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Laptop Processor Buyer's Guide

Knowing 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 computer 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.

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 use the lower performance processors. They use a wide range of processors because often they are based upon 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 at 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 A4-5000 and Higher
  • AMD A6-5357M and Lower
  • AMD A8-5557M and Lower
  • AMD E1-2100 and Higher
  • AMD E2-3000 and Higher
  • Intel Celeron 1007U and Higher
  • Intel Celeron 2950M and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-3110M and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-4000M and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-3210M
  • Intel Core i5-4200U
  • Intel Pentium 2030M and Higher
  • Intel Pentium 3550M and Higher


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 A4-5000 and Higher
  • AMD A6-5345M and Higher
  • AMD A6-6310 and Higher
  • AMD A8-5545M and Higher
  • ADM A10-5745M and Higher
  • AMD E1-2500 and Lower
  • AMD E2-3000 and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-3217U and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-4005U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-3317U and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-4200U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-3517U and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4500U 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 A4-5000 and Higher
  • AMD A6-5350M and Higher
  • AMD A8-5550M and Higher
  • AMD A10-5750M and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-3110M and Higher
  • Intel Core i3-4100M and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-3210M and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-4300M and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-3520M and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-3610QM and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-3920XM and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4700M and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4930MX 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 and will even be able to run 3D games. 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 ourse, 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 A8-5550M and Higher
  • AMD A10-4600M and Higher
  • AMD A10-5750M and Higher
  • Intel Core i5-4300M and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-3920XM and Higher
  • Intel Core i7-4700MQ and Higher
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