Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system, and one of these reasons it works so well is that it was designed to run on the more modestly equipped Chromebooks. If you want to push the functionality of your new laptop to another level, and Linux isn’t really your deal, you can try installing Windows. There are still some functionality issues, which we’ll get to, but for some users it might be just the trick for some casual gaming or certain Windows-only software.
Related: What is a Chromebook, anyway?
Before you begin
Before setting off on this adventure, there are a few important caveats to getting Windows up and running on your Chromebook. As always, and most importantly, messing with your operating system, firmware, and BIOS can have serious effects on your system. This process can “brick” your Chromebook, turning it into an expensive frisbee. That being said, users online have had success with the steps listed below, and there’s minimal chance of much going wrong. If something does happen and you find yourself unable to use your Chromebook, you can create a USB drive from another computer to try and recover the system. This will erase all of your data though, so make sure to back up anything that isn’t saved to your Google drive.
This method is only confirmed to work on Google’s Chromebook Pixel, and the Acer C720 Chromebook. It may work with other systems, but these two systems have the necessary computing power and functionality built in that makes the process a bit smoother.
There are compatibility issues as well, because of the way the keyboard and mouse communicate with the laptop. The controller for these inputs is unable to communicate with Windows, so your keyboard, trackpad, and touchscreen won’t work when you’re using it. The USB ports should work fine, so you can plug in a keyboard for the installation process (the other USB port is for the boot drive) and then a mouse after you’re into the main OS. It isn’t a supported operating system, so expect random weirdness, like the system shutting down instead of sleeping, as well as audio control and power issues.
What you need
There are a few things you should make sure you have around before you get started.
- A Chromebook Pixel or Acer C720
- Power cable (keep it plugged in the whole time)
- USB drive of at least 4 GB (this will be erased, so back up any data off it first)
Create a bootable USB drive
Since Chromebooks don’t have an optical drive, we’ll start by creating a bootable USB drive with Windows 8 on it. Windows 8 has been shown to work pretty well on these systems, but if you’re feeling adventurous you could try Windows 7 or even the Windows 10 Technical Preview. Download the app from the Windows help page and run it to begin. Note that you’ll still need a Windows 8 product key to get through the installation.
Make sure to select your language, and 64-bit as the operating system configuration of choice.
It’s going to download a few gigabytes in data, so go ahead and grab a cup of coffee while you wait for it to finish.
The software is super easy to use, and will download and load the operating system installer to the USB drive with just a few clicks.
Put your Chromebook in developer mode
Before the Chromebook will let you install an operating system besides Chrome OS, you have to tell it that you know what you’re doing by enabling developer mode. This used to be a physical switch on the motherboard, but now Google has made it easy by letting you do it without cracking open your laptop.
First, make sure to back up any data that’s stored locally on your Chromebook, as these next few steps may reset the local data. Anything saved to your Google Drive will be fine, but your local media will be deleted.
Once that’s done, shut down the Chromebook. When it’s off, hold the “Esc” and “F3” buttons, and then press the power button without releasing the other keys. You’ll see a screen saying that your Chromebook has been booted into recovery mode. From this screen, press “CTRL” and “D” to access the developer mode switch. You’ll see a scary warning, but ignore it and press enter to delete your local data and enable developer mode.
Related: How to install Linux on a Chromebook
Your Chromebook will restart and then spend a few minutes configuring itself. Now every time you turn your system on, it will show the developer mode warning, which you can press CTRL and D to bypass.
Enable legacy BIOS
Once you’ve enabled developer mode, and booted back into Chrome OS, we’re going to use the command line to make a few more changes to your system.
In Chrome OS, the command line utility is called Crosh, and can be easily accessed by holding down CTRL, ALT, and pressing the T key. Once you’re in this menu, you can issue commands to the OS via text instead of clicking options and icons. Start by typing in “shell” and hitting enter, which will enable access to the Unix command line.
You’ll see the text field change from “crosh>” to “chronos@localhost / $” which means you’re in the right place. Type the following two commands in, hitting enter after each.
sudo crossystem dev_boot_usb=1
sudo crossystem dev_boot_legacy=1
If you did this right, the first one may give you a blurb about talking to your system administrator, and the second will complete with no response.
Now that your system is ready for a new OS, we’re in the home stretch. Take the USB drive with Windows on it that we made earlier, plug it into your Chromebook, and restart the system.
When you turn the laptop back on, you’ll be faced with the same developer mode warning screen as before. This time, instead of pressing CTRL and D to skip it, hold CTRL and press L to load the legacy BIOS.
When the screen turns to text with SeaBIOS at the top, press ESC to load the boot menu. You’ll see as many options here as you have storage devices attached to your computer, press the button that corresponds to the USB drive.
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to plug in a USB keyboard, which will allow you to go through the setup process for Windows. There are a couple more steps before we get to the actual installation though.
Unfortunately, there isn’t quite enough space to install Windows and Chrome OS and still have much room for data unless you have a huge drive. First we’ll need to use the Windows installer to prepare your disk. To do so, open up the command prompt at the screen above by holding Shift and pressing the F10 key on the external keyboard. Type in “disk part” without the quotation marks and hit enter.
This launches the disk partition manager, a Windows command-line utility that can manage your drives and volumes. Type “disk list” and hit enter to see the available drives, with the default for the internal drive usually at 0. Once you’ve confirmed it’s disk zero, enter the following commands one at a time, hitting enter after each. Wait until you have a prompt again, then enter the next command. If your drive isn’t numbered zero, change the number in the commands to the appropriate number.
select disk 0
Now you can return to the graphical interface by typing in exit, hitting enter, and then typing in exit and hitting enter again. Walk through the installation process as normal, except when the system restarts and you’re presented with the developer mode warning, hold CTRL and press L to launch the legacy BIOS again. From here, press escape to open the drive selection, and select your hard drive instead of the USB drive. You will need to do this every time you launch into Windows; if you do not, the Chromebook will automatically try to launch Chrome OS, and fail to do so (because it has been erased).
Related: Chrome OS vs Windows
The first thing you’ll want to do once you have Windows installed and running is disable automatic updates. Most of them won’t do anything for your machine, and the newest versions may be incompatible with settings you have already.
You won’t be able to change audio or screen brightness settings, or use the built-in input devices, but USB devices should mostly function fine, including an Xbox 360 controller, if you want to get your game on. Unfortunately this will be the case until Google opens up the drivers to access the control board it uses for the keyboard and mouse.
Should you want to re-install Chrome OS, you can easily do so through a USB drive. Check out Google’s recovery instructions for more information.