One of the key decisions that you need to make when shopping for a new laptop is what CPU you want in your unit. The CPU (also known as processor or microprocessor) is the main brain of the computer. It is the biggest deciding factor in how powerful the computer is overall. It is very important that you try to educate yourself about them somewhat. A lot of computer manufacturers will put a much slower processor in a laptop so that it can be sold for less money. This is the one thing that you need to be really careful about.
I look for these specific models of Intel chips only:
1) Intel Core i3
2) Intel Core i5
3) Intel Core i7
Those are the microprocessors from Intel that I like the most. If you get a laptop that has one of those chips in it, you are far more likely to be satisfied with your purchase. (In my opinion.)
If you can only find Intel Core i3 based laptops in your price range, then look for the Core i3 370M or Core i3 380M. Those two are among the best performing Core i3 chips. You can find some great deals laptops powered by those chips. Even so, you would usually be better off going with a Core i5 based laptop.
Another obvious thing to pay attention to is the speed of the CPU measured in gigahertz. I would never recommend anyone buy a laptop slower than 2.0Ghz. Obviously faster is better. The higher the Ghz rating is the better. You should be able to find a reasonably priced model that is 2.2Ghz or faster. To my knowledge, all of the Core i5 series are 2.2Ghz or faster (except if it is the low voltage version of the chip.) Low voltage Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 series of chips are identified by having a UM at the end of the model number.
A Core i5 430M would be the normal chip. A Core i5 430UM would be the low voltage version. In most cases you won’t see the low voltage option even offered. Most people aren’t even aware that they exist. Plus they tend to cost more. I am hesitant to recommend buying the low voltage chips. These low voltage chips will consume less power and thereby increase the amount of time that the laptop can run on battery. I have not seen a performance comparison though. My intuition tells me that the performance of the low voltage chip will lower when compared to the regular chip. So I recommend avoiding the low voltage version unless you really need longer battery usage in between charges.
Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 Series of mobile CPU
Core i3 series – The Core i3 series of chips are the less powerful versions of Intel’s latest chips. However, these two models specifically (the 370M and 380M) are two of the most powerful versions of those chips. I have read good reviews on those two chips in particular. You can find good deals on computers running the Core i3.
Core i5 series – For most computer users whether for business, pleasure or in an academic environment the Core i5 series of chips will provide enough power for a laptop to last a number of years. Your own needs will determine whether the laptop is useful for more than 4 years. If all you are doing is internet and email then there is a good chance its useful life will be longer than that. If you are using it for heavy duty computing, then you will probably want to upgrade again in four years.
Core i7 series – As is the case with the Core i5 series chips, the Core i7 is going to be powerful enough for pretty much any application that is not extremely resource intensive. These chips are really powerful and can handle multitasking well.
*** I strongly encourage you to buy a laptop that is based on the Core i3, Core i5 or even the Core i7 CPU if you can afford it. Always look to make sure that your particular CPU is running at more than 2.0Ghz. Look for one that is running at 2.2Ghz or better. Even with multi-core processors, you still want your CPU frequency to be more than the absolute bare minimum of 2.2Ghz.***
As of right now I do not offer any recommendations for which AMD CPU you should look for in a laptop. I recommend the Intel chips to all of my customers as well as my family or friends. You can read my thoughts about AMD versus Intel on another page.
Right now it seems that the best deals are to be found in the Core i3 and Core i5 series based laptops.
Core 2 Duo series laptop processors are fine if you are buying a refurbished laptop or if the laptop is running Windows XP
1) Intel Core2 Duo T7500-T9900
2) Intel Core2 Duo P7550-P9700
3) Intel Core 2 Duo SP9300-SP9600
The Core 2 Duo series of chips are true dual core microprocessors. They are powerful and good at multitasking. The Core 2 Duo series of chips that I mention here should be the bare minimum powered laptops that you should be looking at. In general, the Core 2 Duo laptops will be cheaper than the Core I3, Core i5 or Core i7 because they are older technology.
Core 2 Duo T7500 through Core 2 Duo T9900 – When buying a laptop based on the Core 2 Duo chip, look for one that has a letter T, P or SP in the model number. Normally, a T7700 is more powerful than a T7600 which is more powerful than a T7500 and so on. So the higher the number is the better. All of those chips within that series have at least 3Mb of processor cache. That is very important. You also need to make sure that you stay above the 2.0Ghz level. That is why I don’t recommend T series chips below the T7500.
Core 2 Duo P7550 through Core 2 Duo P9700 – Along the same lines as the T7500 series or higher, these are pretty powerful chips. I would feel comfortable buying a laptop based on this chip. P series Core 2 Duo’s that have a number lower than P7550 are going to be 2.0Ghz or slower. You want to stay above that 2.0Ghz threshold.
Core 2 Duo SP9300, Core 2 Duo SP9400, Core 2 Duo SP9600 – These three models specifically of the Core 2 Duo chips are also excellent for the same reasons.
You will see more of the T series and P series than you will of the SP. Just pay attention to the numbers afterwards. I wish this was simpler. Unfortunately it is not.
Advice About Getting The Right CPU When Shopping Locally for A Laptop
Sales people at local computer stores, whether its a big chain or not, are sometimes motivated by corporate incentives or profit incentives. Sometimes there is temptation for them to sell you a product that might not be quite what you are looking for. If you are going to go shopping at your local mall or at your local big box store for a laptop, make a cheat sheet to take with you. Tell the sales person exactly what your minimum requirements are going to be. Tell them you don’t want to consider anything that doesn’t meet certain specs.