A Guide to Choosing the Best Laptop Processor (CPU)

Choosing the right laptop processor is an important decision. You might be a gamer, a professional, or a casual user; the processor you choose will decide how well your laptop handles various tasks, from everyday web apps to intensive software applications.

So, understanding what processor you need for your laptop is worth the time so that you don’t need to upgrade it often.

Let me tell you one thing: There is no quick tool available to help you choose the number one processor. Instead, you have to go through a process of finding the best processor that fits your budget and meets your requirements.

Key takeaways:

  • Understanding your needs: The first step in choosing a laptop processor is understanding your specific requirements.
  • Future-proofing: Investing in a processor that can handle future software updates and increasing demands can save you from frequent upgrades.
  • Technical specifications: When selecting a processor, consider factors such as core count, clock speed (GHz), thermal design power (TDP), integrated vs. dedicated graphics, and compatibility with other components.
  • Core count vs. Clock speed: More cores (for multitasking) versus higher clock speeds (for faster single-task performance) should align with your primary activities, whether gaming, video editing, or everyday tasks.
  • Major processor brands: Intel and AMD are the best processor manufacturers, each offering various series (e.g., Intel Core i3/i5/i7/i9, AMD Ryzen 3/5/7/9). Both brands are competitive, and performance comparisons should be based on specific model generations rather than brand loyalty.
  • Integrated vs. dedicated graphics: Depending on your needs, you may require dedicated graphics for more demanding tasks like gaming or video editing. Integrated graphics can suffice for basic tasks and contribute to better battery life.
  • Performance tiers: From entry-level processors (like Intel Atom or AMD Athlon) for basic tasks, to mid-range (Intel Core i3/i5 or Ryzen 3/5) and high-end processors (Intel Core i7/i9 or Ryzen 7/9) for more intensive applications, choosing the right tier ensures optimal performance without overspending.

So, when choosing the best processor for your laptop, the first and foremost step is understanding your needs.

For instance, gamers need high-end processors with advanced graphics and fast processing speeds, while professionals working with video editing, 3D rendering, or large-scale data analysis require high-performance processors with the best specs.

For basic use, any latest mid-range processor that can efficiently handle day-to-day tasks like web browsing, streaming, and office applications is sufficient. Luckily, most budget laptops we have reviewed already come with such processors.

Secondly, if you want to upgrade your laptop or even choose a processor for a new laptop, my recommendation is to consider future-proofing. Investing in a processor that can handle future software updates and increasing demands can save you from frequent upgrades that might cost you money again and again. By focusing on future-proofing today, you won’t need to change the processor soon.

Lastly, consider the technical specifications and brand options available in the market. Factors like clock speed, number of cores, thermal design power (TDP), integrated graphics, and compatibility with other components should be carefully evaluated. Whether you lean towards Intel, AMD, or Apple’s M1/M2 processors, each offers unique advantages that cater to different user needs.

In this guide, we will dig deep into each of these factors, providing you with the knowledge and insights necessary to choose the best laptop processor for your specific requirements.

What is a processor (or CPU – Central Processing Unit)?

In simple words, a CPU (Central Processing Unit) works as a brain of a computer. Without the CPU, none of the software on the hard drive would work, and a laptop would be pointless.

The CPU makes everything run by processing instructions and passing information between different parts of your computer.

A CPU isn’t just a simple piece of silicon; it has a lot going on inside. This complexity is why you’ll come across a lot of technical terms when you’re searching for the best processor for your laptop.

Understanding processor specifications: Core count and speed

When choosing a laptop CPU, it’s important to understand core count and core speed. But what do these terms mean for you?

Core count:

The core count refers to the number of individual cores within the CPU. More cores mean better multitasking ability because each core can handle a different task simultaneously.

Modern software and games benefit from CPUs with multiple cores, boosting overall performance significantly.

Most CPUs today have between two and 64 cores.

  • Beyond 32 cores, the benefits are mainly for very demanding tasks like AAA gaming while streaming, 3D rendering, and intensive video editing.
  • For everyday use, at least four cores are recommended, and six to eight cores are generally enough for most users.

Clock speed:

Clock speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz), determines how quickly each core can process information. Higher speeds mean faster execution of tasks. Whether you’re gaming, coding, or just browsing, a CPU with a higher GHz will make your experience smoother and faster.

A 1.60 GHz processor is suitable for basic tasks like web browsing, email, and word processing. They can boost up to around 4 GHz if heat isn’t a concern.

Core count vs. clock speed

Now let’s understand what’s more important in a processor: core count or clock speed.

A CPU with many cores but low speed can handle multiple tasks at once, but each task will be processed more slowly. Conversely, a CPU with fewer cores but higher speed can process individual tasks much more quickly.

So, how can you strike a balance between core count and speed when selecting a laptop CPU? Think about what you use your laptop for.

  • If you’re into video editing or gaming, you might prefer a CPU with a higher core count to manage multiple tasks efficiently.
  • For everyday tasks like sending emails or editing documents, a CPU with a higher clock speed might be more beneficial, ensuring quick task execution.

Major processor brands:

Intel vs. AMD Comparison by PCViewed

When you’re shopping for a laptop, you’ll see two main CPU brands: Intel and AMD. You might have heard that one is superior to the other, which is actually not a very accurate statement these days. Both a re the best CPU manufacturers.

Pricing is quite comparable with both brands and the actual performance will depend more explicitly on the specific model of a CPU. Things like the number of cores and threads and the technology used in the production of the chip help define how powerful it is.

1. Intel

To begin with, let’s talk about Intel’s processors. Intel has held around 70% of the market share for years, making it the top brand in the industry for over a decade.

Intel vs AMD Annual Laptop CPU Market Share research by PCViewed

At the low end of the spectrum, there are Intel Atom and “Intel Processor” models (without “Core” in their names), such as Celeron and Pentium, respectively, that have been primarily designed for power saving purposes. Not very capable, but just enough to accomplish simple tasks. On the other hand, if you need more power than this, there is the Intel Core line.

Intel Core processors come in four main series:

  • Core i3
  • Core i5
  • Core i7
  • Core i9

You might see an “i” in front of the number for older models. Starting with the 14th generation, Intel also has “Core Ultra” CPUs, which are like premium versions of the regular Core line. Generally, a higher number means a more powerful CPU. There are also Intel Xeon processors, but these are rare and found mostly in high-end workstation laptops or desktops, comparable to Core i7 and i9.

Keep in mind that newer generations of CPUs are more powerful. A new Intel Core i3 might be as powerful as an Intel Core i5 from a few years ago.

For older CPUs, you can tell the generation by the model number: for example, the i3-1335U is a 13th-generation CPU, while the i3-1125G4 is an 11th-generation model. Intel has changed their naming scheme with the latest models, so it’s best to check the manufacturer’s website for the most accurate information.

2. AMD:

The second top brand for laptop processors is AMD, which has held 25 to 30% of the market share for years. Its market share is slowly growing with its advancements and partnerships.

Intel vs. AMD CPU Market Share Prediction with regression

AMD makes it a bit easier to understand their laptop CPUs. Athlon goes for essential, low-end laptops like netbooks and Chromebooks; it usually has two physical cores. Ryzen is more powerful and has different versions, much like Intel’s Core series:

  • Ryzen 3 
  • Ryzen 5 
  • Ryzen 7 
  • Ryzen 9

Threadrippers are basically oriented more toward high-end workstations; for example, video editing, 3D rendering, coding, programming, or any other work that needs a greater deal of computation.

Some laptops have Ryzen PRO versions that come with extra business features but don’t perform any faster. Also, remember that AMD’s performance gets better with each new generation. Pay attention to the model year and the design of the processor. For example, a new Ryzen 3 could be as powerful as last year’s Ryzen 5.

Intel vs. AMD comparison:

Feature Intel AMD
Main Series Core i3, i5, i7, i9 Ryzen 3, 5, 7, 9
Low-End Models Atom, Celeron, Pentium Athlon
High-End Workstation Xeon (comparable to Core i7 and i9) Threadripper
Performance Depends on specific model; generally higher numbers mean higher performance Performance improves with each new generation
Core Configuration Varies (dual-core to high-core count) Dual-core to high-core count
Threads Varies (typically 2 to 16+ threads) Typically 4 to 32+ threads
Usage General use to high-performance computing General use to high-performance computing
Generational Performance Newer generations offer improved performance Performance improves with each new generation
Technology Latest manufacturing technologies Latest manufacturing technologies
Pricing Generally comparable within similar performance tiers Generally comparable within similar performance tiers
Special Versions Core Ultra for premium versions Ryzen PRO with additional business features

Integrated vs. dedicated graphics:

Before choosing a processor, you should understand the GPU (graphics processing unit). Laptops can have:

  • Integrated GPU: built into the CPU.
  • Dedicated GPU: Separate from the CPU, for extra performance.

Both Integrated and Dedicated GPUs: With dynamic switching, like NVIDIA’s Advanced Optimus.

For dedicated graphics:

  • Intel has the Arc series.
  • AMD offers Radeon RX graphics.
  • NVIDIA provides GeForce cards.

These dedicated GPUs can be paired with either AMD or Intel CPUs for high performance, but they come at a higher price.

For integrated graphics:

  • Radeon graphics are included with AMD Athlon and Ryzen CPUs (without the RX).
  • Intel has integrated Xe graphics and a lower-end UHD graphics lineup.

Laptop processor performance tiers explained: From entry level to high end

Entry-Level Processors:

An entry-level processor will work fine if all you need your laptop for are basic tasks like web browsing, watching movies, and schoolwork, etc.

Look for a low-cost laptop with an AMD Athlon, Intel Atom, or Intel Processor. These CPUs can handle simple tasks like opening a few web browser tabs and they use little power, which means longer battery life.

However, basic laptops like these aren’t the best value.

Mid-Range Processors:

We advise that you get a laptop with an Intel Core i3 or Ryzen 3 processor. You can usually find these for about the same price but they offer much better performance. They are faster and because they typically have four cores or more, they multitask well. You could even play some light games with these CPUs.

If you need a fast and reliable laptop for long hours of use, choose an Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5. These CPUs are usually more expensive than others in the mid-range bracket, although laptops with these CPUs often have larger storage spaces and memory capacities.

If you choose a processor in this range, one thing I can assure you of is that with a Core i5 or Ryzen 5 installed on your machine, it won’t experience any lag even when running multiple browsers at once.

The Core i5 and Ryzen 5 models also have better integrated graphics, which can handle some graphically demanding tasks. They can run games like DotA, Grand Theft Auto V, and Valorant, and they can manage light video and photo editing.

High-End processor:

If you need even more GPU power for faster rendering or high-end gaming, you can get a laptop with a discrete graphics card, though it will cost more.

If you want a high-end laptop, choose an Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7. These top-tier processors offer excellent performance and usually have 8 or more cores, making them great for demanding tasks like video encoding, AutoCAD, and 3D animation. They’re also popular among gamers because they can be paired with high-end discrete GPUs for running the latest games easily.

Top-Tier processors:

Intel Core i9 and Ryzen 9 processors are even more powerful, but not by much. Some models are just a bit faster than the Core i7 or Ryzen 7, while others have twice as many cores.

Laptops with Core i9 and Ryzen 9 processors are very expensive. Unless you need a workstation for multimedia creation or other specialized tasks, it’s better to spend your money on a Core i7 or Ryzen 7 laptop.