Why Are Chromebooks So Cheap? (Explained)

If you’re wondering how Chromebooks can be so cheap, this article is for you.

Maybe you’re at the store and you saw how some Chromebooks are many times cheaper than their Windows (or dare I say, Mac) counterparts. You can easily find one under $200, sometimes under $100 on sale!

It makes you question their quality. Their build. Their capabilities. You get what you pay for.

What can a Chromebook do being so cheap? Are they worth it? Will it become an expensive paperweight after half a year?

It’s OK. These questions are normal. For their price, it makes you wonder what they can offer for their price.

Let’s dive in and see if we can demystify the pricing behind the Chromebook!

I’ve worked with these devices for quite some time, so I can give you my personal opinion. By no means am I a guru in the field, but I’ve done my share of tinkering with Chromebooks.

Why are Chromebooks so cheap?

Students are the majority user. Being competitively priced = built-in affordability. (Imgflip)

So the main question of how a laptop can be so darn cheap. It’s because of two primary reasons:

The operating system (OS) is ChromeOS, which is free. If you compare it to Windows or macOS, those are both paid operating systems. Making ChromeOS free instantly eliminates several hundred dollars from the bottom line price.

This lets manufacturers save on costs, which then allows them to wholesale Chromebooks for lower prices.

Retailers will buy them in bulk and then pass on the savings from a free OS to the consumer (you).

When you compare it to something like Windows which requires a license to use, it adds cost to the manufacturer, which inflates the price. A single Windows 11 license is upwards of $139 at the time of this writing.

The materials are cheap. Yes, you get what you pay for. You’re not going to get a powerful high end system for several hundred bucks. The core components (RAM, CPU, mobo, etc.) are generally lower tier models which are cheap to build.

Chromebooks also don’t have dedicated GPUs, high quality webcams, or responsible touchpads/keyboards. 99% of Chromebooks are plastic, so you don’t have to pay extra for that fancy aluminum finish.

But then again, it makes them sturdier and durable.

Plus, if you break it, it’s not a big deal to replace it. You can even use it as a beater laptop- you know, the everyday computer you bring to the coffee shop and don’t have to worry about bumping it on the edge of the table. (BTW, the cases for Chromebooks are cheap.)

Sure, you can buy Chromebooks with backlit keyboards or aluminum casing, but you’ll have to shell out a bit more dough.

Are they made from cheap materials?

Chromebooks may not have the most expensive materials, but they’re good enough for the average student or casual user.

Sure, the keyboard may not be the most ergonomic or the touchpad the most responsive, but it’ll suffice. Saving on parts brings down the cost of it for the consumer. This makes them budget friendly for its intended demographic.

Students are the primary user of Chromebooks. Most of them aren’t loaded with cash (yet), so it doesn’t make sense to build something that costs a ton.

Besides, it makes them more affordable for school districts to buy in bulk for their students reaching that 1:1 ratio!

The materials are tough and are durable. They’re cheap to keep the price down, but they work. I think Chromebooks are made to suit the many for a variety of usage conditions.

Students are the majority of the demographic, and not all of them baby their electronics. So they’re made to withstand abuse to some degree. If they didn’t, they’d get terrible reviews from the start.

Some of the oldest Chromebooks I have are still running after years of abuse (though they no longer get Chrome updates- maybe it’s time to dispose them).

So don’t assume that because they’re cheap it means they break easily. That’s not true at all. Some models are drop proof, spill proof, or even contains some gnarly military grade construction for bumps and thumps.

Consider the following:

  • Chrome OS is built on open source software (Chromium), so it’s free. Unlike Windows or macOS, you don’t need to pay for the OS. Chrome OS is based on Arch Linux, which is leaner, lighter, and tiny in file size compared to OSX or Windows
  • No licensing fees for the OS (FOSS)
  • Chromebooks are on the smaller side for screen size (11.6” or 10.1”), so they’re cheaper to produce.
  • The CPU doesn’t need to be powerful to run ChromeOS- 1.2GHz is plenty which saves on production costs. Chromebooks don’t require high production costs for the CPU.
  • The onboard flash memory is limited. Most have only 16GB of space so you’re encouraged to use Google Drive for your files
  • Chromebooks have no dedicated GPU cards so that cuts costs even further, but also limits graphic rendering capabilities
  • They’re weaker compared to other laptops because the OS demands are very light
  • Light functionality with a limited feature set
  • Plastic construction so cheaper parts overall
  • Cheaper hardware (cheap CPU, minimal RAM, no GPU, generic SSD, etc.)
  • Don’t run apps locally but rather cloud-based apps (when you use something like Discord, Facebook, or Instagram, their servers are doing the legwork).
  • Thin client to the Internet with minimal processing required

TL;DR: Chromebooks are good for content consumption, but not for file management, modification, or creation.

It’s like a thin client to the Internet if you had to summarize it. Third party servers will do the processing legwork while you just view it from the screen.

Are Chromebooks really worth it?

I think they are. But again, it DEPENDS on what you’re using it for. They can be used as your primary device, your handy sidekick for looking things up, or your content consumption machine for after a day’s work. Or they can be pretty useless if you buy it for the wrong use.

If you buy one but you try to emulate Steam games (think DotA Underlords, Phasmophobia, or Unturned) or produce music on it, your device probably is gonna stutter. So it was a waste of money.

If you buy one and use it for its intended purposes, then yeah, it’s much more affordable than Windows-based systems.

When you can easily find one brand new for around $100-$200, it’s multiple times cheaper than Windows or MacBooks. If all you’re doing is lightweight tasks, then why pay more?

Use it for a beater laptop that you can bring everywhere and not have to pay a hefty fee if you need to replace it.

Self-repairing. Self-updating. Plenty speedy. Stable. Reliable. And affordable. What more could you want

People who buy one and then complain about its lack of functionality probably were ignorant and didn’t research what Chromebooks can do and what they can’t.

Or they were expecting a bit more but it failed to deliver.

Why should I NOT buy a Chromebook?

There are plenty of reasons why you wouldn’t want to put your hard-earned cash into a Chromebook.

Some things to think about before buying one:

  • You shouldn’t buy a Chromebook if you need to do extensive work that requires specific programs or apps to run. ChromeOS has no way to install or run popular Windows programs.
  • If you’re a hardcore gamer (Steam) because the most you’ll be able to play on vanilla ChromeOS are browser games or games from the Play Store.
  • If you need to do resource demanding work (photo/video editing, music production, etc.) These machines don’t have the raw power to handle that kind of workload.
  • If you’re considering using a Chromebook for work, note that you won’t be able to use a lot of the apps that your work may require- especially in remote positions. Unless they run in the browser or can be downloaded from the Play Store, you probably will have issues.
  • If you’re looking for compatibility, ChromeOS doesn’t (can’t) play well with Windows or Mac programs. It’s a web browser at its core. ChromeOS doesn’t integrate with other competing OSs, so don’t expect interoperability.

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t buy a Chromebook.

These are just a handful of them. If you have a specific purpose you plan to buy one for but you’re not sure, post your comment below and I’ll get back to you.

What are the disadvantages of a Chromebook?

There are no disadvantages of Chromebooks if you use it how it’s intended to be used. Anything that requires a lot of computing power will leave you empty handed.

These machines have limited capabilities in anything beyond basic browsing, media consumption, or anything that a Play Store app can’t fix.

They also struggle with heavy tasks like gaming, editing, production, etc.

You can’t install programs, run .exe files, or use common Windows friendly programs. So it does take time to get used to.

How long does a Chromebook last?

Some may argue that Chromebooks may not last as long as traditional Windows or Macs, but I think it depends on how you use them.

There are things you can do to maximize the battery, keep it cool, and clean it from getting clogged with debris. If you take care of your laptop, it’ll have no problems.

Chromebooks come with a basic warranty from the manufacturer, so you’re covered from defects. The base warranty is exactly 1 year from the date of purchase.

You can also get extended warranties from the retailer you buy it from- most major big box stores have this. Or you can check with your credit card company, which may give you extended warranties too.

Regardless, they’re built solid with quality QC IMO.

Why are Chromebooks so slow?

They can bog down in speed given that they’re not as powerful as laptops sold at a higher price point.

Remember that Chromebooks are made to be affordable, stable devices that are versatile for everyday tasks.

Because of this, you can’t expect them to have a 5GHz octa-core CPU or 64 gigs of RAM.

They can handle most tasks without issue. But when you start to push it by running tons of tabs, multiple apps, or playing games that it can’t possibly handle, then yeah, it’ll slow down.

So if you’re used to snappy response times from your M2 MacBook Pro, you may not get the same treatment on your Chromebook. When used for their purpose (basic tasks), Chromebooks will shine.

Beyond that, they’ll slow down.

Just like any other computer, taking proper care of it by doing regular cleaning (both on the outside and the inside) can help keep it running smoothly.

Chromebooks will slow down over time, but basic maintenance can be done to restore the speed.

Can a Chromebook replace a laptop?

Similar to the other answers on this page, that completely depends on what you plan to do with it. For basic computing, yes, it can likely replace it.

If you’re comfortable with using Chrome web-based apps, Chrome extensions, and downloading apps from the Play Store, then you’ll likely be satisfied with it.

But when you need to install specific programs that have no online interface or apps available on the Play Store, then you’re in trouble.

If this goes with your intended purpose, then it likely won’t be able to replace your laptop. You’ll need to use both or ditch the Chromebook.

These computers are designed to handle light workloads. Think of it like your phone (for most people). You don’t use it to do heavy work or processing.

You just use it to get information on whatever interests you, communicate, take some pics/vids, play some games, etc. Chromebooks excel at these kinds of basic processes.

But when you need to edit that 8K video, you’re not gonna use your phone. And you won’t use a Chromebook either.

Yes, it’s a pretty sucky example. But I hope you get what I’m saying.

What is better for a student’s laptop or Chromebook?

For students, a Chromebook should handle everything you can throw at it.

Taking notes, viewing slides, completing online assignments, reading, researching, PDF viewing, watching lectures, or attending video conferences.

Think about what the average person does online- most of it is right in Chrome. For everything else, there’s the Google Play Store apps.

Chromebooks will save you some cash to spend on other things (i.e. books), so they’re very competitive for students compared to other laptops.

Is it worth buying an expensive Chromebook?

Google Pixelbook review.
It’s built for Chrome OS enthusiasts.

That depends on what you plan to do with it.

Because ChromeOS has limited capabilities, there aren’t many resource-hungry programs that are written for it. You’re limited to just Chrome extensions, browser-based software, and Google Play Store apps.

Entry-level Chromebooks can handle most of those, and the ones that are more resource-demanding may require a more powerful Chromebook.

But for most people who use these laptops (students), a basic or moderately priced one should be “good enough.”

If you’re just doing schoolwork, watching videos, social networking, or playing some random games, there’s no need for an expensive Chromebook. Chances are that it’s much more power than you need and you’re not maximizing your cost-to-performance ratio.

It’s like buying a Lambo when you’re only driving to the supermarket and never using it to its potential.

If you’re planning to dual Linux on it, then you may benefit from getting a more powerful setup.

You’ll then be able to utilize its power more efficiently since Linux will unlock a new world of capabilities- editing video, sideloading Windows, coding, word processing, audio production, playing Steam games, or even just using a different browser like Firefox.

This will require more processing power which only expensive Chromebooks offer. Otherwise, don’t bother paying that price tag if you’re just gonna watch TikTok on your Chromebook.

So in summary, it depends on what you plan to do with it.

How much should you spend on a Chromebook?

Spend only as much as you’ll use it for. Don’t spend more than you need. Do you need a Lambo to drive to the Walmart down the street? Or does a Hyundai Sonata do the job?

In other words, if you don’t need a computer to do the most demanding tasks (not that Chromebooks can handle that anyway), then the entry-level Chromebook will do the trick. It completely depends on your usage situation:

If you’re just doing basic web browsing, watching videos, social networking, video calling, basic apps, etc. Then a budget-friendly Chromebook is good enough.

There are plenty of cheap Chromebooks that you can get for under $100. Even cheaper if you get it used. A basic, 2GB RAM with a Celeron CPU should be suitable.

If you do some professional work (editing pics, creating art, sketches, presentations, sheets, docs, etc.) or you just like to multitask with multiple apps running, then a middle-of-the-road Chromebook should be suitable.

This is perfect for those that need to work with different tabs or apps simultaneously. Or want to listen to music while drawing.

Or listening to Twitch in the background while working on something else.

Look for Chromebooks with at least 4GB of RAM for that multitasking power. A stronger CPU will let you do things quicker, but the RAM will let you do multiple things at once.

Here are some good Chromebooks for students or workers.

Lastly, there are those luxury Chromebooks that rival entry-level MacBooks for their price. These are for the serious fan, as some models can cost hundreds of dollars.

But they’re pretty darn nice. You can check ‘em out here. They’re expensive. They’re powerful. They’re like the Lambo flex of the ChromeOS world.

What is a Chromebook good for?

Overheat laptop meme.
Heat generation destroys more computers than accidental slime kits spills. (Memegenerator)

Chromebooks are good for a variety of purposes.

These devices are extremely versatile, so you can do a lot without spending a lot. If the majority of your usage is going to be basic everyday tasks, then Chromebooks may be right for you.

Chromebooks can do these tasks without a sweat. For most people, this is “good enough” and accomplishes 99% of their usage situations (if I were pulling numbers).

Students are the main consumer and Chromebooks can do the majority of what they need to do.

Chromebooks are cheap, but versatile

No, you don’.t (memegenerator)

If you are looking for a new, basic laptop that can do the majority of daily tasks without breaking the ban, then Chromebooks are worth consideration.

While they’re cheap, they offer a lot of bang for the buck. For most people who only need light to moderate use on their laptops, Chromebooks fit the bill. Don’t underestimate them just because Chromebooks are cheap. They can do a lot for a little money.

Are you considering buying one but are still on the fence? Do you need it for a specific purpose but can’t find answers online? Post your questions below and I’ll do my best to get back to you with a straightforward reply!

If you got some value out of this article, let me know as well =].

About Andy Z.

Andy is a casual-hardcore Chrome OS fan and contributes to the site regularly. He likes computers, tech, sports cars, videogames, and of course, Chromebooks. Thinker. Introvert. Geek. You can find him on Twitter (@platytech), or send him an email (check the "Contact Us" page).

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