What makes a laptop or a chromebook different?

Although Chromebooks are becoming more competitive, regular computers will always be "better" on paper.

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After spending enough time laptop shopping, budget-conscious consumers will come across Chromebooks, a subspecies of web-based PCs that entice them with their low cost, robust security, and easy-to-use interface. They are often only used by people who prioritize functionality over upscale features because of a few noteworthy idiosyncrasies that limit their utility for some users. However, a fall 2023 upgrade has made things a little more equal between them and other low-cost competitors.

If you’re unsure which will work best for you, continue reading for an overview of the main distinctions between Chromebooks and conventional laptops.

Describe a Chromebook.

Chromebooks are thin, light, and inexpensive computers that utilize Google’s cloud-based operating system, ChromeOS. As part of a school pilot program, the tech giant released the first batch of Chromebooks in 2010. A year later, consumer-facing devices manufactured by Acer and Samsung were available on store shelves. Soon after, other manufacturers got involved, including Google itself, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and HP. (Google ceased production of its own Chromebooks, often known as “Pixelbooks,” in 2022.)

By the middle of the decade, new sizes and convertible/hybrid versions with touchscreens that could also function as tablets became available in the Chromebook market. These days, you can even get a few Chromebook models made especially for cloud gaming and corporate use.

Although there are several differences between Chromebooks and regular laptops (mainly related to software), the classic “square and rectangle” phenomena best captures their relationship: While not all laptops are Chromebooks, all Chromebooks are laptops.

Laptop vs. Chromebook: Operating system

Regular laptops run either Windows or macOS, whereas Chromebooks are powered by ChromeOS. Essentially, its interface consists of the Chrome web browser together with a few pre-installed Google productivity tools, such as Google Photos, Drive, and Gmail. (This is good since it makes configuring a Chromebook as simple as logging into a Google account.) Although they do have some offline capability if you activate specific settings before disconnecting, they are mostly meant to be used online.

Laptop vs. Chromebook: Apps

Unlike conventional laptops, Chromebooks cannot run native Windows and Mac applications; however, they can run Android programs, including the Microsoft Office suite, which can be downloaded via the Google Play Store and the Internet. These programs may take some getting used to because they are designed for mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and as such, they differ in appearance and functionality from desktop versions. Through the Chrome Web Store, you can also install extensions to the Chrome browser.

Laptop vs. Chromebook: Security

Several defenses against viruses and malware are already included in Chromebooks, including automated software upgrades that happen every four weeks. These upgrades are provided for ten years to any models produced in 2021 or after. Apple MacBooks and Windows laptops, on the other hand, need different antivirus software. (Yes, MacBooks as well.)

Laptop vs. Chromebook: Specifications

Compared to standard laptops, Chromebooks have lower specifications: 4GB or 8GB of RAM, an entry-level to mid-range CPU, and a limited amount of RAM for everyday chores rather than demanding workloads and multitasking. (Commonly used CPUs include AMD Ryzen C-Series, MediaTek Kompanio, Qualcomm Snapdragon, Intel Core i3/i5, Celeron, and Pentium.) The majority of Chromebooks, even the few more recent versions designed with cloud gaming in mind, go without a dedicated graphics card.

The majority of Chromebooks include 32GB to 256GB of onboard storage, which is divided between faster UFS (“universal flash storage”) or an SSD (“solid-state drive”) at the top and slower eMMC flash storage at the bottom (that stands for “embedded multimedia card”). That’s not much more capacity than comparable laptops, which typically start at 256GB. However, since Chromebooks save the majority of their data on the cloud, you don’t need as much local storage, so it’s not a deal breaker.

Chromebook vs. laptop: Quality of design and construction

Chromebooks have always put functionality above design, and even while they’ve evolved to become much more refined, they still generally feel and look less expensive than conventional computers (because they usually are). Thick bezels and a plastic chassis are the characteristic visual cues of a Chromebook. On the bright side, owing to their plastic construction and absence of robust hardware, they frequently weigh less than conventional laptops.

Chromebook versus laptop: Cost comparison

The simplicity of Chromebooks’ design may be a disadvantage for some jobs, but overall, it makes them dependable, simple to use, and affordable. A mid-range Chromebook that is fully functional will set you back $400 to $600, while the most basic models start at $200 to $300, or even less if you find them on sale. (Search for the “Chromebook Plus” logo; further details will follow.) Raising your spending limit to $700 will get you access to the best specifications, including a touchscreen display and 256GB of SSD storage. For comparison, entry-level Windows laptops usually run between $500 and $700, whereas the lowest-priced MacBook, assuming full pricing, starts at $1,000.

There are Chromebooks that go up to $800 or $1,000, but they’re primarily used by businesses. (And you’re better off sticking with a conventional laptop if that’s the type of budget you’re dealing with; you’ll get more features and functionality that way.)

How about Chromebooks Plus?

Google debuted the Chromebook Plus in October 2023, and since then, the category has seen significant advancements. To begin with, Chromebooks labeled as “Plus” are guaranteed to fulfill specific enhanced hardware and performance specifications, which helps identify models that aren’t complete garbage. Among these prerequisites are:

  1. A minimum of an AMD Ryzen 3 7000 series or an Intel Core i3 12th generation CPU
  2. Memory of at least 8GB
  3. 128GB or more of storage
  4. A 1080p webcam that reduces temporal noise
  5. An IPS display that can achieve Full HD (1080p) resolution

Software-wise, Chromebook Plus models have additional features that significantly improve their usability both online and offline. These features include pre-installed Google apps, a File Sync function that downloads files automatically, and unique AI tools like personalized wallpapers and blurred video call backgrounds.

Final thoughts: Chromebook or laptop?

Chromebooks have generally been inexpensive and very basic, making direct comparisons unfair, but the Chromebook Plus upgrade has drastically improved them to the point where they can compete with cheaper Windows PCs.

If money isn’t an issue, a Windows laptop or MacBook will still be the “best” option for most people because they don’t force you to use ChromeOS or mobile applications. However, budget-conscious consumers with simple workloads who prefer simple devices may benefit from such limits. This would mostly include youngsters and students, although some working adults with relaxed email jobs may qualify if their work involves the Google ecosystem and doesn’t require expensive software. Creatives and gamers should utilize Chromebooks as backups for informal use.

If you keep things simple, a Chromebook may be a great travel companion for business and entertainment: It’s lightweight enough to carry in a backpack and rarely damaged by bumps. It might not matter if it is dinged if it just costs a few hundred bucks.

The “Chromebook vs. laptop” issue comes down to your budget, use case(s), and everyday software. The extra functionality of a standard laptop may be necessary for some but excessive for others. A dependable is sometimes all you need.

After you decide, check out Mashable’s hands-on guides to the best and best affordable laptops for buying advice.

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