We’ve been trying to get our “junk drawers” organized, and in the process we unearthed my old Toshiba NB205 netbook. I loved this netbook, and it was a faithful companion for two years. Time took a toll on performance, and it slipped into the pile of unused electronics. It has new life, though, thanks to Neverware’s CloudReady (ChromeOS) build!
A few key things to note: this is Chromium, aka the open source version of ChromeOS. This is not the official version supported directly by Google, though it does run ChromeOS apps and extensions, and the look and feel are nearly identical. The biggest difference is that you get updates via Neverware, not Google, so you’re relying on them to provide timely security and software updates. CloudReady is free for individual use [note that this link does trigger an auto-download], and they charge $59 per device for a perpetual license for schools. So if you’re a school, you can resurrect old computers for significantly less than the cost to replace the hardware, and if you’re an individual, you can keep your old laptop from the recycling bin for free (or the cost of an 8GB USB drive if you don’t have one handy).
It took a few hours for me to get the NB205 up and running with CloudReady, though I think at least some of that was due to a truly silly error. I had it in my head that I had to create the bootable USB from the same computer that was going to receive CloudReady, which meant I had to first get the NB205 up and running, update Chrome on it, wait forever for pages to load, etc. Stupid, because I could have grabbed a faster computer and created the drive there, then only turned the NB205 on to install CloudReady. That was just a lot of wait time, though, and didn’t require me to do anything while everything was loading.
The actual steps are very easy. You download a ZIP file from Neverware, pop an 8 or 16Gb USB stick into your computer, and then install the Chromebook Recovery Utility. The utility is easy to use, and you just select “use local image” and download it to the USB stick. It takes a while for the utility to create the bootable stick, but aside from watching some odd numbers appear (148% done!), the whole thing is very hands-off. Once it’s finished, you can eject the drive, then reboot the computer and hit whatever BIOS code takes you to choosing to boot from USB if needed (on my Toshiba it was F12). CloudReady pops up, and you can play around in the OS before installing if you wish. Once you’re set, you just go into the CloudReady settings menu (by clicking the clock in the lower right corner) and hit “install CloudReady”. It will warn you that you’re wiping your computer, you say ok, and then it takes about 20 minutes to install. Then your computer shuts down, you turn it back on, and BOOM, instant Chromebook(-ish). It is remarkably simple, and Neverware has excellent step by step instructions. This is really as simple as plugging in a USB drive, downloading a file, and clicking a few buttons; no advanced knowledge required!
There’s a few things to know about this process. CloudReady does support dual-booting, so if you don’t want to lose your main OS that’s an option, BUT they strongly suggest using a model they’ve certified, and they have specific requirements you will need to follow to insure it works correctly. They have certified models for CloudReady-only installation as well. If your device isn’t listed, in a nutshell if you have a regular laptop or PC older than 2007, and/or a netbook released after June 2009, you should be able to run CloudReady (but at your own risk). In general, they suggest at least 1GB of RAM and around 8GB of storage, and you do need to be connected to the internet for optimal use (and that is required for installation). Also, if you go the one-OS route, you WILL lose everything you had on the PC, so back up any important files prior to installation.
My Toshiba NB205 handled everything like a champ, and it is significantly faster running CloudReady than Windows 7. I did notice that more than 5 tabs seemed to choke Chrome a bit, and it’s not super snappy at loading heavier pages. However, it was able to remote into my office using Citrix, and Gear Diary’s WordPress page worked great, which makes it incredibly useful as a backup computer. CloudReady has helped me create a device that sits in a nice middle ground; it’s a bit more versatile than my iPad Mini, but it’s not the full power of a Windows machine either. I don’t know that I could justify going out and buying a Chromebook for that purpose, but recycling an old, deeply beloved netbook into a DIY Chromebook is certainly quite handy!
If you have an old PC, an 8GB USB drive, and about an hour, you can create your own CloudReady PC. It’s easy to set up, handy to have around, and a great way to resurrect old hardware!