Google only officially supports running Chrome OS on Chromebooks, but don’t let that stop you. You can put the open source version of Chrome OS on a USB drive and boot it on any computer without installing it, just like you’d run a Linux distribution from a USB drive.
Update, 2/16/22: Google released Chrome OS Flex in February 2022. You can use it to run Chrome OS on your existing PC or Mac. Google purchased Neverware CloudReady, which we originally covered below.
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. But this method lets you take your Chrome OS installation wherever you go and use it on other computers, which is kind of neat.
What You Need to Know
Google doesn’t officially offer Chrome OS on anything but Chromebooks. However, like Chrome, Chrome OS is based on an open source project named Chromium OS.
A company named Neverware takes this open source code and creates a product called Neverware CloudReady. It’s basically just Chromium OS plus some additional management features, and Neverware sells it to schools and businesses who want to run Chrome OS on their existing hardware. However, Neverware also offers a home version of CloudReady for free. It’s basically just the open source version of Chrome OS with some additional hardware support and the ability to run on almost any PC, rather than just Chromebooks.
Some additional features, like support for Android apps, are not available on Chromium OS. You may also run into issues with websites that use certain multimedia or DRM features. This isn’t quite the same experience you’ll get on a Chromebook.
Neverware offers a list of officially supported devices that have been certified to run with CloudReady. It doesn’t matter if your computer doesn’t appear on this list—there’s a good chance it will work alright, too.
How to Put Neverware CloudReady on a USB Drive
You’ll need a USB drive that’s either 8GB or 16GB in size for this. It can’t be any larger or smaller, according to Neverware.
Download the free CloudReady Home Edition from Neverware’s website. The 64-bit version should work on most computers, although much older computers will only support the 32-bit version. If you’re not sure which to use, just go with the 64-bit edition.
Extract the downloaded .bin file from the .zip file. On Windows, you can just double-click the .zip file to open it, and then drag-and-drop the .bin file inside it to another folder.
Next, install the Chromebook Recovery Utility in Chrome on a Windows PC, Mac, or Chromebook you have access to. This official Google-provided utility will create your bootable USB drive.
Launch the Chromebook Recovery Utility app once it’s installed. It will appear in your Start menu and on the
chrome://apps page in Chrome.
Click the gear icon at the top right corner of the Chromebook Recovery Utility window and select “Use local image”.
Navigate to the CloudReady .bin file you just downloaded and extracted.
When prompted, insert the USB drive you’ve chosen to use into your computer and select it in the box that appears.
Warning: The contents of the USB drive will be erased. Be sure you’ve backed up any important files first.
Click through the utility and click “Create Now” to create your bootable USB drive. When it’s done, you’ll see a message saying your recovery media is ready. This means your bootable Neverware CloudReady USB drive is now ready to use.
The resulting USB drive can be used on any computer, so you can take it with you and boot it wherever you like.
How to Boot Your USB Drive and Use Chrome OS
You can now boot from the USB drive like you’d boot from any other removable devices. In a simple scenario, you may just need to insert the USB drive into a computer, restart the computer, and it will boot from the USB drive. In other scenarios, you may need to modify your boot order or use a boot menu to select the USB drive. On newer PCs that come with Secure Boot enabled, you may need to disable Secure Boot to boot Neverware CloudReady.
When it boots up, you’ll see the usual Chrome OS welcome screen branded with a “CloudReady” logo. Select your language and network to continue.
After you do, you’ll be presented with the Chrome OS sign-in screen where you can sign in with a Google account, and you’ll get access to the Chrome OS desktop afterwards. Feel free to use it all you like an, when you’re done, just shut the computer down and pull the USB drive.
Note that, while you will get updates to Neverware CloudReady if you install it on your computer, the operating system won’t update itself if you install it on a USB drive. If you want to update your Neverware CloudReady USB drive to the version with the latest Chromium OS code in the future, you’ll need to repeat the above process, downloading the latest image from the Neverware website and using the Chromebook Recovery Utility to copy it to your USB drive.
If you actually wanted to install Neverware CloudReady on your computer instead of using it in a live USB environment, you’d click the tray at the bottom right corner of the screen and select “Install CloudReady”. However, this is only necessary if you want to install the operating system to your computer—you can use CloudReady all you like from the USB drive.
Consult the official Neverware CloudReady installation guide for more detailed information, if you need it.
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