My parents have had three laptops in the past two years, and they’re still looking for the right one. My mother is very specific: she wants to check her email, browse Facebook, YouTube, and QVC, create and save documents, and maybe store some photos. And she doesn’t want to spend more than $400. She’s always owned inexpensive Windows machines before, and they’ve all gone wrong — one was too slow, one presented the Blue Screen of Death a few months in, and one just stopped working for no apparent reason.

This time, my parents have new choices when they go looking for a fourth computer. Chromebooks are the newest players in the laptop world, providing low-cost alternatives to Windows machines. They all run Chrome OS, with Google’s Chrome web browser controlling the entire device. And despite the limitations of operating a computer with a browser, Chromebooks have been doing exactly what Google wanted them to do — lessening dependence on inexpensive Windows devices for people like my mom. When my parents inevitably go searching for another laptop, they’ll essentially have to choose between the two operating systems, in addition to very differently designed machines.

Luckily I ran into the perfect chance to decide between them: Toshiba just came out with its first Chromebook model, for $299, right as it launched the $379 Satellite NB15t netbook running Windows 8. I tested both to see which operating system is worth your money — and my mother’s.