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Which CPU is best for your next laptop?

Technology moves at a blistering pace. What was the hottest and latest a few months ago can quickly become obsolete today. You must have suitable components to ensure that you can always run your applications or play the latest games.

Desktop computers are easy, as you can swap parts when needed. But laptops are a different beast — their smaller frame makes it nearly impossible. While you can go searching for a faster central processing unit, it’s often best to buy a new laptop with a more powerful CPU than your last. If you’re still working on a laptop with a CPU from a few generations back, the HP Envy 17-inch With Intel Core i7 is an excellent upgrade.

What to know before you buy a laptop CPU

Compatible with your motherboard

The most important aspect of choosing a new CPU for your laptop is whether it's compatible with your motherboard. Laptops, just like desktop computers, use one of two types: Intel or AMD. Each company’s layout and CPU socket configuration is different, so an Intel CPU won’t fit onto an AMD motherboard.

Through all the CPU generations, Intel’s Core and AMD’s Ryzen have been battling it out for the top spot. However, Intel is favored by some of the biggest manufacturers, such as HP, Lenovo and Samsung. Everyday laptops should have at least a Core i3 or i5, while high-performance and gaming laptops should have a Core i7 or i9. 

For the AMD equivalent, your everyday workhorse should have a Ryzen 3 or 5 CPU, while a powerful laptop for gaming or creative work should have a Ryzen 7 or 9. 

Upgrading can be difficult

Laptops might operate similarly to desktop computers, but they have one big challenge that traditional PCs don’t: they are tough to upgrade. You easily pop off the CPU fan and remove the component with a desktop computer. 

However, a laptop makes that difficult as you generally need to take a few parts off before reaching the CPU. It’s best to take the laptop to an authorized technician for repairs or upgrades. Another option is to look for a complete laptop with your chosen installed CPU. That would be the much easier choice, saving you time, money and a lot of frustration.

Integrated graphics

A laptop or desktop computer must have a dedicated graphics card to render any graphics. Everyday laptops might not have a separate graphics card like some gaming laptops do, so most rendering is done through the CPU. 

In that case, the CPU must be powerful enough to handle the integrated graphics units for what you are doing. Consider your laptop usage, and ensure that the CPU can power all the components. For heavy gaming with intense graphics, a laptop with a separate graphics card, sometimes called a discrete graphics processing unit, is the best. 

What to look for in a quality laptop CPU

Clock speed

Ensuring the motherboard compatibility and how the graphics are handled only contributes a small portion to which CPU is best for you. Undoubtedly the first number that most will look at is the clock speed.

The gigahertz measurement indicates the operating frequency, which is how many operations the CPU can execute per second. Generally, higher numbers are better because they can do more operations before struggling. No matter what it’s used for, any laptop should have a CPU of at least 3.5 gigahertz. For more strenuous operations, CPUs can go as high as 4.8 or 5 gigahertz. The measurements are roughly the same between Intel and AMD. 


The clock speed is usually indicated as the base speed, as some CPUs can be flipped into an overclock mode. This runs the CPU faster, and the limit is indicated as the maximum clock speed. A few percentage points faster might not seem like such a big deal, but it can mean the difference between stuttering graphics and a smooth experience.

Core and thread count

Generally, as with most computer-related things, the more cores in a CPU, the higher the thread count. Where the clock speed relates to how quickly things get done, the number of cores is how many simultaneous operations the CPU can perform. For basic laptops, two to four cores should be enough, but if you are a power user or a heavy gamer, a good-quality laptop has six to 14 cores. 

How much you can expect to spend on a laptop CPU

It can be challenging to get hold of a laptop CPU, as the supply is limited, and in most cases, they are renewed. But with that said, an entry-level CPU costs $80-$100, while a high-end CPU costs $200-$400. On the other hand, a pre-built laptop with a basic CPU costs $600-$800, while a powerful laptop with a top CPU costs $1,200-$1,900. 

Laptop CPU FAQ

Can you upgrade the CPU on a MacBook?

A. Apple uses its version of the ARM CPUs after transitioning from Intel some time ago. While older MacBooks have removable components, you can’t remove the M1 or M2 chips. So, it isn’t possible to upgrade the CPU on a MacBook, and you have to think carefully before buying one. 

What’s the best CPU for your next laptop to buy?

Top laptop CPU

HP Envy 17-Inch with Intel Core i7

What you need to know: With a large display and lots of RAM, this laptop will make small work of challenging tasks.

What you’ll love: In addition to the 16 gigabytes of RAM, this laptop has an Intel Core i7-1255U processor with a maximum clock speed of 4.7 gigahertz through Intel Turbo Boost technology. The CPU has 10 cores and 12 threads. The laptop comes with Intel Iris XE integrated graphics card and a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2050 discrete laptop graphics unit. 

What you should consider: This laptop doesn’t have an optical drive for CDs or DVDs. 

Where to buy: Sold by HP

Top laptop CPU for the money

HP Laptop with AMD Ryzen 5 Processor

What you need to know: This 14-inch laptop is great for everyday office work.

What you’ll love: This laptop has an AMD Ryzen 5 5625U processor with a maximum clock speed of 4.3GHz. It has six cores and 12 threads. It comes pre-installed with Windows 11 and has an integrated AMD Radeon graphics card and 8GB of RAM.

What you should consider: The embedded webcam has a maximum capture resolution of 720p.

Where to buy: Sold by HP

Worth checking out

Alienware x14 Gaming Laptop

What you need to know: This blazing-fast laptop can easily handle the most resource-intensive video games.

What you’ll love: It uses the latest 12th generation Intel Core i5 processor, which has a maximum clock speed of 4.5 gigahertz. It has 12 cores and 16 threads, which supports the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card to produce stunning visuals. The laptop has 32GB of RAM and a 1TB M.2 solid-state hard drive.

What you should consider: While designed with a futuristic look, the portion behind the display that sticks out can look awkward.

Where to buy: Sold by Dell


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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.