Best Chromebooks for Gaming

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Chromebooks are everywhere these days. As simple, inexpensive machines for everything from checking email and social media to writing papers and joining Zoom calls for classes and work, Chromebooks are proving to be well suited for life. still online today. But what about after school and outside working hours? Can you play games on a Chromebook?

You still won’t find a subset of Chromebooks designed specifically for gaming. And no Chromebook would ever be considered a traditional gaming laptop. But that doesn’t mean your hobbies on a Chromebook have to be limited to social media scrolling, YouTube immersion, and Netflix bingeing. In fact, today you have several distinct approaches to playing games on Chromebooks, and even two ways to enjoy today’s most popular games.

Acer Chromebook 317

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Even if you’re stuck using a locked system at school or want to have more fun with a low-powered laptop running Chrome OS, there are some fun options you can take advantage of for every price point and price level. material.

What is a Chromebook?

If you’re unfamiliar with Chromebooks, they’re simply laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS instead of Microsoft Windows or Apple macOS. If you’ve been using a web browser, you’ll be able to work just fine with Chrome OS.

Chrome OS is built around the same Chrome browser you’ve probably used on other laptops. Google’s approach to software is simple: offer just enough of an operating system to get you online, with everything else built on top of the basic browsing experience. For many users, this is enough for everyday computing, providing all the tools they need to spend hours on Facebook, YouTube, and Gmail.

Chrome app menu on Google Pixelbook Go

(Photo: Molly Flores)

But you can do a lot more on Chrome OS if you want. Google has developed a number of useful cloud-based productivity tools. Google Drive offers online storage, and Google Workplace offers documents, spreadsheets, and presentations to match the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps you might be used to. And many more tools are now available in the cloud, from Adobe Photoshop to those same Microsoft Office apps. You can also run browser extensions to add functionality to Chrome OS, as well as Android apps, opening up thousands of smartphone and tablet apps for use on current Chromebooks.

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook

(Photo: Molly Flores)

And the browser-based operating system isn’t going away any time soon. In 2021, Chrome OS climbed to second place among major operating systems, overtaking macOS for the first time. With millions of consumers, students, and businesspeople using Chromebooks, they’ve become great options for anyone looking for an easy way to connect and work, but doesn’t require all the features of a powerful Windows machine.

So wait: can you really game on a Chromebook?

While the term “gaming” may conjure up powerful gaming laptops or dedicated consoles from Microsoft and Sony, the reality is that the world of gaming is much bigger than the so-called AAA or big-budget titles that major studios release. . From the retro games to the casual games that make smartphones so entertaining, many gaming opportunities don’t require an expensive GPU or a single decorative LED.

Available to you today are four primary ways to game on Chromebooks, each with unique considerations for the type of hardware you have:

  • You can rely on browser-based games that require nothing more than visiting a website.

  • You can run Android games, giving you all the best games from the Google Play store.

  • You can stream games through Google Stadia or similar streaming services

  • You can install a handful of Linux games straight to your Chromebook if you’re up for the job.

Our How to Play Games on Your Chromebook guide has more details, but we’ll briefly discuss your options here.

Browser games: play them directly in Chrome

The easiest options for Chromebook gaming are browser-based games. These work right in the Chrome browser, without requiring any downloads or particularly powerful hardware. They range from basic versions of chess and checkers to old-school classics like Pac-Man and Doom, as well as a slew of free indie games online.

Retro games are available for free to play in your browser through several legitimate websites, from Classic Games Arcade(Opens in a new window) at the Internet Archive’s coin-operated arcade(Opens in a new window). Google even has its own collection of browser games, called GameSnacks.(Opens in a new window)that run in HTML 5.

Acer Chromebook 514 (2022, Core i3)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Although many of these games can be accessed simply by navigating to the right website, you can enable certain games to play in the Chrome browser by installing a browser extension. These are the simplest game options on this list, and most game add-ons are free. And an important advantage: they also have the advantage of allowing you to play offline.

For these games, you don’t need anything more than a Chromebook that can go online. The selection is a bit limited, but you might recognize a few titles, like FlappyBird and Temple Run. Most work with a keyboard and mouse, but they can also support gamepads and touchscreen input.

Lenovo IdeaPad Duet 5 Chromebook

(Photo: Molly Flores)

These games are the perfect option for the average Chromebook because they don’t rely on local processing power, large installer files, or special input devices. And since they’re browser-based, they’ll work on any Chromebook, including school systems.

Android games: Play phone apps on your Chromebook

Next are Android games, played using Android app support built into newer Chromebooks. (Almost all Chromebooks from recent years will support them; be sure to check if you have an older model.) From simple clickers to complex RPGs and action titles, the Google Play Store is full of games that can now be appreciated. on any Chromebook, with a few caveats.

Two things are important to note. First, you may not be able to play some Android phone games properly unless your Chromebook has a touchscreen. Second, students may be out of luck because most school districts disable Android support by default. But if you’re one of the millions of Chromebook owners who can freely use Android apps, you can enjoy a wealth of gaming options through the Google Play Store, from viral hits like Among Us and Wordle to a slew of games. in all genres.

HP Chromebook x2 (2021)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Really, all of the best Android games we recommend for phones will work equally well on Chrome OS, but there’s a catch. As noted, with Android games designed for phones and tablets, you’ll definitely want to get a Chromebook that has touch functionality. We strongly suggest a convertible or detachable 2-in-1 design.

Google Stadia gamepad

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Streaming for fun: play with Stadia and Steam

If you want to play more mainstream games and AAA titles, you’ll need to use a game streaming service like Google Stadia. In fact, Stadia comes pre-installed on many new Chromebooks, though you’ll pay $9.99 per month to use it after the free trial. The bright side ? You can play AAA games (often free with your subscription) like Saints Row IV, Darksiders III, Control, and Far Cry 6. Just check out the Stadia games list(Opens in a new window) to see the hundreds of titles available.

Of course, other game streaming services exist, ranging from Steam to personal online services like Shadow.(Opens in a new window) and Parsec(Opens in a new window). However, you may not be able to run these services on all Chromebooks.

Steam for Chrome OS, for example, is only available on models that meet certain hardware settings. Since games require sufficient CPU and GPU power, Steam on Chrome requires an 11th Gen Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics and at least 8GB of RAM, and these are relatively high quality components. high quality for a Chromebook. With these limitations in mind, we’ve included our favorites in this list.

A more DIY approach: Linux Gaming on Chrome OS

Finally, since Chrome OS is built on the Linux kernel foundation, you can try running Linux games on your Chromebook. This opens up a whole range of software, most of which is available for free.

Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

(Photo: Molly Flores)

However, once you transition to storing and running programs locally, you need a machine with more processing power and more storage space than your typical Chromebook. That means something running on an Intel Core or AMD Ryzen chip rather than the low-powered ARM processors common among budget Chromebooks. You’ll also want to upgrade to more memory and larger, faster SSD storage instead of the smaller eMMC flash memory of budget models.

That settled, there are two ways to go on the Linux front: you can go the official Google-approved way and install Linux apps using Crostini.(Opens in a new window)or you can install a full linux desktop using Crouton(Opens in a new window). Both options are explained in our How to Install Linux on Your Chromebook guide, and either will get you access to the Linux game catalogs on Steam and GOG.(Opens in a new window).

Gaming on Chrome OS: Still a stretch, but a whole lot of fun

We’ve covered several options for enjoying games on a Chromebook, from a series of Pac-Man in your browser to popular Android phone games, and from streaming through Google Stadia to installing the Linux-only OS for Android. games.

But at the end of the day, it’s worth pointing out that even the best Chromebook won’t match the cheapest of our picks for the best cheap gaming laptops. Instead, Chrome OS games are about giving you fun ways to use what you already have or need to buy for other, more critical purposes.