EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Another school season, and with it, the most important accessory of all, in this digital age–the new laptop.

The age-old question–Mac vs. PC is now more complicated. “Dad, what about the Chromebook?” After all, it’s the lowest priced computer option out there–but how does it stack up?

Let’s dive in, beginning with the Chromebook, available from a variety of vendors, including Toshiba and Hewlett-Packard.

You can pick up one of these laptops for as low as $200-$400, and unlike a tablet, they’ve got a full size keyboard, and can do pretty much everything the more expensive laptops can do–except store stuff. With a Chromebook, there’s no hard drive, just limited flash memory, and to use them, you generally have to be online. You can’t download software to use on the Chromebook unless it’s in Google’s Chrome store–and that knocks out veteran favorites like Microsoft Office products.

While you can swap out Word and Excel for writing and spreadsheets with Google’s free Docs software, there are all sorts of programs that aren’t available for Chromebook, like for fancy photo and video editing. For instance, Adobe Lightroom for photos and Sony Vegas for video aren’t available for the Chromebook. Teachers could request specific software for say, biology class, and your student might not be able to comply.

There are, however, lots of good options, and most of them are free. Before making your purchase, check out Google’s Chrome App store and look at what’s available.

Which brings us to Windows laptops. They tend to be slightly more expensive than Chromebooks on the low end–but they have a hard drive, and all the latest apps.

This year, there’s a new Windows, Windows 10, which your student should like a lot more than the previous edition. It offers improved voice search, a return of the start button, and faster operation.

Many Windows laptops start in the $500 range, and can go all the way up to $1,000 plus.

Finally, there’s Mac, and if I know your student, that’s probably what he or she wants, especially if they have an iPhone. The Mac works hand in hand with Apple devices, and are generally considered the coolest machine on campus.

Apple has less than 10% market share for total computer sales, due to Microsoft’s stronger relationship with enterprise customers, who buy about 300 million PCs yearly. But on campus, it’s a different story. While Windows computers still dominate, it’s a way closer race.

According to market research firm Student Monitor, Apple computers have a 41% market share with students on campus, up from 13% in 2006. Windows computers are 59%, down from 87% in 2006.

This shift has happened, despite Apple computers being the priciest on the market. Macs start at $899 for a laptop with an 11 inch screen–but once they get loaded with memory and hard drive space, many parents end up paying $1,500 or so.

But to ease the pain, this year’s Apple promo offers $200 off the price of a MacBook Pro laptop, or free Beats headphones with the purchase of any new Mac.  

So if your student likes to blare music from his or her room–you just got some relief!

Follow Jefferson Graham on Twitter, where he’s @jeffersongraham, and listen to his daily audio reports on Stitcher and TuneIn.