Should I buy a Chromebook or a Windows laptop? It's a common
question, whether asked by parents weighing the best computer
option for back-to-school or by people who just want an inexpensive
computer for themselves. We'll help you choose the right one.
Our latest update includes more answers to questions you might
have: such as, how slow (and inexpensive) can a Chromebook be
before it stops being usable? What does Windows 11 and Windows 11
SE mean for laptops? Read on for the answers, plus our up-to-date
buying guide for November 2021 and Black Friday, plus more details
and what to buy.
Who should buy
a Windows laptop?
A notebook PC or laptop powered by Microsoft Windows offers
several advantages. Windows offers the most flexibility to run just
about any app, your choice of any browser, and configure antivirus
options, utilities, and more. You can tweak and configure your PC
as you choose.
That convenience demands more computing horsepower, and often a
higher price compared to most Chromebooks. Prices can soar into the
thousands of dollars, and if you need a powerful PC for gaming or
video editing, Chromebooks can't compete, and they don't try to.
But you'll find some great deals among our more affordably priced,
top Windows picks. See our buying guide to the best laptops for even more
Who should buy a
A Chromebook powered by Google's Chrome OS is a simpler, more
optimized affair. Essentially, it's useful to think of a Chromebook
as a dedicated Chrome browser running on top of secure hardware. It
can also be hundreds of dollars cheaper than a comparable Windows
PC, even with the same processor inside! Numerous American
classrooms have settled on Chromebooks for in-person and distance
learning, and often made them available for loaning to
Now, however, Chromebooks can do much more, including Android
apps and cloud gaming, making them entertainment as well as
productivity devices. Google is also adding more features to
Chromebooks to make them as useful as Windows devices. Amazon's
list of the best-selling laptops is often dominated by
Chromebooks—see for yourself! Pay attention during the holidays or
peak sales periods like Prime Day, when prices can drop
really low—down around $100 or more. Just make sure you're
not buying a Chromebook that's fallen out of the support window. (We'll talk
more about that, below.)
Updates occur behind the scenes, so you can just open the lid
and go. Google handles all the security, too—now with better
biometric options up front, too. The internet offers much of what
you need, whether that means working within web apps or using
Chrome plugins. But it's the workarounds and little inconveniences
that you may find annoying.
Two other points: For years, there were plain, clamshell
Chromebooks and…not much else. (Chromeboxes, a niche class of
standalone Chrome OS-powered cubes that lack a display, are nearly
defunct.) Now there are Chrome OS-powered convertibles like the HP Chromebook x360 12b (currently $360 on Adorama), as
well as Chrome OS-powered tablets like the Lenovo Chromebook Duet (currently $300 at Best Buy). In fact,
it seems like many Chromebooks are now 360-degree convertibles,
available to be flipped around and used as a thick tablet for
Google and Parallels have also announced Parallels Desktop for
Chromebook Enterprise, a $69.99/user solution that will support—gasp!—r
unning Windows apps on Chromebooks, by building a version of
Parallels into Chrome OS. (Parallels can already be used to provide
remote access to Windows apps.) You'll need a very specific
enterprise Chromebook to take advantage of it, however.
Read on for a deeper dive into the differences between the
Chrome OS and Windows platforms, as well as some recommendations on
what to buy. Just be aware that the conversation will focus on
inexpensive machines that can accomplish basic tasks. Chromebooks
can't hold a candle to $2,000 gaming PCs, though some cloud gaming
services get close.
Chrome OS or Windows? The choice is up to you.
the difference between a Chromebook and a Windows PC?
Though you probably already know what differentiates a Windows
PC from a Chromebook, here's a brief refresher: Windows PCs run
Microsoft Windows 10 (and soon, Windows 11), the dominant operating system for
traditional PCs for more than 25 years. They run Windows
applications, from Microsoft titles to a raft of third-party
software. Windows PCs are available in desktop and laptop forms,
and can be configured in infinite ways to accommodate needs from
basic productivity to resource-intensive workstations.
For the last few years, Microsoft has marketed Windows 10 S (or Windows 10 Home in S Mode) as
its operating system for schools and a direct competitor to
Chromebooks. As our linked review shows, it was essentially a
locked-down version of Windows 10 without the ability to run
third-party apps. You'll find it on less expensive PCs like the Surface Laptop Go, as well as some third-party
Windows 11 SE, which we'll discuss further a few sections below,
is the sequel to Microsoft's Chrome OS killer. Windows 11 SE will
only be available to PCs designed for education, which is the
target market for Chromebooks. Windows 11 SE laptops also won't be
sold in retail stores, either — well, that's the plan, anyway. The
idea is that Microsoft wants your kids learning computing on
Windows, not Chrome OS.
The Start menu is command central for Windows 10. (Click image
to enlarge it.)
Chromebooks are much simpler. They run Chrome OS, essentially a
Chrome web browser vehicle, and are often priced several hundred
dollars less than a Windows PC. The newest Chromebooks contain a
bonus, however: the ability to run some Android apps (more on this
later—Android apps are coming to Windows 11, too.). Another perk:
the ability to run Linux—not something that most
users will care about, but a useful niche addition. (Windows 10 users can run Linux as well.)
Chromebooks may be cheap, but they're surprisingly flexible.
In a Chromebook, many of the apps reside below the
Physically, a Chromebook looks much like a Windows-powered
notebook, with a keyboard, a display, a front-facing camera for
videoconferencing, and so on. But there are a few key differences:
Chromebooks typically include a dedicated search keyboard key,
while Windows emphasizes the Windows key. With Windows, you'll have
many hardware choices, including a typical clamshell notebook,
convertibles with 360-degree hinges; 2-in-1 Windows tablets with
detachable keyboards, or pure Windows tablets.
Most Chromebooks are clamshells, but we're seeing a lot more
convertibles now that Android apps are supported. Because Chrome OS
and Android are now conjoined, a key reason to choose a Chrome OS
tablet instead of a clamshell hinges on how often you'll use
Android apps. Android apps run acceptably in a laptop form factor,
but they're arguably more convenient when used as a tablet, and
held in your hand. Remember, most 360-degree convertibles/2-in-1s
flip the keyboard out of the way, essentially transforming the
Chromebook into a big, bulky tablet. We prefer this approach.
Microsoft Cortana runs within Windows, but the Google Assistant
is only in Google's own Pixelbook devices.
Inside, the only real differences are the processor. Windows PCs
have a wide range of microprocessors powering them, usually chips
from AMD and Intel, or more recently, a Qualcomm Snapdragon.
Chromebooks generally favor lower-performance Intel Atom chips
(branded as Pentium or Celeron), Snapdragons, or lesser-known
processors from the likes of Mediatek or Rockchip, that are suited
to the lighter demands of Chrome OS. But AMD has made aggressive,
recent moves to bring its powerful Ryzen chips into
Chromebooks, and Intel's 11th-gen Tiger Lake Core chips, are headed to Chromebooks as
well. Look for CPU buying advice in the next section.
More recently we've seen pricier corporate and luxury
Chromebooks include Intel Core CPUs, including the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook—but the jury's still
out on who will pay upwards of $1,000 for a Chromebook. (We'd
advise you not to.)
Chromebook and Windows PCs features have a lot of overlap, too.
Though you'll find that many Chromebooks and inexpensive laptops
feature a similar HD (1366×768) or Full HD (1920×1080) display,
Windows usually requires a bit more in terms of memory and storage.
Both a Chromebook and a laptop can run acceptably on 4GB of memory,
but 8GB is preferred where Windows notebooks are concerned.
Windows notebooks, too, typically include more local storage for
the Windows OS and associated apps: 128GB or 256GB is acceptable,
though there's really no upper limit. Chromebooks, meanwhile, don't
need much more than 16GB or so, assuming Google-oriented users are
taking advantage of the Drive online storage, or stashing Android
apps on an SD card. Less storage means less cost; many Chromebooks
also use inexpensive eMMC flash storage to save even further. Both
Chromebooks and Windows tablets allow external storage.
Though the Chrome OS Files app within Chromebooks is a little
rougher than Windows, it's been designed with cloud storage (in
Google Drive) from the beginning.
The only Chromebook with Google Assistant support so far is the
Google Pixelbook. Instead, Google's built-in intelligence is
primarily put to use in the Chrome OS Launcher. Like the Chrome
browser, you type a search question into the Launcher and Google
will return answers. The feature is rolled out on Chrome OS 90.
It's not quite the Google Assistant, but it's getting there.
Microsoft's own digital assistant, Cortana, is supported on all
Windows PCs that include a mic—which is virtually all of them. Now,
however, Amazon's Alexa has also been added as a Cortana partner
application or skill, which means Windows users get two
assistants for the price of one. (The Windows 10 May 2020 Update's
Cortana app does not support Alexa, however.) Cortana is also now
an app on Windows PCs and doesn't play as much of a role as she
used to. In fact, on Windows 11 you'll need to add the Cortana app
Windows 11, the successor to Windows 10, rolled out in the fall
of 2021. It provides a visual refresh of Windows…that looks rather
like a Chromebook, actually. You can read our Windows 11 superguide for more.
An example of the Windows 11 desktop and taskbar.
do I need a Chromebook to be?
Buying a laptop is relatively easy: simply look for an
up-to-date AMD or Intel processor, and look for the lowest price.
But Chromebooks can have a variety of low-end microprocessors to
choose from, some of which you may have never heard of.
PCWorld's Alaina Yee recommends buying a Chromebook with a Pentium
or Celeron processor—and that's a good place to start if you don't
feel comfortable parsing Chromebook specifications. Anything more
powerful than that, like an Intel Core chip, is just fine too.
Is a Chromebook
or laptop better for office work?
Productivity apps—word processing, spreadsheets, and the like—r
epresent the majority of the working day. Here, both Windows and
Chromebook users alike have several choices, and both are honestly
about equal in this regard. Chromebooks can run Microsoft's Office
apps as Android applications, while Windows PCs can run Google
Workspace apps on the web. (Google Workspace was formerly named G Suite,
and before that Google Apps.)
You might think that Office would be restricted to Windows, but
that's not true either: Office.com, also known as Office Online,
runs in a web browser, and—assuming you have a subscription to
Office 365 (now called Microsoft 365)—offers nearly all the
functionality that the Office 365 suite does. (Microsoft Office
apps are also available as Android apps, but it's simpler to run
them within the browser.) In fact, given that it's powered by the
cloud, you'll find that Office Online sometimes gets updated with
new features before they arrive on Microsoft 365. Office is
typically used by most enterprises, and if your company
administrator allows it, even shared corporate resources may be
accessible via a Chromebook.
There's one tweak: as of August 2021, Microsoft won't support the Android version of Office
apps on a Chromebook. That doesn't mean you can't run Office on a
Chromebook; you'll just need to use Office.com (AKA Office Online)
The Google Workspace suite also runs online, though
it's focused on the essentials, with fewer features than Office but
a renewed focus on collaboration. I spent over a
year exclusively working on a Chromebox (the nearly defunct desktop
version of a Chromebook) and found Google's simple interface and
instantaneous autosaves superior to the Windows version of Office
at the time. (Office apps like Word now autosave, too.) For our
purposes, both Google Workspace and Office Online will run on
either a plain Chromebook or Windows PC; however, if you need
access to a local copy of Office, only a PC will suffice.
Office Online (Office.com) is accessible via a browser from
either a Chromebook or Windows PC.
As of September 2021, Google has begun rolling out Cursive, a
Progressive Web App (though they're powered by the Web, PWAs can be
saved locally as apps) that is designed for detachable Chromebooks
like the HP Chromebook X2 11. As the name suggests, Cursive is an
app that allows you to jot notes in cursive, a bit like Microsoft
OneNote. While it's technically downloadable for the Chrome
browser, many features reportedly won't work on anything but a
Chromebook. Other Chromebooks will receive the Cursive app a bit
The gist is that productivity is possible on either a Chromebook
or Windows PC with a minimal amount of effort, though you'll may
want to pay for a subscription for either Office or Google's suite
of apps to get maximum benefit and storage space. You may also find
Windows PCs a bit more easy to configure for printing.
From a hardware perspective, it's our view that a laptop form
factor is more convenient than an add-on keyboard, or external
Bluetooth keyboard option. Take the cramped detachable keyboard on
the Lenovo Chromebook Duet, for example. While
tablets make Android apps more convenient, the tradeoff is less
productivity when in laptop mode.
is better for web browsing, a Chromebook or Windows PC?
It's not quite true to say that Chromebooks and a Windows PC are
equivalent in web browsing, but this is probably the closest point
of intersection. Browsing the web using Chrome on a Chrome OS
device is virtually identical to using Chrome on a PC. A Windows PC
will allow other browser options, however, including Microsoft
Edge, Opera, and Firefox. However, Microsoft's new Edge browser is also based on Chromium,
meaning that Edge can use Chrome plug-ins beginning in the Windows 10 October 2020 Update. They're almost
Because of the simplicity of Chrome OS, some complex sites
simply feel more responsive within a Chromebook. On a Chromebook,
with the same ad blockers, the site can actually be more
responsive. Chromebooks usually ship with less memory than a PC,
however, so you'll be able to open fewer tabs. You can use other
browsers with Chromebooks, like Opera, but they're typically the
mobile version of the browser running as an Android app.
Chromebook play games as well as a Windows PC?
With the vast history of classic PC games available to Windows
machines, the PC is clearly dominant as far as on-the-device gaming
is concerned. However, there are also games that are exclusive to
Chromebooks, thanks to 2016's Chrome OS 53, and its ability to run
Android apps and games. All Chromebooks made since 2019 (and some earlier
models) have this capability. But the distinction is not quite
as profound as it once was.
If you buy a Chromebook that supports Android in tablet mode,
then presto! Your Chromebook is now a large tablet.
While you won't be playing the latest Battlefield game
on a Chromebook as a native app, cloud gaming services could come
to your rescue—and running them is the next best thing to loading
and playing them on the Chromebook itself. In addition to the older
Parsec cloud gaming service, you now have Nvidia GeForce Now, the Blade Shadow service (hailing from Europe), and
Google's own Stadia, though it's had a rocky start, all of
which allow you to subscribe to a virtual PC that exists in the
cloud, upon which you can play ordinary PC games.
Google believes strongly in cloud gaming, and as of February
2021 Google began pre-installing Stadia on all new
Chromebooks. The service is available as a web app, optimized
to get you up and running in no time.
You'll never reach PC levels of graphics quality, like 2018's
Kingdom Come, without a cloud-gaming assist.
There's another huge bonus for Chromebook owners,
though: They can play Xbox games in the cloud. Xbox cloud gaming is
available as an Android app, and a Chromebook that runs Android can
run those apps. Confused? Don't be. We explain how Xbox cloud gaming runs on a
Chromebook. Microsoft's Xbox Support Twitter page originally
claimed that ChromeOS wasn't supported for cloud gaming, but our
tests, and others, show that that isn't true. Just make sure that
you either have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription in place,
or own an Xbox outright.
In June 2021, Xbox cloud gaming arrived on PCs via the Web
browser. We've already tested Xbox cloud gaming on the Web, and it
runs pretty well.
But wait—the PC will be able to run Android apps and
games, too, as part of Windows 11. That capability will arrive
in 2022, and won't include the Google Play Store; PCs will run
Android apps from Amazon instead. (You can already run Android apps
via Windows Insider builds, Microsoft's beta program.)
Again, however, if you're trying to decide between a low-cost
Windows PC and a Chromebook on the basis of games, don't. Though
the PC is superior, the best low-cost PC for gaming is an Xbox One
more apps, Chromebooks or Windows PCs?
Games certainly fall into the category of local apps, but so do
the numerous apps and utilities that can make everyday tasks a
little easier. Here, it's also a mixed bag.
Chrome apps can be found within the Chrome Web Store, where
there are both utilities, educational tools, and more.
Android apps can include both games as well as mobile
productivity apps. There were almost 3 million total in the Google Play app store as of
June, 2020. Microsoft has stopped publicizing the number of
Windows apps. That number says nothing about the quality of apps in
either store, obviously, but it does indicate that Android has many
Not every Android app will run on a Chromebook. Chromebooks
don't include GPS chips, so location-specific apps won't work.
Ditto for those who rely on rear cameras that the Chromebook may or
may not have—Pokemon Go, for instance.
One of the strengths of Windows, though, lies within its
historical archive of bits of code, utilities, and other apps that
have collected in dusty old hard-drive folders, FTP sites, and
elsewhere. Batch resizing apps for images, custom calendar apps,
macro managers—everyone has their favorites, and Chrome OS simply
can't compete. On the flip side—and this is important—Chrome OS
doesn't include the type of crapware Windows PCs also sometimes
ship with, requiring apps like CCleaner to tidy up.
Quietly, Windows PCs are the platforms to run virtually
everything: traditional Win32 apps, Web apps, Linux apps, and soon Android apps via Windows 11 as well. PCs
running Windows 10 S won't run anything but apps found in the
Microsoft Store, which can be a hassle.
Chromebooks also have another advantage, although we certainly
don't think this is for everyone: Linux. Some Chromebooks can run
Linux, although it will take some fiddling. Our friends over at
Computerworld have an up-to-date guide on how to run Linux on a Chromebook.
run Windows apps on Chromebooks?
Yes and no. Parallels Desktop for Chromebook Enterprise is a new
feature that Google just introduced on Chromebooks, but not
all of them. Parallels provides quick access to legacy and
full-featured applications, like Microsoft Office, locally on
Chrome OS—which means that they'll even work offline. However,
Parallels is a managed solution for enterprises with IT managers,
meaning that you won't be able to take advantage of this
with a cheap Chromebook that you'll buy from Amazon.
Instead, only very specific enterprise Chromebooks will be able
to access Parallels Desktop for Chromebook Enterprise: the HP Pro c640 Chromebook Enterprise, the HP Elite c1030 Chromebook Enterprise and the
upcoming HP Chromebox Enterprise G3, all powered by Intel
Core i5 and i7 processors. (It's probable that these enterprise
Chromebooks need the virtualization capabilities available in the
Core i5 and Core i7 processors.)
Could this capability to run Windows apps be extended to
consumer Chromebooks in the future? Possibly. But right now it's
out of reach for most users.
What's it like
using a Chromebook vs. a Windows PC?
While it's easy to focus on what you're going to do
with either a Chromebook or a Windows PC—web browsing! games!—it's
easy to lose sight of the little things.
One of the best features of a Chromebook that's easily
overlooked is Google's approach to updates and security. Everything
takes place behind the scenes. Windows downloads updates for
antivirus and other programs in the background, but others require
reboots. If you don't have Windows properly configured, those
reboots can even occur while you're using the PC, which can be
hugely annoying. While Chromebooks occasionally need to be rebooted
to apply updates, the process is quicker and less intrusive, as
Google reloads the pages you were on quite quickly.
In fact, quick is one of the best features of a Chromebook.
While they're less full-featured than a Windows PC, booting and
resuming them just generally feels more efficient than it does on
Windows. Part of that is the simplicity: Google takes care of most
of the mundane tasks of powering a PC, like security and driver
updates. Blue screens of death occur on Windows; Chromebooks rarely
crash—a fact Google emphasizes in commercials.
Still, some of those more mundane tasks can be irritating to
Chromebook users, too: such as printing, file management, and
utilities: This is where the differences between the two platforms
can become abrasive, especially if you're used to doing things in a
certain way. For example, Google's trying to add diagnostics to the
Chrome OS platform, but it's still doing it its own way.
Google's new Chrome OS Diagnostics features are part of Chrome
Take printing, for example. The world's printers were designed
from the ground up for Windows and Macs, and can print either over
a wireless network or from a USB cable. Chromebooks, on the other
hand, have struggled with direct printing or using the more
advanced features of certain printers. Google Cloud Print was the company's workaround,
requiring a Wi-Fi enabled printer; however, this feature was phased
out by the end of 2020.
Certain tasks also require a different way of doing things on a
Chromebook versus a Windows PC. Sure, there are the Chrome OS keyboard shortcuts, where taking a
screenshot or a portion of one requires knowing to press the Ctrl +
switcher key. When you take that screenshot, you'll see it saved
inside a folder—but you won't be able to rename that file without
opening it. Windows allows you to right-click a file and perform
any number of operations on it; Chrome OS does not.
Even accessing those files on Chrome OS requires clicking the
home circle in the lower-left corner, then either swiping or
clicking the exposed up arrow to access the Chrome OS apps, some of
which can be stored in the taskbar dock for easy access.
Staring soulfully at a Windows Hello-enabled PC for a second or
two can automatically log you in, a capability Chromebooks don't
The same goes for alternative input modalities. While
Chromebooks allow for inking—you'll generally need to supply your
own stylus or use your finger—and can record audio, don't expect a
Chromebook to include pen input that's translatable into text.
Windows exclusively provides this.
Interestingly, though, Chromebooks are adding more features that were
originally part of Windows. Windows offers Your Phone, an app
that allows you to send texts from your PC and move photos back and
forth from your phone. In the M89 release of Chrome OS, Google
added Phone Hub to connect your phone, Nearby Share to beam
documents to nearby phones and other Chromebooks, and a way to
share Wi-Fi passwords among trusted devices, too.
To be fair, Windows 11 looks a lot more like a Chromebook than
it did before. The Windows 11 Taskbar (for now) can only be
oriented at the bottom of the screen, where apps pop up from a
Start menu that looks somewhat like the Chrome OS launcher.
Our colleagues over at Computerworld include a Chromebook cheat sheet that you may find useful
with more details on the ins and outs of Chromebooks.
Which is more
secure, a Chromebook or a Windows PC?
Security isn't a question that can be answered absolutely, but
Chromebooks and Windows PCs differ fundamentally here. The relative
simplicity of a Chromebook offers a far smaller attack surface than
a Windows PC does. The complexity of Windows PCs, including the
software Windows supports, provides hackers many more opportunities
Google developed Chromebooks with security as a priority, using
everything from isolated, sandboxed processes to verified boot to
help protect your system. (Our sister site, TechAdvisor, has a more
detailed explanation.) For people who worry
about websites that hijack your browser or download malware, a
Chromebook's defenses protect you without making you think about it
Keeping a Windows PC safe is a much more complicated business.
Security starts as soon as you begin setting up a new PC. Regular maintenance is
required for both your antivirus software and the Windows operating
system, though most happens automatically. Still, holes are
constantly being discovered, such as the Meltdown/Spectre
vulnerabilities, as well as the more recent Foreshadow/L1TF exploit. You have to be
vigilant, or at least not too lazy, to protect your Windows PC.
Fortunately, Windows' built-in Windows Defender software is far better
than it used to be, enough that Windows can basically take care
Login security works about the same on both platforms. Logging
into a Chromebook requires a Google account and its password. While
U2F hardware keys for logging in can be used, a typical home user
probably wouldn't. Windows PCs also prefer a Microsoft account and
password (though you can log into the PC locally without one).
Authentication options include Windows Hello (either via a
fingerprint reader or depth camera, or else with a short PIN),
which provides a casual level of security that also lets you resume
work quickly and easily. It's a cross between ease-of-access and
security that Microsoft has invested in heavily, and it's a
convenience that most Windows users appreciate.
Still, Chromebooks have improved here as well. Chrome OS 88, which rolled out in January 2021,
supports WebAuthn, a feature that allows you to log into a website
using your fingerprint or PIN. (Your Chromebook needs to have a
fingerprint reader for this to work.) In this case, your phone
replaces your PIN as a means of two-factor authentication.
Windows 11, though, introduces a huge wrinkle: some PCs simply
won't be upgradable to Windows 11, because they
lack the required hardware, including what's
known as a TPM.
Which can be
personalized more, a Chromebook or a PC?
Typically, Windows PCs have offered an enormous variety of
options to allow you to tweak things as you like, which we've
covered in our feature of how to personalize your PC. Most of this is
already built into Windows, though there are wallpaper theme packs
and even a Bing Wallpaper app to allow further
Chromebooks have generally not offered these capabilities,
though there's now an option to personalize your lock screen with either one of
your own photos or an image preselected by Google. Music controls
are available, too.
lasts longer, a Chromebook or a PC?
The longevity of a PC is basically determined by how demanding
Windows is, compared to the hardware powering it. The willingness
of the PC maker and component makers to provide drivers also plays
a role. Hardware failures will eventually occur. Every processor
that Intel launches is accompanied by statements comparing the new
chip to a 5-year-old PC, with performance improvements in the 30 to
40 percent range. Otherwise, a PC's lifespan could go on for years,
Or we thought so, anyway. As the previous section noted, Windows
11 suddenly cut off millions of PCs from an upgrade to Windows 11,
because of new hardware restrictions. Older PCs, even Surface devices made by Microsoft, are being
cut off. Could Microsoft do this again in the future? We don't
A Chromebook lasts as long as Google is willing to support it,
and that's much easier to determine: Google tells you. In the beginning, it was just five
years after the original production date for any Chromebook (keep
this in mind if you're buying an older Chromebook, or a used one).
More recently, Google's begun extending the time it supports Chromebooks by
about six months to a year, and even up to eight years in some
cases. Beginning with Chrome OS 80, in February 2020, it appears you'll be able to dive into the
Settings menu and discover exactly when your device will lose
Google also said recently that it's working to separate the security aspects of Chrome OS from new
features. Right now, when a Chromebook exits the support
window, that's it: no new features, no new security updates. In the
future, though, Google's support window may put a hard stop on new
Chrome OS features, but may keep adding security patches for
does Windows 11 influence my purchase?
Windows 11, Microsoft's next operating system, will debut this
fall. (You can follow our Windows 11 superguide here, or read our Windows 11 FAQ here.) Essentially, it
revamps the look and feel of Windows 10, offers new features such
as Android apps, and cuts off millions of existing PCs in the name
of security. If you buy a new PC, however, you simply won't have to
worry about the hardware issues. Some even think that Windows 11
looks a bit like Chrome OS.
Windows 11 SE adds another wrinkle. Microsoft launched Windows 11 SE in November
2021, and it's a direct challenge to Chromebooks in the education
market. Windows 11 SE won't be sold at retail, and the devices that
run it, such as the shockingly cheap $249 Surface Laptop SE, won't be sold at
retail, just directly to schools.
Windows 11 SE requires a little explanation. Windows 10 S
(Windows 10 Home in S Mode) prevented you from running third-party
apps that weren't in the Microsoft Store, helping secure PCs from
unauthorized apps but also proving massively inconvenient to add
third-party utilities. Here are the key differences from Windows
11: Microsoft discarded the distracting Widgets menu in Windows 11
SE. Apps will be launched in full-screen mode by default. Windows
11 SE PCs will only be able to run two apps side-by-side, rather
than four. Finally, the Start menu will only include four
Recommended files to help kids find what they need. Microsoft also
has a promotional site for Windows 11 SE with more
This is how Microsoft
explains the differences between Windows 11 SE, Windows 11, and
Windows 10. Some of this may be useful to you…or not! (It's worth
noting that Windows 10 supports touchscreen PCs and voice
Chromebooks continue to add on to Chrome OS, just like Windows
11 does to Windows 10. It's these profound changes to the OS that
justified the new name for Windows 11.
Chromebook or laptop should I buy?
Of the Chromebooks we've reviewed, we'd highly recommend these
four: The HP Chromebook x360
12b is inexpensive but very well designed—finally, a budget
pick for discerning users. The Lenovo Chromebook Duet has a
detachable keyboard, so it can be used as a tablet. Google's own,
luxurious (though aging) Pixelbook and Pixelbook Go embody sleek luxury and workhorse
practicality, respectively. And we like the Lenovo Flex 5, though the display isn't quite
up to snuff.
Because Chromebooks have a decent (and fixed) support cycle,
don't be afraid to buy a slightly older Chromebook at a discount,
but make sure you check its end-of-life date.
As far as notebooks are concerned, we have a number of PCWorld's picks for best laptops from
which to choose. If you have the budget for a Chromebook but prefer
Windows instead, the Acer Aspire 5 (A515-43-R19L) is Amazon's
choice, and ours as well. Our best 14-inch workhorse laptop, the HP Envy 14, gives you a discrete GPU at under
$1,000. And there's a reason that we gave the HP Spectre x13t a full five stars.
There's one other factor which may influence your decision: a
list of free Chromebook perks that Google makes available to
Chromebook owners. They'll change from time to time, but at press
time included a free trial of Google's Stadia
service, 100GB of Dropbox space, a Google One subscription, and
a three-month subscription to Disney+.
is better, a Chromebook or laptop?
While we can't say for certain which platform you'll prefer,
here's a suggestion: If you think that a Chromebook could be right
for you, take a Windows PC, download the Google Chrome browser, and
then work exclusively within it for a day or so. A Chromebook will
also be more attractive if you own or are familiar with Android
apps. We love both.
It's fair to say that Windows offers a more comprehensive
experience, but Chrome OS is a significantly simpler, cheaper
alternative. The buying decision usually works out to something
like: I can do almost everything in Windows with a
Chromebook, but… It's that last little bit—printing, file
management, etc.— that will guide your decision. Good luck!
Updated on November 23, 2021, with details of Microsoft's
new Windows 11 SE, other details, and new buying