15 common problems with Chromebooks, and how to fix them

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Having problems on your Chromebook, Chromecast, or other Chrome OS device? We’ve got all the major problems that Chrome users have come across, and the solutions that make them go away.

Before we get started, a quick word on Chrome to save you some time. Because Google juggles the Chrome browser, the Chrome OS, and Chromium OS, terms can grow a little confusing. The Chrome operating system is a unique OS that is most often found in the lightweight Chromebooks and Chrome computer sticks. This is easy to confuse with the open source Chromium OS, which is a free OS project that began when Google opened up Chrome’s code to create a big user base of free software for Chrome across a variety of devices.

Chrome OS is based on web apps, so it’s also hard to tell the difference between the OS and the Chrome browser when using a Chromebook – functionally, they are the same thing. The big difference is that the Chrome browser can be downloaded as a separate app on any computer. This browser has many of the same capabilities, but it is not technically the OS.

There has been some discussion on whether Google will retire all this Chrome stuff for a greater focus on Android, but the company has assured users that Chrome OS will remain very much active and evolving. With that out of the way, pick your problem from the list below, or click on the next page to get started!

Major Issues

Problem: Chrome OS is running very slowly

Solution:

  • Because Chromebooks are usually ultrabook-like laptops with diminutive specs, your computer’s memory may not be able to keep up with your typical pace. Try closing a few apps or browser windows and see if Chrome OS becomes more responsive – that indicates a RAM issue and means you may be running your Chromebook too hard.
  • Chrome OS will also slow down if it’s a few updates behind. These OS updates help improve efficiency, fix problems, and increase performance. Fortunately, Chrome makes it easy to see if there is an update waiting in the wings. Look at the status section where you see your Google account picture or icon: Here you should see the System Update Icon, which looks like an arrow. Select this arrow, and then choose the option to Restart to update. This will of course reboot your ultrabook, so make sure all your projects are at a good stopping place first.
  • Sometimes the System Update Icon will not always appear to let you know about updates. You can check for available updates at any time by heading over to the status section with your account icon, and clicking Settings (it looks like a cog). From there choose About Chrome OS, which will open a new window. Choose Check for and apply updates to make doubly sure that you have everything needed for an efficient OS.
  • Remember that Chrome OS loves the cloud and runs apps directly from the web, so your Internet connection may be to blame for a general slowdown. Check your Internet speed and experiment with other devices to see if its your connection that is the problem. You can loosen up some of the bandwidth by turning off automatic Google Drive syncing: Head over to Settings, make sure you are in the General tab, and look for an option to Sync Google Docks, Sheets, Slides & Drawings. Make sure the box is unchecked.
  • Chrome OS offers a variety of extensions you can download to add new tools or change functionality. Unfortunately, if extensions are too old, numerous, complex, or poorly designed then they can create serious slowdowns. It can be difficult to pinpoint which extensions are at fault, but you can see a list of your current downloaded extensions by opening the Chrome menu in your toolbar, and selecting More Tools, which should give you a number of options – pick Extensions. This will open a new window that lists all of your extensions and whether or not they are enabled. You can uncheck the boxes to disable any extension. Try your more recent extensions first to see if this fixes your speed problem. If not, go through them one at a time – and delete those you no longer need.

Problem: Chrome OS is frequently crashing for no discernible reason

Solution:

  • Do you find that your Chrome machine freezes, randomly shuts down, or suddenly closes every window for no reason? These crashes can be very annoying, but resetting your Chromebook can fix this problem. Start by making sure all your information is saved to Google Drive or wherever else you’d like to store it in the cloud: This will fully reset your Chrome OS settings, including your user profiles, Wi-Fi settings, and any files saved to your hard drive – it’s basically a full wipe. When you are ready, head over to your status area to access the Settings From here, choose Advanced Settings, and look for the section called Powerwash. Here, choose Reset, then choose Restart and enter your Google Account information. Note that you should only do this with a personal Chromebook, not a work or school version.
  • While a full Powerwash will often solve your problem, it may be too drastic a step for you. If you want to start smaller, we suggest you look through your extensions. You can see a list of your current downloaded extensions by opening the Chrome menu in your toolbar, and selecting More Tools, which should give you a number of options – pick Extensions. This will open a new window that lists all of your extensions and whether or not they are enabled. You can uncheck the boxes to disable any extension. Recent or suspicious extensions may be causing your crashes, so try deleting them and see if things improve before going for a full reset.

Problem: I can’t make a second screen connection work

Solution:

  • Trying to get a second screen presentation going but running into problems? Chromebooks are generally friendly toward monitor connections – as long as you are connecting the right cable to the right ports (HDMI, DVI, VGA, or DisplayPort, depending on your Chrome device), the connection should be largely automatic.
  • You can check for settings problems or other issues by heading over to the status area and looking for the external display section, which typically shows a notification about the connection and an icon of two windows. Click on this and choose Manage Displays. This will give you a number of options to rotate your image, center the image, check the TV alignment, and send the image to multiple screens. See if any of these can help solve your problem.

Problem: Chrome keeps shutting itself down and restarting on its own

Solution:

  • This is a serious error that indicates a problem with the operating system. It may be accompanied by an ominous “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message. If this happens, you are going to need to fully recover your Chromebook, which means a bit of work. A recovery attempts to save as much data from your current OS as possible. You will need your Chromebook, a separate computer with access to the Chrome browers, and a portable SD or USB drive for saving data.
  • With these tools ready, go download the Chromebook Recovery Utility on your separate, functioning computer. This extension will walk you through the process. Launch it and it will prompt you to create a recovery media that you can use to temporarily transfer data and settings. Follow the instructions carefully and use your storage device to move settings to the Recovery Utility and fully reset your Chromebook while keeping as much of you data safe as possible.

Problem: Instead of loading web pages, I get weird error messages

Solution:

  • If Chrome cannot properly load a web page, it will give you an odd “aw snap!” error that means the web page tried to load but crashed instead. If this is happening all the time, then something is wrong with your operating system or your settings. One of the easiest and hopefully effective solutions is to start closing browser tabs and windows. If closing a few tabs finally allows you to open a new one, then you have reached beyond your Chromebook’s RAM limits and need to slow down.
  • Restart your Chromebook. Don’t worry, this doesn’t wipe settings like a reset. The easiest way is to simply to go to your status area, and choose the Power button (you can do this manually too if necessary). Then use the physical power button to turn your machine back on.
  • Once again, we must visit the problem of failing extensions, which may just not be cooperating properly with the web pages you are trying to visit. Head over to the main menu (with several horizontal lines), select More Tools, and go to Extensions. Uncheck all your extensions and see if this solves the problem. If it does, enable extensions again one at a time to find out where the troublemakers are, and delete them.

Problem: I tried updating Chrome OS, but got error messages afterward

Solution:

  • Start by checking your Internet connection. Ideally, you will have a strong Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. Don’t use your data connection for updates! It will run through your monthly data and often causes these error messages.
  • Restart your Chromebook. Simply press the power button to shut down (after making sure all your current work is finished), and then when the Chromebook is fully shut down, press the power button again to restart. This helps deal with some of the update errors.

Problem: I’m trying to download an important update, but it won’t work

Solution:

  • If you have tried to download the same update several times and it refuses to even start, then you need to try rebooting your Chromebook. The easiest way to do this is to simply restart by turning your Chromebook off with the power button and then turning it back on again.
  • If this doesn’t solve the problem, then you need to reset your Chromebook. This will wipe away your settings and hard drive, so make sure everything is saved to the cloud first. When you are ready, head over to your status area to access the Settings From here, choose Advanced Settings, and look for the section called Powerwash. Here, choose Reset, then choose Restart and enter your Google Account information. Note that you should only do this with a personal Chromebook, not a work or school version.
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