Does your laptop need a Core i3, a Ryzen 9, or something in between? Here’s how to decode today’s mobile CPUs and get the most powerful laptop for your money.
Just as it is with desktops, at the heart of every laptop computer is a central processing unit (CPU), commonly called a processor or a chip, that’s responsible for nearly everything that goes on inside. The CPUs you’ll find in current laptops are made by AMD, Intel, Apple, and Qualcomm. The options may seem endless and their names byzantine. But choosing one is easier than you think, once you know a few CPU ground rules.
This guide will help you decrypt the technical jargon that haunts every laptop specification sheet—from core count to gigahertz and from TDP to cache amounts—to help you pick the one that suits you best. With almost no exceptions, a laptop processor can’t be changed or upgraded later as some desktops’ can, so it’s essential to make the right choice from the start. (Also, see our guide to the best CPUs for desktops.)
First Up: Some Basic CPU Concepts
The CPU is responsible for the primary logic operations in the computer. It has a hand in everything: mouse clicks, the smoothness of streaming video, responding to your commands in games, encoding your family’s home video, and more. It’s the most important piece of hardware inside.
Before we get into specific CPU recommendations, let’s build an understanding of what differentiates one chip from another by focusing on the central traits that all laptop processors have in common.
Processor Architecture: The Silicon Underpinnings
Every processor is based on an underlying design called an instruction-set architecture. This blueprint determines how the processor understands computer code. Since software operating systems and applications are written to work most efficiently—or sometimes only—on a certain architecture, this is probably the most important decision point for your next processor.
Broadly speaking, today’s laptop processors use either the ARM or x86 architecture. The latter was created by Intel in 1978 and dominates the PC industry, with Intel and AMD battling for market-share supremacy. ARM-based chips, on the other hand, are produced by hundreds of different companies under license from the British firm ARM Limited, owned by Softbank. (For a while, it looked like Nvidia was on the path to acquiring ARM from Softbank, but the chip maker has abandoned its efforts.)
Found in billions of devices from smartphones to supercomputers, ARM chips had been seen only in some Chromebooks and a very few Windows laptops (based on Qualcomm CPUs) until Apple switched from Intel to its own ARM-design M1 processors in late 2020, and now its M2 chips in 2023. Apple’s changeover is a leading reason that ARM chips are seeing wider acceptance as an alternative to x86 for mainstream computing. (See our Apple M2 chip explainer.)
Your architecture choice is preordained if you’re an Apple user since all its laptops now use an M1 or M2 chip variant. But Microsoft Windows, ChromeOS, and many Linux operating systems are compatible with both ARM and x86. Based on our reviews of today’s handful of Qualcomm-powered Windows systems like the Microsoft Surface Pro X tablet and the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Gen 1, x86 remains our recommended architecture for Windows until more apps are written to run natively on ARM.
Apps written for x86 can operate on ARM chips through software emulation, but the translation layer slows performance compared to code written to run on ARM in the first place. Similarly, the occasional ARM CPUs (notably from MediaTek) seen in budget Chromebooks have proven much less peppy than the Intel and AMD processors in midrange and premium Chromebooks.
Core and Thread Count: Firing on All (CPU) Cylinders
Today’s laptop CPUs are composed, in part, of two or more physical cores. A core is essentially a logical brain. All else being equal, more cores are better than fewer, although there’s a ceiling to how many you can take advantage of in any given situation. A much-simplified analogy is the number of cylinders in a car engine.
For basic tasks, like internet surfing, word processing, social media, and video streaming, a dual-core processor is today’s bare minimum. (Indeed, you can’t buy a single-core laptop today, and it’s becoming difficult to even find a dual-core.) Multitaskers will be much better off with a six- or eight- or even 10-core CPU, with four cores now found even in many budget notebooks. For gaming, video editing, and other processor-intensive applications, eight cores or more is ideal. These CPUs are typically found in larger notebooks since they require extra cooling. (They also tend to be a higher tier of CPU; more about that stratification in a bit, when we talk about Intel and AMD chip specifics.)
Then there’s the issue of thread count. We’re not talking about linens and sheets here, but processing threads. A thread is essentially a task, or a portion of a task, for the computer to perform. Computers routinely juggle hundreds or thousands of them, though a processor can work on only so many threads simultaneously. That number equals its thread count, which is often (but not always) double its core count.
In olden days, CPU cores could process only one thread at a time, but today’s processors frequently (but not always) have thread-doubling technology that allows one core to work on two threads simultaneously. An eight-core chip with this technology, for example, can handle 16 threads at a time. Intel calls this Hyper-Threading; the generic term is simultaneous multithreading (SMT).
At the minimum, look for a processor that can process four threads. Users working on heavy media creation and conversion tasks will want the ability to handle eight or more. Core count trumps thread count; all else being equal, an eight-core CPU without multithreading will generally outperform a quad-core processor with it. Of course, in the world of processors, all else is seldom equal; that’s why so many varieties of chips exist. (We’ll get into the new kinds of cores that Intel has introduced in the last year or so a little further down; they make different chip makers’ cores even harder to compare than ever.) The next item, clock speed, is another key differentiator.
Clock Speed: The CPU Stopwatch
Measured in megahertz (MHz) or more often gigahertz (GHz), a processor’s clock speed is its operating frequency—a driver of how many instructions (basic operations) the processor can crunch through per second. Higher clock speed is generally better, though things get muddy when comparing clock speeds between different brands or even between chips within the same brand. That’s because some CPUs are more efficient than others, able to process just as many instructions in a given slice of time despite operating at a lower clock speed. Still, the clock speed can be telling when comparing chips within a single vendor’s family line.
To complicate things further, today’s processors typically have two advertised clock speeds: a base (minimum) clock and a boost (maximum) clock, sometimes dubbed turbo speed since Intel refers to the duality as Turbo Boost technology. When handling light workloads, the CPU runs at its base clock, typically between 1GHz and 2GHz for laptop chips though sometimes higher depending on the processor’s rated wattage. (More on that variable in a minute.) With the latest CPUs from Intel, you may have ratings for multiple possible peak boost clocks, depending on how many cores in the CPU are boosting at a time.
When more speed is needed, the CPU temporarily accelerates—often to 3.5GHz to 5GHz or so—until the task is done. Processors don’t run at their boost clock all the time because they might overheat. Also, at some times, just one core may be boosting; at other times, it’s only a certain subset of cores that are boosting. (These cores may have been preordained to boost better than others, due to quirks of manufacture.) It all depends on the CPU and workload, and it makes comparing boost speeds 1:1 increasingly apples-and-oranges as the years go by.
Some low-end laptop processors lack a boost clock altogether, limiting their performance under pressure. Laptop CPUs’ boost clocks are often as high as their desktop counterparts, but are usually not sustained for as long before ramping down due to power or thermal limitations. This concept is called “throttling,” a safety measure built into the processor to keep it running within its rated specifications.
Watt’s Up: Understanding Processor Power Ratings
Processor power ratings are good indicators of overall performance. Most laptop processors represent this as a single number, thermal design power (TDP), which is less of a measurement of power consumption than a guideline for computer designers; it’s the amount of thermal energy the cooling solution they pair with the processor must be able to dissipate for the processor to operate effectively (i.e., not overheat).
Intel’s 12th Generation Alder Lake and 13th Generation Raptor Lake processors have switched up the terminology with the measure “Base Power,” which is essentially the same as TDP. That said, to simplify laptop shopping, we’re going to rope TDP and Processor Base Power under one blanket term: processor power rating.
Laptop processor power ratings vary greatly, from just a few watts (W) in ultra-compact laptops to 65W in top-shelf gaming rigs. There’s more to choosing a laptop CPU than its power rating, but the higher the wattage, the better the relative performance should be.
Most mainstream laptop CPUs are rated between 15W and 28W. They have a low enough thermal profile to work in slim notebook designs, yet sufficient power to reach desktop-like boost clocks for at least a short period. Notebooks with these chips almost always require active cooling—that is, the presence of one or two small onboard fans. Laptops with passive cooling—fanless designs, appealing because they’re silent—are restricted to processors rated for just a few watts, fine for everyday tasks but ill-matched for demanding jobs that require sustained CPU cranking, such as video editing.
Laptops with passive cooling—fanless designs, appealing because they’re silent—are restricted to processors rated for just a few watts.
Both AMD and Intel put the letter “H” at the end of their model numbers for chips at the top of their mobile-CPU TDP rosters, rated between 45W and 65W and found in gaming laptops, mobile workstations, and other desktop replacements. They’re suited for the most demanding apps and most intense multitasking. (More about model numbers and those letters later.)
CPU Cache: You’ve Probably Got Enough
A processor’s cache is a small memory pool, usually just a few megabytes, that is separate from the system’s main memory (RAM). It helps the CPU manage its workflow by providing a lightning-fast way to retrieve data.
More cache—often subdivided into Level 1 through Level 3 (L1 through L3) cache depending on its closeness to the core logic—means quicker performance, but you can safely ignore this spec; gone are the days when processors were sent out into the world with too little cache to perform effectively. We only mention it because you’ll see it listed as you dig into processor specifications. Don’t worry about it too much.
The GPU on the Chip: What Are Integrated Graphics?
Gaming laptops and mobile workstations depend on dedicated or discrete graphics processing units (GPUs) to accelerate 2D or 3D rendering, just as high-end desktops rely on AMD Radeon RX or Nvidia GeForce or RTX A Series/Quadro graphics cards inserted into motherboard PCI Express slots. Laptops made for everyday office productivity often don’t need a separate GPU, as they can handle drawing the on-screen display with what’s known as an integrated graphics processor (IGP). An IGP is built into most of today’s laptop-minded CPUs.
We’ll dive deeper into integrated graphics performance a little later. For now, just know that while the latest processors can handle light or casual gaming—Intel especially has made considerable strides since the molasses-like graphics of its older CPUs—hardcore gamers will unquestionably want a laptop with a discrete GPU under the hood.
Which Way to Go: Intel or AMD?
With the basics covered, let’s start with specific processor brands. This section will focus on the x86 processors available from AMD and Intel since Apple’s MacBooks have transitioned to the company’s own ARM-based M1 and M2 chips.
AMD and Intel have been fierce competitors for laptop CPU market share so far through the 2020s. This was not the case during the 2010s, when Intel dominated the market with better-performing and more power-efficient processors, mostly relegating AMD to entry-level budget notebooks.
The last few generations of AMD Ryzen mobile CPUs have made the former underdog a formidable competitor. Intel’s Alder Lake chips have recently taken the performance crown, at least in the desktop-replacement realm, though AMD’s Ryzen 6000 series does just fine, too. That said, Intel still enjoys the favor of some manufacturers and corporate IT managers, which can force your processor choice depending on the laptop. But we are seeing Ryzen options now even in stalwart business lines like some of Lenovo’s ThinkPad families.
The ABCs of the Archrivals: Pentium, Core, Ryzen and More
AMD and Intel differentiate their laptop processors according to all of the basic concepts discussed earlier, but their top-level branding is most visible to casual shoppers. Here are their basic product lines by intended market.
Intel’s mainstream laptop CPU brand is Core, while AMD’s is Ryzen. They clash at every level—AMD’s Ryzen 3 competes with Intel’s Core i3, Ryzen 5 with Core i5, and Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 with Core i7 and Core i9.
Among laptops and Chromebooks retailing for just a few hundred dollars, AMD’s Athlon chips vie with Intel’s Celeron and Pentium chips and the new N-series line. When it comes to workstations, Intel has discontinued its entry-level Xeons in favor of adding features to its Core chips, such as error-correcting-code (ECC) memory support. (The laptop-grade Xeons were essentially Core chips with extra features, anyway.) The Core HX-class chips are especially targeted toward workstation use, with their higher power ratings and extra PCI Express lanes.
Most shoppers will find the middle members of the Core and Ryzen families offer the best mix of performance and value. The Ryzen 5 and Core i5 are particularly well-rounded. Supporting multithreading across the board in their latest generations, they are more powerful than the Ryzen 3 and Core i3 but cost less than the Ryzen 7 and Core i7. The latter will tempt power users and gamers, while users with cash to burn for whom media-rendering or number-crunching wait time means money can spring for a Core i9 or a Ryzen 9.
Laptop-Processor Generations and Codenames: Here’s Your Decoder Ring
Just as car companies go by model years, AMD and Intel differentiate their chips by generation, identified at the start of their part numbers. For example, Intel’s Core i5-12500H and Core i7-1360P respectively belong to its 12th and 13th Generation families of mobile CPUs. Up until 2023, with its mobile CPUs, AMD indicated the generation after indicating the family or performance level (3, 5, 7, or 9): the Ryzen 7 6800H is a sixth-generation or Ryzen 6000 series chip. The company is changing its mobile-chip naming conventions with its 2023 releases, however; see our guide to decoding AMD mobile CPUs with a literal decoder wheel. The graphic below sums it up nicely…
Tech sites like PCMag also indulge in the codenames AMD and Intel use while chips are in development, such as “Raptor Lake” for Intel’s 13th Gen Core processors and “Rembrandt” for AMD’s Ryzen 6000 series mobile chips. These inside-baseball terms are industry lingo more than consumer marketing terms, but they get used aplenty even after a chip is released. Confusingly, Intel has sometimes used multiple codenames within one generation (such as “Comet Lake” and “Ice Lake” for different subsets of its 10th Gen CPUs).
(Pro tip: Intel’s ARK site(Opens in a new window) lets you drill down into processor generations and codenames. We often reference major Intel and AMD codenames before chips are released, and sometimes after; you can winnow our coverage by searching our site for a given codename.)
Knowing a CPU’s generation and/or codename is helpful to determine when it was released and to locate specific performance data on it. The two rivals typically refresh their processors every 12 to 18 months. Unless there’s some financial incentive to getting a laptop with an older chip, we advise buying the most recent generation to ensure you’re getting the newest features and the most longevity from your purchase. There’s more on chip lines in detail later in this guide, but here’s a pair of cheat sheets to the laptop-CPU codenames of the last five years:
Intel Laptop CPUs: The Key Codenames (2017 to Present)
|Codename||Generation||Chip Families||First Release(s)||Lithography|
|Raptor Lake HX and H||13th||Core i5 to i9||Q1 2023||Intel 7|
|Raptor Lake HK||13th||Core i9||Q1 2023||Intel 7|
|Raptor Lake P||13th||Core i3 to i7||Q1 2023||Intel 7|
|Raptor Lake U||13th||Core i3 to i9||Q1 2023||Intel 7|
|Alder Lake HX and H||12th||Core i5 to i9||Q1-Q2 2022||Intel 7|
|Alder Lake HK||12th||Core i9||Q1 2022||Intel 7|
|Alder Lake P||12th||Core i3 to i7||Q1 2022||Intel 7|
|Alder Lake U||12th||Core i3 to i7||Q1 2022||Intel 7|
|Tiger Lake H||11th||Core i5 to i9||Q1 2021||10nm|
|Tiger Lake U||11th||Core i3 to i7||Q3 2020||10nm|
|Comet Lake H||10th||Core i5 to i9, Xeon||Q2 2020||14nm+++|
|Lakefield||NA||Core i3, i5||Q2 2020||10nm / 14nm|
|Comet Lake (U & Y)||10th||Core i3 to i7||Q3 2019||14nm+++|
|Amber Lake Y||10th, 8th||Core m3, Core i3 to i7||Q3 2018||14nm++|
|Ice Lake (U & Y)||10th||Core i3 to i7||Q3 2019||10nm|
|Coffee Lake H Refresh||9th||Core i5 to i9, Xeon||Q2 2019||14nm++|
|Cannon Lake||8th||Core i3||Q2 2018 (limited release)||10nm|
|Whiskey Lake U||8th||Pentium, Celeron, Core i3 to Core i7||Q3 2018||14nm++|
|Coffee Lake U||8th||Core i3 to i7||Q2 2018||14nm++|
|Coffee Lake H||8th||Core i3 to i9, Xeon||Q2 2018||14nm++|
|Kaby Lake U Refresh (Kaby Lake R)||8th||Core i3 to i7||Q2 2018||14nm+|
|Kaby Lake G (with AMD Graphics)||8th||Core i5, i7||Q1 2018||14nm++/14nm|
|Kaby Lake H||7th||Core i3 to i7, Xeon||Q1 2017||14nm+|
|Kaby Lake (U & Y)||7th||Celeron, Pentium, Core i3 to i7||Q1 2017||14nm+|
AMD Laptop CPUs: The Key Codenames (2017 to Present)
|Codename||Generation||Chip Families||First Release(s)||Lithography|
|Dragon Range||Zen 4||Ryzen 5 to 9 (7000 Series HX)||Q1 2023||5nm|
|Phoenix||Zen 4||Ryzen 5 to 9 (7000 Series HS)||Q1 2023||5nm|
|Barcelo and Rembrandt Refresh||Zen 3+||Ryzen 3 to 7 (7000 Series U and U Pro)||Q1 2023||7nm|
|Barcelo||Zen 3||Ryzen 3 to 7 (5000 Series U and C)||Q1/Q2 2022||7nm|
|Rembrandt||Zen 3+||Ryzen 5 to 9 (6000 Series U, H, HS, and HX)||Q1 2022||7nm|
|Cezanne||Zen 3||Ryzen 3 to 9 (5000 Series U, U Pro, H, HS, and HX)||Q1 2021||7nm|
|Lucienne||Zen 2||Ryzen 3 to 7 (5000 Series U)||Q1 2021||7nm|
|Renoir||Zen 2||Ryzen 3 to 9 (4000 Series U, U Pro, H and HS)||Q1 2020||7nm|
|Picasso||Zen+||Ryzen 3 to 7 (3000 Series U, U Pro, and H)||Q1 2019||12nm|
|Raven Ridge||Zen||Ryzen 3 to 7 (2000 Series U, U Pro, and H)||Q4 2017||14nm|
The Key Processor Series: It’s All in the Name (Well, Sometimes)
As mentioned earlier, AMD and Intel subclassify their processors by power rating. The power rating is important since it determines a processor’s clock speed and thus its performance. The rule is the higher the power rating, the higher the clock speeds, especially under sustained use.
Both chipmakers denote their highest-wattage—which is to say highest-performing, most desktop-like—laptop chips with an H suffix, such as the Core i7-12700H and Ryzen 7 6800H, denoting a power rating of 45W. AMD also offers an HX suffix and Intel both an HX and an HK suffix for chips that can be run greater than 45W, which have overclocking features and are designed for extreme-performance gaming laptops and workstations.
The next rung down in power are AMD’s HS suffix (rated for 35W) and Intel’s P suffix (28W) chips, a niche that has only existed for the past few chip generations. (In fact, Intel’s P suffix chips were new in its 12th generation Core line.) These chips produce less heat than the H-suffix chips because of their lower power ratings, offering a middle ground between them and the lowest-power chips.
The chips with the lowest power ratings have a U suffix; they’re usually rated for 15W though they can be set lower. (AMD usually goes to down 10W, and Intel to 9W.) They have low base clocks (typically between 1GHz and 2GHz) and can maintain their high boost clocks only for short bursts; chips with higher power ratings, especially those with an H suffix, can maintain their boost clocks much longer. But for tasks that use CPU power in spurts (say, a few seconds), a U and an H suffix chip can perform similarly.
Intel’s 10th and 11th generation Core chips are exceptions (there’s always some, right?) to the U suffix chips, when the chip maker adopted a rather confusing G suffix plus a number indicating the integrated graphics performance level (higher being better, of course). The Core i7-1165G7 is one example; there was also the Core i3-1125G4.
Further complicating power ratings is that they aren’t set in stone; laptop makers can tweak a chip’s power rating to suit their designs. For instance, an Intel “Tiger Lake” chip can be restricted to 12W and an AMD Ryzen 5000 U-series to 10W, though this is typically only done for ultra-compact and fanless laptops and tablets where heat output must be minimized.
Cores and Thread Count: Breaking It Out by Line
The core and thread counts of Intel and AMD CPUs vary by product line and TDP rating. Intel’s Core i7, Core i9, and Xeon lines and AMD’s Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 chips have the highest, while Intel’s Celeron and Pentium and AMD’s Athlon have the lowest. As the following table shows, some brands have models with different core counts; this can vary by generation as well. We’ve mapped it out for CPUs released from 2019 onward.
Laptop CPU Families: Core Counts
|Core Count||Relevant AMD Lines (2019 to Present)||Relevant Intel Lines (2019 to Present)|
|Two to Four||Athlon, Ryzen 3||Pentium, Celeron, Core i3, N-series|
|Six to Ten||Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, Ryzen 9||Core i5|
|More than Ten||Ryzen 9||Core i5, Core i7, Core i9|
Be careful generalizing processors by core count, though. Starting with the 12th Generation, many (but not all) Intel mobile chips combine two types of cores: Performance cores (P-cores) and Efficient cores (E-cores). And that makes these recent chips nearly impossible to compare cores-to-cores with AMD’s chips. (Intel’s lower-power Efficient cores don’t support multi-threading, for one thing.)
Core counts generally increase with power rating. Intel’s U-series chips range up to 10 cores while AMD’s go up to eight cores. Thread count varies, too; AMD’s Ryzen chips support multithreading across the board as did Intel’s 10th and 11th generation Core chips, though the 12th and 13th Generation chips that have a subset of E-cores only have partial multithreading support. Meanwhile, Intel’s Celeron, N-series, and some earlier AMD Ryzen 3 chips do not support multithreading.
A bit more about P-cores and E-cores. Introduced in 2022, Intel’s Alder Lake processors threw a wrench in generic core- and thread-count comparisons since they incorporate those two different kinds of cores on the same processor, a chip design referred to as “big.LITTLE.” The heavy lifters are the P-cores, while the E-cores handle less demanding background tasks. This design is also used by the 13th generation Raptor Lake chips. Only the P-cores support multithreading. Take the 14-core Core i7-13700H as an example: Comprising six P-cores and eight E-cores, it’s a 20-thread-capable chip.
Special Intel Naming Conventions
As mentioned above, several generations of late-model mainstream Intel processors (the 10th and 11th) ended with a G plus a number, with higher numbers indicating better-performing integrated graphics. (See the next section.) That trend changed with the 12th and 13th Generation Core processors, though, with Intel reverting to its traditional U and H suffixes (for ultralight and high-power chips) and adding the middle-child “P” series mentioned earlier.
Last, a few low-end Intel chips, such as the Pentium Gold 7505 and the Intel Processor U300, have no suffix, leaving you to look up their specs on Intel’s site. C’est la vie.
Gauging Integrated Graphics Performance
As we noted earlier, most laptops other than gaming rigs and workstations rely on the integrated graphics built into the CPU. (Most systems with discrete GPUs can also switch to integrated graphics to save battery power when maximum 3D performance is not required, automatically making the switch without interrupting you.)
Until lately, most Intel mobile CPUs included what the company called UHD integrated graphics, sometimes accompanied by a performance rating such as UHD Graphics 600 or UHD Graphics 620. This silicon provided sufficient performance for desktop display connectivity, smooth onscreen animations, video streaming, and browser-based gaming, but fell far short of the oomph required for real PC games, even for relatively undemanding titles such as Fortnite.
But graphics solutions aren’t just about gaming. They can also improve performance for photo and video editing and live streaming. AMD’s and Intel’s latest, better-performing integrated graphics are capable of all of that and even some gaming at a 720p or, for the latest cutting-edge solutions, a 1080p resolution. Intel’s current IGPs are called Iris Xe and Iris Xe Max, the latter technically a discrete GPU; AMD uses the moniker AMD Radeon Graphics for its current integrated silicon.
The AMD Radeon Graphics in today’s Ryzen chips perform much better than Intel UHD integrated graphics. Intel’s answer to that challenge is Iris Xe, found in the higher-end (generally Core i5 and up) 12th and 13th Generation Core mobile chips, as well as 11th Generation Core chips with a G7 suffix. (The 11th Gen chips with a G4 suffix, and some lower-end newer ones, still use Intel UHD Graphics.) For an idea of how these various solutions perform in games, see our feature Can You Play Today’s Biggest Games on Laptop Integrated Graphics?
Business Considerations (Intel vPro and AMD Pro)
Home users can skip this section, but corporate buyers should know that the x86 duo offer remote management technologies—AMD Pro and Intel vPro—to help business IT personnel deploy and manage their computer fleets, including remote updates, repairs, and enhanced security features. The mixtures of services differ with each generation; check out the details at their websites.
AMD indicates whether a CPU has AMD Pro by simply including it in the product name, as with the Ryzen 7 Pro 5850U. Oddly, Intel is subtle about vPro support, leaving it out of product names though it’s listed on specific CPU product pages accessible via the invaluable ARK online database.
Laptop CPU Overclocking: Is That a Thing?
Nearly all laptop CPUs are incapable of overclocking—that is, they don’t let users crank their clock speeds beyond factory ratings as some gaming desktop processors do. Intel’s mobile Core processors with an HK and an HX suffix are exceptions, as are AMD’s Ryzen HX series.
Those special suffixes mean that the processor has unlocked multipliers, which can be used to modify the clock speed. Intel’s most recent HK-class chip is the Core i9-13900HK, which we haven’t tried yet. Additionally, all the HX-class chips support overclocking. AMD takes a page out of that book, too, with all of its Ryzen HX-class chips supporting overclocking.
Why not widely allow laptop CPU overclocking? The main reason is that laptops are built around strict thermal limitations. Increasing clock speed hikes power draw and generates more heat, which can cause overheating and instability or at least unwanted throttling. All told, laptop overclocking is a novelty found only on a few bleeding-edge gaming rigs with Intel K-series chips and ample cooling.
Summing It Up: Which Processor Should You Get?
The good news for consumers is that today, even despite well-publicized silicon shortages, is an excellent time to buy a laptop of any kind. Though an ultra-low-cost laptop might use a sluggish entry-level CPU, nearly all $500-and-up models will feature a responsive processor more than suited for everyday usage. There’s no shortage of power on the gaming, content creator, and workstation side of things, either; Apple, AMD, and Intel all have competitive offerings.
If you’re an Apple laptop shopper, your choice is already made since the company started the switch to its in-house ARM chips in late 2020, unless you must stick with a legacy Intel MacBook for specific software reasons. At a minimum, M1 MacBooks are competitive with AMD- and Intel-based Windows laptops, and for specialized applications, they can be even faster. The M2 Max-equipped 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro is the most amped-up laptop it offers.
Windows and ChromeOS laptop buyers face a much greater choice with CPUs from AMD and Intel, and even a few ARM chips are thrown into the mix. Chromebooks generally deliver a smooth computing experience with any processor, though we’ve found ARM chips a bit more sluggish than x86. If you go for an AMD Chromebook, opt for one of the recent Ryzen C Chromebook-specific chips rather than one of the aged A-series. Similarly, an Intel Core CPU will serve Chromebook users better than a Pentium, Celeron, or N-series CPU if you tend to keep many tabs open at once.
AMD’s Ryzen and Intel’s Core lines are the mainstays of today’s Windows consumer and business market. They’re highly competitive on features and low in power consumption, though in the last few years AMD has often won raw CPU performance battles for core- and thread-hungry programs like content creation apps. With the addition of its P-cores and E-cores, though, Intel’s last two mobile chip generations have come roaring back. You’ll want to look at benchmark tests in individual laptops to arbitrate the fine points here.
Outside of specific usage scenarios and benchmarks, however, like-priced Intel and AMD laptops will offer similar user experiences for most jobs. Video streaming, office productivity, and other everyday tasks are well within the reach of almost any Intel or AMD CPU. Even gamers can choose either brand; Ryzen 7 and Core i7 chips are competitive (though the latter will be easier to find). All this gives you the freedom to focus on the laptop’s design and features first and on the CPU second, though specific usage scenarios can dictate doing things the other way round.
Down and Dirty Specs: A Guide to the Very Latest Laptop CPUs
We haven’t tested every laptop CPU on the market—likely no one outside of Intel or AMD has, and maybe not even them. But with our general advice behind us, let’s wrap up with more specific laptop processor recommendations for various usage scenarios in the x86 aisle.
Picking a Laptop CPU Family: Usage Cases
|Use Case||Suggested Core Count and TDP Rating||Relevant AMD CPU Families||Relevant Intel CPU Families|
|Ultra-Budget or Chromebook||Two cores, 5 to 15 watts||Athlon, Ryzen C series||Celeron, Pentium, Core i3|
|Basic and Everyday Use||Four to six cores, 15 watts||Ryzen 3 and 5 U series||Core i3 and i5 U series|
|Power-User Productivity||Six to 14 cores, 15 to 28 watts||Ryzen 5 and 7 U series||Core i5 and i7 U and P series|
|Gaming||Eight to 24 cores, 35 to 45 watts||Ryzen 5, 7, and 9 H series||Core i7 and i9 H series|
|Pro Workloads and Media-Content Creation||Eight to 24 cores, 45 watts||Ryzen 7 and 9 H series||Core i7 and i9 H series, Xeon|
Beyond that general specification guide, you can get more granular with cheat sheets for the most common current-generation Intel and AMD laptop CPUs, along with their suggested usages and the kinds of systems in which you’ll find them. These final two tables should be very helpful when shopping the latest-model laptops.
You’ll still see plenty of notebooks on sale with last year’s or earlier chip generations, so an exhaustive list would be impossibly unwieldly. But if you look at AMD’s or Intel’s older CPU families, it’s usually easy to identify the parallel previous-gen versions of the chips listed below. You can safely assume in most cases that, if the core and thread count is the same, they’ll offer slightly lesser performance than the latest parts, but fit in the same relative place in the company hierarchy. If the price is right, don’t dismiss an almost-new CPU.
Selected Recent-Gen Intel Laptop CPUs: Quick Reference
|Model||Suggested Usage||Laptop Type and Screen Size||Max Clock||Core and Thread Count||TDP||Family Name|
|Core i3-1315U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.5GHz||6/8||15 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake U|
|Core i5-1335U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.6GHz||10/12||15 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake U|
|Core i7-1355U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||5.0GHz||10/12||15 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake U|
|Core i5-1340P||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.6GHz||12/16||28 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake P|
|Core i7-1370P||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||5.2GHz||14/20||28 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake P|
|Core i7-13700H||Demanding Usage, Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 18 inches||5.0GHz||14/20||45 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake H|
|Core i9-13900HK||Demanding Usage, Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 18 inches||5.4GHz||14/20||45 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake HK|
|Core i9-13980HX||Demanding Usage, Gaming, Workstation||Desktop replacement, 15 to 18 inches||5.6GHz||24/32||55 watts||13th Gen, Raptor Lake HX|
|Core i3-1215U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.4GHz||6/8||15 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake U|
|Core i5-1235U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.4GHz||10/12||15 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake U|
|Core i7-1265U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.8GHz||10/12||15 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake U|
|Core i5-1240P||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.4GHz||12/16||28 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake P|
|Core i7-1280P||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.8GHz||14/20||28 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake P|
|Core i5-12450H||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||4.4GHz||8/12||45 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake H|
|Core i7-12700H||Demanding Usage, Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||4.7GHz||14/20||45 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake H|
|Core i9-12900HK||Demanding Usage, Gaming, Overclocking||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||5GHz||14/20||45 watts||12th Gen, Alder Lake HK|
Look at the chart above, and the mainstream Intel processor world might seem dominated by the Raptor Lake U and P lines, but we haven’t tested these yet, as laptops with them haven’t hit the market quite yet; we’ve just started testing the 13th Gen Core H series models, which just started appearing in on-sale laptops in February 2023. The 12th Generation chips are the current mainstream, and you might consider an 11th or even 10th Gen laptop if it’s otherwise a fine deal.
And now for the up-to-the-moment AMD lineup…
Selected Recent-Gen AMD Laptop CPUs: Quick Reference
|Model||Suggested Usage||Laptop Type and Screen Size||Max Clock||Core and Thread Count||TDP||Family Codename|
|Ryzen 3 7320U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.1GHz||4/8||15 watts||Barcelo Refresh|
|Ryzen 5 7530U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.5GHz||6/12||15 watts||Barcelo Refresh|
|Ryzen 7 7730U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.5GHz||8/16||15 watts||Barcelo Refresh|
|Ryzen 7 7735HS||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||4.75GHz||8/16||35-54 watts||Rembrandt Refresh|
|Ryzen 9 7940HS||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 16 inches||5.2GHz||8/16||35-54 watts||Phoenix|
|Ryzen 7 7745HX||Demanding Usage, Gaming, Workstation||Desktop replacement, 15 to 18 inches||5.1GHz||8/16||55 watts||Dragon Range|
|Ryzen 9 7945HX||Demanding Usage, Gaming, Workstation||Desktop replacement, 15 to 18 inches||5.4GHz||16/32||55 watts||Dragon Range|
|Ryzen 5 6600U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.5GHz||6/12||15 to 28 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 7 6800U||Basic Everyday Tasks||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.7GHz||8/16||15 to 28 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 5 6600HS||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.5GHz||6/12||35 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 7 6900HS||Mainstream, Multitasking, Light Gaming||Thin and light, 13 to 15 inches||4.9GHz||8/16||35 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 5 6600H||Demanding Usage, Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||4.5GHz||6/12||45 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 7 6800H||Demanding Usage, Gaming||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||4.7GHz||8/16||45 watts||Rembrandt|
|Ryzen 9 6980HX||Demanding Usage, Gaming, Overclocking||Desktop replacement, 15 to 17 inches||5.0GHz||8/16||45 watts||Rembrandt|
As we said, you’ll see these processors in fewer laptops overall. Like with many of Intel’s 13th Gen Core chips, the latest Ryzen 7000 mobile CPUs at the top of the chart haven’t hit the street just yet, but they promise higher clocks and more cores and threads than the prior generations. But don’t discount a well-priced Ryzen 6000 series laptop, as they still offer excellent performance, especially the eight-core/16-thread chips.
Best of luck with your laptop hunt! As always, for nitty-gritty details, you can check out our endless stream of laptop reviews and list of our current favorites among overall, ultraportable, gaming, and workstation notebooks (with links to many reviews). Any given laptop’s performance in our CPU benchmarks won’t always reflect the results you’d get from the same chip in a different system—other factors like memory and thermals will come into play. But our detailed performance tests will get you close enough in your decision that you won’t be able to tell the differences without a stopwatch. And you can leave that stuff to us.