A few years ago, it was all but impossible to install Google’s ChromeOS onto a Windows laptop. Now, though, there’s a piece of software called CloudReady which is free for home use and uses a version of Chromium OS that’s very similar to ChromeOS which Chromebooks use. Here’s how to install it on your old laptop or desktop PC.

How to install ChromeOS on an old laptop: make a bootable USB drive

The first thing to do is to head to CloudReady’s website and download the free version – around 640MB. It’s based on Chromium, just as ChromeOS is, so while it isn’t – strictly speaking – Google ChromeOS, it’s so similar you might not notice the difference.

Next, get the Chromebook Recovery Utility which is an extension for the Google Chrome browser. Once installed, you’ll find it in your Start menu.

Now grab an 8GB (or larger) USB flash drive and back up any files from it you don’t want to lose.

Run the Recovery Utility and click the cog icon at the top and choose Use local image, then browse to the downloaded CloudReady zip file (don’t unzip it).

How to install ChromeOS

Select the flash drive and click Continue, and the utility will turn it into a bootable drive in around 10-15 minutes.

Now insert the drive into the old computer and press its power button. It should boot from the removable drive, but if not see our guide: How to boot from USB.

You’ll first see a screen asking you to choose your language and connect to a wireless network.

After that, is a prompt to ‘Sign into your Chromebook’. You can do so, if only to check that CloudReady runs ok on your hardware. This ‘live mode’ isn’t going to perform as well as when the OS is installed on the internal hard drive, so click the system tray at the bottom-right of the screen and choose Install CloudReady…

How to install ChromeOS

The following screens will ask if you want to dual-boot CloudReady or run it as the only OS. While dual-booting might sound tempting, it will only work if your laptop has a UEFI BIOS. Many older machines don’t, so you’ll get an error if you select this option.

So most people will have to choose the Standalone option, which will erase the entire hard drive – so make sure you’ve backed up any files from it that you want to keep.

How to install ChromeOS

Installation should take 20 minutes or so, but you might find the installation freezes as it did on a Dell Lattitude E5420 we tried. It would appear your success is largely down to luck and whether your laptop is compatible or not.

Assuming the installation goes smoothly, your laptop will turn off. You need to remove the USB stick, power the laptop back on and you should arrive at the Chromebook sign in screen where you must enter your Google login details. If you’ve used a Chromebook before, you’ll be right at home.

If not, you’ll quickly discover that there’s not much to do on the desktop. Like ChromeOS, CloudReady is all about its Chromium browser. Note that it isn’t the official Google Chrome web browser, so there may turn out to be slight incompatibilities. Unfortunately, you can’t just download Chrome, as this isn’t Windows. The OS and web browser are inseparable with CloudReady.

If you’re not so fortunate and you can’t get CloudReady working, then check out our round up of the best Chromebooks to buy right now.