Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Turn your old computers into Chromebooks

After more than two decades in education, one thing I know for sure is that schools hold on to old things. With tight budgets we have to be careful to make things last, sometimes well beyond their normal lifespan. This is especially true for computers which should have a healthy life span of five years, but many schools keep them going twice as long.

When the computers are older than the students, problems can arise:
  • The computer gets slower and slower with each year and each program installed over those years.
  • The operating system may no longer support modern versions of software.
  • Or the operating system itself may no longer be supported or get new updates (Microsoft ended service for Windows XP on April 8, 2014).
So what is a school supposed to do with that 9 year old Dell desktop or that 7 year old Lenovo laptop? Typically we do one of the following:
  • Sell the old desktops and laptops to an eRecycling company for scrap metal.
  • Store the old equipment out of site, stacked up on pallets.
  • Or keep them in the classroom despite their decreasing functionality.
Well now there is another option! Neverware has released a product called CloudReady that can turn old laptops and desktops into Chromebooks and Chromeboxes. There is a free option and a paid option depending on what you need.

Free Option

The "no cost option" is available to everyone. This is perfect for an individual trying to breathe life back into an old computer, or for a school that wants to turn their old equipment into Chromebooks but does not need the Chrome management features. To use the free version you simply:
  • Go to their website at:
  • Download and install CloudReady onto a USB drive for free.
  • Use it to boot your old computer or install on your old computer (gory details are included further down in this blog post).
Paid Option

The paid option is for schools or organizations that don’t just want to convert old computers to Chromebooks, but also need to be able to manage them like normal Chromebooks in the Google Apps Admin Console. With the paid version you get the ability to enroll your old computers in your Admin Console, as well as technical support from Neverware. (Note: you still need to purchase the Google Admin console licenses separately to manage the devices once they are enrolled.)

The cost for the paid version is $15 per device per year. See full details on pricing here:

My Experience

I wanted to test this out to see how well the product really works. So using the free option, I downloaded CloudReady and tested it on three old laptops we had laying around the office. Neverware suggests that CloudReady works best on computers made on or after May 2007. I found that to be accurate.

One of the laptops I tested was older than that and would not run CloudReady at all. However the other two turned out to be a great success. They were:
  • From 2007 - a Lenovo 3000 N200 laptop
  • From 2009 - a eeePC 1005HAB netbook
Both the laptop and the netbook worked very well with CloudReady. I work on a Chromebook quite a lot, and the old devices felt just like a Chromebook. However, there were a few differences to note:
  • Look - Since CloudReady is technically running Chromium, rather than Chrome OS, some of the icon are different colors. For example, the icons for Chrome and the Web Store are blue. (See screenshot below of my netbook running CloudReady.)
  • Keyboard - Next, since the device does not have a Chromebook keyboard, some of the keys do not match up, such as the top row. On a Chromebook the top row of keys have special functions like back, forward, reload, brightness, volume up and down, and such. On an old laptop the top row has normal function keys (F1 through F12). However, the keys work the same as on a Chromebook, they just don’t have the same pictures on the keys. For example, the fourth key over on a Chromebook is the reload button, which is the same on an old laptop except that would be the F3 key.
  • Speed - Finally, I did find that my Chrome-ified laptops did run a little sluggish compared to a modern Chromebook. The speed and responsiveness reminded me of one of our older Chromebooks from a couple years ago, but I would say that is still good considering the laptop is 9 years old and the netbook is 7 years old.
All in all, I was very pleased. For no cost at all, these old computers were suddenly useful again. I would certainly have no problem using one of them to check email, surf the web, work on a Google Doc, or such.

If you want to see more details on my experience with CloudReady, check out the video from our October 2015 Google User Meeting. You can jump up to the 24 minute mark to see our discussion about CloudReady. The video can be seen here: YouTube link

Screenshot of CloudReady running on the eeePC netbook:

The Process

So how exactly do you turn an old computer into a Chromebook with CloudReady? The detailed directions can be found on Neverware’s site at:

You will want to follow instructions from Neverware linked above, but below I will give the general overview of how the process works…
  • Check to see if your device is one of the known supported devices for CloudReady. Even if it is not on the list, you may still be able to use CloudReady, but the list lets you know which devices work for sure. You can view the list of approved models here: Approved list
  • Download the CloudReady zip file at:
  • Install the Chrome Recovery Utility web app from the Chrome Web Store here: Chrome Web Store link
  • Use the Chrome Recovery Utility to install the CloudReady zip file onto a USB drive with 8BG or 16BG of storage.
  • Put the USB drive into the old laptop or computer and boot from USB.
  • CloudReady will now live boot and is ready for you to log in with your Google account.
  • Optionally you can choose to install CloudReady to the hard drive of your old computer so you will not need to boot from the USB drive in the future.

It is safe to say that Chromebooks have had a major impact on schools as they now account for over 50% of all classroom devices. With CloudReady, schools now have an option to bring the same power and simplicity of Chromebooks to their outdated laptops and desktops.

Schools can install the free version with no restrictions, or they can pay for the option to enroll and manage their old devices in their Google Apps Admin Console. With CloudReady schools can keep old equipment alive a while longer, stretch their budget dollars, and extend the Google Apps learning experience to more students.

If you have tried out CloudReady, I would love to hear your experiences. Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, it works with Mac. See list of supported devices here:

  2. Thanks for sharing! Marvellous way to cut down on e-waste

  3. Thanks for sharing! Marvellous way to cut down on e-waste

  4. Fabulous. Thank you! I'm going to try it on an old laptop at home. It would be perfect for the kids to use.

  5. This is cool! Gonna try it on two machines I was just about to recycle.

    Thanks for sharing, Eric.