I must have been asked hundreds of times over years about whether there was ‘any decent laptops being thrown out’.  I’m sure that any self-respecting IT person, will have an outright ‘NO’ to that.  Let’s face it, anything that a business has, tends to only go in the scrap pile, not necessarily having been treat with much respect and we then have to deal with WEEE waste that goes off to specialist recyclers.  At home though, I have a fair few old laptops that are worthless – as I suspect many do – so how could you turn these into Chromebook’s for homeschooling?

If you’re short of a laptop or two in your household, but you’ve got some old kit around, I thought a few tips of what to do may come in handy.

What is a Chromebook?

Most laptops come running Windows, or MacOS – it’s what we’re all familiar with.  Chromebooks are simply laptops that run ChromeOS instead of Windows or MacOS.  ChromeOS, is a very simple operating system that does not much more than give you the ability to run a Chrome web browser and a couple of Android applications if you’re lucky.  It’s very lightweight, doesn’t need much storage, processing power or memory.  It’s ideally suited to resurrect an old laptop if you can.

Is turning my old laptop into a Chromebook for homeschooling easy?

I’m not going to lie, there’s a few steps to this and if you’re not very technical, possibly give up now.  I’m guessing if your oven or other clocks in your house are still flashing 0:00 this may not be the task for you!

There’s only a couple of things you’ll need though – a decent sized USB stick – of between 8 to 16GB to put the install files on.  You simply download those off the internet and make the USB stick bootable, so you’ll need another (preferably, Windows) laptop and a decent internet connection.

You’ll also need an old laptop.

Luckily, there is a company called Neverware that have made the process quite simple.  They have a piece of software called CloudReady that helps you turn that run down old laptop into a Chromebook.  Oh, and Neverware is actually owned by Google who produce Chrome, so this is as legit as it gets!

They do have a certified hardware compatibility checker, however that said, it’s always worth trying it out, even that old laptop in your drawer isn’t listed.

Last time I checked, the software and tools are also free for home use.

What are the steps to turn your old laptop into a Chromebook?

The Neverware website gives you the most up-to-date ways of doing this, but here’s some easier tips:

  1. You want the CloudReady Home Edition – and you want to download their USB Maker to keep things simple 
  2. Once you’ve followed the instructions in the USB Maker software, you will want to boot your old laptop via the USB stick.  Normally your computer is set to boot via it’s hard drive, which in your case may have some ancient copy of Windows or MacOS.  Neverware have some tips on what button to press to select the USB stick – every computer is different. 
  3. The CloudReady installer will walk you through the process, but here are some specific instructions for Cloudready Home Edition with some screenshots. 

It really is that easy!

Can you do anything to make your old laptop a better Chromebook?

Although ChromeOS is a very lightweight operating system and is mainly just for browsing the web, like all operating systems it can benefit from a couple of hardware upgrades if you are up to the task!

  • More memory
  • Faster storage

Upgrading memory can be quite a challenge – there are all sorts of different shapes sizes and compatibilities.  I’d tend to recommend the Crucial website as they have a model checker that tends to be pretty good of what to install.  I’d also be careful.  Sometimes you can have one free slot or none – so the combination you buy can either mean you must scrap one you already have.  Laptops used to prefer matched pairs installed, rather than one 4GB and one 8GB and suchlike.

Faster storage is kind of the easiest thing you can do.  Most off-the-shelf Chromebooks don’t even have a hard drive at all.  They work off embedded SD cards, much like your mobile phone.  On some laptops you can just use the SD card slot.  However, the easiest way of giving the machine a speed boost would be to opt for a small SSD hard disk, if your laptop is still operating with an old spinning disk – then you’ll notice the difference instantly.  If you have already installed ChromeOS, if you do swap the disk over, you’ll need to reinstall it.

In Conclusion

If you’re even slightly technically minded, then this will be a doddle.  There are lots of guides online how to turn an old machine into a Chromebook, upgrades like memory and SSD disks are also ridiculously cheap these days too.  Arriving next day from Amazon too!

If it’s all a bit too much – why don’t you drop those old laptops off at a local recycling centre.  There are lots of SME’s and charities taking old machines and doing exactly what I outline above for those who can’t necessarily afford the latest and greatest tech.