Laptop Processor Buyer's Guide

Know a CPUs Performance When Buying a Laptop PC

Sergey Zaks shops for a laptop computer at a Tiger Direct store on April 11, 2013.
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Laptop processors are very different from their desktop counterparts. The primary reason for this is the limited amount of power they have to run on when the laptop is not plugged into an outlet. The less power that the laptop uses, the longer the system should be able to run for off the battery. To do this, the manufacturers employ a large number of tricks such as CPU scaling where a processor scales its power usage (and thus performance) to the tasks at hand.

This presents a major challenge in balancing performance and power consumption.

There are four distinct categories that I classify for laptop computers, each with its own distinct purpose for those using them. To match these systems to the computing tasks you also want to select the proper processor. Just remember, many people don't need a high-end processor to match the programs they use these days. So be sure to get an idea how you will be using your laptop so you can match the processor to your needs.

Budget Laptops

Budget laptops are those developed to provide a functional portable computer at low price point. This would also include the Chromebook category of computer that often uses the lower performance processors. It should be noted that some Chromebooks do use processors typically found in tablets which are not fast but decent for basic tasks. Budget laptops use a wide range of processors because often they are based on older processors that use to be found in higher end laptops or the newer low-cost processors.

All of the processors listed here should be able to do all the basic computing tasks including web browsing, email, word processing, and presentation. They are also very capable of being used for digital playback as well. About the only thing that value system processors will not be able to do well is gaming and high-end graphics applications.

Here are some of the processors to look for in this range:

  • AMD A6-7000 and Higher
  • AMD A6-9210 and Higher
  • AMD A8-7100 and Higher
  • AMD A9-9410 and Higher
  • AMD E1-7010 and Higher
  • AMD E2-7110 and Higher
  • AMD E2-9010 and Higher
  • Intel Celeron N3350 and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-6100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-7100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-6200U and higher
  • Intel Pentium 4405U and Higher
  • Intel Pentium 4405Y and Higher
  • Intel Pentium N4200 and Higher

Ultraportables

Ultraportables are systems that are designed to be as light and compact as possible yet powerful enough for most common business applications such as e-mail, word processing, and presentation software. These systems are geared towards those people who travel a lot who want a system that is not very cumbersome. They are willing to sacrifice computing power and peripherals for portability. Ultrabooks are a new subcategory of these systems that are built on a specific platform defined by Intel. Below are the processors found in ultraportables:

  • AMD A6-9210 and Higher
  • AMD A9-9410 and Higher
  • AMD A10 Micro-6700T and Higher
  • AMD E1-7010 and Higher
  • AMD E1 Micro-6200T and Higher
  • AMD E2-7110 and Higher
  • AMD E2-9010 and Higher
  • Intel Celeron 3205U and Higher
  • Intel Celeron N2830 and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-6100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-7100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-6200U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-7200U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-7Y54
  • Intel Core i7-5500U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-7500U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-7Y75
  • Intel Core M-5Y10 and Higher
  • Intel Core m3-6Y30 and Higher
  • Intel Core m5-6Y57 and Higher
  • Intel Core m7-6Y75 and Higher
  • Intel Pentium N3530 and Higher
  • Intel Pentium 4405U and Higher

Thin and Light

A thin and light laptop is one that is able to perform pretty much any computing task at least on some level. These systems can vary widely in terms of their price and performance. They tend to perform better than those in the value category or ultraportables but they are smaller and more portable than the large media-centric desktop replacements.

Note that as ultraportable processors used in Ultrabooks continue to get better, many systems in this category are beginning to use processors found in the ultraportable category for extended battery life. Here are some of the processors that can be found in this category of laptops:

  • AMD A8-8600P and Higher
  • AMD A9-9410 and Higher
  • AMD A10-8700P and Higher
  • AMD A10-9600P and Higher
  • AMD A12-9700P and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-6100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-7100U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-6200U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-6300HQ and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-7200U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-6500U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-7500U and Higher

Desktop Replacements

Desktop replacement laptops are designed to be a complete system that has the equivalent processing power and capabilities to a desktop system but in a mobile package. They tend to be larger and bulkier to fit all the components allowing it to perform at almost the same level as a desktop in all aspects of computing. In general, a desktop replacement will perform exceptionally well. Mobile gaming is getting close to desktop performance, but the cost is much greater and still not the same as the top-end desktop graphics. Of course, the mobile gaming performance will be determined by the graphics processor as well as the CPU. Here are some of the processors that can be found in this category of machine:

  • AMD A8-8600P and Higher
  • AMD A9-9410 and Higher
  • AMD A10-8700P and Higher
  • AMD A10-9600P and Higher
  • AMD A12-9700P and Higher
  • AMD FX-8800P and Higher
  • AMD FX-9800P and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-6300HQ and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4700MQ/HQ and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4930MX and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-6700HQ and Higher