Unlike cars and home appliances, which you can potentially keep for decades, computers are really only meant to last four years or so. You can keep using them for longer, of course, but you’ll probably end up making some repairs along the way.
You’ll also need to make some upgrades to fight the inevitable slowdown and keep up with the latest operating systems and programs.
There is a point, however, when it will just be more cost-effective to get a new system. In the past, we’ve talked about when you should upgrade vs. replace a computer, but now there’s one more thing you can try to liven up an old computer first.
That one thing is to install a non-Windows operating system. It can keep an older computer going, or turn an old machine into a useful second computer.
Generally, we recommend Linux for this because it’s free, secure and there are versions that run much better on old hardware than Windows.
However, even the consumer-friendly versions of Linux are getting to be a bit much for older hardware to handle, and there is a learning curve for new users. Fortunately, there’s a new alternative to Windows that might be just what you need.
You’ve heard us talk about Chromebooks before. These are sub-$250 laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS, which is an operating system version of Google’s popular Chrome browser. The video below can give you an overview of how it works.
The nice thing about Chrome OS is that it’s very lightweight, secure and easy to use. It runs web apps from the cloud and stores your files online so you can access them anywhere on any gadget. Plus it can do the things any other operating system can do like video chat, play music, print documents and play games.
In the past, to get Chrome OS you’d need to shell out a few hundred for a Chromebook. That isn’t the case anymore.
A company called Neverware has an operating system called CloudReady, which is a version of Chrome OS that works on a wide range of laptops and desktops, including Apple hardware. The best part for you is that it’s free for home use (there’s also a paid educational version that’s great for school environments).
Installing a new operating system on a computer is always a little tricky, but Neverware has extensive step-by-step directions. It has also tested CloudReady on each of its “certified hardware models” so it knows what features do and don’t work correctly.
You can check the list of certified hardware models to see if your laptop or desktop qualifies and how well CloudReady will work. Even if your model isn’t on the list, you can install the OS anyway and see what happens. Many people have found it works just fine.
In general, CloudReady runs on laptops and desktops made in 2007 or newer, and Netbooks from 2009 and on. It needs at least 1GB of RAM to run smoothly, but because it relies a lot on cloud storage and web apps, it only needs 8GB of storage space.
On some computers, you can dual-boot CloudReady and Windows if you don’t want to give up Windows entirely. As always, be sure your information is backed up in case something goes wrong during the installation.
Speaking of which, if you’re installing CloudReady on your main computer, you can move your files to Google Drive, your photos to Google Photos and upload your music to Google Music and they’ll all be there when you install and sign in to CloudReady.