What’s the best CPU to get in your next laptop? That question became a lot harder to answer earlier this year when AMD unleashed its Ryzen 4000 mobile CPUs, finally bringing some real competition against Intel’s Core product line. If that weren’t enough, Intel has multiple generations of Core mobile CPU on the market, each with specific strengths and weaknesses.

We’re here to help you navigate this chaotic landscape, but without thousands of words and stacks of charts. We’ll start with a quick primer on the strengths and weaknesses of each chip, then we’ll discuss how to pick the right one for you. To keep this from getting too overwhelming, we’ll stick only to the CPUs that typically go into three-pound, thin-and-light laptops, rather than get into thicker and heavier gaming laptops.

If you want to get deeper into the weeds of each CPU we discuss, check out the reviews we’ve written about them:

Does it even matter which CPU you have?

Before you go on, keep in mind that paying for more performance if you don’t actually use it is often a waste of money. The truth is that for most people who browse the web, check email, watch YouTube or run Microsoft Office, just about any modern Core or Ryzen CPU with an SSD and enough RAM offers more than enough performance.

Rather than worrying about how the CPU was manufactured, or about some special feature it has, you may get more satisfaction by prioritizing the screen, keyboard, design and price. This is especially true for 13-inch laptops.

There are still real upsides to a faster CPU. Zoom video conferencing, for example, will not let you turn on its nifty virtual background feature without a newer quad-core CPU. Gaming is faster on newer chips, multi-tasking is better, and heavy content editing will, indeed. run faster on a new CPU. 

One last warning: This guide is based on the performance of the Ryzen 7 or Core i7 versions. Lower-end models typically give you fewer cores, and slower graphics. 

Intel

Intel’s 11th gen “Tiger Lake” features Iris Xe graphics, improved AI performance and can hit very high clock speeds with its four cores.

Intel 11th-gen ‘Tiger Lake’

Intel’s 11th-gen Tiger Lake CPU family is the company’s newest chip, built on a 10nm process with “SuperFin” technology. Besides giving you more megahertz, it also features an all news graphics core called Iris Xe.

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