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 in a second — but for those looking to casually game or nab some Windows-only software, it might be just the trick.
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 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 Google Drive.
There’s also a catch, in that only a subset of Chromebooks are actually capable of running Windows. The process below will work for the Acer C720P, and should work for Google’s own Pixel laptop. There’s a very helpful page over on coolstar.org that provides drivers and installation assistance for your specific make and model of Chromebook. Even if you’re using one of the aforementioned machines, it’s a good idea to check there for updated drivers and compatibility issues, which may vary based on the CPU.
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 in most cases, so your keyboard, trackpad, and touchscreen won’t work when you’re using it — well, at least until you install drivers from the site listed above. 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 a mouse after you’re into the main OS. It isn’t a supported operating system, so expect some random issues, such as the system shutting down instead of sleeping, and various control issues.
What you need
There are a few things you should make sure you have around before you get started.
- A Chromebook with compatible hardware (we confirmed this works on an Acer C720P but your mileage may vary)
- Power cable (which should plugged in throughout the entire process)
- USB drive of at least 4 GB (this will be erased, so back up any data first)
Create a bootable USB drive
Since Chromebooks don’t have an optical drive, so we’ll start by creating a bootable USB drive with Windows on it. You will have to do this on a Windows computers, because the install media won’t open on a Chromebook.
Windows 8 has been shown to work pretty well on these systems, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you could always try Windows 10. Download the app from the Windows help page and run it to begin. Also, keep in mind that you’ll still need a Windows 8 product key to get through the installation.
Make sure to select your desired language, and 64-bit as the architecture of choice.
It’s going to download a few gigabytes of data, so go ahead and grab a cup of coffee while you wait for it to finish.
The software is easy to use, and will download and load the OS installer to your 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 done, shut down your 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 here, 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.
Your Chromebook will then restart and spend the next few minutes configuring itself. Now every time you turn your system on, it will show the developer mode warning, which you bypass by pressing “CTRL” and “D.”
Enable legacy BIOS
Once you’ve enabled developer mode and booted back into Chrome OS, you’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 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 various 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, you’re in the home stretch. Take the USB drive with Windows on it that we made earlier, plug it into your Chromebook, and restart your system.
When you turn the laptop back on, you’ll be faced with the same developer mode warning 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. Here, you’ll see as many options here as you have storage devices attached to your computer. Simply press the button that corresponds to your 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.
Sadly, there isn’t quite enough space to install both 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 all 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 see 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. Afterward, walk through the installation process as you normally would, 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 don’t, your Chromebook will automatically try to launch Chrome OS, and fail to do so because it has been erased.
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 the settings you already have.
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 Xbox 360 controllers, if you want to get your game on. Sadly, 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.