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Difference Between a Regular Laptop and a Chromebook

Written by: Glenn R. Onassis
Chromebook vs Laptop Explained

Google’s take on laptops started a decade ago, and although their product line came far since then, the difference between a regular laptop and a Chromebook is still here, and today we’re going to cover all the details you need to know before you plunge in to the cloud computing game. First we’re going to cover everything you need to know before you switch, and after that we’re going to mention some of the best Chromebook laptops of this year.

How Is a Chromebook Different From a Regular Laptop?

It looks like a laptop, it types like a laptop, heck even the smell is the same, but does it perform like one? Short answer, no, it doesn’t. The difference between a regular laptop and a Chromebook comes down to five things; the OS, the software ecosystem, peripheral support and hardware upgrades, and below is an overview of each one of them:

  • Chromebooks run on Chrome OS. Regular Windows, Linux and Apple laptops work on their own operating systems that are build to work with external inputs, like applications, various peripherals and hardware upgrades, while Chrome OS acts as a beefed-up Google Chrome that makes use of Cloud-Based applications, a limited amount of peripherals and no hardware upgrade possibilities. Chrome OS isn’t new, it’s already a polished system that has it’s pros and cons, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a Windows, Mac or Linux machine, which brings us to the next point.
  • Chrome OS requires cloud-based applications.  Whatever workflow or app you had on your regular laptop, you’ll need to either find a cloud version of it on Chrome OS or go with an alternative. The best example here would be Adobe’s Photoshop Suit, it’s not supported on Chrome OS, and if you need a photo editor of similar caliber, you would need to adjust your workflow to a cloud based image editor like Pixlr. If you’re a professional who relies heavily on professional apps, you’ll hit a wall with Chrome OS, but if you’re a student or office worker that dabbles with professional software, then you’ll find a cloud based alternative easily.
  • Chrome OS lacks support for the majority of peripherals. For some gadgets, like printers, you’ll need to find a workaround through Wi-Fi printing or Google’s own Cloud Print service, while for others you’ll need to completely forget about them. Examples of non-supported hardware are various professional grade styluses, audio or video controllers, amplification devices or even something simple as Elgato’s Stream Deck. Basically, forget about any peripheral that asks for drivers or a separate app to work, with one exception being gaming peripherals like keyboard, mice and controllers that are natively supported by the OS.
  • Chromebooks can’t get an upgrade. Soldered RAM and non-removable SSD’s are the name of the game when it comes to Chromebooks, and has been like this since 2015. Honestly, it doesn’t even matter, since the OS is not making use of the hardware anyhow – even if you would have a 1 TB SSD, your files would still be stored in Google Drive.
  • Chromebooks cooling solutions are poor. Remember, it’s not a gaming laptop, it’s designed for office and student workflows, so if you would push it above its limits you would be working with a very hot brick in your lap.

That doesn’t mean that the device is completely useless though, Chrome OS and Chromebooks have tons of pros, if you’re the right person for it.

What Does a Chromebook Do Well and Is It a Good Laptop?

Students, corporations or even children might benefit from a Chromebook and the Chrome OS ecosystem the most, especially since the devices are so affordable when compared to regular laptops. Let’s elaborate on that a bit:

  • Chromebooks are much cheaper to acquire. There’s no powerful hardware inside, because Chrome OS doesn’t need it. Remember, it’s working “in the cloud”, so you’ll never have an app installed on your laptop, and most of your workflow will be tied to browser based applications.
  • Backups are are always there. Since the OS is in the cloud, all of your files are constantly saved in it, and if you lose or break your laptop, the only thing you need to do is get a new one and log in with your credentials – all of your stuff is there.
  • Chrome OS is much safer and more secure than other laptops. Since there are no apps to download or to update, you’re tied to an ecosystem that is essentially virus free. This is especially useful in office or family environments where the user should have a limited ecosystem. And since we’re talking about offices;
  • Chrome OS is easier on the admins. You can already imagine how much the workflow of an admin is cut down by having a laptop that doesn’t have OS or app updates, viruses or driver issues. It removes a lot of issues, and IT departments love them.
  • Chrome OS supports Bluetooth controllers natively, just pick out the best gaming controller, connect it via Bluetooth and you’re ready to go. Just remember that the settings of the controller have to be set-up within the game, since you can’t download any additional drivers for it.
  • Chrome OS supports 144hz external displays, that’s the good news… The bad news is that there’s no game streaming service available that would offer you that refresh rate, most of them are capped at 1080p/60hz.

And yes, before you ask, Chromebooks can play Android games, but the supported titles are limited. As an example, Among Us and Minecraft are supported, while Fortnite and COD aren’t. This is expected due to the hardware and cooling solutions mentioned before, but at least there are some titles available. Since we’re talking about casual gaming, let’s get to the elephant in the room:

Can You Play Games on a Chromebook?

Due to the OS limitations you can’t install anything locally, meaning that game launchers like Steam, Origin and Epic, or any other .exe for that matter, be it a game or an app, falls short of it. Even if you could find a work-around, there’s no dedicated GPU in the machine, meaning that your only solution are web browser based games or cloud gaming.

Luckily, that industry is on the rise, and with a good internet connection you can find plenty of services out there, with just a few of them being GeForce Now by Nvidia, Luna by Amazon, and Stadia by Google. Keep in mind that this will only work as good as your internet connection does, and additional ping and lag may be introduced, depending on what’s happening on the network. In other words, casual gaming is possible, but esports on chromebook is out of the question. Playing competitive titles on a chromebook would not only handicap your play but also your whole team, so getting a dedicated gaming laptop for your career is a much better option.

That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a casual session or two, or even enjoy some of the newer AAA games on your Chromebook – it’s perfectly doable.