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

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Chromebooks are cheap, but are they good?

When you compare all the features and capabilities of a computer Chromebook laptop to those of a Windows laptop, you may find that a Chromebook does everything you need for half the price of a Windows computer. For others who use a lot of installed applications, like Photoshop, or devices with Windows drivers, a Windows computer is the best choice.

General findings


  • Must use cloud-based applications.
  • Almost unusable without Internet.
  • Limited support for USB devices.
  • The price is much lower than Windows laptops.

Windows Laptop

  • Use cloud-based and installed apps.
  • Stay productive online and offline.
  • Support any device with Windows drivers.
  • Much more expensive.

A Chromebook is an option viable for a large portion of people who use laptops. This is true if you are a user who primarily uses internet based services like email or Google services, and is not very dependent on installed applications.

However, if you are a gamer with a large library of games installed, or if a lot of your productivity is based on applications like Microsoft Office, Adobe Premiere, or Photoshop, you are going to find yourself severely limited in the use of a Chromebook.

But due to the big price difference, 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 operational


  • Access to all web applications.
  • Include high-end Wi-Fi adapters.
  • No wired Ethernet adapters.
  • Internet connection required (most often).

Windows Laptop

  • Still useful without the Internet.
  • Various options of Wi-Fi adapters.
  • Usually includes an Ethernet port.
  • Supports installed applications.

Since Chromebooks depend on internet connectivity, you will usually find the best Wi-Fi installed on these devices. However, there is no built-in Ethernet port if you want to connect directly to your internet router.

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 will still be usable thanks to locally installed applications. You can continue to write Microsoft Word document without any internet connection. With Chromebook, you will not be able to access the Google Doc file stored in your Google Drive account.

That said, Google and other cloud services have improved offline capabilities that allow you to continue working on documents offline, but you need to enable those services and make sure sync is enabled with local drive or SSD card of your Chromebook.

Using software: Windows laptops are a must


  • The installed “apps” are all web-based.
  • Cannot install local apps.
  • Chrome is the only browser available.

Windows Laptop

  • Access to web applications and local applications.
  • Run the browser you prefer.
  • Can handle tasks requiring a processor.

The biggest difference between Chromebook and Windows laptops is that you can’t install software locally on a Chromebook.

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

Plus, ChromeOS is built on top of the Chrome browser itself, so if you prefer Firefox or Edge, you’ll be disappointed with a Chromebook.

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 apps. However, this voids your warranty and stops ChromeOS security updates, which is not recommended for novice users.

Peripheral Usage: Chromebooks only offer limited options


  • Supports basic USB devices.
  • No direct printing support.
  • No support for new device drivers.

Windows Laptop

  • Support any USB device with drivers.
  • Print directly to printers on your network.
  • A larger family of devices is supported.

Each 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 these is limited to only external devices currently loaded by ChromeOS.

Windows laptops, on the other hand, support any USB device that has Windows drivers. You can also use older drivers using Windows 10 compatibility mode.

A significant limitation of Chromebooks is that you cannot print directly to a printer on your network. The printer must be supported by the Google CloudPrint service. There is no such limitation for Windows laptops. However, a Windows laptop can also use the Google Cloud Print service if you want to print to your printer from your Chrome browser when you are away from home.

Cost of ownership: Chromebooks win hands down


  • The price is a fraction of the cost of a laptop.
  • More energy efficient.
  • Fewer hardware failures.

Windows Laptop

  • Much more expensive.
  • It is an energy intensive activity.
  • More frequent repairs.

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

Finally, if a Chromebook ever breaks down, it’s easy to replace. You can buy 2-3 Chromebooks for the price of a full Windows laptop.

Final verdict: it all comes down to how you use it

If you’re like the vast majority of computer users who only use their laptops to send emails, spend time on social media, and work mostly 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 a lot of money.

However, you will be limited in many ways if you buy a Chromebook. In addition, printing is possible but will require additional work. If you use a lot of USB devices that require Windows drivers, or if you’re hooked up to desktop versions of your favorite software, you should buy a Windows computer.

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