I’ve revived three old PCs with ChromeOS Flex, and you can do it, too
Linux is a great operating system. I have been expounding its virtues for over 20 years. I was one of the founding senior technology editors of the now-defunct Linux magazine in 1999. In my technology career, I was a senior consultant for open source data center technology at Unisys and IBM, and until recently, editor of the Linux Foundation. exit. So yeah, I’ll get Linux.
I’ve used Linux desktops, like RedHat Workstation, CentOS, Ubuntu, Mint, Debian, and every platform GUI you can imagine, including GNOME, KDE, XFCE, and probably dozens of other exotic forks of all of these flavors.
Also: The best Linux laptops you can buy
None of these desktop computers were exceptionally well-designed systems for average end users. They’re great for developers and tech pros, but if you’re a typical office worker, student, or just someone at home who wants to access their sites and do their stuff, Linux desktops are…well, they’re not as good. What do I use as a freelance journalist and corporate communications professional who writes about technology? I use a Mac and have done so since 2018.
Now, it’s worth noting that open source pundits have been heralding the “Year of the Linux Desktop” for a long time, but it never arrived. While Linux has conquered the cloud, high-performance computing, the Internet of Things, the smartphone industry, and innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, Linux desktops have never caught on. So why is this?
Also: Why don’t more people use Linux for desktop? I have a theory you might not like
Is it a lack of motivation and technical skills to move to Linux? Is it the need to learn something new? After all, if your current operating system is working so well, why switch? And if you need a tech expert to help you install this fancy thing, why go through all the trouble?
However, change is still on the horizon. I think the calculus has changed – but not with the Linux distributions we all know. The flavor of Linux that will change the industry is ChromeOS.
ChromeOS Flex only works with a lot of older devices
Let’s face it: ChromeOS is very easy to use. Most people already know how to use this web browser, and the laptops that come with it are cheap In the $200 to $400 range. For the typical end user, ChromeOS does the job — especially for people who don’t need Microsoft 365, Windows or Mac, are compatible with Google Workspace, and use primarily web-based apps. That’s probably 90% of the users out there.
also: 5 Reasons Why Chromebooks Are the Perfect Laptop (For Most Users)
These people don’t want to worry about patches or being systems administrators; They just want their horrible websites to work. They want their desktop to be responsive and they want to be able to watch their videos, make their video calls, access their documents and data, and use social networks.
But there’s one big reason why ChromeOS Flex is big: many older PCs are out in the wild and can’t run on current versions of Windows 10, Windows 11, or MacOS. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these computers, but they’re too old to be supported by their original manufacturers.
These devices are not just a support burden. In many cases, outdated software running on these computers doesn’t fully comply with modern security standards and runs outdated browsers and other annoying and risky things.
In comparison, ChromeOS is very secure – it’s not vulnerable to many of the exploits that plague older Windows and Mac systems.
Also: What is a TPM, and why does your computer need one?
However, the reality is that many old PCs and Macs are sitting on shelves gathering dust, when they could instead be living productive lives again.
With Google’s ChromeOS Flex software, you can now revive those old devices and make them safe to use. In fact, that’s how I spent the entire weekend.
How I revived old PCs and Macs
I was intrigued by the idea of taking a bunch of computers sitting in my closet and making them useful again. I started the process by burning the ChromeOS recovery media onto a minimum 8GB USB flash drive (the hardest part was choosing “ChromeOS Flex” as the manufacturer and product, as the recovery media also supports retail Chromebook reinstallation).
Also: How I installed ChromeOS Flex in 30 minutes
Our first test subject was an 11-year-old Dell Inspiron 15R-5521 laptop, which originally shipped with Windows 8. With an Intel i7 processor and 16GB of RAM, this older machine was a systems nightmare. Run the latest Windows.
After selecting the ChromeOS Flex driver as the driver with EFI, the device rebooted with the new OS, and to my surprise, it was an absolutely transformed beast — fast, responsive, and efficient.
Then I turned to an older machine, my mother’s 2011 iMac. With a modest 4GB of RAM and an i5-2500S processor, it was a scrap by modern standards. But once I installed ChromeOS Flex, it started working. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth peripherals, and even Google Assistant worked smoothly. Once considered an obsolete device, the iMac is now a fully functional Chrome machine.
Also: Do you have an old laptop or computer? Give it new life with ChromeOS Flex
The 2011 Mac Mini was next. Too old for current MacOS versions, this little device was perfect for ChromeOS Flex. After a similar installation, it became a Chrome PC, and now acts as a media center connected to the TV.
But not all systems are good candidates
However, my recent experience with a 2018-era Intel MacBook Pro was a reality check. The bootloader refused to load ChromeOS Flex. This issue highlighted an important lesson — not every piece of hardware, no matter how powerful, is suitable for ChromeOS Flex.
Google’s list of certified models is a must-check resource, detailing supported and unsupported devices. The distinction between approved and non-certified models in this list is crucial. Certified models guarantee basic functionality, while non-certified models are unpredictable.
Also: 5 reasons why Chromebooks are the ideal laptop for most people
While many older systems have a good chance of working well with ChromeOS Flex, there is one major caveat: the software only works on 64-bit systems; 32-bit CPUs (increasingly rare, even 10 years ago) won’t work.
For those who want to test out ChromeOS Flex without committing fully, you can boot it from USB media by selecting “Try it first” after booting. For optimal performance, use a USB-A port that supports USB 3.1 and make sure your thumb drive media is compatible with this standard. This option provides a temporary trial of ChromeOS Flex, allowing users to evaluate how well it fits their needs before making any permanent changes to their system.
One common challenge in my efforts to refurbish older computers is old hard drives, which are prone to failure. Replacing these drives with solid-state drives (SSDs) isn’t just about reliability; It significantly enhances performance.
Also: The best SSD drives right now
A modest investment in a small-capacity, old-generation SATA SSD (Often under $30 from top manufacturers) can significantly enhance the device’s capabilities, keeping up well with the minimal storage needs of ChromeOS Flex, a cloud-based operating system.
This upgrade, where affordability meets improved performance, is usually most noticeable in older desktops and laptops. Upgrading usually involves unboxing and disconnecting the old hard drive. However, making sure your specific model is designed for easy hard drive replacement before installing ChromeOS Flex is essential.
I look forward
In 2024, ChromeOS Flex is poised to redefine the technology landscape. The operating system is more than just a quick fix for aging hardware, it promises a future of sustainable and accessible computing. This innovative platform is not only a lifeline for older devices, but also a testament to the untapped potential of current technology. Whether it’s for students, home users, or professionals, ChromeOS Flex provides an opportunity to revamp and reuse our digital tools.