October 21, 2020

Got An Old Laptop Laying Around With An Unsupported Operating System Or That You Just Don't Use Anymore?

Every once in a while I've thought about getting a Chromebook, but I never got around to it. One day I stumbled upon the possibility of converting an old laptop into a Chromebook-like device. I had a couple of old laptops laying around, and decided to find out if they could be converted.

There is a company called Neverware (https://www.neverware.com/) that provides free software to convert an old laptop to a "CloudReady" PC for home use. They also have professional versions. Their website explains: "CloudReady is an operating system built and maintained by Neverware. Based on Google’s open source Chromium OS, CloudReady uses web apps and cloud storage instead of traditional software and local storage."

Before you jump into converting a laptop, there are a few things to consider.

What are the minimum hardware requirements? Is your laptop compatible? Will everything still work after converting (like the built-in microphone, for example).

Neverware helps out by providing a list of certified computers:

If your computer is on the list, select the link to see what will work and what might not work. One of my laptops, which was running Windows 7 (which is no longer supported), was on the list, but had a caveat that the internal mic might not work. That turned out to be true. My other laptop was too old and had insufficient hardware and was not on the list.

Next, before proceeding, it is strongly recommended that if there is anything you might want to keep that is on the laptop, back it up to somewhere else. Once you commit to converting your laptop to a Chromebook-like device, everything on the computer will be wiped and replaced by the new operating system.

You don't have to immediately commit to converting the computer. You can actually test-drive the operating system by running it from the USB installer that you will need to create (minimum 8G thumb drive).  Here's the link for the free Home edition: https://www.neverware.com/freedownload#home-edition-install

Once you've created the USB installer, your next step is to change the startup options on your laptop so that it will attempt to first boot from the USB drive. This means figuring out how to get into the setup mode when booting your laptop. Usually, on Windows computers, when your laptop first starts booting there is a quick message on the bottom saying something like "Press <F2> for Setup". I am not familiar with Apple laptops so I don't know if something similar is available on those. Otherwise, Neverware provides the likely key to press during boot but that may not be correct for your model. That information is also typically in the user manual that came with your computer.

Once in setup mode, you will need to change the startup drive from your hard drive to the USB drive. Different computers and operating systems have slightly different ways of doing that, so I will not attempt to tell you how to do that except to say that many require moving the drive that should be checked first to be at the top of the list.

After you have made this change, shut down the laptop, insert the USB installer, and turn the laptop back on.

Once the laptop boots you can follow most of the instructions that Neverware provided - except - if you want to test-drive first, do not click on the bottom right and select install. Instead, choose "Let's Go". This will allow you to run from the USB drive. Note that running this way will likely be a bit slower than running from the hard drive - so don't let that affect your decision.

If, after test-driving you like what you see, and you have backed up whatever you wanted to keep from the laptop, then go ahead and follow the install instructions.

Just note the following: You will not be able to access the Google Play Store. You will be limited to the Chrome OS store for apps. Most popular ones can be found there.

Enjoy extending the life of your old laptop.


Richard L. Kuper

The Kuper Report