The letter at the end of the chip name (“U” in our example) is Intel’s designation for the purpose of the chip. For laptops, the letters you’ll see at the end are Y, U, and H. The only thing you need to worry about is the Y-series chips, which are optimized for battery life. This is fine if you’re often away from a power outlet for extended periods of time, but that extra battery life comes at the cost of some performance. The H chips are optimized for performance, while the U chips are “energy efficient” but not “extremely” efficient like the Y line.
The name of the AMD chip is just as difficult to decipher as the name of Intel.
In the name of the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X, “7” is a generation (how old it is, the higher the better), and “6” is how powerful it is. “6” will make this example a medium power chip, while 3 or 4 will be weaker (slower). The next two numbers don’t affect anything. An “X” at the end indicates high performance. Other letter designations include U for ultra low power.
Is there a huge difference between Intel and AMD chips? My experience, testing dozens of both every year, is that it depends. Generally speaking, the Intel i5 is indistinguishable from the Ryzen 5 outside of very specific benchmarks. They are similar when you are doing things like browsing the web or editing documents. The same goes for the Intel i7 and Ryzen 7, as well as the Intel i3 and Ryzen 3.
Graphics performance is where you will notice the difference. In my testing, both in benchmarks and in real production use, AMD integrated graphics tend to perform better than Intel in graphics-intensive tasks such as video editing or gaming. Intel’s latest chip series has narrowed that gap considerably, but AMD still has the edge. You can benefit from buying an AMD machine if you’re a video editor or gamer, but you’ll likely need a dedicated graphics card. (More on this in GPU section below.)
What computing power do you need?
If you’re a casual user using a web browser, Microsoft Office Suite, and maybe even some photo editing software, we recommend a laptop with a 9th generation Intel Core i5 processor or later. It will display something like “Intel Core i5-9350U”.
If you can afford it, the Intel i7 chip is a nice upgrade and will make your laptop faster. However, the extra power often means shorter battery life, so you’ll need to balance that with your needs. For example, a gaming laptop will use an i7 (or i9) chip, but an i3 or i5 is usually fine for less demanding tasks.
Similarly, the AMD Ryzen 5000 series will suffice for the average user, but the Ryzen 7000 would be a good upgrade – again at the cost of battery life.
Are you an advanced user?
Whether you’re compiling software, editing videos, or working with very large databases, you’ll need more processing power than the rest of us. I suggest an Intel i7 or Ryzen 7. You’ll also want to load up on RAM, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Also keep in mind that at CES 2023, both Intel and AMD released a slew of new processors that will be in laptops throughout the year. Intel has announced its 13th generation processors dubbed “Raptor Lake”, while AMD has released its new Ryzen 7000 “Zen 4” processors. While we haven’t seen anything to indicate a significant speed boost, we do expect battery life improvements for some mobile chips (we’re especially eager to try AMD’s Ryzen 7040 mobile chips).
Best laptop processors for Chrome OS
Chrome OS is built on top of the Google Chrome web browser and runs most of the software directly in the browser. This means it doesn’t need large and powerful Intel chips. This is the theory, at least. In my experience, Chrome OS works best with at least an Intel i3 chip, or what I think is currently the best Chromebook, an AMD Ryzen 4000 chip.