Thinking of buying a new notebook or thin and light laptop? The most important piece of hardware inside any portable PC is its CPU — the chip that runs the whole show. But they're not all created equal, so these are the things you need to remember when you're getting ready to choose a new laptop.
For the most part, you should be comparing thin and light laptop CPUs on a few key metrics. Thermal design power is the maximum amount of heat that a CPU will generate under a heavy workload, and directly relates to how much power it will consume. A CPU's base and boost frequency refer to the outright speed of a CPU, and relate to how much raw data it can process per second and how quickly it can complete any given computing operation. Similarly, a thin and light laptop CPU will usually have an integrated graphics element, a GPU, again with its own base and boost frequency.
With all of these factors, there are other things that come into play — different processor designs mean that two CPUs with the same frequency or TDP may perform differently, for example — but they're a good starting point to finding a laptop that's right for you. You'll have to balance different aspects — between battery and computing power, extra features and energy efficiency.
Low Power, Energy Efficient Chips: For Maximum Battery Life
Intel's Core M currently holds the crown as the most energy efficient CPU that still offers enough performance to be usable by the average laptop buyer. It's the kind of chip that you should be aiming for if you want to maximise battery life without giving too much of a sacrifice to a low energy footprint. This will diminish your outright performance somewhat, but it reaps genuine benefits in terms of battery and all-day usability.
A Core M laptop like Apple's newest MacBook and the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro can be incredibly thin — thinner than we thought laptops could reasonably be while still offering usable computing power — but still have unreasonably long battery life. These are laptops that you can actually use for Web browsing and video watching for an entire day of work or a long plane flight. If you want battery life before anything else, make sure you hunt down a laptop with a Core M chip inside.
Mainstream, Full-Power Laptop CPUs: For Powerful Processing
Intel's Core i3, i5 and i7 chips are the way to go when you want a laptop that can perform with 90 per cent of the power of a desktop PC — if you're intending to run processor-intensive tasks like photo or video editing, watching high-resolution downloaded or YouTube videos, or to do any kind of serious gaming, these are the CPUs to look for. They're the closest to desktop PCs in terms of their performance that you can Other choices that should be at the top of your list will include AMD's 5th- and 6th-generation APUs, but we'll explain what an APU is in more detail below.
As a guide, Intel's processors are available in that three-tiered range of Core lines, but within each of those range, there are a variety of chips with different thermal design envelopes. You can determine this by looking at the single or double letter within The most energy efficient are Intel's Y-series processor range, but that is a designation restricted to Core M only. For i3, i5 and i7 your most power-efficient choice is a U-Series chip, but maximum performance will come from a HQ-series at the cost of some energy efficiency.
AMD APUs: For Gaming, Streaming, Watching Videos And More
An APU is chip-maker AMD's term for a laptop processor that combines both an energy-efficient CPU and a relatively powerful GPU. If you're looking for a laptop that will handle a moderate amount of mainstream gaming as well as regular laptop tasks like mobile productivity, video viewing. If the three pillars of a laptop CPU are compute performance, power usage and gaming performance, then think of this as a slight swing simultaneously towards gaming and battery.
AMD's latest Carrizo APUs make huge strides in battery life and performance, so it's definitely worth waiting for a 6th-generation Carrizo APU to appear in your favourite laptop. Carrizo has over twice the performance per Watt of the previous generation of AMD APU, and alongside superior computational performance you can expect more than twice the battery life — AMD demonstrated a test for us in which we saw eight and a half hours of video playback for a Carrizo laptop versus three and a half for a previous-gen one. You'll see these chips in relatively cheap laptops, too, around the $799 point and upwards.