Should I buy an x86 or ARM-powered Chromebook?

Acer Chromebook Spin 13
Acer Chromebook Spin 13 (Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Best answer: While both processor architectures are capable for most users, if you're coding or plan to have a very heavy workload, x86 will handle things better.

ARM versus x86

When you see ARM or x86 being tossed around, it means people are talking about processor architecture. The simple thing and all you really need to remember is that x86 processors are usually more powerful than ARM processors, but can use up to 10 times more power to do the same thing. If you're curious about ARM and want a deeper look at what it is you can read about that right here. If you just need the basics, you've got them now: x86 has the power, but ARM has the efficiency.

Not too long ago I would have told you that you should not buy an ARM Chromebook if you were going to use it a lot, and you should not buy an x86 Chromebook if you planned to run a lot of Android apps. Today, both of those statements are thankfully no longer true. ARM processors have become more powerful than they used to be and Chrome has become more optimized for them. Conversely, a lot of work was done in Chrome so that x86 processors run Android apps just fine.

Both processor types will now work just fine for most people. but there are still use cases that would work much better on an x86-powered machine.

Your workload

You have to ask yourself how you plan to use your Chromebook before you know whether or not you need an x86-powered version.

Not all x86 processors are powerful. In fact, you can buy devices with an ARM chip that will outperform other devices with weak x86 chips inside. But most x86-based Chromebooks use a chip that's more than capable nowadays. As are most ARM Chromebooks. You'll only see a real difference if you really work things hard. Are you the type of person who has 10 or more browser tabs open while streaming music and playing an Android game? If you answered yes, an x86 Chromebook will probably suit you better. If you said no, you'll probably never need to worry about it.

One other situation that almost requires a good x86 CPU is coding. ARM chips are plenty powerful enough to compile and run software or to run complicated scripts on the fly. But the software used to code and compile them usually tend to be better optimized for the x86 instruction set. Whether you're using Android Studio or another IDE from Oracle or Microsoft or any other company, it will work best on an x86 machine.

Of course, if you want the ultimate powerhouse with the very latest specs under the hood, you'll want to buy a model with an Intel Core x86 CPU, like a Pixelbook.

The best part of it all is that unless you will overwork your Chromebook or have special needs for coding, you really don't need to worry about it and might not ever be able to tell the difference; Chrome runs great on both architectures.

It doesn't matter which architecture you choose — there's a great Chromebook for you out there.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.