Difference between Chromebook and Laptop: Operating System, HDMI…

If you want to buy a laptop but have a low budget, a Chromebook might be a good alternative to a traditional Windows laptop or MacBook. To determine whether or not a Chrombook is a good option for you, it is essential to understand the differences between a Chromebook and laptops powered by Windows or Apple. When we refer to ‘laptop’, we refer to a laptop powered by Windows or Apple. 

In this article:

  • Main differences between Chromebook and laptop
    • Operating system
    • Apps/available software
    • Hardware (including storage)
    • Is Chromebook safe?
  • When to buy a Chromebook and when to buy a laptop 

Difference between Chromebook and laptop

From the outside, a Chromebook might look very similar to a normal laptop. However, the differences between a Chromebook and other laptops are really big. Understanding them is an essential step in making the right choice and choosing the correct device to satisfy your needs. Let’s take a look at the main differences between Chromebook and laptops:

Chromebook operating system 

What is an operating system?

What is an operating system? Simple, an operating system (also known as OS) is the system software that “powers” your device. The operating system controls the hardware of your device and it allows you to install apps or other software on top of it. The most common operating systems are Windows, iOS, macOS, Android, Linux, Windows phone etc. 

Different operating systems have different characteristics. Some of the most important differences between operating systems are: versatility, available software, more user friendliness,  or battery efficiency, mobile friendliness, speed etc etc. 

Now that you know what an operating system is, let’s have a look at the operating system that powers Chromebook devices and the main differences with the Operating System of a “traditional” laptop.

Difference between Chromebook operating system and laptops 

The operating system of a Chromebook device is Chrome OS. This is a free operating system offered by Google. Chrome OS is based on Google Chrome and Chrome is also its main interface. You can install Chrome apps as well as Android apps on your Chromebook device. 

Yes, Android apps are the same apps as you are using on Android devices and there are a lot of apps available on the Play store. 

The Operating system of most normal laptops is Microsoft Windows. Of course there are also laptops powered with macOS, but usually the price range is so different from Chromebooks that it does not make much sense to compare them. You can install different apps on laptops powered by Windows when compared to a Chromebook. Let’s take a look at the differences in the apps available for the two types of devices.

Differences in Apps for Chromebook and (Windows) laptops 

This is a very important factor to consider when you are choosing between a Windows and Chrome OS device. Most basic apps (such as text editors, spreadsheets, PowerPoint etc..) are available for both Chrome OS and Windows. Read more about Office for Chromebook

When it comes to specialized and technical apps, most apps are only available in a limited version for Chromebook, let me explain why.

A Chromebook is a portable device with limited computational power (I will explain more about this in the next chapter). This means that Chromebook devices do not have enough computational power to run computational power requiring software such as video editing or simulation software. If you need to use this sort of software, I would not recommend a Chromebook. You can take a look at our review of the best affordable Windows laptops and choose a good Windows laptop for a fair price.

As a final note, it is important to realize that you cannot install a Windows app (including .exe files) on a Chrome OS device and vice versa. When a software is available for both Chrome OS and Microsoft, it means that there are two different versions of the software, one for Chromebook and one for Windows. 

Chromebook vs Laptop: differences in Hardware

The hardware of a device simply consists of the physical components in the device. Examples of hardware parts are CPU, RAM memory, SSD memory, speakers, screen etc etc. The hardware is a very important factor, together with the operating system to determine the performance of a device. The hardware of a device is a very important factor. In particular when it comes to computational power.

Why Chromebook often has low range hardware but still guarantees good performance 

Chromebook devices usually have low range (cheap) hardware but they are still very fast. How is this possible?

As I previously explained, having powerful hardware in your device is very important for computational intensive work. If your computer needs to make advanced calculations, it will need an “advanced brain” for it. However, for simple tasks, such as surfing the net, writing a text document or a spreadsheet, low range hardware with a light and efficient Operating System can offer great performance. 

This is precisely the case with Chromebook devices. Chromebook devices are powered by a very light and efficient operating system (Chrome OS). This makes Chromebooks extremely fast in performing everyday work such as web surfing and writing a text document. 

If you mostly use your laptop for simple tasks (like the tasks I indicated above), a Chromebook can be a great alternative to a standard laptop. 

Differences between memory storage between Chromebook and a traditional laptop

Another factor that worries people about chromebook is the limited memory that chromebook offers when compared to a traditional laptop. In fact, chromebooks usually have a total memory capacity of 32 or 64 GB. This is very low when compared to Windows laptops (that usually offer around 500GB memory or more). However, the limited memory available in a chromebook is not an issue if you are using a Chromebook the way it is designed to be used. 

There is a reason why the operating system of a Chromebook is called Chrome OS. Most of the apps used by a Chromebook are run via Chrome. For example, the main text editor used in Chromebook devices is Google Docs. Google Docs runs via the web browser (no need to install any heavy software on your device) and the data is saved in the cloud on your Google Drive. 

To summarize, when using a traditional laptop you usually install software and save your files on the device itself and this requires a lot of memory. When using a Chromebook, you do not need to install any software and you will save your documents on the cloud, this requires very little memory on your Chromebook device. 

There are, however, some downsides to this feature. Your options to work are very limited without an internet connection. However nowadays you can find WiFi everywhere (or even use your cellphone as a hotspot).

You cannot do computational intensive work. Do not buy a chromebook to process videos or to make Matlab calculations!

Chromebook HDMI

Do Chromebook devices have HDMI ports? Before answering this question it is important to distinguish an input from an output HDMI port. Your screens and TVs have an inlet HDMI port, an outlet HDMI port is something you will find on laptops PCs etc.. An HDMI cable is connected from an input port to an output port to share data. 

Some Chromebook devices have an HDMI outlet port but no Chromebook has an inlet port. This makes quite a lot of sense as you want to share videos from your Chromebook to another screen, and not vice versa. 

Some Chromebooks do not have an HDMI port, but this is not an issue. In fact, all Chromebook devices will have a USB cable or a DiplayPort or some other alternative that can be used to share the screen. If you want to connect a Chromebook device without an HDMI outlet port to a TV that has an HDMI inlet port, you just need to buy an adapter. 

As adapter cables are really cheap (for example on Aliexpress), Chromebook HDMI port is not such a critical factor when choosing your Chromebook.

Chassis and weight: differences between Chromebook and laptop

A Chromebook is often very light compared to a standard laptop. The reason is that a Chromebook is designed as a mobile device. A Chromebook is much more energy efficient (I will explain this to you later) and much lighter than a normal laptop. Thanks to this, a Chromebook warms up much less than a standard laptop and does not need a fancy ventilation system to cool down. 

If you look at most Chromebook devices, you will notice that they do not have any fan and their chassis is made out of plastic. This would not be possible for a normal laptop as it would overheat and melt down. 

How is all of this possible? Again, thanks to the lower hardware performances and light software that is optimized for simple usage rather than high computational power.

Is Chromebook safe

Yes, Chromebook devices are really safe. You can fully encrypt the data on your Chromebook to protect your privacy. Also most of your data is saved on the cloud, not directly on your Chromebook. This means that if someone steals your Chromebook, you can remove your Chromebook from your Google Drive account and the thieves will not be able to access your data. 

For what concerns protection from hackers, Chromebook is also really safe. By default you can only install apps from the Play store or Chrome store. These apps are all verified by Google, so the chance of getting a virus there is really low. If you choose to install apps from outside the store you will take more risk. However, all valid apps are uploaded on the store, so there is no real reason to install unsafe apps.

Battery lifetime: Chromebook vs laptop

There is no discussion, the battery of a Chromebook device lasts MUCH longer than a Windows device in the same price range. The main reason for this is again that Chromebooks have a much lighter Operating System and lower computational power. Also, the Hardware architecture of a Chromebook is designed to maximize battery lifetime rather than performance.

When to buy a Chromebook and when to buy a laptop 

At this point of the article, you should know about the main differences between Chromebook and laptops. Now let’s add some cost considerations and define when it is better to buy a Chromebook or a laptop. I will do this by analyzing some different user cases.

Case 1: the traveller 

If you are travelling a lot, a Chromebook device is a great option for you! In fact, Chromebooks are very light and the battery lasts much longer. The only downside of a Chromebook for travellers is that the default software works better online. You won’t be able to access your Google Drive offline and Google Docs only works partially offline. However, you can overcome this issue by installing a text editor from the play store. In addition you will probably still need an internet connection to work nowadays, also with a Windows device. In conclusion, WiFi is available pretty much everywhere and if not, you can use your phone as a hotspot to solve the issue.  

Case 2: you have a low budget

If you have a low budget (and with low I mean $300 or less) a Chromebook is always a good option. If you try buying a Windows laptop with such a low budget, it will probably be very slow and age very quickly. If you do not need high computational power or to use specific software which is not available for Chromebook, a Chromebook is the way to go! There are several tricks you can use to find a good Chromebook for an affordable price!

Case 3: the gamer

If you like to play videogames on your laptop, you should definitely not buy a Chromebook. You need a powerful laptop for gaming, while a Chromebook is not powerful enough. Secondly, most games are not available for Chromebook. If you want to use your laptop for gaming, buying a Chromebook therefore makes no sense. Your best option would be a Windows gaming laptop. If you are looking for a low budget gaming laptop below $500, take a look at this article from a professional gamer on how to choose it!

Case 4: an alternative to a tablet

A Chromebook can be a great alternative to a tablet. Some Chromebooks even have touch screens! This makes them a perfect hybrid between laptops and tablets, sort of a low cost Microsoft Surface!


These were the main differences between Chromebook and laptops. If you liked this article, you should have a look at our productivity section to stay up to date about developments in technology.