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Chromebook vs Windows Laptops: A Comprehensive Guide


Choosing the right laptop can be a daunting task these days with so many options on the market. Two of the most popular choices are Chromebooks and Windows laptops. While both can handle basic computing tasks, there are some significant differences between these platforms that are important to consider.

In this article, we‘ll take an in-depth look at Chromebooks and Windows laptops, comparing everything from their operating systems and hardware to their software compatibility and target users. By the end, you‘ll have a clear understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each to help you decide which is the best fit for your needs.

The Basics

Before diving into the specifics, let‘s define what we mean by "Chromebook" and "Windows laptop."

A Chromebook is a laptop running Google‘s Chrome OS, a lightweight Linux-based operating system. Chromebooks are designed to be simple to use, secure, and heavily focused on web-based applications and cloud storage. They have limited local storage and primarily run web apps, Android apps, and Linux apps in some cases.

A Windows laptop is a laptop running Microsoft‘s Windows operating system, most commonly Windows 10. Windows is a full-featured operating system that supports a wide range of applications, including productivity software, media editing tools, PC games, and more. Windows laptops are highly versatile machines available in a variety of hardware configurations for different budgets and use cases.

Hardware Comparison

In terms of pure specs and hardware options, Windows laptops offer a lot more variety compared to Chromebooks. Let‘s break it down:


Most Chromebooks use low-power Intel Celeron, Intel Pentium, MediaTek, or ARM-based processors. These are sufficient for handling basic tasks like web browsing and video playback, but will feel sluggish for more demanding workloads.

Windows laptops are available with a much wider range of processor options, from budget Intel Celeron and Pentium CPUs up to high-performance Intel Core i5/i7/i9 and AMD Ryzen 5/7/9 chips. The extra processing power makes a noticeable difference for intensive tasks like video editing, 3D rendering, and gaming.

Memory and Storage

Chromebooks typically come with 4GB-8GB of RAM and 32GB-128GB of flash storage. Because Chrome OS is so lightweight and Chromebooks rely on cloud storage, this is usually adequate, but can feel limiting if you want to store a lot of files locally or multitask with many browser tabs and Android apps.

With Windows laptops, 8GB is considered the minimum these days, with 16GB or more being ideal for heavy multitasking and demanding applications. In terms of storage, 128GB is on the low end, with 256GB to 1TB SSDs being more common. Some models even offer dual SSD and HDD configurations for the best mix of speed and storage capacity.


The vast majority of Chromebooks rely on integrated graphics built into the CPU, which is good enough for web-based games and video but not capable enough for serious gaming or GPU-accelerated tasks.

Many Windows laptops also use integrated graphics by default, especially in lower price brackets, but there are plenty of models with dedicated graphics cards for an extra performance boost. Nvidia‘s GeForce MX, GTX, and RTX series and AMD‘s Radeon RX series are popular for gaming and creative work.

Display, Ports, and More

Chromebooks tend to be highly portable, with 11-13 inch screens being the most common and resolutions topping out at 1080p. Some premium models offer 2K-4K screens and more premium materials like aluminum, but most use plastic construction to keep costs down.

Windows laptops come in a wider range of sizes and styles, from compact 11-inch notebooks up to large 17-inch desktop replacements. Higher-resolution screens are more common, as are extras like touchscreens and high color gamut panels for creative work. Builds range from basic plastic to premium metal unibodies.

Both Chromebooks and Windows laptops can be found with a good selection of ports, including USB-C, USB-A, headphone jacks, and microSD card slots. But Windows laptops are more likely to include extras like HDMI, Thunderbolt, and Ethernet ports.

Operating System Comparison

The difference in operating systems is arguably the key factor to consider when deciding between a Chromebook and Windows laptop. Let‘s take a closer look at Chrome OS and Windows to see how they compare.

Chrome OS (Chromebooks)

Chrome OS is a lightweight, web-centric operating system built around the Google Chrome browser. Key features and characteristics include:

  • Heavy focus on web apps and cloud storage via Google Drive
  • Support for Android apps via Google Play Store
  • Ability to run Linux apps (on select models)
  • Simple, streamlined user interface
  • Fast boot times and efficient use of lower-end hardware
  • Tight security with automatic updates, sandboxing, verified boot, and encryption
  • Integration with Google services like Gmail, Google Calendar, and more

Chrome OS is great for users who spend most of their computer time in a web browser and are comfortable with web-based alternatives to traditional software. It‘s a very intuitive and low-maintenance OS that‘s well-suited for students, casual home users, and even some business users with basic productivity needs.

However, Chrome OS does have some notable limitations. You need an internet connection to get the most out of a Chromebook, and you won‘t have access to the full desktop versions of popular software. Chromebooks also lack advanced features like fully-featured file managers, disk encryption utilities, and granular user/security management tools that come standard on Windows. And if you need to run specialized software for work or school, there‘s a good chance it won‘t be available on Chrome OS.

Windows 10 (Windows laptops)

Windows 10 is Microsoft‘s flagship operating system and the most popular desktop OS in the world. Key features and characteristics include:

  • Compatibility with a huge library of desktop software, from productivity and creative apps to games and beyond
  • Support for touch/stylus input and a tablet mode for 2-in-1 devices
  • Highly customizable interface with multiple desktop support, dark mode, themes, and more
  • Robust security features like secure boot, device encryption, Windows Hello biometric login, and more
  • Built-in antivirus with Windows Defender
  • Integration with Microsoft services like Office 365, OneDrive, Skype, and more
  • Advanced features and tools for power users and IT administrators

Windows 10 is an extremely versatile OS that caters to a wide range of users, from casual web surfers to business professionals to hardcore gamers. With the widest selection of compatible software and hardware, Windows laptops can be configured for almost any conceivable use case.

On the flip side, that versatility can also be a weakness. Windows 10 has a steeper learning curve than Chrome OS and requires more setup and maintenance to keep running smoothly and securely. It‘s also more demanding in terms of system requirements, so budget Windows laptops with lower-end hardware tend to feel significantly more sluggish than Chromebooks in the same price range. And the greater openness of Windows means it‘s more vulnerable to viruses and other malware, although Microsoft has made significant strides in security with Windows 10.

Apps and Software

Another key consideration when choosing between a Chromebook and Windows laptop is the software you need or want to run. Both platforms offer a large selection of apps, but they differ significantly in the types of apps available.

On Chromebooks, the selection largely revolves around web apps and Android apps from the Google Play Store. This includes big names like:

  • Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace for productivity
  • Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop Express, and Canva for photo editing
  • Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Spotify, and other streaming services
  • A wide variety of games optimized for mobile/touchscreen

There are also more powerful web apps like Figma and Photopea for design work, but in general, Chromebook apps tend to be more limited and basic compared to their Windows counterparts. For example, the web and Android versions of Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Cloud offer a subset of features compared to the full Windows versions.

On Windows laptops, the sky‘s the limit in terms of software. The Windows ecosystem has the widest selection of powerful desktop applications, including:

  • The full Microsoft Office suite
  • Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, etc.)
  • Engineering software like AutoCAD, MATLAB, and SolidWorks
  • Fully-featured IDEs for programming like Visual Studio and Eclipse
  • Professional video editors like Final Cut Pro and DaVinci Resolve
  • Popular PC games and game clients/launchers like Steam and Epic Games

Windows is the platform of choice for power users who need industry-standard software for productivity, creative work, software development, and other specialized fields. It‘s also a must for serious gamers, as the vast majority of PC games are only available on Windows.

That said, Windows‘ software selection can also be overwhelming, and many of the most powerful applications come with steep learning curves and high price tags. Chromebooks offer a simpler, more curated app experience that‘s easier for the average user to navigate.

Usage Stats and Market Share

To get a sense of how Chromebooks and Windows laptops stack up in the real world, let‘s take a look at some usage statistics and market share data.

According to StatCounter, as of June 2021, Windows holds the lion‘s share of the desktop/laptop operating system market at 73.83%, followed by macOS at 16.16%. Chrome OS comes in at 2.14% worldwide.

However, Chromebooks have seen significant growth in recent years, particularly in the education sector. In Q1 2021, Chromebooks made up 64% of K-12 school device purchases in the US. And in Q4 2020, Chromebook sales grew by 287% year-over-year while the PC market as a whole grew by just 35%.

Category Chromebook Windows
Worldwide desktop/laptop OS market share (June 2021) 2.14% 73.83%
US K-12 education device purchases (Q1 2021) 64% 18%
YoY sales growth (Q4 2020) 287% 35% (PC market overall)

Sources: StatCounter Global Stats, Futuresource Consulting

These numbers suggest that while Windows laptops still dominate the overall market, Chromebooks are rapidly gaining ground, particularly in the budget laptop and education segments.

Pros and Cons

To summarize, here‘s a quick breakdown of the main pros and cons of Chromebooks vs Windows laptops:

Chromebook Pros:

  • Simple, intuitive, and easy to use
  • Fast boot times and snappy performance
  • Secure by design with automatic updates
  • Long battery life
  • Very affordable
  • Tight integration with Google services

Chromebook Cons:

  • Limited software compatibility
  • Need internet connection to be most effective
  • Not suitable for advanced computing tasks
  • Small local storage capacity
  • Limited hardware options and upgradability

Windows Laptop Pros:

  • Widest compatibility with software and hardware
  • Ideal for power users and specialized work
  • Suitable for gaming
  • Highly configurable and customizable
  • Wide range of designs and price points
  • Advanced features and capabilities

Windows Laptop Cons:

  • Higher maintenance and steeper learning curve
  • More vulnerable to viruses and malware
  • Bloatware is common on cheaper models
  • Demands more system resources
  • Generally more expensive than Chromebooks
  • Battery life varies but typically less than Chromebooks

Alternatives to Consider

While Chromebooks and Windows laptops are two of the most popular options, there are some notable alternatives worth mentioning.

MacBooks are a compelling option for users invested in the Apple ecosystem. Running macOS, they offer a nice balance of user-friendliness and power, with a particular strength in creative applications. However, they come at a premium price point and lack the wide software/hardware compatibility of Windows.

Linux laptops are a niche option for tech-savvy users who prioritize open-source software and security. Linux is highly customizable and typically less resource-hungry than Windows, but it has a steeper learning curve and limited software compatibility compared to Windows and macOS.

Finally, there are tablet/laptop hybrids like the Microsoft Surface and Apple iPad Pro that run on mobile operating systems (Windows 10 in S mode and iPadOS, respectively). These devices offer the portability and touchscreen functionality of a tablet combined with (usually optional) keyboard attachments for laptop-style productivity. They‘re worth considering if you value versatility, but they come with compromises compared to traditional laptops.

Laptop Recommendations

If you‘ve determined that a Chromebook or Windows laptop is right for you, here are some top 2021 model recommendations for different needs and budgets:


  • Budget pick: Lenovo Chromebook Duet – A 10.1" 2-in-1 with a detachable keyboard, 4GB RAM, and 64GB storage for under $300. Great for basic use and portability.
  • Mid-range pick: Acer Chromebook Spin 713 – A 13.5" 2-in-1 with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, and a sharp 2K screen for around $600. Offers fast performance and a premium build.
  • High-end pick: Google Pixelbook Go – A 13.3" clamshell with up to an Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB storage, and a 4K screen for $1400. Delivers the best performance and build quality in a Chromebook.

Windows Laptops

  • Budget pick: Acer Aspire 5 – A 15.6" clamshell with an Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD for under $400. A solid choice for basic productivity and media consumption.
  • Mid-range pick: HP Envy x360 – A 15.6" 2-in-1 with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD for around $800. Offers good performance and flexibility for general use.
  • High-end pick: Dell XPS 13 – A premium 13.4" ultrabook with up to an Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, and 2TB SSD for $1900. Combines portability and serious power for demanding users.
  • Gaming pick: Razer Blade 15 – A powerful 15.6" gaming laptop with up to an Intel Core i7, Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics, 32GB RAM, and 1TB SSD for $3400. A top choice for serious gamers.

Sources:, Wirecutter, Digital Trends


Ultimately, the choice between a Chromebook and a Windows laptop depends on your specific needs, budget, and preferences.

Chromebooks are best for users who:

  • Mainly use their laptop for web browsing, email, document editing, and streaming
  • Prefer a simple, no-fuss computing experience
  • Use Google services heavily
  • Have a limited budget
  • Want to use Android apps on a laptop form factor

Windows laptops are best for users who:

  • Need a versatile machine to handle a wide variety of tasks
  • Rely on Windows-specific software for work or school
  • Do CPU/GPU-intensive tasks like gaming, video editing, 3D modeling, or programming
  • Want the option to extensively customize or upgrade their laptop
  • Have a higher budget and specific hardware preferences

Both Chromebooks and Windows laptops are capable of handling basic everyday computing tasks, so you won‘t go wrong with either if you‘re simply looking for an affordable laptop to browse the web, check email, and stream video. But for users with specific software needs or plans for heavier workloads, Windows remains the more flexible platform.

Consider your current computing workflows and what types of things you plan to do with your laptop in the future. Read reviews and try out some models in person if you can to get a feel for the differences between Chromebooks and Windows laptops. And above all, make sure the model you choose has the hardware specifications and configuration to best meet your needs. With careful research and consideration, you‘re sure to find the right laptop to serve you well for years to come, regardless of the platform.