If you have only recently become acquainted with Chromebooks and you would like to know more about the differences between them and Windows PCs, you have come to the right place.
Chromebooks are extraordinary laptops for a number of reasons and they have advantages and disadvantages in relation to Windows PCs.
The history of Chromebooks
Before taking a look at the differences between Chromebooks and Windows PCs, you should understand the origin of Chromebooks and the reason for their existence.
The first Chromebooks appeared in 2011 and they were created by Google with the goal of offering a simple, fast and secure computer at a low price that people could use to surf the internet faster and more securely than ever before.
To achieve its objective, Google relied heavily on its Chrome browser – which is used by a vast number of people. You can probably guess why these computers were named Chromebooks.
In 2011, Google Chrome was already a very popular browser due to its simplicity, speed, and security. Unfortunately, the majority of Windows PCs at the time were of mediocre quality, resulting in a painfully slow web surfing experience – despite all of Google Chrome’s optimizations.
It is for this reason that Google began creating its own operating system with the intention of running it on its own computers. This operating system, named Chrome OS, was designed specifically to get around all of the deficiencies in speed and security that Windows PCs are subject to as well as to offer users an inexpensive laptop that makes web surfing an enjoyable experience.
4 very big differences between Chromebooks and Windows PCs
Now that we have discussed the origin story of Chromebooks, you will be better able to understand the differences between these computers and Windows PCs.
1 – Operating system
The respective operating system used by Chromebooks and Windows PCs is obviously a major difference between these two types of computers. Chrome OS is based on the Linux kernel and not on Windows which results in there being a great number of differences between the two systems.
Chrome OS is a simplified version of Linux, optimized for navigating the internet. As a result, Chromebooks are able to benefit from the high performance and ease-of-use and navigation of the Linux OS.
Windows is the dominant operating system that almost everyone knows and uses; it has tons of applications available to it, however, it also has plenty of issues concerning security and speed.
Being relatively new, Chrome OS has not yet been adopted by a large number of people. However, at a time when Windows PC and Mac sales are stagnating, those of Chromebooks continue to increase every year. Chromebooks even outsold Mac computers in the USA in 2016, mainly due to their massive adoption in the field of education.
Despite this slight increase in market share, Chromebooks still lag far behind Windows PCs in terms of sales.
Given their very affordable price as well as their great speed and security, why haven’t Chromebooks been adopted by a wider audience?
The problem with Chromebook applications
The major problem with Chromebooks – their main downside for the moment – is their lack of available applications.
Just like with Windows, Android and iOS devices, Chromebooks have access to their own app store. Unfortunately, given that Chromebooks have not yet become very popular, few developers are willing to create apps for the Chrome Web Store.
Developers interested in creating computer applications or games will most likely start by developing a Windows version of their software since this market has the most potential customers. In this way, the more Windows dominates the market, the easier it is for Windows to remain dominant.
The more Windows applications there are, the more users will want to take advantage of them, and, the more Windows users there are, the more developers will want to take advantage of this segment of the market by creating applications for the Windows operating system.
It is this virtuous circle which has allowed Windows to dominate the PC market for years despite the high cost of its software (whereas Chrome OS is free and open-source), and despite having serious security problems (whereas Chrome OS is much more secure) as well as having mediocre performance on computers with limited resources (whereas Chrome OS is very fast, even on low-power, inexpensive computers).
For the moment, accessing all of a Chromebook’s capabilities requires relying on an internet connection.
Although it is rare nowadays to be out of range of a WiFi connection, the dependence of Chromebooks on a constant internet connection and the lack of offline applications available to them are the most significant downsides to using this type of computer (this has not stopped many people from using Chromebooks for over 3 years now).
Fortunately, Android applications will soon be accessible to Chromebooks which will completely solve this problem and which should encourage many people to abandon their Windows PC in favor of a Chromebook.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that the respective advantages and disadvantages of the operating system used by Chromebooks and Windows PCs constitute a major difference between these two types of computers.
2 – Quality to price ratio
Another very big difference between Chromebooks and Windows PCs is their respective quality to price ratio.
Just take a quick look at the Chromebooks available on Amazon to get an idea of the type of computer you can buy for as little as 200 to 300 dollars.
For a little over 300 dollars, you can buy a Toshiba Chromebook 2, which has a 13” IPS 1080p display, 4GB of RAM, a great keyboard and trackpad as well as over 6 hours of battery autonomy. In addition, it is very lightweight as well as being silent, since it does not have a fan.
Or if you prefer a computer with a larger display, you can always buy an Acer Chromebook CB5 with a 15” display and up to 8 hours of battery autonomy.
While low-cost Windows laptops have been improving, in terms of their general performance and the quality of the web surfing experience they are able to offer, they remain inferior to Chromebooks. Just to be clear, I am speaking about entry-level Windows PCs and not mid-range to high-end models. In fact, the best Windows ultrabooks are excellent computers in terms of productivity – still unrivaled by Chromebooks.
To better illustrate the differences between a 300 dollars Windows laptop and a Chromebook retailing for the same price, let’s take the trackpad used on these respective computers as an example.
On Windows PCs, the trackpad is hardware device which manufacturers incorporate into the computer, but which users generally don’t enjoy using and which will probably only be used as a last resort (when the user has no access to an external mouse for example).
On Chromebooks however, the trackpad is a real asset which allows the user to increase his or her productivity and which greatly improves the comfort of the web surfing experience.
Once you have mastered a few basic gestures, you will no longer have any need for an external mouse in order to properly use your Chromebook. Not only does the type of trackpad used on Chromebooks enhance the comfort of the user experience, it also increases the mobility of these computers, since no external mouse is required.
Speaking of mobility, with a Chromebook you will no longer need to carry a charger around with you everywhere you go since the majority of Chromebooks have a battery autonomy of 6, 8, 10 or even 12 hours.
Chromebooks are simply unbeatable in terms of their quality to price ratio.
3 – Security
One of Google’s main objectives, when it launched its Chromebook computers, was to create an extremely secure device.
Given that the operating system of these computers is based on the Linux kernel, Chromebooks are, by default, very secure. Ask anyone who routinely uses Linux what antivirus software they use and they will most likely laugh at you. Viruses simply don’t exist in the Linux world.
In addition to this Linux-based security, Chromebooks automatically receive the latest security and performance-improvement updates every 6 weeks.
You will also find these frequent updates easy to perform since you will not be required to do anything. Whenever these updates become available and whenever your Chromebook is connected to the internet, these updates will be automatically downloaded and installed – entirely in the background. Once the updates have been installed, you will receive a notification message telling you that the updates will take effect after your next reboot.
As far as Windows computers are concerned, updates are still rather annoying to install. When you are not being bombarded with messages regarding an automatic and mandatory upgrade to Windows 10, you will still be forced to stare at a blue Windows screen while the updates are being installed, which can take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
Furthermore, despite the vast improvements which have been made to the security of the latest versions of Windows, the basic Windows firewall remains of mediocre quality and users are still required to install third-party antivirus software in order ensure secure web navigation.
Chromebooks, for their part, do not require any antivirus software since they are inherently very secure. This difference in security between Chromebooks and windows laptops is another element to take into consideration when choosing between a Chromebook and a Windows PC.
4 – Internal memory and the cloud
The last major difference you should be aware of is the distinction between internal storage and cloud storage.
Windows laptops generally have an internal storage capacity of between 500 GB and 2 TB. This amount of storage makes it possible to install a great many programs, even very large ones, as well as to store a lot of multimedia content such as movies, TV shows, music albums, etc.
Sometimes, this large storage space is wasted or causes organizational problems for users; good luck finding your vacation photos from 2 years ago if you stored them on your PC and you are not very well organized.
Conscious of this problem and in an effort to decrease the cost of Chromebooks and to make them as fast as possible, Google conceived their computers to have about the same amount of internal storage space as a smartphone.
At the time that I am writing this, I have about 5.7 GB of free space on my Toshiba Chromebook 2. Basically enough to store 3 HD movies and only if they are highly compressed.
So how do I go about storing all of my important documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other files despite the ridiculously limited amount of internal storage space available to my Chromebook?
I store it all on the cloud of course! And in particular, on Google Drive, the service made available by Google which allows you to store all of your files on hyper-secure servers and to access them from wherever you like, from any device.
Anyone who creates an account on Google Drive will be given 15 GB of free storage space. In addition, Google offers 100 GB of storage space to anyone who purchases a Chromebook.
This total and deliberate integration of cloud storage into the Chromebook’s design is intended to change the way in which users use their computer. Whenever I create a document file, I don’t have to worry about saving it or about making sure that it is secure or about losing it I lose my computer.
And, if I so desire, I can start creating a Google Slides presentation on my Chromebook and finish it later on my desktop PC. I can also consult my files from my smartphone – which can be very handy for rereading my notes before a test or for practicing before giving a presentation.
Once you have experienced the advantages offered by the cloud, you will quickly forget that you don’t even have 10 GB of internal storage space remaining on your computer. Personally, I have never encountered a situation in which having this little free storage space has created any serious problem for me.
And even if you were to encounter problems, you could always buy an external hard drive to store your larger files. You can buy a 1 TB external hard drive for around 50$ on Amazon.
The intensive use of internal storage space by Windows laptops, compared to Google’s cloud-based approach is another big difference between Windows PCs and Chromebooks.
Conclusion regarding the differences between Chromebooks and Windows PCs
Chromebooks represent a new vision for what a laptop should be. Fast, secure and with an excellent quality to price ratio, they have abandoned large internal storage devices in favor of cloud-based storage.
With a rather high dependence on a constant internet connection, Chromebooks don’t have many offline applications available to them (at least until they gain access to the Play Store) and are still not as reliable as Windows PCs in their capacity to serve as workstations.
Is it possible to use a Chromebook as your everyday computer? Yes, it is entirely possible to do so. Some people have even been doing so for more than 3 years now.
You will, however, need to make sure that – for your work or for whatever other reason – you do not rely on any applications that will only run on a Windows operating system. If you do rely on any such programs, a Chromebook might be more useful to you as a secondary computer.
To learn more about the best Chromebooks available at the moment, you can check out my buyer’s guide.