ChromeOS Flex tested – Tweakers

If you’re the laptop editor at Tweakers, no one thinks it’s weird that you have a pile of unused laptops somewhere around the house. However, it turns out I’m not the only one. Research by the Motivaction for Open Foundation found that there are one million unused laptops in the closet in the Netherlands. That’s an average of one in eight households, and I imagine that number is even higher among tweakers.

The reason for the laptops lies there unused can be guessed; they have been replaced by newer, faster, computers. But why do we still keep the laptops? Sentimental value? Were there any important files on it? Or does it feel weird to throw away working devices?

Image: Getty Images / Zoran Milich

Whatever the reason, it’s a shame not to use these laptops. But if you want to use them again, you will run into the same problem in many cases. The operating system on it is old, lacking a ton of updates and slow. ChromeOS Flex could be the solution to that problem. In this article, I’m going to install ChromeOS Flex on some laptops to see what it is, how it works, and whether it’s a good idea to breathe new life into your old laptop.

ChromeOS Flex

ChromeOS Flex is an operating system from Google. It is very similar to regular ChromeOS, which runs exclusively on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. It is a further development of Cloudready, which was an operating system from the company Neverware and which was again based on ChromiumOS. ChromiumOS is the open source project that is also the basis for ChromeOS, and to which Google makes its own adaptations to arrive at ChromeOS.

The main difference between ChromeOS and ChromeOS Flex is that the former is made specifically for a specific Chromebook. That the Chromebook is therefore equipped with the correct drivers, it is guaranteed updates for a certain period and Google decides what functionality it has. Chromebooks also come with a security chip from Google itself that regular laptops don’t have. The ChromeOS images cannot be installed on other systems.

You can install ChromeOS Flex yourself on non-Chromebooks. Google has published a list of officially supported laptops. That list contains only a small part of the laptops that have come on the market in recent years, and moreover, the majority of the list consists of business models; Lenovo ThinkPads, HP Elitebooks and Dell Latitudes. So there’s a good chance your laptop isn’t among them. But don’t worry, if your laptop doesn’t have official support, there’s a good chance that ChromeOS Flex will still work. The system requirements are as follows:

System requirements ChromeOS Flex

  • 64-bit x86 processor from AMD or Intel
  • 4 GB of RAM
  • 16 GB storage space
  • Can be booted from USB
  • CPU and GPU from 2010 or newer

Most laptops and desktops meet the first four requirements. Since the Core 2 Duo generation, all processors from Intel can handle 64-bit instructions and with AMD it has been the case since the Athlon 64 on desktops and the Turion 64 for laptops. You also have 4 GB of memory and 16 GB of storage available in no time.

The only thing that might throw a wrench in the works is the rather vague requirement of a ‘cpu and gpu from 2010 or later’. It looks like ChromeOS Flex doesn’t have driver support for hardware from before 2010. From Intel’s Sandy Bridge generation, so second generation Core processors should be fine. At AMD, it comes down to the generation of apus, so processors that have an A or E prefix.

I have not been able to verify if ChromeOS Flex works on such AMD laptops. I found a Samsung R505 with AMD Athlon RM-72 processor somewhere and it crashed during installation. The laptop was released in 2009, so at least it’s confirmation that ChromeOS on the pre-2010 laptop won’t work. I was able to find a laptop with Sandy Bridge and the OS could be installed on it without any problems. It is therefore not guaranteed that it will work if you meet the above requirements, but the chances are high.

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