Chromebook vs. Laptop for College: Which Is the Best Option?

edited August 2023 in PC Tech

As a college student, your computer is your lifeline. You'll work on it for 5 to 10 hours daily during school. You'll use it to write papers, take notes, and stay organized. At home, you'll stream movies and music and perhaps play games. You might wonder what kind of computer is required for your coursework. Should you get a Windows laptop or a Chromebook?

In this article, we'll delve into the differences and explore the pros and cons of each to help you determine the best student laptop for your academic needs.

What is a Chromebook? 

A Chromebook is a low-cost alternative to traditional laptops developed by Google. Unlike most laptops, Chromebooks don't run Microsoft Windows. Instead, they run on Chrome OS, similar to the Google Chrome web browser, which means you can do all the things you usually do online:

  • Read websites 
  • Use Google Docs, Sheets & Slides, or Microsoft Office 
  • Check email 
  • Watch videos 
  • Stream games 
  • Edit Photos

Chromebooks use web-based computing, and virtually all the applications and data are stored in the cloud (part of the internet). Using cloud computing means you can do many of the same tasks as a Windows laptop while using fewer resources and less powerful hardware. Cloud computing reduces the device's cost and weight, but they have less functionality than a traditional laptop.

Chromebooks are:

  • Simple to use 
  • Good battery life 
  • Boot up in seconds 
  • An increasingly large app

They have built-in virus protection and automatic software updates to keep your Chromebook safe and secure.

What's the difference between Chromebooks and laptops? 

Chromebooks and laptops may look identical. However, Chromebooks sport a unique operating system - ChromeOS, rather than Microsoft Windows. Both devices possess a keyboard, camera, built-in screen, and trackpad, and many Chromebooks also embrace the clamshell or 2-in-1 form factor with touchscreens, mirroring traditional laptops.

Digging deeper, though, the internal differences between the two become apparent. Laptops tend to have the upper hand in power with capable chips from Intel or AMD and superior integrated or discrete graphics powering them. Traditional laptops running on Windows 11 require more powerful hardware and faster memory. As a result, they are generally more expensive.

Conversely, Chromebooks usually contain lower-performing chips and graphics, with only a few high-end models using Intel® Core™ processors. Chrome OS is streamlined, doesn't require high-end hardware, and keeps Chromebooks affordable.

In terms of storage, Windows laptops offer a minimum of 256GB compared to Chromebooks' modest 32GB. This difference arises from Chrome OS's focus on cloud-based storage and its reduced reliance on local storage space for apps and files compared to Windows.

Chromebooks vs. Laptops for College Students 

As a college student, the tech you choose can make or break your academic experience. Windows 11 is more robust than ChromeOS. So, Windows laptops are fully functional and can tackle virtually any app your courses throw at you, while Chromebooks champion simplicity and wallet-friendliness.

Chromebooks running on ChromeOS tap into the cloud's data storage and app management, offering a lean yet effective approach.

Before committing to either camp, scour your college website for laptop requirements to ensure compatibility with course-specific software. It's not uncommon for IT departments to dish out tailored hardware suggestions, so Google: Your college name + degree + laptop requirements 

Windows laptops are more powerful and can store applications and data on the hard drive or the cloud. Some software runs better or will only run on Windows. If you are enrolled in courses that demand large software downloads or files — think MBA programs —Windows-based laptops have the upper hand as they're built to handle the heavy lifting.

But don't dismiss Chromebooks just yet. Their claim to fame lies in their simplicity, efficiency, quick performance, and extended battery life. Equipped with convenient features such as:

  • Automated updates 
  • Malware defense 
  • Secure login capabilities

Chromebooks have carved out their niche in the K-12 student market with over 60% share in 2018.

College Windows laptop specifications (2023) 

Here's a list of system requirements for top college laptops: 

  • Intel® Core™ i7 or higher, or AMD Ryzen™ 7 or higher. 
  • 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) or higher. 
  • Minimum 8GB of RAM (16GB RAM preferred). 
  • Fast "wake to sleep" setting when you are not using the laptop to boost battery life, and 
  • Quick "wake from sleep" to maximize productivity when using the computer. 
  • Windows 11. 
  • Fast internet connection.

These extra items are handy at home or in your dorm: 

Acer Aspire 5 Laptop: the college budget champ

In the market for a budget-friendly college laptop that won't exceed $700? Look no further than the Acer Aspire 5. This laptop features a full HD IPS screen with a 16:10 aspect ratio, giving it a premium feel at an affordable price.

The Aspire 5 doesn't skimp on performance, thanks to its powerful components, which make it faster than other laptops in this price range. It boasts an impressive all-day battery life to keep you going.

Overall, the Acer Aspire 5 punches above its weight, delivering power and performance for budget-conscious college students.

Acer Aspire 5 Laptop Specs 

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-1165G7 
  • Screen: 14" 1920×1080 
  • Memory: 16 GB 
  • Storage: 512 GB SSD 
  • Weight: 3.20 lb 
  • Battery life: 10 hours 
  • OS: Windows 11 Home 
  • Price: $649.99

Acer Swift 5: the college ultrabook

Acer's Swift 5 is an ultrabook designed for portability and high performance. Its slim, sleek design is encased in an aerospace-grade aluminum chassis, weighing only 2.65 lbs and boasting a slim profile of only 14.95 mm. 

The laptop has a 14-inch WQXGA (2560 x 1600) 16:10 touchscreen display featuring a 90% screen-to-body ratio that offers a great visual experience. With an impressive 17-hour battery life, you can stay productive throughout the day.

The Acer Swift 5 is an excellent choice for busy students requiring a high-performance device to meet lifestyle demands.

Swift 5 Specs: 

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-1260P 
  • Screen: 14" WQXGA (2560 x 1600) 16:10 Touchscreen 
  • Memory: 16 GB, LPDDR5 
  • Storage: 1TB SSD 
  • Weight: 2.65 lb 
  • ​​​Battery life: 17 hours 
  • OS: Windows 11 Home 
  • Price: $1,499.99

Chromebook specifications (2023) 

While Chromebooks do not need the same features as a standard laptop, choosing a Chromebook that has a minimum of these points will make studying easier:

  • Intel® Core™ i3 or higher. 
  • Minimum 8GB of RAM. 
  • 256GB solid-state drive (SSD). 
  • Integrated 720p HD webcam. 
  • 13.3-inch screen. 
  • At least 3 ports, including 2 USB Type-C ports, so that you can continue to work while charging the Chromebook. 
  • 10-hour battery life.

Acer Vero 514: the eco friendly Chromebook

The Acer Vero 514 is a top-performing Chromebook offering features explicitly designed for the modern student. Independently tested for rugged durability using MIL-STD-810H4 standards, this Chromebook is built to withstand the demands of college life. Additionally, its sustainable design incorporates 30% PCR plastics, demonstrating Acer's commitment to environmental sustainability.

The 14" Full HD touchscreen display, Intel® Core™ i3-1215U processor, and Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics provide a seamless and immersive user experience. With 8 GB of memory and a 256 GB solid-state drive, you can easily handle academic work or streaming movies without lag.

It also offers a fast-charging battery that can recharge up to half its 10-hour battery life in just 30 minutes, making it easy to stay mobile throughout the day. Overall, the Acer Chromebook Vero 514 is an ideal companion for college students who require uncompromising productivity and performance.

Acer Vero 514 Specs: 

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i3-1215U 
  • Screen: 14" Full HD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 
  • Memory: 8 GB, LPDDR4X 
  • Storage: 128 GB SSD 
  • Weight: 3.09 lb 
  • Battery life: 10 hours 
  • OS: Chrome OS 
  • Price: $499.99

Acer Chromebook Spin 714: the Chromebook for business students

You can't go wrong with Acer's Chromebook Spin 714, which offers both speed and versatility. Weighing just over 3 lbs, this dodeca-core Chromebook delivers lightning-fast performance that makes multitasking a breeze.

Great visuals on the 14" WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS touchscreen display, powered by the Intel® Core™ i7-1260P processor combined with Intel® Iris® Xe Graphics. The durable 360° hinge provides four different viewing modes.

With 8 GB of LPDDR4X memory and a 256 GB solid-state drive, you'll have tons of space for your projects, presentations, and coursework. The quick-charging 10-hour battery gives you a four-hour charge in under 30 minutes.

The Chromebook Spin 714's instant wake-up feature ensures you work in less than a second, maximizing productivity and minimizing downtime.

Chromebook Spin 714 Specs: 

  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-1260P 
  • Screen: 14" WQXGA (2560 x 1600) IPS Touchscreen display 
  • Memory: 8 GB, LPDDR4X 
  • Storage: 256 GB SSD 
  • Weight: 3.09 lb 
  • Battery life: 10 hours 
  • OS: Chrome OS 
  • Price: $999.99

Which is better? 

Before you make the decision between a Chromebook and a laptop, one thing you want to write off your list for your college journey is a tablet. This is because while a tablet seems like a laptop, it doesn't operate on a complete operating system like laptops do. Instead, tablets are more like mobile phones, so they don't cut it for serious study.

The primary deciding factors are:

  • The courses you are enrolling in and whether you need to download software for the subjects. Will you need to open and manage large files? 
  • How often will you need to use a computer – is it just for writing assignments, or will you be making notes for much of the day?

Maybe a solution for you is to have a Chromebook you take to college and a laptop you use at home. By storing your data on the cloud, you can easily access it from either machine! 

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.


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