What’s the minimum CPU you need for a Chromebook? | Ask an expert

You can go fairly low, but pay attention to other specs too.

Credit: Google

Q: For a Chromebook, what is the minimum level of CPU you would recommend to handle schoolwork, Zoom calls, etc?

A: Some may argue that Chromebooks don’t require a lot of firepower and you can scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel—but the difference between the cheapest processors and Intel’s lowest-end chips is actually tangible in how fast websites load. 

Start your search by looking for Chromebooks with Pentium and Celeron CPUs, but don’t stop there. The amount of RAM has an even bigger impact upon the experience of using a Chromebook—these days, don’t go lower than 4GB, or you’ll start to feel the machine chug after opening more than a few browser tabs. Our roundup of the best laptops offers a few suggestions to help with the hunt.

Can’t afford a 4GB model out the gate? If you’re really on a tight budget, some 2GB models still support adding in your own additional RAM, which can cost less than buying a system pre-configured with 4GB. You’ll have to do your research and confirm it’s possible for that specific model.

asus chromebook flip c436 3qtr5 Melissa Riofrio/IDG

A Chrombook's processor and amount of RAM aren't the only component that affect the experience—display quality, available ports, and webcam play a role too.

CPU and RAM aren’t the only factors to consider when buying a Chromebook, too. Screen resolution and maximum brightness, port selection, and webcam quality all factor into the user experience too. Our guide to picking a good cheap Chromebook outlines those elements in greater detail, but basically, don’t count out the fact that whoever uses the Chromebook may be on it for hours for a variety of tasks and may also require being seen clearly.

If that sounds too expensive—Chromebooks of this calibre tend to start in the $300 range—you may want to also consider converting an old laptop into a Chromebook. Go this route and you can easily end up with an extremely powerful Chromebook for about the same price as an official bargain bin model. When I did my own conversion last summer, I used an old Haswell era PC with a Core i5 processor and 8GB RAM (which was going for roughly $250 used at the time), and the machine felt blazing fast. Old webcams are often roughly on par with cheap Chromebooks, too, so you won’t really be missing out on that front. (And you can always buy a dedicated webcam if you’ve saved money by reusing old gear.)

Welcome to Ask an Expert, where we tackle your questions about PC building. Have your own burning concern? Shoot us an email at thefullnerd@pcworld.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Alaina Yee

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Cate Bacon

Aruba Instant On AP11D

The strength of the Aruba Instant On AP11D is that the design and feature set support the modern, flexible, and mobile way of working.

Dr Prabigya Shiwakoti

Aruba Instant On AP11D

Aruba backs the AP11D up with a two-year warranty and 24/7 phone support.

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?