Why Are Chromebooks So Cheap? Behind the Price Tag

Last Updated: June 5, 2023By
Chromebook near camera

In the realm of computing, Chromebooks have carved out a notable niche, their appeal growing exponentially over recent years. Recognized for their remarkable affordability and efficiency, these devices have captivated the market, particularly among students, educators, and those requiring on-the-go productivity solutions.

But what exactly are Chromebooks? They are a distinct breed of laptops, distinguishable by their unique operating system – Google’s Chrome OS. These devices are designed with simplicity in mind, focusing on web-centric applications and cloud-based storage, as opposed to heavy-duty, resource-intensive software typically associated with conventional PCs and Macs.

A key characteristic of Chromebooks that often sparks intrigue is their competitive pricing. In an industry where the high-end laptops can cost several thousand dollars, it’s refreshing to find a range of devices that start at prices as low as a few hundred dollars, often without compromising too much on performance.

A Closer Look at Chromebooks

Understanding Chromebooks requires an exploration of their key features, which significantly set them apart from traditional laptops. Let’s dig deeper into these unique attributes.

Chromebook Features Explained

Before we explore why Chromebooks are cheap, let’s familiarize ourselves with their characteristic features.

Operating System

Chromebooks run on Chrome OS, a Linux-based operating system developed by Google. Chrome OS is designed to be lightweight, quick, and to work seamlessly with Google’s suite of cloud-based applications like Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and others. 

It’s an OS built around the web browser concept, with much of its functionality relying on an internet connection.


Chromebook hardware specifications can vary significantly between models and manufacturers, but generally, they lean towards the more modest side of the spectrum.

Common configurations often include low to mid-range CPUs, a limited amount of RAM (usually between 2GB to 8GB), and smaller storage capacities when compared to typical Windows or Mac laptops. This is largely because Chromebooks rely on cloud storage more heavily than local storage.

Software Compatibility

Chromebooks are designed primarily to run web-based applications within the Chrome browser.

However, they also support Android apps through the Google Play Store, and more recently, Linux apps. But they do not natively run Windows or macOS software, which can be a deciding factor for some users.

Chromebooks versus Traditional Laptops

Understanding the differences between Chromebooks and traditional laptops is vital for grasping why Chromebooks are cheaper.

Traditional laptops, whether they run Windows or macOS, are built to handle a wide range of tasks, from web browsing and office applications to graphic design, video editing, and even gaming. They often come with powerful processors, ample memory, and large hard drives to support these activities.

On the other hand, Chromebooks are designed for users whose computing activities are primarily based online. They are optimized for tasks like browsing the web, checking emails, streaming media, and working with web-based applications.

This focus on web-centric tasks reduces the need for high-end hardware components, which, as we will see in the next section, plays a significant role in the affordability of these devices.

Reasons Behind the Affordability of Chromebooks

Now that we understand what Chromebooks are and how they differ from traditional laptops, let’s explore the key factors that make Chromebooks a cost-effective choice.

Chrome OS: The Lightweight Operating System

Chrome OS, the operating system that powers all Chromebooks, has a pivotal role in the devices’ affordability.

Simplicity and Functionality

Chrome OS is designed to be simple, efficient, and lean. It is built around the Chrome web browser, and most of its applications are web-based.

This means it doesn’t require as many resources as more complex operating systems like Windows or macOS, which have to support a vast range of desktop applications. This reduced need for computational power ultimately translates into cost savings.

Cost Implications

Unlike Windows, Chrome OS is an open-source operating system, which means Google does not need to charge manufacturers a licensing fee to install it on their devices. This, coupled with the lower hardware requirements, allows manufacturers to produce Chromebooks at a lower cost.

Hardware Specifications

The unique hardware requirements of Chromebooks also contribute to their affordability.

Lower Hardware Requirements

Because Chrome OS is so lightweight and most of its applications are web-based, Chromebooks do not require powerful hardware to run efficiently. They can operate smoothly with less powerful processors, less RAM, and less storage space than a typical Windows or macOS laptop. This results in lower production costs.

Cost Savings

Manufacturers can use less expensive components when building a Chromebook without sacrificing performance. These cost savings are passed on to the consumer, making Chromebooks more affordable than their traditional laptop counterparts.

Limited Software and Application Compatibility

The software compatibility of Chromebooks also plays a part in their lower cost.

Web-Based Focus

Chromebooks are designed to run web-based applications and Android apps, which require fewer system resources than many desktop applications. This again means Chromebooks don’t need as powerful or as expensive hardware to provide a smooth user experience.

Cost Implications

The emphasis on web-based and Android applications reduces the demand for large amounts of local storage, as most files can be stored in the cloud. Less local storage means lower costs, another factor that contributes to the affordability of Chromebooks.

The Role of Google’s Business Model in Chromebook Pricing

Person holding Chromebook

Behind the attractive price tag of Chromebooks lies a strategic business model by Google. Understanding this strategy offers further insights into how Chromebooks maintain their affordability.

Google’s Cloud-Centric Approach

Google has pioneered a cloud-centric approach in the technology world. The company’s vast suite of productivity tools and services, from Google Docs to Google Drive, are all based in the cloud. This approach plays a significant role in Chromebook pricing.

Reduced Hardware Needs

By encouraging the use of cloud-based applications, Google has designed a system that requires less powerful, and hence less expensive, hardware. This approach allows for lower manufacturing costs and, ultimately, a more affordable retail price for Chromebooks.

Data and Advertising Revenue

Google’s business model is also heavily based on advertising revenue and data collection. By promoting the use of its services, Google can gather user data, which it uses to refine its advertising algorithms. This revenue stream helps subsidize the cost of Chromebooks.

Monetization of Google Services

Bundling Chromebooks with Google’s suite of services is a key part of the company’s monetization strategy.

Bundled Services

Every Chromebook comes pre-installed with Google’s productivity suite, including Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Users are encouraged to use these tools and store their data on Google Drive.

Premium Subscriptions

While these services are available for free, Google offers premium versions with additional features and storage space for a fee. When Chromebook users choose to upgrade to these premium versions, Google makes money.

This dual strategy of hardware affordability and service monetization allows Google to maintain Chromebooks as cost-effective devices while still generating revenue through its cloud services. It’s a win-win situation for both Google and the consumer: Chromebooks remain affordable, and Google gains a user base for its services and a potential revenue stream from premium upgrades.

Trade-Offs and Considerations when Buying a Chromebook

While Chromebooks offer undeniable affordability, it’s important to understand the trade-offs involved and consider whether these devices meet your specific needs.

Potential Limitations of Chromebooks

Chromebooks are cost-effective, but their lean design and web-centric focus also come with some limitations.

Limited Offline Functionality

Chromebooks are designed to be used with an internet connection, with most applications being web-based. While offline functionality has improved, a Chromebook’s capabilities are still somewhat limited without an internet connection.

Performance Limitations

While sufficient for everyday tasks, Chromebooks’ hardware is generally less powerful than traditional laptops. This means they may not be suitable for resource-intensive tasks such as high-end gaming, video editing, or 3D modeling.

Limited Software Compatibility

Chromebooks do not natively support Windows or macOS software. If your work or hobbies require specific software only available for those operating systems, a Chromebook may not be the best choice.

Who Benefits from a Chromebook?

With the above limitations in mind, there are many scenarios where a Chromebook is an ideal choice.

Students and Educators

For students and educators who primarily use web-based applications, write papers, perform online research, or use educational apps, Chromebooks are a cost-effective and practical solution.

Everyday Users

If your computing needs revolve around checking email, browsing the web, streaming media, or using standard office applications, a Chromebook offers an affordable alternative to traditional laptops.

Chromebooks versus Traditional Laptops

When deciding between a Chromebook and a traditional laptop, it’s important to consider your specific needs and budget.

Price vs. Functionality

While Chromebooks are usually more affordable, traditional laptops typically offer more powerful hardware and broader software compatibility. Your choice will depend on which of these aspects is more important to you.

Operating System Preference

If you’re comfortable with Chrome OS and the Google ecosystem, a Chromebook is a fantastic choice. If you prefer Windows or macOS, and you need specific software only available on these platforms, a traditional laptop may be more suitable.

Understanding these trade-offs and considerations can help you make an informed decision about whether a Chromebook is the right device for you.


As we’ve journeyed through the world of Chromebooks, we’ve unpacked several key factors that contribute to their affordability. Their lightweight, cloud-centric operating system, lower hardware requirements, and Google’s strategic business model all play pivotal roles in making these devices cost-effective.

However, as we’ve also seen, the attractive price tag comes with certain trade-offs, including limited offline functionality, performance restrictions, and specific software compatibility issues.

While these limitations might dissuade some users, Chromebooks remain an excellent choice for many others. They provide a practical and affordable solution for students, educators, and everyday users who primarily engage in web-based tasks.

If you’re seeking a device that seamlessly integrates with the Google ecosystem, offers simplicity, and fits within a modest budget, a Chromebook might be the ideal choice for you.

Moreover, the ongoing trend towards cloud computing and the increasing adoption of web-based applications imply a promising future for Chromebooks. As technology evolves and internet connectivity becomes even more ubiquitous, the line between traditional and cloud-based computing continues to blur, which could lead to broader functionality and acceptance of Chromebooks.

the low cost of Chromebooks is a testament to Google’s innovative approach to computing: offering a streamlined, web-focused experience that caters to the growing needs of today’s internet-centric society. By balancing affordability with functionality, Chromebooks serve as an inviting gateway to the digital world for millions of users worldwide.