Research Hub > Chromebooks Versus Laptops: What's the Difference?

September 25, 2023

8 min

Chromebooks Versus Laptops: What's the Difference?

What are the biggest differences between Chromebooks and macOS/Windows laptops? Is there really that much of a difference? Find out here.

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What's Inside

Deciding between Chromebooks vs. "normal" macOs or Windows laptops is a concern for many budget-minded consumers, business-oriented users, and students. But what exactly are the biggest differences between these device types? In this article, we’ll compare them in several categories, including hardware, software, price, operating system and more.

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Operating System

  1. Chromebooks: Chrome OS, popularly known as the Chrome web browser, is the operating system for Chromebooks. Chrome browser users will feel at home with Chromebooks since that is the primary user interface. 

  2. Laptops: Laptops can run on all kinds of operating systems, including Windows, macOS and Linux. This makes laptops compatible with a wider range of software and customization options.


  1. Chromebooks:
    • CPU
      • Lower-cost Chromebooks commonly feature lower-performance chips such as Intel N-Series Celeron, Pentium processors, or AMD A4/A6 processors. Some mid-level to high-performance Chromebooks have MediaTek or Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs. More powerful CPUs will keep your machine running smoothly when running multiple apps, browser tabs, or general multitasking.

        Some advanced Chromebooks utilize the same juggernaut CPUs as Windows and Mac machines, including the AMD Ryzen series and Intel Core series. Depending on the Chromebook you buy, they run a wide gamut on the spectrum of CPU power.
    • GPU
      • Chromebooks won’t cut it for advanced photo or video-editing, or any other desktop applications that are GPU-intensive. Chromebooks traditionally don’t have discrete GPUs, meaning they don’t have GPUs separate from their CPUs. Discrete GPUs consume more power and generate a fair amount of heat on top of being capable of running tasks like creative editing and AAA gaming titles. 

        For now, if you need to run Adobe Creative Cloud or CAD programs, you would be best off with a macOS device or Windows PC with a discrete GPU. A higher-end Chromebook may be able to run limited PWAs of the big-name creative software but can’t run at the professional level (yet).
    •  RAM
      • Chromebooks typically have 2-8GB of RAM, with most having 4GB. Generally, 4GB is suitable for basic computing tasks like web browsing, email, and YouTube-watching. If you’re wanting to multitask or run more demanding applications, 8GB RAM is what you’d want to aim for.
  2. Laptops:
    • Laptops tend to have higher-end hardware, including top-of-the-line CPUs, generous RAM typically starting at 8GB, and hardware storage. They are more suitable for multitasking, running creative software, and generally a much wider range of computing tasks.

Software and Applications

  1. Chromebooks: Chromebooks are most effectively used with an internet connection; they rely on Chrome Web Store apps. This includes email, word processing, and online collaboration tools.

    Today, many apps offer a web-based alternatives with most of the features offered by their desktop counterparts. These apps include Microsoft Office, Spotify, Netflix, YouTube—even Photoshop and other Adobe offerings.

    If you’re looking to purchase a Chromebook and need access to a particular app, you need to first make sure it’s offered as a web app with the features you need.

    Chromebooks are not natively compatible with Mac/PC software, meaning you won’t be able to run either Mac or Windows software out of the box.  There are a few ways to work around this, however:
    • VMware allows you to run virtualized versions of software on Chromebooks, so in theory, you could use Windows and macOS applications on a Chromebook.
    • Chrome Remote Desktop allows you to connect remotely to a Windows PC through your Chrome browser.
    • For a regular subscription fee, Google’s Parallels Desktop builds Windows and non-native app support into Chrome OS for select Chromebook devices.
    • Many of your favorite apps probably have a progressive web app or PWA version that has most of the capabilities as their desktop app equivalents.
  2. Laptops: Laptops can run most modern software given that they’re up to spec. It’s not uncommon today to find laptops with the same processors, graphics cards, RAM, and storage as desktop PCs.

Storage and Cloud Integration

  1. Chromebooks: Chromebook storage is typically minimal. They utilize cloud storage, namely that of Google Drive. Chromebook users can also store apps on SD cards or external hard drives if needed, just like Windows or Mac users can.

    Most Chromebooks don’t feature SSDs unlike Macs and PCs. They contain what’s called eMMC flash storage, which is commonly found in tablets and mobile devices. SSDs are becoming more common in newer Chromebooks, however. The Galaxy Chromebook for instance has a 256GB NVMe SSD, commonly found in newer laptops.

  2. Laptops: In today’s market, just about every laptop has an SSD with 128GB of storage at minimum—basically the max you’ll find in a Chromebook. For supplementary storage, you can utilize cloud storage as well as external drives.


  1. Chromebooks: Chromebooks cost significantly less than laptops usually by hundreds of dollars. They’re also smaller and lighter since they don’t have much in the way of big, expensive components. There is a special line of “Enterprise Chromebooks” intended for business users who may need a device more powerful than a typical Chromebook. Obviously, these would range at a higher price point.

  2. Laptops: Most laptops are pricier than Chromebooks. CPU, GPU, storage, and build quality are typically better with Windows and macOS laptops.

Offline Capability

  1. Chromebooks: After 2017, Chrome OS started supporting Android apps, Linux apps, and offline document editing, making Chromebooks increasingly capable without an internet connection.

  2. Laptops: Standard laptops can run full-featured apps without an internet connection and can also run web apps with no hiccups, given their CPUs and RAM are up to the task.


  1. Chromebooks: Chromebooks are automatically updated for protection against modern threats. Also, limited local storage prevents data loss due to device damage or theft. Each application and tab runs in its own environment to better contain malware. This concept is called sandboxing.

  2. Laptops: Most laptop operating systems have built-in security measures, but they are susceptible to exploits if users don’t comply with system updates. While the customization of laptops allows for security improvements, misconfiguration can allow for more vulnerabilities.

Boot-up Time

  1. Chromebooks: Chrome OS is a lightweight operating system which allows for fast bootup times of only a few seconds—you don’t need to wait long to connect to the web and get going on your next task. Chromebooks with SSDs vs eMMC drives will boot even faster.

  2. Laptops: The exact boot-up time for a laptop will vary depending on the operating system, storage type and hardware configuration. A more complex OS, background processes, and HDD storage will result in slower booting. However, laptops can be optimized for rapid bootup. Generally, though, Chrome OS will boot faster than macOS, Linux, or Windows.


  1. Chromebooks: Most Chromebooks don’t have the RAM or CPUs to run multiple applications at once. Screen sizes also tend to be on the smaller side, so multitasking capabilities are limited.

  2. Laptops: You can run multiple web and desktop applications at once with ease on your laptop.


  1. Chromebooks: Chromebook gaming is cloud-centric. You can stream well over 1,000 AAA game titles on Cloud Gaming Chromebooks, which have better RAM and stronger CPUs than a typical Chromebook. Not all Chromebooks are cloud-gaming ready—Google has partnered with Lenovo, Acer, and ASUS specifically to create modern Chromebooks with 120Hz resolution displays which enable high FPS gameplay via NVIDIA GeForce NOW.

  2. Laptops: Gaming is limited by your laptop’s specs and is not cloud-centric. Laptops more commonly have dedicated graphics cards and are much more capable of running modern, high demand games. Also, the resolution, refresh rates, and displays tend to be much better, and there are laptop manufacturers that specifically create laptops for gaming.

Customization and Personalization

  1. Chromebooks: The simplified interface doesn’t allow for as much hardware/software customization or personalization of the UI as other operating systems. Using a Chromebook is akin to using a tablet or smartphone than a laptop in this respect.

  2. Laptops: Laptop hardware is highly configurable, with various processors, RAM sizes, storage, and graphics options. You can even upgrade the RAM and storage in some laptops, which is not the case with Chromebooks.

Compatibility with External Devices

  1. Chromebooks: Since Chromebooks are cloud-first devices, their capabilities are limited when it comes to connecting to external devices. They don’t have the same software and driver support that is commonplace with laptops.

  2. Laptops: Most laptops can easily connect to printers, scanners, portable hard drives, and other devices via software or USB ports. Drivers and software are readily available online in the case of software compatibility issues.

Longevity and Updates

  1. Chromebooks: As previously stated, Chromebooks receive automatic security and other OS updates. However, after about five years or so, older Chromebooks lose their ability to receive updates. This ultimately limits their lifespan.

  2. Laptops: Unlike Chromebooks, laptops do not update automatically. However, regular laptops have a longer lifespan, provided they are actively updated and maintained.

Learning Curve

  1. Chromebooks: Chromebooks are made to be easy-to-use, with straightforward UI and stripped-down features. For users familiar with web apps and browsing, they’ll feel right at home with a Chromebook. This is a major reason why they’re used in K-12 schools—they require less technical knowledge to operate and maintain than your average laptop.

  2. Laptops: Given the customizable software and variety of operating systems available, laptops have a steeper learning curve. Laptops may be more suitable for older students, students who are more familiar with Windows or macOS, or students taking graphic design or AutoCAD classes.


We hope this article has been helpful in making your decision between a laptop or Chromebook. CDW not only sells a wide variety of both devices types from the top brands in the business, but also can configure, provision, tag and deploy laptops and Chromebooks for your organization.