How to Run Chrome OS From a USB Drive

By | December 24, 2021

You don’t need to buy a Chromebook to enjoy the features of Google’s desktop operating system (OS). Though, all you need is a working computer and a USB Drive.

Google doesn’t officially offer a way to try it out, but the developers have found a way for you to experiment with the open-source OS. This method works whether you’re running Windows, macOS, or Linux. And no, you will not overwrite the existing OS.

Here’s what you need to know.

Running Chrome OS From a USB Drive

We will create a bootable USB drive, loaded with a Chromium OS disk image. But you need a few things before you start.

Note: The USB drive will be completely erased in the installation process. If you have valuable data on the drive, please save it elsewhere.

Download Latest Chromium OS image

Google doesn’t have an official Chromium OS build that you can download. The best alternative source is Arnold The Bat.

Download: Latest Chromium OS daily build

Extract Image Zip

You will now have a 7-Zip file on your hard drive. Extract this file using one of the 7-Zip applications mentioned above.

USB Drive Format

Plug the USB drive into the port and format it as FAT32. The process is simplest on Windows, but macOS and Linux aren’t that difficult either.

For macOS users, the built-in Disk Utility can format it as FAT32. If you see it labeled “MS-DOS FAT”, don’t worry, it’s the same thing.

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If the Windows or Mac method confuses or confuses you, then you can also use the official SD Association Card Formatter app.

Download: SD Card Formatter for Windows | macOS (Free)

For Linux users, we recommend using GParted for a quick format.
Download: GParted for Linux (Free)

For added convenience, when prompted to name a new drive, name it “Chrome.”

Run Etcher and Install Image

Now, you should have a fully formatted USB drive, named “Chrome”, plugged into one computer port (as shown in step three). You will also have an unzipped image file of the latest Chromium OS (as shown in steps one and two). And you have installed Etcher on your computer. Start Etch.

  • Click Choose Image and browse to where the Chromium OS image file is. Add in Etcher.
  • Click Select Drive and select the Chrome USB Drive that you have created.
  • Click Flash to start the process of installing the image and validating the installation.

Etcher validates the burning process i.e. once it finishes creating the image on the USB drive, it will verify that everything is correct. Make sure you wait until it says 100%. Once Etcher is done, it will be a bootable USB drive with Chromium OS.

Reboot Your Computer and Enter Boot Options

“Boot” is the process of selecting the OS. Each computer lets you choose from which drive it should boot the OS, whether it’s a hard drive, a USB drive, or even a DVD drive. You have to go to Boot and select the USB drive you just created.

For Windows or Linux PCs: Different computers have different BIOS settings. Typically, the Boot Options menu has the keyboard shortcut F5, F8, or F12.

For Mac: As soon as your Mac shuts down and restarts, press and hold the Option key. You’ll do this when the screen is black, but that’s okay. Keep holding down until you see the boot menu, which lets you choose between the Macintosh hard drive or the USB drive you plugged in (usually denoted as “EFI”).

Boot into Chrome OS

Select the USB drive in the boot menu, press enter, and the computer will boot from the drive. You now experience all the glory of Chrome OS, without affecting your hard drive and main OS.

You’ll need to set up Chrome OS the first time you use it, ideally with an existing Google account. Don’t worry, this setting is only for the first time you boot. Whenever you run it in the future, it will go straight to the login screen.

Now that you have Chrome OS running on the USB drive, do the loop. You’d be surprised at how similar it is to full-fledged desktop operating systems like Windows, macOS, and Linux. You can even install some Linux programs and some Windows software too.

If you like what you see and are ready to make the switch to Chrome OS, there’s no need to buy new hardware. You can turn any PC or laptop into a Chromebox or Chromebook with easy-to-use software called CloudReady. The actual installation procedure is simpler than the above method.

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