Google is ready to breathe new life into older devices with the official release of Chrome OS Flex.
Flex was announced in February as a version of Chrome OS that could run on any Intel or AMD processor (sorry, not ARM). Since its announcement, the number of devices certified to run Chrome OS Flex has nearly doubled, from some 250 to more than 400, according to Google.
Among certified models are several MacBook Air devices, Microsoft Surface, ASUS, Acer and Lenovo machines as well as a long list of Dell machines. Google plans to permanently certify old devices for Flex.
Chrome OS Flex got its start at NeverWare, which developed a version of the operating system called CloudReady that made it easier to install Chrome OS on unsupported devices. Google acquired NeverWare in 2020 and made it part of the Chrome OS team, and thus Flex was born.
Installing Flex is designed to be simple with minimal hardware requirements to maximize the number of devices that can run it. All you need is 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and full admin access to the machine’s BIOS. If these conditions are met, then all that remains is to create a bootable USB flash drive, for which at least 8 GB of space is needed.
Warning: critical differences abound
Google designed Chrome OS Flex as an enterprise product, so it can be managed and deployed remotely like the standard version of Chrome OS. Many security features built into Chrome OS also work in Flex, but there are many differences between the two versions of the Linux-derived operating system.
Businesses considering Chrome OS Flex for their older hardware, or even people installing it at home, should be aware of some of the most critical differences between the two before installation:
- Because it runs on hardware without Google’s own security chips, Flex doesn’t offer Chrome OS Verified Boot. Microsoft supports Flex’s bootloader, so some Windows devices may allow UEFI Secure Boot in Flex.
- Flex does not automatically manage BIOS or UEFI firmware updates.
- Because Flex devices may not have a Trusted Platform Module, Flex does not store encryption keys at the hardware level.
- Flex does not support Android or Google Play apps.
- Flex does not support running Windows virtual machines through Parallels.
- Flex support for the Linux development environment varies by model.
- Non-Flex-certified devices cannot be enrolled in the Google Admin console.
- Flex does not support contactless registration or forced re-registration.
Additionally, Google notes that many hardware features on supported hardware have not been tested. “They might not work as expected, or might not work at all,” Google’s support page says.
Optical drives, fingerprint readers, FireWire ports, infrared and facial recognition cameras, docking stations and connectors, styluses and pens, and Thunderbolt are not supported. Google said USB-C and mini Displayport will still work despite the lack of Thunderbolt support. ®