Which CPU Should I Buy? | Processor Buying Guide (2021)

Can computers think? Contrary to what many people used to feel in the earlier days, computers can ‘think.’

The Central Processing Unit (CPU) is where the ‘thinking’ happens. A faster CPU enables you to crunch your Excel spreadsheets, play games, surf the web, and edit photos faster. At the same time, the faster the CPU, the smaller is the battery life.

Which CPU Should I Buy – Processor Buying Guide

Let us now understand the CPU and its functioning. When you go shopping for a laptop or a computer, the first thing you check out is the name of the processor. You can find it in every product description.

Can the name help you decide which CPU is better? It can be confusing because a lot depends on your usage. How much speed do you need? Is a Core i7-7Y75 CPU better than a Core i5-8250U?

Thus, looking at the names is not going to help you unless you know the basics. There are more than two dozen models in Intel’s latest line-up. Speaking of Intel, one must say that most of the laptops are powered by Intel CPU.

Some laptops still use AMD processors. We shall look at them later on in this guide. In the meanwhile, let us try to decipher the CPU names and understand the purpose for which these CPUs are the best.

Before going into the intricate details of the different types of processors, this table should be handy in deciding which CPU you should opt for.

Purpose Recommended CPUSample UnitsBattery life (approx.)
Gaming and Workstation purposesIntel Core i5 or i7 H SeriesCore i9-8950HK
Core i5-8300H
Between 3 and 8 hours depending on your usage
Everyday Use with a BoostIntel Core i7 U Series
Intel Core i5 or i7 G Series
AMD Ryzen Mobile 5
Core i7-7500U
Core i7-8550U
Core i7-8705G
Normally, the battery life should be between 5 and 17 hours
Everyday Use without BoostIntel Core i5 U Series
AMD Ryzen Mobile 5
Core i5-7200U
Core i5-8250U
Around 5 to 17 hours
Thin Laptops – Poor performanceIntel Core m/Core i5/i7 Y SeriesCore m3, Core i5-7Y54Between 5 and 9 hours
Budget Laptops – Low-PerformanceIntel Celeron, PentiumCeleron N3050
Pentium N4200
About 4 to 6 hours
Cheap Laptops – the worst performanceIntel Atom SeriesAtom Z3735F
Atom x3, Atom x5
Battery life is between 7 and 12 hours

The Numbers Game

Let us now understand how to read a CPU model name.

Intel Core i7-8705G

  • Intel Core – Name of the brand
  • i7 – Brand Modifier
  • 8 – Generation Indicator
  • 705 – SKU Numeric Digits
  • G – Product Line Suffix

Intel Core i5-7Y54

  • Intel Core – Brand Name
  • i5 – Brand Modifier
  • 7 – Generation Indicator
  • Y – Product Line Suffix
  • 54 – SKU Numeric Digits

We have seen two simple examples. Let us now discuss in brief what each of these terms conveys.

The first word is the name of the brand. In this case, it was Intel Core. There are other brands as well such as AMD Ryzen, Celeron, Pentium, AMD FX, Xeon, and Atom.

Following the brand name is the Brand Modifier. Usually, you will find i3, i5, i7, or i9, and so on. Sometimes, you can also find brand modifiers as m5, x5, E, or N depending on the brand name.

In Intel computers, the first number after the Brand Indicator is the Generation Indicator. The latest generation is the 8th generation. However, not all laptops have updated to this platform. Hence, you find the number 7 as the most commonly available generation in the market.

After the Generation Indicator, you have the Product Line Suffix and the SKU numeric digits. This information is vital as it indicates the amount of wattage the processor needs.

In the case of AMD processors, you do not get this information from the name. However, Ryzen 5 competes with the Core i5 U Series, and the Ryzen 7 is equivalent to the Intel Core i7 U Series.

Which is better? AMD Ryzen or Intel Core

Until very recently, AMD processors were associated with low and poor performance computers and laptops. You could also find some Budget laptops with AMD processors.

However, the company has introduced its new Ryzen Mobile Platform in the latter half of 2017.

A Ryzen 5 model is as good as a Core i5. Tests have proved that the HP Envy x360 with Ryzen 5 fared better than an identical model with a Core i5-8250U chip.

As on date, there are only three Ryzen Mobile powered laptops on the market. They are Acer Swift 3, HP Envy x360, and Lenovo IdeaPad 720S. You can consider the AMD Ryzen powered models if they are available at the same price of less than the Intel Core version.

Non-Ryzen chips are also available on the market. If the price is the only consideration, you can go for such chips. However, they do not perform up to the necessary standards.

Core i3 Vs Core i5 Vs Core i7 Vs Core i9

As explained earlier, i3, i5, i7, and i9 are brand modifiers. Intel has allocated these numbers depending on the speed of the processor.

The i3 is the slowest of the lot whereas i7 and i9 are the fastest. For normal productivity and home use, the i5 is the ideal one. However, if you work extensively on computers and are a gaming addict, you should opt for the i7 or the i9 processors.

Core i3

It is an entry-level core CPU. Many people call it the ‘Good Chip.’ It is a solid performer of everyday tasks. You get this configuration in the budget laptops.

The Core i3 is available in both Dual Core and Quad Core varieties. The latest Core i3-8130U chips present in the most recent models such as Acer Aspire E15 and Lenovo IdeaPad 330s come with Hyper-threading and Turbo Boost for maximising performance.

Core i5

The Core i5 is the ideal CPU for regular daily use. It is also referred to as the ‘Better Chip.’ It is a Quad-core chip thereby ensuring it does CPU-intensive tasks. It also includes entry-level gaming and multimedia. The Core i5 processor comes in three varieties.

The latest ones like the Core i5-8250U are available on the thin laptops. They offer good performance especially when you equate it with the price. Some of the laptops coming with Core i5-8250U are Lenovo Flex 6 and Dell Inspiron 15.6.

If you are looking for entry level gaming, you can try out the Core i5-8300H chips in laptops like Asus TUF, MSI GL63, and HP Pavilion 15.

Core i7

If you are into intensive graphics work or engineering, the Core i5 processors will prove inadequate. You need to upgrade to the Core i7 Series. You can also call it the ‘Best Chip.’ It comes in three varieties, one hexa-core, and two quad-cores.

Usually, you find this configuration in the high-end laptops. Flagship laptops and gaming machines need Core i7 to perform satisfactorily.

The Core i7-8550U should be a perfect choice for a slim Ultrabook as it offers performance and power efficiency. Some of the laptop models working on the Core i7 are New Dell XPS 13 9370, Dell XPS 13 9360, HP Spectre x360 13, and Lenovo Flex 6.

These are powerful laptops. If you are a compulsive gamer, you might require a more powerful processor. The Core i7-8750H is an ideal one. It is available in flagship models like MSI GS65 Stealth Thin, and Dell New XPS 15 9570.

Both the Core i5 and Core i7 support Turbo Boost, and Hyper-Threading. You get the 8th Core platform in the Core i5 and Core i7.

Core i9

If Core i7 is the best, you have to use the word ‘Beast’ to describe the performance of Core i9. It offers six cores of Hyper-Threading, Turbo-Boost, and overclockable firepower.

Some of the latest models include the Alienware 17 R5 and the MSI GT75 Titan work on the Core i9-8950HK processor. It is also known as the ideal processor for the ultimate gaming laptop.

7th Gen Core or 8th Gen Core

In the latter half of 2017, Intel released the 8th Gen Core or the “Kaby Lake Refresh.” These chips offer greater performance as compared to the 7th Gen “Kaby Lake” processors you find in most of the laptops today.

The 8th Gen Core also moves the most common processor line, the U Series from dual-core to quad-core. Therefore, you have eight threads that help in productivity and multitasking activities.

The most significant advantage of the 8th Gen Core chips is that they are 50% to 92% faster than their predecessors, especially on multi-threaded tasks. Therefore, a Core i7-8550U is faster than a Core i7-7500U CPU.

In case of single-threaded tasks, the 8th Gen Core chips are about 10% to 11% faster than the 7th Gen Core chips.

In the initial stages, you had the laptops with Intel’s 8th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 U Series alone. Subsequently, Intel has released “Kaby Lake G Processors” with AMDs Vega Graphics and its first notebooks with Coffee Lake-H Series processors that can go up to Core i9.

You do not get 8th Gen Celeron or Pentium processors. Similarly, the low-power Y series CPUs are also available with the 7th Gen Core chips only.

Intel 9th Generation and 10th Generation Processors

By now, you have the 10th generation Intel CPUs in the market. However, these CPUs are available on laptops only, at present.

As on date, no desktop computer comes with a 10th gen Intel processor. Yes, you have the 9th generation chips available on both these devices.

Let us now understand the capacities of the 9th and the 10th generation processors before comparing them.

The 9th generation CPUs – Desktop Processors

Intel has named the 9th generation processors as “Coffee Lake Refresh,” thereby indicating that it is a direct refresh of the Coffee Lake hardware present in the 8th generation chips.

Since it is a refreshed model, there will be some minor enhancements. They include the following.

  • A better thermal interface, especially on the higher-end models
  • Support for up to eight cores
  • Compatibility with USB 3.1 Gen 2 with data transfer speeds up to 10Gbps
  • CNVi-enabled Wi-Fi for better internet connectivity

Despite these enhancements, the 9th generation hardware is fundamentally the 6th generation Skylake microarchitecture, built on Intel’s 14nm process variant.

The higher-end processors get the advantage of the additional frequency with more cores. Here is how they stack up.

  • Celeron CPUs – Two cores without hyperthreading
  • Pentium Gold – Two cores with hyperthreading
  • Core i3 – Four cores without hyperthreading
  • Core i5 – Six cores without hyperthreading
  • Core i7 – Eight cores without hyperthreading
  • Core i9 – Eight cores with hyperthreading

Intel has released 34 CPUs in the following manner.

  • Pentium Gold and Celeron – 8 CPUs
  • Intel Core i3 – 7 CPUs
  • Intel Core i5 – 10 CPUs
  • Intel Core i7 – 5 CPUs
  • Intel Core i9 – 4 CPUs

The 9th generation processors come with the following alphabetical suffixes. By now, you should be aware of what the alphabetic suffixes denote.

  • K = Overclockable
  • KF = Overclockable with No Integrated Graphics
  • No Suffix – Standard CPU with Integrated Graphics, 54-65W TDP
  • F = No Integrated Graphics
  • T = Low Power, 35W TDP

The Celeron, Pentium Gold, and the Core i3 chips come equipped with DDR4-2400 RAM, whereas the Core i5, i7, and i9 processors have qualified support up to DDR-2666 RAM.

The 9th generation CPUs – At a glance

The 9th generation Intel Core desktop processors deliver improved performance and provide greater flexibility for everything you do.

  • Supports Intel Core i3 to i9, Pentium Gold and Celeron
  • Provides support for Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 with Core i3
  • New Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 200 (Gig+) – the fastest Wi-Fi connectivity for desktops
  • Supports Intel Optane Memory and Intel Optane SSD
  • Support up to 128DDR4 RAM

As compared to a 5-year old PC, the 9the generation CPUs for desktops exhibit the following features.

  • 47% more FPS (frames per second) – for gaming activities
  • 1 times faster – for photo editing
  • 38% faster Wi-Fi – for web performance
  • 53% faster – for multitasking

9th Generation CPUs – Laptops – 45W H-Series

Besides the 34 CPUs in the desktop category, Intel has introduced six CPUs in the 45W H-series for gaming laptops and workstations.

These appliances are compatible with the 15.6-inches and 17.3-inches monitors along with a discrete graphics card that can go on to deliver a tremendous gaming performance.

The 9th generation 45W H-series CPUs are distributed as follows.

  • Core i5 CPUs (9300H and 9400H) – 4C/8T with 8MB L3 Cache
  • Core i7 CPUs (9750H and 9850H) – 6C/12T with 12MB L3 Cache
  • Core i9 CPUs(9880H and 9980HK) – 8C/16T with 16MB L3 Cache

The Core i9 CPUs also support Intel Thermal Velocity Boost for +100 MHz Turbo. All these CPUs support DDR4-2666 RAM.

The high-end 9th generation Core i9 CPUs are gaming monsters (if you can call them as such). These laptops come equipped with Musclebook, a new name for DTR (Desktop Replacement hardware) equivalent devices.

These chips support Intel’s Thermal Velocity Boost, thereby giving an additional 100MHz. Hence, these chips are excellent for gaming.

The best gaming laptops in the world now come with the following features.

  • 9th Gen Intel Core high-performance mobile processor (a new addition)
  • Intel Core i9 mobile processor with 8C/16T and up to 5GHz Turbo ( a first)
  • Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 (Gig+) – a new feature and for the first time in laptops (enhanced speed)
  • Intel Optane Memory H10 with SSD storage (new feature)
  • High-Capacity Intel SSD 660p (a new feature)
  • Intel Rapid Storage technology 17.x
  • Support for up to 128GB DDR4 RAM
  • Intel Dynamic Tuning to ensure the maximum CPU performance (an improved function)
  • Intel Thermal Velocity Boost that increases the frequency depending on the temperature
  • Thunderbolt 3 to enable single-cable docking
  • These laptops are optimised for the latest discrete graphics performance.

Thus, we have seen that the 9th generation CPUs are excellent for gaming. The features available on these CPUs make it highly efficient when compared to the earlier generations.

We will need this fundamental understanding before we proceed with discussing the 10th generation CPUs.

The 10th generation CPUs

The 10th generation CPUs have now entered the market. As on date, such processors are available on the laptops alone. It will take some time before the desktops get it.

One of the highlights of the 10th gen CPUs is the shift from the 14nm architecture to the 10nm architecture. Thus, you have thinner laptops capable of delivering high-quality all-round performance. Here are some of the excellent aspects of the 10th generation chips.

  • Intel has released 11 CPUs in the U and Y series of Core i3, i5, and i7.
  • The 10th generation Intel Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 chips available today, are better than the previous generation chips.
  • These chips feature Intel Iris Plus graphics to provide an excellent gaming performance. Though the 10th gen CPUs are not gaming laptops as the 9th gen CPUs are, they are good enough.
  • The 10th gen CPUs pack battery life optimised for long working sessions.
  • These CPUs deliver the latest in wireless and wired standards for incredibly fast connectivity.
  • The 10th gen Intel Core CPUs possess built-in intelligent performance features that are built for the AI software of the future.
  • This 10th gen CPUs are excellent for jobs like automatic photo masking and quick application of video filters.
  • The laptops powered by the 10th gen Intel Core CPUs feature the best-in-class Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) connectivity. These routers enable ultra-speed browsing, streaming, gaming, and working, even when there are multiple connected devices.
  • Thunderbolt 3, the fastest USB-C available today, enables you to connect multiple peripherals, displays, docks using a single cable at incredibly fast speeds.

The 10th gen CPUs come in the U and Y series. These processors have the following properties.

The U-Series and Y-Series Processor

  • Embedded Display Port 1.4b
  • Integrated USB Type C – Connectivity up to three ports
  • PCIe 3.0
  • Integrated Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+)
  • Intel Optane Memory
  • LPDDR4x 3733DDR4-3200
  • USB 3 (Two ports, one 10Gbps, and one 5Gbps)
  • SATA 3.0 drive
  • Intel LAN PHY
  • HD Audio port
  • SMBus, SPI, and eSPI

The 10th gen CPUs are the latest in technology today. These CPUs are not available on desktops. The high-quality graphics available on these CPUs are good enough to deliver an exciting gaming performance.

Though they cannot compete with the high-performing 9th gen gaming laptops, these laptops are capable of providing an excellent gaming experience.

CPU Specifications – Terms explained

Individual CPU models will contain various specifications. Let us look at them and understand the terms in brief.


A Core is a processor within a processor. Therefore, if one core does a discrete task, the other one can do something else. Almost all the laptops have a minimum of two cores. The higher-end models have four cores. With the introduction of the 8th Gen Core, the Core i5 and Core i7 laptops have four cores each.


It is a process where the CPU splits each physical core into virtual cores, also known as threads. The Intel’s dual-core CPUs use hyper-threading to provide four threads. The quad-core CPUs provide eight threads.

Clock Speed

The clock speed is the number of cycles per second that the CPU can execute. The unit of measurement is GHz. The higher the number, the better it is. However, it is not the only factor that determines the processor speed.

Turbo Boost

The Turbo Boost function enhances the clock speed temporarily from its base frequency to a higher one to complete a task quickly. The Core i3 models do not have this feature whereas most of the Core i5 and Core i7 have it.


Sometimes, you need frequently used the information to complete repetitive tasks. The cache is a small amount of RAM directly on the CPU die. Most of the CPUs have about 1 MB to 4 MB of cache.

Thermal Design Power (TDP)

The TDP is the number of watts the CPU uses. A better performance will need a higher usage. However, it can result in higher power consumption and temperatures.


The consumer systems do not have this built-in remote management feature. The corporate IT departments need this feature on their business laptops.


Intel releases a new processor generation every 12 to 18 months. The new generation is faster and more efficient than the earlier ones. However, they do not move the processor line to the new generation at the same time. Let us look at some Intel CPU platforms released over the years.

  • 5th Generation – Broadwell – Released in 2014
  • 6th Generation – Skylake – 2015
  • 7th Generation – Kaby Lake – 2016
  • 8th Generation – Kaby Lake Refresh, Kaby Lake G, and Coffee Lake – 2017 and 2018

Processor Lines

Choosing the Core i5 over the Core i3 is always advisable. However, you should also know the importance of the processor or product lines.

Selecting the right processor line is more important. Intel has four main lines, each having its set of Core i3s, i5s, and i7s. Each of these lines has its TDPs ranging from 4.5 Watts to 45 Watts.

Let us look at the processor lines from the most powerful one to the least.

Xeon E – High-End Workstations

The Intel Xeon E3 processor is capable of doing faster calculations. You can also use this processor for developing 3D animations and running complex simulations.

Therefore, it is excellent for engineers and medical researchers. The Xeon E3 processors come with a 45 Watt TDP, Hyper-threading, Turbo Boost, and four physical cores. They are the most advanced specifications.

Therefore, you should not expect the prices to be low or the battery to have a great life as well. All Xeon E3 processors have a built-in vPro management technology.

  • Common CPUs – Xeon E-2186M, Xeon E-2176M, Xeon E3-1535M v6, and Xeon E3-1505M v6

H-Series – Hexa-core, excellent performance

  • Common CPUs – Core i9-8950HK, Core i7-8850H, Core i5-8300H

G-Series – Processor with better graphics

The G-Series processors are good for some light gaming and photo editing.

Usually, you find the AMD processors making up the rear with some low and mediocre performances. However, the latest AMD’s Radeon RX Vega onboard graphics compete favourably with the Intel’s Kaby Lake G Series. These chips come in Core i5 and Core i7 varieties.

Compared to the H-Series processors, the G-Series ones come with TDP of 65 watts. Hence, you cannot expect the batteries to have a long life.

  • Common CPUs – Core i7-8705G, Core i7-8305G

U Series – Best for regular use

The U-Series processors are the best when it comes to everyday use. They have a reputation of providing reliable performance and long battery life. The speeds are about perfect for normal web users. Business users are also comfortable using the U-Series laptops.

You have the 8th Generation Core “Kaby Lake Refresh” chips that double the number of cores from two to four. However, there are still many laptops that have not upgraded to the 8th Generation.

The advantage of the U-Series processors is that they have a TDP of 15 watts. Therefore, you can expect a good battery life. However, these processors need active cooling in the form of a fan. The power-efficient screen and long battery life (10 hours to 20 hours) make these processors the best for everyday use.

  • Common CPUs – Core i7-8650U, Core i5-8269U, Core i3-7100U

Y Series/Core m – Fanless designs,

The Y-series have a very low TDP of 4.5 watts. Hence, manufacturers can pack them in super-thin fanless laptops. However, these processors do not have a good reputation for performance. You can find many branded computers displaying Core i5 or Core i7 labels.

Most of these laptops have low-capacity batteries or high-performance screens. Therefore, such laptops exhibit shorter battery life than the U-Series processors.

  • Common CPUs – Core i7-7Y75, Core i5-7Y54, Core m5-6Y57, Core m3-6Y30

Celeron/Pentium – Cheap models

The Celeron or the Pentium processors are ideal for those having budgetary constraints. It is good for people who use computers and laptops occasionally. Web surfing is easy on these laptops with the Celeron processors. Celeron chips are common in Chromebooks as Google-based OS does not require much power.

The Celeron CPUs have TDP in the range of 4 to 15 watts. The models that have higher TDP exhibit better performance than the ones with a low TDP. They display an average battery life. Hence, these laptops are the least expensive of all.

The Pentium CPUs are comparatively faster as they have TDP in the range of 6 t0 15 watts. Some Celerons and Pentiums are dual-core, and some are quad-core.

  • Common CPUs – Pentium N3700, Celeron N3060

Atom – Weak performance computers

Atom processors are on their way out. Yes, you can still find them in the cheap laptops like the Lenovo Miix 320. People usually buy these Atom-powered laptops as educational tools for children and secondary laptops for adults.

One must say that these Atom-powered machines are good for surfing the web and watching videos. Nowadays, you do not find Intel manufacturing Atom processors. Nevertheless, these processors are the cheapest of the lot.

  • Common CPUs – Atom x7-Z8750, Atom x5-Z8500, Atom Z3735G

Sources: Intel Processor Numbers, Wikipedia, Intel, AMD

We have discussed computer processors in detail. Now, it should not be an issue when you venture to buy the best laptops for your use. Depending on the purpose, you can choose the specifications you need.

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