Common Chromebook problems and how to fix them

Chromebooks are a great, budget-friendly laptop option, but they aren’t perfect. Any laptop computer is bound to have issues, and some of the most common problems faced by Chromebook users can feel difficult or even impossible to solve on your own. 

From issues with updates to internet connectivity, troubleshooting common Chromebook problem doesn’t have to ruin your day. Read on to find out easy fixes to the most frequent issues Chromebook users face.

System-wide issues

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Your Chromebook runs really slow

If your Chromebook feels sluggish, your best bet is to just restart and see if the performance issue clears. To do that, press and hold the Power button and select Power Off in the pop-up window. Press the Power button again to turn the Chromebook back on.

If that doesn’t work, check for a system update — something may have gone awry that Google needed to fix on the software side. In most instances, a Chromebook should automatically check for updates and install the latest when it’s connected to a wireless network. It will then ask you to restart to complete the update.

However, you can manually check by performing the following:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Click the Gear icon located on the pop-up menu. This takes you to Settings.

Step 3: Click About Chrome OS listed on the left.

Step 4: Click the Check for Updates button. This checks for the latest version and installs the update if available.

Step 5: If your Chromebook updated, click the Restart button to complete.

Your Chromebook keeps restarting

This is a serious error that indicates a problem with the operating system (OS). If this happens, you need to perform a full recovery, which attempts to save as much data as possible.

To recover, you need the Chromebook, a separate computer with access to the Chrome browser, and a portable SD or USB drive with 4GB of space or more for saving data.

Step 1:  Install and launch the Chromebook Recovery Utility extension in Chrome on a separate computer.

Step 2: Click the Get Started button in the pop-up window.

Step 3: Enter your Chromebook’s model number and click Continue.

Step 4: Select the recovery media type and click Continue.

Step 5: Click the Create Now button.

Use your storage device to move settings to the Recovery Utility. Fully reset your Chromebook while keeping as much of your data as safe as possible.

To use your flash drive or card again, you will need to head back into the Recovery Utility app and do the following:

Step 1: Click the Gear icon located along the top.

Step 2: Select the Erase Recovery Media option listed on the drop-down menu.

Step 3: Click the arrows next to Select and choose your storage device.

Step 4: Click Continue.

Step 5: Verify the data you’re erasing is correct and click Erase Now.

Google’s app will clear out the storage so you can use it for other purposes.

I see a “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message

This error pops up after booting the machine. Since it stops you from accessing the OS in any way, resetting the Chromebook becomes difficult. You need to insert a recovery disk or SD card as instructed. Then, go back to the previous “Your Chromebook keeps restarting” section to create the recovery media.

I tried updating my Chromebook but received an error

To resolve this, start by checking your internet connection. Ideally, you want a strong Wi-Fi connection or an Ethernet connection. Don’t use your data connection for updates, as it uses your monthly allotment and often causes these error messages.

You can also restart your Chromebook to help resolve connection issues:

Step 1: Press and hold the Power button.

Step 2: The screen dims, and a pop-up appears. Click the Power Off button.

Step 3: Press your Chromebook’s Power button to restart.

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

If you attempt to download the same update several times, try rebooting your Chromebook:

Step 1: Press and hold the Power button.

Step 2: The screen dims, and a pop-up appears. Click the Power Off button.

Step 3: Press your Chromebook’s Power button to restart.

In the event that a restart doesn’t work, you should sign out of your account and reset your Chromebook. This will wipe away your settings and hard drive, so make sure everything is saved to the cloud before you begin.

Step 1: Sign out of your account.

Step 2: Press and hold Ctrl + Alt + Shift + R.

Step 3: Select Restart.

Step 4: Select Powerwash, followed by Continue.

I can’t sign in to my Chromebook without getting errors

There are many different error messages you can get when signing into a Chromebook. Rather than going through each of them, we suggest you use Google’s handy walkthrough for dealing with these errors one at a time.

Generally, we advise that you double-check your password, username, and Google account to make sure all are up to date and functioning as expected. The problem is usually one of these three.

Your Chromebook screen went blank

Here are three things you can do:

Start with the basics

Did your battery just die? Did your Chromebook unexpectedly crash, and it needs to be turned on again? Did you accidentally lower the screen brightness all the way down? These are all easy fixes that could clear up the issue.

Reset your Chromebook

If it looks like you’re having a hardware problem, do the following:

Step 1: Force your Chromebook to shut down.

Step 2: Press and hold both the Refresh + Power buttons.

Step 3: When your Chromebook starts up again, stop pressing the Refresh button.

This performs a hardware reset that can fix your screen. However, this process can vary based on your Chromebook, as some models may have a special Reset button or tell you to remove the battery.

Get it serviced

If none of this resolves your issue and you can tell your Chromebook is still working by noise and indicator lights, then it’s time to check your warranty and send your Chromebook in for service.

Your microphone suddenly stops working

This is a problem when your speakers are working fine, but no one can hear you speak — or all they hear is static — during conference calls and other situations.

This is a growing problem in 2020, and it appears to be related to a Chrome bug that affects how the hardware interacts with popular web-conferencing apps. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix at this time. Try resetting your Chromebook and make sure that Chrome OS is fully updated.

You may also have better luck switching your meetings to Google Meet.

Your Chromebook won’t charge or turn on

This may be a battery issue, but you also can’t rule out the Chromebook’s connection to a power outlet.

Give it time to charge

If the Chromebook was completely dead, you just plugged it in, and now it won’t turn on, don’t panic. It may remain unavailable for a while. Give it a good 30 minutes before attempting to boot the device again.

Charge on a different circuit

If it’s not charging while connected to a power outlet, try another nearby outlet and see if that resolves the issue. If not, take it to another room far, far away to try a different outlet. If it suddenly starts charging, there may be too much electrical noise on a specific circuit. Try unplugging appliances on the troublesome circuit to see if they were causing issues with the Chromebook’s charger.

Check the charger

Is it damaged? Can you see the internal wires? Are the USB connector or the charger prongs bent? If so, a new power adapter is in order.

Perform a hard reset

Use this method before moving on to the next option, which requires removing the battery.

Step 1: Turn the Chromebook off.

Step 2: Press and hold the Refresh button and then tap the Power button.

Step 3: Once the Chromebook boots, release the Refresh button.

Remove the battery

This method is only available for specific models listed here.

Step 1: Unplug the power adapter.

Step 2: Remove the battery.

Step 3: Press the Power button for 30 seconds. This supposedly discharges anything still lurking on the motherboard.

Step 4: Replace the battery, plug in the power adapter, and wait 30 minutes.

Browser issues

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My open browser tabs keep reloading and making everything slow

Chrome occasionally runs into a problem where it keeps reloading browser tabs, slowing down everything else. The sluggish performance stems from low system memory amounts typically installed in Chromebooks, along with Chrome’s heavy memory load. This leaves little else for other programs and apps. Try shutting down any browser tabs that you don’t need to see if performance increases.

If you’re still having issues, you can disable memory-hogging tabs and other apps and programs using the Task Manager:

Step 1: Press the Search + Esc buttons (formerly Shift + Esc). This opens Task Manager.

Step 2: Select any app or program on the list — especially those you don’t recognize — that’s consuming loads of memory. Click the End Process button.

Do not shut down any entries with the “system” label, however, as they’re part of the OS.

My Chromebook frequently crashes for no reason

When browsing the web and your Chromebook crashes for no reason, your best solution is to turn off your Chromebook. Let it remain off for a moment (this clears the memory) and then restart.

If that fails, a web page you frequent could be the problem. Extensions or apps can also cause crashes, requiring their removal. Here’s how to remove a Chromebook app:

Step 1: Click the Launcher button located in the bottom-left corner.

Step 2: Click the Up Arrow icon to expand your app tray.

Step 3: Right-click on the app you think is problematic and select Uninstall (or Remove from Chrome) on the pop-up menu.

Here’s how to remove an extension:

Step 1: Open the Chrome browser.

Step 2: Click the three-dot More icon located in the top-right corner.

Step 3: Select the More Tools option on the drop-down list.

Step 4: Select Extensions on the roll-out menu.

Step 5: Click the Remove button on each extension card that you want to delete. If you merely want to temporarily disable the extension, click the Toggle instead. Blue is “on” and gray is “off.”

Instead of loading web pages, I get weird error messages

If Chrome cannot properly load a web page, it presents an odd, “Aw snap!” error. If you continuously encounter this error, something is wrong with your OS or settings. One of the easiest and most effective solutions is to close unnecessary browser tabs and windows.

If closing a few tabs finally allow you to open a new one, then system memory is your issue. Chromebooks typically have low memory capacities due to their web-based roots. Moreover, Chrome tabs can consume that finite space. Put the two together, and you’re forced to regulate tab use.

Failing extensions can also be a problem. To solve that, follow these steps to disable or remove them:

Step 1: Open the Chrome browser.

Step 2: Click the three-dot More icon located in the top-right corner.

Step 3: Select the More Tools option on the drop-down list.

Step 4: Select Extensions on the roll-out menu.

Step 5: Click the Remove button on each extension card that you want to delete. If you merely want to temporarily disable the extension, click the Toggle instead. Blue is “on” and gray is “off.”

In the event that all else fails, check your internet connection, clear your browser cache, or try opening a web page in an incognito window.

Chrome keeps telling me, “This web page is not available”

Assuming you have the web address right, this error is often caused by cookie or proxy issues. On the cookie front, it’s probably time to delete them all. Be sure to save your online passwords before deleting data:

Step 1: Open Chrome and click the three-dot More button located in the top-right corner.

Step 2: Highlight the More Tools option on the drop-down list.

Step 3: Select Clear Browsing Data on the following roll-out menu. Alternatively, press the Ctrl + Shift + Backspace buttons to reach this setting.

Step 4: A pop-up window appears on your screen. The Basic tab provides three options, while Advanced extends the list to five. Select the data you want to delete and click the Clear Data button.

The problem could also be your proxy settings (sometimes indicated by a message about proxy issues). You can change proxy settings, but only if you know what you’re doing:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Click the Gear icon located on the pop-up menu. This takes you to Settings.

Step 3: Under Network, click on your current connection.

Step 4: Click on it again on the following page.

Step 5: Click to expand the Proxy setting.

Step 6: Toggle on (blue) the Allow Proxies for Shared Networks setting.

If you are using a guest profile on a Chromebook, this will probably solve your problem. However, you must input the correct proxy settings as prompted after checking the box.

I can’t use my Word docs on my Chromebook

If you recently switched to a Chromebook and you are having trouble accessing your old documents, there are several workarounds. Google’s first suggestion is, naturally, to use Google Docs. This can solve your problem, and Google Docs can view many Word files, but it isn’t always practical due to tools, formatting, compatibility, and so on.

The best option — if your Chromebook allows it — is to download the Microsoft Word Android app from Google Play. This app functions just as it does on Android, so you should feel right at home.

Another option is moving to Word Online. This is a specific, well-reviewed Chrome extension specializing in making it possible to use Office features on your Chromebook and with various applications. If you have online Office capabilities, this web-based solution is ideal.

Zoom doesn’t work on my Chromebook

Here are a few suggestions if you can’t get Zoom to work:

Make sure the Zoom app is updated

Zoom releases Chrome OS updates that regularly address bugs and may fix the problem that you’re having.

Check Family Link settings

Sometimes Google’s Family Link parental control options can interfere with Zoom meetings, which may cause problems with students trying to use Zoom for classes. The easiest short-term solution is to switch to a parent account for the Zoom video.

However, for repeat Zoom sessions, there is something else you can try: Download the Zoom app, and have the student manually enter the Zoom Room number to join a session instead of clicking on the invite link. Manually entering the Room number tends to bypass Family Link’s issues with the process.

Note that some features may still be limited on Zoom because of some inherent compatibility issues with Chrome OS. You may not be able to record video directly in Zoom, for example.

Connection issues

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I can’t connect to a strong Wi-Fi network

Check the System Clock to make sure that the Wi-Fi icon is full. If it appears empty (hollow), your Wi-Fi is switched off. Here’s the fix:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Click the Wi-Fi icon again in the pop-up menu.

Step 3: The Wi-Fi toggle should turn blue as your Chromebook connects to the local network. You’ll also see a list of available networks.

Old wireless networks may not work with your Chromebook. This is unusual, but if your router is several years old, you may want to try a different network to see if you get a better connection. If it does, it’s time for a router upgrade.

When in doubt, you can also restart your Chromebook. Here’s how:

Step 1: Press and hold the Power button.

Step 2: The screen dims, and a pop-up appears. Click the Power Off button.

Step 3: Press your Chromebook’s Power button to restart.

Check your wireless connection to see if the reboot worked.

I can’t connect to a second screen

If you’re having issues with a secondary screen, here’s how to check the settings:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Click the Gear icon located on the pop-up menu. This opens Settings.

Step 3: Select Connected Devices on the left.

Step 4: Click the Displays option listed under Device.

Here, you’ll see several 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.

If you’re using a USB-based dock to connect an external display, disconnect the dock, wait a few moments, and then reconnect. If you’re still having issues, check to see if Chrome OS needs an update.

I can’t hear anything on my Chromebook

First, check for any obvious but sometimes unnoticed issues, like headphones you need to disconnect before playing sound through the speakers. If you are using an audio device like external speakers, make sure they’re working properly.

If the problem seems to be on the Chromebook, do the following:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Adjust the Volume Slider displayed on the pop-up menu. Make sure the volume is turned up high enough to hear.

You can also try to change the sound input or output:

Step 1: Click the System Clock located in the bottom-right corner.

Step 2: Click the Arrow icon displayed next to the Volume Slider on the pop-up menu.

Step 3: On the following pop-up menu, make sure you have the correct audio device set as your output.

If that does not work, you’ll need to reset your Chromebook following the steps outlined above.

Bluetooth isn’t connecting

First, keep in mind that not all Chromebooks include Bluetooth, so check the product specifications. If available, the icon appears on the pop-up menu when you click the System Clock. A blue icon means the Bluetooth component is enabled, while a gray icon shows it’s disabled. Click the Gray Bluetooth icon if it’s disabled.

If you’re having Bluetooth connection issues, turning the feature off and on will reset the connections. Just make sure all Bluetooth codes are still accurate and the devices are properly paired. Also, never forget your physical space. Objects and distance can initiate connectivity issues. Sometimes a quick refresh (in close proximity) can set things right without too much frustration.

I can’t get my printer to work with my Chromebook

This may be your barrier to success: You need Google Cloud Print to successfully print. It’s likely not a problem with your Chromebook. Rather, cloud-ready printers are often hit or miss, so your existing printer may be the issue. Buying a cloud-ready printer offers the best results, but read the fine print to ensure you’re getting what you expect.

If you are stuck using an old, less-compatible printer, Google does have a somewhat awkward workaround. If you sign into the same Google account on another computer (not a Chromebook), you can create a wireless connection with Google Cloud Print. Then, you can use your Chromebook (with the same Google account) to print. With this method, you’re sending an image or document through the cloud. It’s not ideal, but it allows you to reach the printer via the cloud instead of connecting directly.

The challenge with this clunky workaround is that you need a secondary device that’s not a Chromebook. For someone without a backup PC, it will be time to upgrade to a printer compatible with your new setup.

Seek Google’s knowledge

Hopefully, this guide helped you resolve your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, audio, and other Chromebook woes. If our assistance isn’t enough, check out Google’s help page. The site features helpful videos and guides for solving other Chromebook problems not mentioned here.

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