Nothing’s perfect, right?
Technology breaks all the time. Sometimes we break it, sometimes people break it for us. But the fact is, that it’d be great to have a reset button.
Google’s Chrome OS is no different really.
Having a Chromebook means you don’t have to update the software or do silly Windows things like virus scans. Chrome OS does all of that for us.
But Google knows “stuff happens.”
So just to be safe, Google has included a Chromebook recovery tool in the OS for just that reason. This also works on Chromeboxes and Chromebases, but, honestly, that’s just too much to type out every time, so I’ll just keep it simple and say “Chromebooks”, OK?
What is the Chrome OS Recovery Utility?
The Chrome OS Recovery Utility is the same idea as those old restore disks that we used to get with our PC’s, or the partitions on the hard drive on the later models. It clears and restores your Chrome device back to its original factory settings.
This means that all the local data in the hard drive and the Google Accounts including the owners will be cleared away. Note: this doesn’t mean that your accounts are deleted or that any data you’ve stored in your account is deleted. That’s why we save stuff to the Cloud – so this kind of thing doesn’t mean all your stuff is toast.
There are a few reasons why you’d want to restore your Chromebook.
The most common one is when you see a screen like this one: “Chrome OS is missing or damaged.” Ouch…
You could also restore it without seeing this screen, but using Powerwash is usually a better (and non-nuclear) option in that case.
So when would you use Powerwash and when would you use the Restore Utility? I’m glad you asked.
“Powerwash is primarily useful for clearing corrupted user data. That doesn’t happen often by any means, but it isn’t unheard of either. The primary usage for non-savvy folks is to wipe the device before selling it.
Chrome OS’s system recovery feature dates back years. It’s a critical part of the Chrome OS ideology, and at the core it introduces the ability to erase everything your computer knows and re-install from a flash drive. In English, this will erase everything, even core files, and restore you back to a “known good” copy of Chrome OS.”
It’s worth noting that at the time he wrote that article, the only way to change channels from, say Dev to Stable, was to do a full Restore using the Chrome OS restore tool. Google has since changed that to let you change channels using Powerwash as well. If you’re not sure what I mean by “changing channels”, don’t worry, there’ll be a detailed ChromeTips article on that coming soon.
What you’ll need to get started:
Whatever the reason might be, all you’ll need to create the restore media is an SD Card or USB flash drive of at least 4GB size to accommodate the ChromeOS recovery image. If you really want to, you can also use an external hard drive, but that’s just overkill. Remember, whatever information you have on that media will be erased – all of it.
I tested the process using both a standard Kingston SD card (not a high speed version) and a vanity USB flash drive in the shape of a MINI Cooper. (Don’t judge me. You know it’s cool). The USB flash drive was about twice as fast as the SD card, so you might want to take that into account if you’re the type that hates waiting.
You’ll also need to make sure your Chromebook is plugged into a power source during the entire recovery process.
How to create Chromebook recovery media
There are two ways in which you can create recovery media. The easiest way is from your Chromebook itself. This is because the recovery tool can automatically detect and download the correct image for that Chrome device.
The other method is to use the PC\Mac Recovery app. The process is almost identical, but you’ll have to select the correct recovery image manually. Don’t worry, there are drop-down boxes and images to help you with this part.
For the PC version use the following link:
For Mac’s, click the following link:
For Linux, the process is process is a little more in-depth.
- Download the Recover Tool from this link: https://dl.google.com/dl/edgedl/chromeos/recovery/linux_recovery.sh
- Change the script permissions to allow execution with the following command: $ sudo chmod 755 linux_recovery.sh
- Run the script with root privileges with the following command:$ sudo bash linux_recovery.sh
- Follow the instructions on the screen.
Once you’ve got the app downloaded and running, the process is almost identical across platforms. Where it’s different, I’ll point it out below.
I won’t go over specific instructions for creating recovery media using Linux or a Mac because I don’t have access to those computers. Still, the process should be identical to the Windows instructions listed below. When all else fails, check out the official set of instructions that coincides with your computer from your Chrome OS Help in ‘Recover your Chrome device’.
Step 1: Find your Chromebook model name
Because there are many different Chromebooks and Chromeboxes out there, it’s important to choose the right image for your device. Note: if you have any doubts about whether the number you’re typing in is the actual model number, just use the drop-down boxes. That’s why they’re there.
If you’re being proactive and getting this media ready just in case you have an issue later (kudos to you, btw), then you can got to the omnibox (the address bar in Chrome) and pull up your “About System page. Type in ‘chrome://system’, then press ‘Enter’. Scroll down to the hardware_class entry to view the model name of your Chromebook.
Step 2: Create ChromeOS recovery media
After you have your model number handy, you can open the Recovery app that you just downloaded (if you’re on PC\Mac\Linux) or that’s already in your Chrome App Launcher.
We’ll go over the Windows PC version of this screen first. You’ll be able to enter in your model name that you looked up in the previous step. Or, if you skipped that step, you can select your model from the drop down list, as shown in the bottom image.
When asked, enter the Chromebook model name then click on “Continue“.
The Chrome App version looks similar, except that there’s an extra option listed. Choosing “What’s this Chromebook’s model number?” will automatically detect your Chromebook’s model and enter it in the box for you.
This takes away what little guesswork there was with this process. All this assumes though, that you’re running the app on the same Chromebook you want to create restore media for. If not, or if you choose not to go that route, you can still choose the model number from the drop-down box, the same as before.
From this point on both the Windows PC version and the Chrome OS app will look the same.
Once you see the “Insert your USB flash drive or SD card” screen, insert the USB flash drive or SD memory card. If an AutoPlay window opens, close it. Then click “Continue” to move to the next step.
The app will verify your choices and will give you one final chance to back out before you erase the media and create your Chromebook recovery image. Once you’re absolutely positively sure you want to go ahead, click “Create Now.”
The recovery process will take a few minutes while the process of downloading, writing, and verifying the recovery image completes. Once you get the “Success!” screen, you’re finished.
Exit the app and put the Chromebook recovery media someplace safe.
Previous Recovery Tool Note: You might come across some references to the Chrome Imageburner tool. The Imageburner was the older version of the Chromebook recovery tool. You can still get to it by typing ‘chrome://imageburner’ in the address bar (omnibox) and then pressing ‘Enter.’
The Imageburner recovery tool is still around for right now, but it will soon be as out-of-style as a Pontiac Aztek. So if you’ve got the choice, I’d strongly recommend using the new Recovery Utility instead.
Step 3: Reinstall Chrome OS
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for: re-installing the OS.
Normally Chromebooks will tell you when it there’s a major problem at start-up by displaying the “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message. Inserting the Chromebook recovery media will automatically start the recovery process. The entire process should only take a few minutes to complete, depending on the speed of the media.
If the “Chrome OS is missing or damaged” message is not displayed on your Chromebook, you’ll have to trigger it manually by doing the following; turn on the Chromebook, hold down the Esc + Reload (F3) keys then press the Power button. The Chromebook will restart and go straight into the system recovery process.
Possible Chrome OS Recovery Errors
If you run into an error in the Chromebook recovery process, here are some tips to help you get around them.
- Try using a different flash media. Even though I was able to create media using a cheap USB flash drive, that’s not always the case. If you’ve got a well known brand (Kingston, PNY, etc.), then you should be good. SanDisk has been known to have issues with the Chromebook Recovery tool, however.
- If you’ve got a larger flash drive\SD card, use that. If there are any bad sectors in the media itself, then the extra space will give the app enough room to work around the errors.
- If you’re on Windows and get an error during the recovery creation process, disable your anti-virus. Even some of the best virus protection programs can’t identify what you’re downloading and quarantine the image, just to be safe.
- If your device has USB 2.0 ports, you may want to try those instead of the faster USB 3.0 ports. The process may take longer, but USB 2.0 has been out for years. Time tested, Chrome approved.
- If you receive a message saying “An unexpected error has occurred during recovery”, you can hit “tab” to find out more information about the error.
- You always have the option to talk with an expert at the Chromebook Help Center. You can get to them via Live Chat using this link: https://support.google.com/chromebook/?rd=1&hl=en#topic=3399709&contact=1
Step 4: Set up your Chromebook after the recovery process
After the recovery finishes, you’ll need to set-up your Chromebook again. This is exactly the same as when you first took it out of the box. I’ll assume that you’ve done this part before, right?
Step 5: Lather, rise, repeat: Create new Chromebook recovery media
Personally, I always like to have an updated recovery media on hand. Over the years I’ve had issues with recovery media becoming out of date or the media itself becoming damaged. So, I’ve made it part of my recovery process to immediately create a new set of media.
That’s it. Honestly, the entire process shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes from the time that you download the ChromeOS recovery tool, create the image and restore your Chromebook.
If you’ve got any questions, comments or any tips or tricks, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.