ChromeOS Flex is a simple and free way to add the Google Chromebook operating system to your hardware. It’s efficient, lightweight with compatibility across a vast array of hardware making it especially useful at revitalising older PCs. Although ChromeOS Flex is still in development, it’s robust enough for us to recommend that you give it a try, but not on your day-to-day ‘critical’ machine. If you have any old kit which hasn’t yet made it to the recycling centre, this is a great project to try. This guide has everything that you need to on how to install ChromeOS flex onto a PC.
Things you need to know
There’s a few things to mention before you install ChromeOS Flex onto a PC. First, you’ll need a USB stick (8GB or larger) which will be wiped during the procedure. Next, the installation media creation process is powered by Google Chrome which can be downloaded from the Chrome website. Finally, Bluetooth isn’t available during ChromeOS Flex installation, so you will need to plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. We’ll show you how to connect to Bluetooth devices at the end of the article.
Almost forgot. You’ll also need a sheet of A4 paper – a nice bright colour if you have it.
Stage 1: Create the ChromeOS Flex bootable USB
Open up Chrome and go to chrome.google.com/webstore.
In the search box for the Chrome web store, type ‘Chromebook Recovery Utility’.
The Chromebook Recovery Utility should be the top result but please make sure that it’s listed as ‘Offered by: google.com’.
Click on Add to Chrome and agree to the warning prompt. The extension will be added to the browser. Installed extensions can be hard to find so click the jigsaw-piece shaped icon on the toolbar to bring up the extensions panel. Select the Push-Pin next to Chromebook Recovery Utility and the icon will appear on the Chrome toolbar, click it to launch the utility.
Find the USB stick then click Get Started.
This utility is used to recover many different Chromebooks, so click on Select a model from a list.
From the manufacturer drop-down, scroll down and select Google ChromeOS Flex.
The product drop-down only has one option which is a reminder that ChromeOS Flex is a development product. Select Continue.
Insert the USB and the Chromebook Recovery Utility will automatically make it available from the drop-down menu. Click Continue. The next screen is a chance to make any changes before pressing Create Now.
The software will download the required files onto the USB and Windows may ask for permission to allow the Chromebook Recovery Utility access to the USB drive. Agree to this to allow the process to continue. It can take some time to build the USB, so use the time to have a cuppa or maybe take 10 for a bit of brain space.
Click OK then the process is complete and power off the machine. Well done, that’s the first stage complete.
Stage 2: Install ChromeOS Flex using the bootable USB
Ensure the USB drive is inserted into the PC and turn it on. We need to boot from the USB so depending on your PC, that is usually a case of bashing F2, F12, F8 or even Delete during the boot process. We’re doing this on a HP and the magic key is ESC to launch the startup menu. From there I can press F9 and select the UEFI USB Flash drive we created in step 1. You may need a few goes to find the correct key.
When you strike gold, the PC will restart and the ChromeOS Flex installer will launch.
When the ChromeOS Flex welcome screen appears, there’s a prompt to use ChromeVox as a screen reader. Select your preference and then choose your language and keyboard settings before choosing OK, then Get Started.
If you are using Bluetooth keyboard and mice, you’ll find that the functionality has vanished, so plug in USB versions.
Although it’s possible to run ChromeOS Flex on a PC directly from the USB stick, the hardware compatibility isn’t quite as good. A full installation gives a better experience, so choose Install ChromeOS Flex and then click, Next.
Take note of this screen. Installing ChromeOS Flex will overwrite all data on your PC, so this is the final chance to save precious data before Chrome obliterates it. Click Install ChromeOS Flex.
Chrome will give you one final reminder about data wiping and then the process will commence.
Depending on the power of your PC, this process will take a few moments but it’ll definitely be faster than stage 1 was. Grab that sheet of A4 paper and take 60 seconds to make something beautiful.
After the Restart
Once again (don’t ask!), select the language and keyboard settings then select OK and then, Get Started.
If the PC has a compatible wireless controller, ChromeOS Flex will give you the option to hop onto your Wi-Fi network. Failing that, connect your Ethernet port to the router.
Have a read through Google’s T&Cs then click Accept and continue to proceed.
Time to tell ChromeOS Flex who will be using this PC. I’ve selected You as a standard Chrome user, but Child accounts and Enterprise logins can be used.
Once the account is verified, ChromeOS Flex gives options for syncing existing Google data to the machine. Tick Review sync options following setup, otherwise select Accept and continue.
As ChromeOS Flex is development software, Google is gathering information about the hardware it’s running on. This screen explains Google’s position and gives further instructions on how to examine what is being transmitted for ‘update filtering’.
Click Accept and continue to proceed.
These final two screens relate to Google Assistant and as I’ve setup this on my Android device, ChromeOS Flex gives me the option to use it on this PC too. Select No thanks or I agree.
It’s all done. Your install of ChromeOS Flex onto a PC is complete. To get an idea of how the system is behaving, try installing COG into the Chrome browser for some real-time stats.
Stage 3: Re-activate Bluetooth
If you want to re-attach your Bluetooth devices, it’s simple with ChromeOS Flex. In the bottom right-hand corner, click button containing the clock to open the menu. ChromeOS Flex will probably already have activated the PC’s Bluetooth controller, so click on its symbol.
Click Pair new device and the ChromeOS Flex will detect your Bluetooth peripherals, listing them under Available devices. Select one, enter the pairing code (if required) and select Pair.
Keep going until everything’s reconnected.
Changed your mind? How to remove ChromeOS Flex from a PC.
It’s easy to restore Windows back onto the PC, but as ChromeOS Flex completely erased and re-partitioned the drive, a full restore is required. Luckily, Big Tech Question has you covered here too. You’ll need to beg or borrow a PC to help you (as you can’t build Windows boot media on a Chromebook) but you’ll be able to reuse the USB stick from stage 1. There are two of our guides to help, one for Windows 10 and one for Windows 11.
ChromeOS Flex on a PC. Is it worth it?
Yes, and some!
ChromeOS Flex has a simple installation procedure which is completely reversible so really there’s nothing to lose here.
Most people’s experience of Google’s OS is via low-powered, budget laptops but with a bit of hardware power, even an old spec machines will make the software perform really well. Even in its unfinished stage, ChromeOS Flex still provides a free method of getting into the Google ecosystem. The only slight snag is that the Google Play Store is missing, meaning there isn’t (yet) full access to millions of apps, games, moves and music. Hopefully, Google will remedy this omission soon.
How to install ChromeOS Flex on an Apple Mac
Tired of OS X?