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. That’s fine if you’re often away from the plug for long periods of time, but that extra battery life comes at the expense of some performance. The H chips are optimized for performance and the U chips are “power efficient” but not “extremely” efficient like the Y line.
AMD’s chip names are just as hard to decipher as Intel’s.
In the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X name, the “7” is the generation (how old it is; higher is better) and the “6” is how powerful it is. The “6” will make this example a medium-powered chip, while the 3 or 4 will be weaker (slower). The next two numbers don’t have much of an impact on anything. The “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 each year, is that it depends. Broadly speaking, the Intel i5 is indistinguishable from the Ryzen 5 outside of very specific benchmarks. They’re similar when you’re doing things like surfing the web or editing documents. The same goes for Intel i7 and Ryzen 7 as well as Intel i3 and Ryzen 3.
Graphics performance is where you’ll notice a difference. In my testing, both in benchmarks and in real-world work, AMD’s integrated graphics tend to outperform Intel’s in graphics-intensive tasks—think video editing or gaming. Intel’s latest series of chips has narrowed that gap considerably, but AMD still has the upper hand. You might benefit from buying an AMD machine if you’re a video editor or gamer, but what you most likely want is a dedicated graphics card. (More on this in the GPU section below.)
How much processing power do you need?
If you’re a typical user who uses a web browser, Microsoft’s Office Suite, and maybe even some photo editing software, we recommend a laptop with a ninth-generation Intel Core i5 processor or later. This will show something like “Intel Core i5-9350U”.
If you can afford it, the Intel i7 chip makes a nice upgrade and will make your laptop feel faster. However, the extra power often means shorter battery life, so you’ll need to balance that against your needs. A gaming laptop, for example, would use an i7 (or i9) chip, but an i3 or i5 is usually suitable for less demanding tasks.
Likewise, for the average user, the AMD Ryzen 5000 series will suffice, but the Ryzen 7000 makes a nice upgrade – again at the cost of battery life.
Are you a power user?
If you compile software, edit video, or work with very large databases, you’ll want 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 note that at CES 2023, both Intel and AMD released a slew of new processors that will make their way into laptops as the year progresses. Intel announced its 13th generation processors called “Raptor Lake” and AMD released new Ryzen 7000 “Zen 4” processors. While we haven’t seen anything to indicate a huge speed increase, we’re expecting better battery life from some of the upcoming mobile chips (we’re particularly eager to try out AMD’s Ryzen 7040 mobile chips).
The best processors for Chrome OS laptops
Chrome OS is built around Google’s Chrome web browser and runs most software directly in the browser. That means it doesn’t need big, powerful Intel chips. At least that’s the theory. In my experience, Chrome OS does best with at least an Intel i3 chip or, in my opinion, the best value you can get with a Chromebook right now, an AMD Ryzen 4000 chip.