If you’re shopping for a new laptop and you’re on a tight budget, a Chromebook may be the way to go. Before you jump in head first, though, there are many things worth considering.

The Chromebook first hit shelves in 2011 and were manufactured by Acer and Samsung. It launched as a Linux-based machine running Chrome OS, an operating system that utilizes Google Chrome as its user interface.

If you’re a Google Chrome loyalist, navigating a Chromebook should feel incredibly natural. However, Windows fans are going to notice that Chrome OS is an extremely stripped-down operating system. Chromebooks give up on a lot of functionality in favor of affordability, ease of use, and portability.

Knowing if a Chromebook is right for you or a loved one is a matter of knowing what the exact use case is. For power users, a Chromebook is borderline useless. For others, it might even provide advantages over the typical Windows or Mac laptop. In this article, let’s explore some of the most important differences between a Chromebook and your ordinary laptop.

Chromebook Operating System vs. Traditional Laptops

The biggest and most noticeable difference between a Chromebook and a traditional laptop is the operating system. A Chromebook without Chrome OS simply isn’t a Chromebook—that’s more of a netbook, a very uncommon breed of laptops nowadays.

Chrome OS is an operating system by Google based on the Linux kernel. It’s built entirely around the popular Google Chrome web browser, and thus, its overall functionality is limited to only a bit more than what you can do within Chrome on a Windows or Mac machine.

Chrome OS is currently only available pre-installed on hardware that Google has partnered with, namely from Acer, Samsung, HP, Dell, and Asus.

Chromebook Software vs. Traditional Laptops

Chrome OS has its own integrated file manager and media player. Along with a few other applications, like Chrome Remote Desktop, these are the only applications that open in their own window and not within the Google Chrome browser.

On a Chromebook, everything runs as a web app. You can go to the Chrome Web Store right now and see the full library of web-based applications that you can install on your Chromebook.

This means that there’s no iTunes, Photoshop, or Audacity available to Chromebook owners, among many other standalone applications. However, plenty of popular desktop applications have web-based alternatives available via Chrome Web Store. These include Skype, Discord, Netflix, and many others.

Additionally, some Chromebooks even have access to the Google Play Store, which allows them to install apps that Android phone and tablet users can access. Although the functionality of these apps can be awkward and limited, unless you have a Chromebook with a touchscreen display, this definitely widens the array of software available.

Chromebook Hardware vs. Traditional Laptops

The majority of Chromebooks use MultiMediaCard (eMMC) storage. eMCC is a form of flash storage comparable to solid-state drives in the way that there are no moving parts. However, SSDs deliver vastly superior performance and are available in much larger sizes.

Chromebooks come with storage sizes typical to smartphones: often 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB. With a 16 GB eMMC, Chrome OS is small enough to where you’ll have around 9 GB of usable space.

Chromebooks often come with low-resolution displays, and many of them are also fanless. Since they can’t be used for intensive tasks like video editing, most Chromebooks can do just fine without internal cooling. This helps cut down on noise and weight.

Lastly, Chromebooks are well-known for their battery life. As a result of their low profile and intended workload, the majority of Chromebook models will outlast laptops while on battery. For example, the Dell Chromebook 13 will last for around 12 hours of general-purpose use and 7 hours on Netflix.

Chromebook Cost vs. Traditional Laptops

Cost may be the biggest benefit of picking up a Chromebook. Here are just a few prices of popular models at the time of writing this:

  • Dell C3181-C871BLK-PUS Chromebook (11.6″, Celeron N3060, 4 GB/16 GB): $167.00
  • Samsung XE500C13-K03US Chromebook 3 (11.6″, Celeron N3060, 4 GB/16 GB): $188.50
  • ASUS C223NA-DH02-RD Chromebook (11.6″, Celeron N3350, 4 GB/32 GB): $189.99

All three of these Chromebooks are on the lowest end of what’s available, but when’s the last time you’ve seen a brand-new laptop under $200? You aren’t getting a beast of a machine when you purchase a Chromebook, but it fills its role, and it’s good to see affordable alternatives on the market.

Chromebook Portability vs. Traditional Laptops

Chromebooks are ultra-portable in terms of both size and weight. Most feature an 11.6-inch display and weigh just 2.5 pounds. This can be compared to the MacBook Air, a 13.3-inch model that weighs 3 pounds.

Chromebooks are also incredibly durable. Some come in special “ruggedized” models that boast water and shock resistance. Combined with a full-body case, available for practically every Chromebook model I’ve seen, these things are tough to break.

Another underrated feature about the Chromebook is how fast it boots up. In less than 8 seconds after pressing the power button, you can reach your browser’s homepage.

If you’re often on the move, this makes coming and going very painless. Combined with the cloud capabilities of Google—which you get 100 GB and 12 months of with every purchase—stopping and starting up work again isn’t a major inconvenience.

Chromebook Security vs. Traditional Laptops

The difference in security between Chromebooks and most other laptops is something that isn’t often discussed. First and foremost is the obvious: Chrome OS has a tiny market share, just 1%, so it isn’t a target when it comes to things like trojans, malware, and keyloggers.

There are some pretty nasty extensions that can get installed on your Google Chrome browser, but malicious software can completely wreck a Windows machine.

Chromebooks have built-in, automated updates and virus and malware protection. Furthermore, your entire OS experience is sandboxed. This means that if one of your apps or tabs gets infected by something dangerous, it won’t spread and affect anything else on your Chromebook.

Lastly, everything on your Chromebook syncs to your Google account and remains encrypted. You have to be signed in to your Google account to access this data, as well as your Chromebook, and Google offers multiple forms of two-factor authentification.

Chromebooks are slowly gaining market share as buyers are demanding more affordable solutions to simple access to a web browser. They make especially great gifts for less-experienced users and older folks! There’s no denying that your standard laptop is tenfold as functional and flexible, but Chromebooks fill a simple void that many are searching for. If less is more for your laptop needs, consider picking up a Chromebook.