The 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 themselves well-suited to today’s always-online life. But what about after class and outside of work hours? Can you play games on a Chromebook?

You won’t yet find a subset of Chromebooks made explicitly for gaming. And no Chromebook would ever qualify as a traditional gaming laptop. But that doesn’t mean your pastimes on a Chromebook have to be limited to social media scrolling, YouTube immersion, and Netflix binging. In fact, today you have several distinct approaches to playing games on Chromebooks, and even a couple of ways to enjoy today’s most popular games.

Acer Chromebook 317

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Even if you’re stuck using a locked-down system from school, or want to have more fun with a low-powered laptop running Chrome OS, you can leverage some fun options for every price point and level of hardware.

What Is a Chromebook?

In case you’re not familiar with Chromebooks, they’re simply laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS instead of Microsoft Windows or Apple macOS. If you’ve used a web browser, you’ll be able to work with Chrome OS just fine.

Chrome OS is built around the same Chrome browser you’ve likely used on other laptops. Google’s approach to software is simple: Offer just enough of an operating system to get online, with everything else built on top of the basic browsing experience. For many users, that’s enough for everyday computing, providing all the tools they need to engage in hours of 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 to. Google has developed a number of helpful cloud-based productivity tools. Google Drive offers online storage, and Google Workplace delivers Docs, Sheets, and Presentations to match the Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps you might be used to. And plenty of other 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 to use on current Chromebooks.

Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 Chromebook

(Photo: Molly Flores)

And the browser-based OS isn’t going away any time soon. In 2021, Chrome OS surged to second place among major operating systems, topping macOS for the first time. With millions of consumers, students, and businesspeople using Chromebooks, they have evolved into great options for anyone who wants a simple way to get online and get work done, but who doesn’t demand all the functionality of a powerful Windows machine.

So, Wait: Can You Really Game on a Chromebook?

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

At your disposal today are four main ways to game on Chromebooks, each with unique considerations for what kind of hardware you have:

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

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

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

  • You can install a handful of Linux games directly onto your Chromebook if you’re willing to do some work.

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

Browser-Based Games: Play It Straight in Chrome

The simplet options for Chromebook gaming are browser-based games. These work right in the Chrome browser, without requiring a download or particularly powerful hardware. They range from basic versions of chess and checkers to old-school classics like Pac-Man and Doom, along with a huge number of indie games that are free to play online.

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

Acer Chromebook 514 (2022, Core i3)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

While many of these games can be accessed just by navigating to the right website, you can enable some games for play in the Chrome browser via installing a browser extension. These are the simplest game options on this list, and most game extensions are free. And an important perk: They also have the benefit of letting you play offline.

For these games, you need nothing 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 may also offer support for game pads and touch-screen 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 install files, or special input devices. And since they’re browser-based, they’ll work on any Chromebook, including school-issued systems.

Android Games: Play Phone Apps on Your Chromebook

Next are Android games, played using the support for Android apps built into new Chromebooks. (Almost all Chromebooks from the last few 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 chock-full of games that can now be enjoyed on any Chromebook, with a couple of 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 touch screen. Second, students may be out of luck, since 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 wealth of games in every genre.

HP Chromebook x2 (2021)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Really, any of the best Android games we recommend for phones will work just as 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 offers touch capability. We’d strongly suggest a convertible or detachable 2-in-1 design.

Google Stadia game controller

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Streaming for Fun: Gaming 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 preinstalled on many new Chromebooks, though you’ll pay $9.99 per month to use it after the free trial period. The upside? You can play AAA games (often free with your membership) 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 every Chromebook.

Steam for Chrome OS, for example, is only available on models that meet certain hardware parameters. Because gaming requires ample CPU and GPU power, Steam on Chrome requires an 11th Generation Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor with Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics and at least 8GB of RAM—and those are relatively high-grade components for a Chromebook. With those limits in mind, we’ve included our favorites in this list.

A More DIY Approach: Linux Gaming on Chrome OS

Finally, because Chrome OS is built on the foundations of the Linux kernel, you can try running Linux games on your Chromebook. This opens up a whole range of software, much of it available for free.

Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Once you shift to storing and running programs locally, however, you need a machine with more processing power and roomier storage 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 step up to more memory and larger, faster solid-state drive (SSD) storage instead of the smaller eMMC flash memory of economy models.

That settled, there are two paths to take on the Linux front: You can go the official, Google-approved route 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 guide How to Install Linux on Your Chromebook, and either will let you access the Linux game catalogs on Steam and GOG(Opens in a new window).

Gaming on Chrome OS: Still a Stretch, But Plenty of Fun

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

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

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