots.

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You can insert this USB drive into any computer to run Chrome OS on it in the same way. This doesn’t actually install Chrome OS on the computer’s hard drive – we’re just running it from the USB stick. You can reboot your computer and remove the USB stick to leave Chrome OS.


Remember, if you have any hardware issues, you may want to try Lime instead of Vanilla – it’s more out-of-date at the moment, but it includes support for a wider variety of hardware.

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 11/11/12

Comments (33)

  1. mitcoes

    Using YUMI at MS WOS you can make a multi OS USB stick, with more programs and even better for repairing MS WOS. MULTISYSTEM from ubuntu and debians do the same, and you can even install MS WOS, and some LVE CD unofficial ISOs from older versions of MS WOS.

    There are specific Linux distros for repairing MS WOS a Trinity rescue or System rescue.

    And of course any LiveISO as Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Manjaro, or Sabayon will have more software, but even better SUSE has a web where you can make your own selection of packages for a LiveISO.

  2. studyhard

    what are features of this chrome os ?

  3. cam2644

    Chrome OS lacks many of the features of Linux which would be better for this purpose

  4. WARNING Will Robinson

    Someone should give a WARNING!!!

    If you do this, your thumb drive may get partitioned into no less than 8 different drives!!! What’s worse, there appear to be no tools in Windows to correct a thumb drive and get it back to one partition.

    I just did this with a Sandisk 8Gig thumb drive and had to resort to booting into a Linux distro with GParted to remove all the little partitions and get it all back to normal.

    It’s no big deal if you know what you’re doing. But it’s definitely not for the faint of heart.

    So BEWARE!

  5. Maarten

    I always get a Black screen with booting from the USB drive. And my USB drive was broken after formatting it again. (First the USB drive was 4GB and then it was 2GB.)

  6. Psybernoid

    @WARNING Will Robinson
    There is a tool.
    Run diskpart as administrator
    type list disk
    note the number assigned to your USB disk
    type select disk ,number>
    type clean
    type create partition primary
    type select partition 1
    type format fs=fat32 quick
    type assign
    type active
    type quit

    Remove, then re-insert your USB stick. Also, replace fs=fat32 with fs=ntfs if that’s your preferred.

    Or you could run diskmgmt.msc – but I find that less fun.

  7. Poojan

    I tried it with image writer and a transcend 8GB flash drive, but it didn’t work at all.??? and on top of that it changed the flash drive’s capacity to 1 gb from 8gb ???????!!!!!!!!

  8. StripperSnatchRemains

    thank you Psybernoid because that just happened to me and i followed ur instructions everything’s ok now

  9. Abhijit Parida

    …and you forgot to mention that after fooling around with chrome OS, we need to manually delete all partitions in the flash drive???

  10. No Go

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve now tried all 3 of the latest versions; Vanilla and Lime on an older netbook as well as Vanilla for a Virtual Box client. Not one of them sees a network adapter. No WiFi. No Ethernet. And no amount of fiddling with BIOS settings or Virtual Box settings makes a difference either. And because it can’t detect a NIC there’s no way to proceed other than to just shut down the computer. Very frustrating!

    So either I am doing something wrong (which I have to admit may be the case) or this ChromeOS is still way too buggy. Therefore, if I were to want to try Chromium then it would seem that I would need to compile my own image with source code from Google and go that way. Problem is, last time I wrote any code I was on a 486 with Basic! I seem to recall doing a little Pascal around the same time too but nothing like what’s out there now.

    So perhaps we can expect a future article on how to download and compile our own Chrome OS? Not a tutorial in how to write code since that would obviously take forever. Just how/where to download the source code and then compile it. It seems there are free compilers on Linux at least. So I’m sure it can be done. Or did I miss an already existing write up somewhere?

  11. jasray

    @Will Robinson

    It’s true–I had to do the same. Scratch the idea of running Chrome OS from USB, unless you are prepared for some possible ultimate frustration. Just stick with Mint.

  12. Gregg DesElms

    These adventures are nearly never as interesting as promised.

  13. William Knight

    All I get when I follow the direction is a corrupted flashdrive, had to use powersuite to get it back.

  14. Areeb

    Thanks I’ll give the vanilla thing a try as it seems to be the latest one! :)

  15. xana452

    Okay, problem: When booting, I get the logon screen of the grass, but not all of it is there. I have two monitors: One on my laptop (main, 1366 x 768), and one as an external (Westinghouse Digital 14″, 1280 x 1024). I know that the default resolution on Chrome OS is 1366 x 768, so HOW can I can i get it to show up on my laptop screen?

  16. Dark Reality

    Chrome OS is such a niche product. The whole OS is just a browser. That’s fine, if a browser is all you need, but it seems like Android would be the better choice for an older machine. And Android as of version 4 can run Chrome anyway. It’s also a full-blown but mobile-optimized operating system. It has file managers, games, productivity apps, etc., and not just confined to web apps.

  17. pete1229

    Yet another HTG article which is completely useless and does not work at all!

  18. pete1229

    I was able to rescue the usb flash drive I used for this fiasco using the easus partition master software free download. When I tried this it did reduce the capacity down to 1Gig but the easus fix did the trick and my usb drive was restored to full capacity.

  19. hi

    Hi , i will improve this Chrome OS .
    I hope it useful .
    Enjoy !!!

  20. Shirish

    This did not work for me. USB wrecked. I have read comments about restoring through some partition applications. Let me try restoring my USB…

  21. Vatsal Chhabra

    You are too Late HTG, But it is good, I was looking for Official build :(

  22. Shirish

    Thank you Psybernoid You saved me a day of frustration and ofcourse my 8gb flashdrive. It works a treat.

  23. joydeepm08

    Both version did not load, corrupted my usb drive. How do it fix it?? I tried Psybernoid’s instructions but it did not work.

  24. William Knight

    Has anybody got this to work with messing up the flash drive

  25. reply

    I’ve tried these…this OS sucks. If you like linux go for something like Ubuntu or Mint, this is a waste of time.

  26. Andrew Ensley

    To burn the image from Ubuntu, do the following:

    sudo apt-get install usb-imagewriter
    sudo imagewriter

    Select your image file and the USB drive, click Write to device, and wait.

  27. Jim

    A question to all those who have tried it out… Can it run Netflix?

  28. ruudster101

    According to wikipedia Chrome OS only will run on 32bit -system..Maybe thats why there so many probs all around…

    Theres nowhere to seen here if indeed its only 32bit supported…

    Does anyone actually knows?

  29. Qrazydutch

    OK perfection is 20/20 hindsight… Tried vanilla then lime… Worked ok on HP notebook. Not on toshiba or my handbuild Linux multiboot notebook…close to Dell …and no I am not buying a chrome notebook… Fun for a bit… Won’t update or install flash when browsing overall ok needs work… Try penguy Linux I think that was the name…

  30. usb

    to fix your pendrive you could use linux disk tools:
    - unmount all partitions
    - delete all partitions
    - format
    - profit

  31. Ric

    To rescue the USB drive, you might try the DISKPART command line utility in Windows. You can get information about it on the TechNet site. It worked for me for an SD card with the same problem.

  32. wayne

    when I get to the start menu, it says that no network is available, so I can’t go further… :(

  33. wayne

    so what is that program? not just that it’s not working, but it screwed my usb… I used paragon to regain the whole memory on it…

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