It’s a common misconception that Chromebooks aren’t capable of running powerful software found on PCs or Macs. If you’re an engineering student, you might need to run some fairly intensive applications on your laptop. Chromebooks are a great solution for students because they’re secure and cost-effective.

If you’re an engineering student using a Chromebook, you probably need to run MATLAB for some of your course assignments. Unlike Mac and PC, MATLAB doesn’t offer a native Chrome OS installation. Luckily, there are still a few easy ways to take advantage of MATLAB’s computing power on a Chromebook or other Chrome OS device. We’ll take a look at the online version of MATLAB, as well as demonstrate how to install a full version of MATLAB using Linux apps on your Chromebook.

Run MATLAB on a Chromebook using the browser

If you only need MATLAB for very basic tasks, like an introductory calculus or linear algebra course, your best bet is running MATLAB in the browser. MATLAB offers a robust online platform for cloud computing with a fair amount of power. To use MATLAB online you only need to sign into your university or organization Mathworks account and choose the online option. If you’re already signed in to your Mathworks account, you can access the online platform directly at matlab.mathworks.com.

Matlab online splash page

Matlab online splash page

The main downside to using MATLAB online is you must store files in the cloud server assigned to you by Mathworks. Using cloud storage is fairly natural on Chrome OS, but it’s a shame you can’t link your Google Drive or Dropbox to your MATLAB drive.

Matlab drive storage limits

Matlab drive storage limits

Storage for the MATLAB drive is limited to 5GB if you are using a current license from a university or professional organization. This is still quite limiting. I have well over 1 TB of data consisting of only code and output for my academic research on computational methods for partial differential equations.

Sometimes you need to store large matrices, which can eat up GBs very quickly. Plus, graphics also take up quite a bit of space. If you’re doing serious research in academia or industry you’ll likely need an alternative to running things in the cloud.

Matlab online in the browserMatlab online in the browser

Still, for students using MATLAB on assignments, this should get the job done. You can always choose to move files back in forth between MATLAB’s cloud storage and your own Google Drive or Dropbox folder. Obviously this isn’t ideal, but it can get the job done in a pinch. If you have an LTE Chromebook, make sure to turn off auto-sync for the MATLAB drive.

Run MATLAB on a Chromebook using Linux apps

For those that can’t make do with the online solution, there’s another convenient option. Modern Chromebooks now support Linux apps. With Linux support, you can install the Linux version of MATLAB. To attempt this, you need some basic familiarity with the Terminal.  Those needing a quick refresher on Linux on Chrome OS can check out my full guide to Linux apps on Chromebooks.

Should you choose to install MATLAB via Linux on your Chromebook, I highly recommend installing an older version of MATLAB. I’m running MATLAB 2016b on my ASUS Chromebook CX9 at the moment. Over the years, MATLAB has gotten a bit more bloated with features.

Select Matlab version onlineSelect Matlab version online

Older versions of MATLAB tend to run much smoother inside the Linux container on Chrome OS. In addition, some newer versions of MATLAB have some graphics acceleration incompatibility issues with certain Chromebooks.

You won’t lose much installing an older version of MATLAB on your Chromebook. The core feature set of MATLAB hasn’t changed for quite a few years. You will lose some fancy upgrades in graphics and toolboxes. However, for core scientific computing and testing, 2016b works fine for me. Let’s talk about how to actually install MATLAB on your Chromebook.

Download from Mathworks

The first step is to download your desired version of MATLAB from Mathworks. To do this, you will need your Mathworks login information associated to your university or company email address. Head to the Downloads section on Mathworks’ site and choose the version you wish to install. Again, I am using 2016b, but I think anything before 2019 would be okay on a Chromebook. Make sure you choose the Linux download and download the file to the Linux apps folder on your Chromebook.

Unzip the download

Next, you need to open a Terminal window to unzip the install package. If you haven’t enabled Linux apps yet, you’ll need to go read my tutorial and do that first. To unzip your file, type the command:

unzip matlab_R2016b_glna64.zip Unzip matlab install packageUnzip matlab install package

Here, replace ‘matlab_R2016b_glna64.zip’ with the name of your downloaded install package.This process will take a short time and you will see several file names scroll down the Terminal window. When the process completes you will see [email protected] on the command line again.

Launch MATLAB installer

We’re ready to launch the MATLAB installer. To do this, run the command:

xhost +

Followed by the command:

sudo ./install

Xhost and install commands for MatlabXhost and install commands for Matlab

This will launch the MATLAB install window outside of the Terminal window. You will now need to use your Mathworks account to login and verify the associated license to download and install MATLAB.

Choosing Matlab folder Choosing Matlab folder

The installer will ask which folder you wish to use for installation. I would recommend using the default folder suggested. You may receive a popup stating that you may not have enough space in the desired folder.

Matlab storage warning upon installMatlab storage warning upon install

As long as you verify that there is enough storage on your Chromebook, you can ignore this warning and click Yes.

Choose packages and finish installation

The final step for installation is to choose which packages you wish to install. If you only want basic MATLAB, you can uncheck all options and just select the first checkbox.

Matlab package list 2016bMatlab package list 2016b

If your university or organization pays for optional toolboxes, it’s probably worth downloading all of them. Toolboxes are incredibly expensive to obtain later if you want them, after leaving school for instance.

Matlab Linux install pageMatlab Linux install page

Installation will take quite awhile as the download size can be quite large. If you choose all toolboxes, you’re looking at a download size between 6-10 GB, depending on the version of MATLAB.

Matlab activation pageMatlab activation page

After the installation completes, MATLAB will verify your license by connecting to the Mathworks server. After verification, you can launch MATLAB from the command line with the simple command:

matlab

Matlab 2016b running on Chromebook with LinuxMatlab 2016b running on Chromebook with Linux

You’re all set, that’s the entire process for installing MATLAB on your Chromebook or other Chrome OS device. I was actually quite surprised how smoothly MATLAB runs in the Linux container on my Chromebook. It’s really a pretty nice experience. For those that don’t need the local installation, the online experience can be nice too if you don’t need to store too many files.

Let us know your experience with each method in the comments section below.