Chromebook vs. Windows Laptop: What's the Difference?

Chromebooks are cheap but are they any good?

When you compare all of the features and capabilities of a Chromebook vs Windows laptops, you may find that a Chromebook does everything you need at half the price of a Windows computer. For others who use a lot of installed apps, like Photoshop, or peripherals with Windows drivers, a Windows machine is the better choice.

Chromebook vs Windows Laptop
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Overall Findings

Chromebook
  • Must use cloud based apps.

  • Almost unusable without internet.

  • Limited support for USB peripherals.

  • Price far less than Windows laptops.

Windows Laptop
  • Use cloud based and installed apps.

  • Stay productive both online and offline.

  • Supports any device with Windows drivers.

  • Much more expensive.

A Chromebook is a viable option for a large portion of people who use laptops. This is true if you're a user who mostly uses internet-based services like email or Google services, and doesn't depend much on installed apps.

However, if you're a gamer with a large library of installed games, or much of your productivity is based on applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe Premiere, or Photoshop, you're going to find yourself severely limited when using a Chromebook.

But due to the significant difference in price, the Chromebook remains a viable option for people who would like to have a computer but don't have enough money to invest in a traditional computer.

Internet Use: Chromebooks Are Fully Capable

Chromebook
  • Access to all web based apps.

  • Include high-end Wi-Fi adapters.

  • No wired Ethernet adapters.

  • Internet connection required (mostly).

Windows Laptop
  • Still useful without internet.

  • Various Wi-Fi adapter options.

  • Typically include Ethernet port.

  • Supports installed apps.

Since Chromebooks depend on internet connectivity, you'll typically find the best Wi-Fi installed on these devices. However, there's no built-in Ethernet port if you ever want to plug directly into your internet router.

With that said, ChromeOS does support USB Ethernet adapters, but you'll need to purchase the adapter separately.

If you lose your internet connection, a Windows laptop remains usable thanks to the locally installed applications. You can continue writing a Microsoft Word doc without any internet connection. With Chromebook, you won't be able to access that Google Doc file stored on your Google Drive account.

With that said, Google and other cloud services have improved offline capabilities that let you continue working on documents offline, but you need to enable those services and ensure sync is enabled with your Chromebook's local drive or SSD card.

Using Software: Windows Laptops Are a Must

Chromebook
  • Installed "apps" are all web-based.

  • Can't install any local applications.

  • Chrome is the only available browser.

Windows Laptop
  • Access to both web apps and local apps.

  • Runs any browser you prefer.

  • Can handle processor-intensive tasks.

The single biggest difference between Chromebook vs Windows laptops is the fact that you can't locally install software on a Chromebook.

For example, if you have a Photoshop license and use it often to do photo editing, Chromebooks just aren't an option when you replace your Windows laptop. High-end Windows laptops also have the processing power for things like video editing that Chromebooks just can't come close to matching.

Also, ChromeOS is built upon the Chrome browser itself, so if you prefer Firefox or Edge you're going to be disappointed with a Chromebook.

With all that said, there are workarounds for Chromebook users. For example, you can install Linux on a Chromebook, which gives you access to full-featured apps like Gimp and other Linux applications. However, doing so voids your warranty and stops ChromeOS security updates so it isn't recommended for novice users.

Using Peripherals: Chromebooks Only Offer Limited Options

Chromebook
  • Supports basic USB peripherals.

  • No direct printer support.

  • No support for new device drivers.

Windows Laptop
  • Supports any USB device with drivers.

  • Print directly to printers on your network.

  • Larger family of devices supported.

Every Chromebook comes with everything you need to use basic USB peripherals like a mouse, keyboard, webcams, and even multiple monitors. However, support for external devices beyond that is limited to only those external devices currently supported by ChromeOS.

Windows Laptops, on the other hand, support any USB device with Windows drivers. You can also run older drivers using Windows 10 Compatibility Mode.

A significant limitation of Chromebooks is you can't print directly to any printer on your network. The printer needs to be supported by the Google Cloud Print service. There is no such limitation for Windows laptops. However, a Windows laptop can use Google Cloud Print as well if you want to print to your printer from your Chrome browser when you're away from home.

Cost of Ownership: Chromebooks Win Hands Down

Chromebook
  • Priced at a fraction of laptop's cost.

  • More energy-efficient.

  • Fewer hardware failures.

Windows Laptop
  • Significantly more expensive.

  • Energy intensive.

  • More frequent repairs.

When it comes to upfront costs, Chromebooks win every time. Chromebooks are also smaller and lighter than laptops, which makes them more portable. You don't need to buy a laptop bag since you can easily slip a Chromebook into your backpack.

Finally, if a Chromebook ever does fail, they're easy to replace. You could buy 2 or 3 Chromebooks for the price of a full Windows laptop.

Final Verdict: It All Comes Down to How You'll Use It

If you're like a large majority of computer users who only use their laptop to email, spend time on social medial, and mostly work online using cloud services like Google Docs and Google Sheets, a Chromebook is perfect for you. Buying a Chromebook instead of a Windows laptop could save you quite a bit of money.

However, you're going to be limited in a lot of ways if you purchase a Chromebook. Plus, printing is possible but will take some extra work. If you use a lot of USB devices that require Windows drivers, or you're attached to desktop versions of your favorite software, you should buy a Windows computer.