How to try out ChromeOS with Virtualbox before you buy a Chromebook

What exactly is a Chromebook and why should you care?

Chromebooks are Frankenstein like machines that are part laptop and part netbook.

If you’re on a  budget and need a full sized keyboard for productivity a Google Chromebook might be for you; however, if you prefer maximum mobility than a tablet might be a better option.  Netbooks are antiquated and no one takes them seriously any more; conversely, Chromebooks are rapidly gaining widespread acceptance and have a cheap entry point.

You can get started for at low as $279 or just walk into your local Best Buy retail store to give it a test drive.

Or… you can pull off a little trick I’m going to show you that will both save you $279 and a trip to the store.

Using Virtualbox, you can download and run ChromeOS on your Windows computer and evaluate the Chrome operating system for free.  This is a great way to test the OS before you commit to a purchase and you can do it all from the comfort of your living room.

Setup is a breeze.

Let’s kick off this first day of 2014 on the right foot with some virtualization baby.

1. It’s time to get virtual

The first thing we need to do is download the latest Virtualbox binary.  The Windows download is about 100MB and took about a minute to download; it could take longer depending on your network connection though.

When the download finishes, click through the installer and keep all the default settings.

VirtualBox 4.3.6 Setup

Four or five clicks through the wizard you’ll see a conspicuous warning about Network Interfaces.

VirtualBox is just telling you that it’s going to temporarily kick you off the internet while it configures the virtual adapters.  So if you have any downloads going on you might want to give them a quick pause.

VirtualBox Network Interfaces

The installation should complete in about a minute and then automatically launch the program when you click Finish.

VirtualBox 4.3.6 Finished

2. Grab ChromeOS

A few audacious developers have built their own versions of the ChromeOS binary using the Chromium OS Developer guide.  These community built binaries are almost identical to the official Google ChromeOS releases running on Chromebooks so you’ll get a close approximation to the real thing.

Today, we’re going to use a reliable build from Hexxeh.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page then click the latest VirtualBox build version.  I’m going to snag build #4028.

Build 4028 from Hexxeh

After you accede to the developers disclaimer, check the I have read the above box then wait a few minutes for the download to drop.

You're about to download Chromium OS

Extract the contents of the folder…

Extract Chromium OS

Flip back over to VirtualBox and click the blue New button.  We’re ready to setup the virtual machine now.

Name the virtual machine, set the type to Linux and then pick the Other Linux version.

Chrome OS is built off the Linux kernel so even though you won’t find ChromeOS in the version list, “Other Linux” works perfectly.

Virtualbox install Chrome OS

ChromeOS can run in a variety of hardware configurations; however, I find that 256MB is a little too wimpy.

I bumped mine to about 2GB.  Since my host machine has 8GB of memory, 2GB won’t bog me down.

You can set yours to any value; however, I recommend using a multiple of 2 and setting the maximum amount to  to 25% of your physical RAM.

ChromeOS RAM

Now we need to show VirtualBox where the Chrome Operating System lives on your computer.

Choose Use an existing virtual hard drive file and browse to the .VDI file you extracted earlier.

Create Virtual Machine Harddrive

Great, now you can create the virtual hard drive.  We’re almost done there’s just a few more things we need to do in order to make this work.

First, we need to configure the ChromeOS network adapter so you can surf the web.

Right click the ChromeOS image you just created and choose Settings.

Chrome OS Settings

Pick Network in the left pane then on the right side, click the little blue arrow next to Advanced.

VirtualBox Network Adapter Settings

Set the Adapter Type to Intel PRO/1000 MT Desktop (82540EM) then click OK to save the change.

Chrome OS VirtualBox Adapter Type

Back on the main VirtualBox screen, let’s double click the Chrome OS image to fire it up.

After the OS boots, you may notice that the mouse doesn’t work.  Fortunately, we can easily fix this by selecting Disable Mouse Integration from the Machine menu.

Usually pressing the right Ctrl key (known as the Host button) toggles mouse integration off and on.  Enabling mouse integration will liberate your cursor from the virtual environment allowing you to use it on your Host machine (your physical PC).

ChromeOS Mouse Integration in VirtualBox

Now you can sign into ChromeOS with your Google account and start having fun.

Log into ChromeOS

And that’s all there is too it.

You just setup the full version of ChromeOS running on your Windows computer.

Feel free to explore the app store, download wallpapers and get a general feel for how it works.

Happy New Year!

ChromeOS running in VirtualBox

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  • bish s

    Great tutorial. One question, though. The build on Hexxeh’s site seems to be almost a year old. Does this mean that we do not get to enjoy the latest chrome OS releases?

    • Good question, I tweeted your question to Hexxeh, hopefully he responds!

      • He hasn’t even posted on his own blog in a year. I’d say his stuff is dead in the water.

    • Yes.

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  • James LaBarre

    I’m gathering from the 32-bit version’s need of PAE in the VM, taht I won’t be able to repurpose my old ThinkPads (T23 or T41) as chromebooks.

    • Hmm, James… I’m curious what would happen if you booted your T41 from the Chromium USB image and then pressed Ctrl + Alt + t to open the Chromium command prompt and typed: “install” with password “facepunch”. Of course this will nuke all the files on your computer but I’m wondering if it would work for you.

      • James LaBarre

        Looks like I’d have to dig out the T23 if I wanted to experiment; the T41 has a bad video chip (half-screen only with the LCD *and* the VGA port). Guess I’ll stick with trying it in VirtualBox for now. I mainly want to see if a Chromebok can be used as an X-terminal (testing the concept out before actually buying an actual CB).

  • Telamon Bryant

    Don’t forget to enable the PAX feature in the system section before starting the virtual machine for the first time.

  • polocanada

    Also you need to choose 64bit, not 32bit Linux (other) otherwise you get Kernel error.

  • Mark DeVaughan

    I recently downloaded the newest version, (which is the same one you are using) and when i booted it, it gave me a black screen. any ideas as to why?

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