Mobile CPU buyer's guide

Buying a new laptop? Not sure which processor to get? We can help.

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High-end mobile processors

Looking for a notebook that can do it all? You likely won't be able to fit a machine that uses one of these processors on your lap; but when you've finished working and are ready for a little rest and relaxation, these mobile CPUs can keep up with the best desktop models. They're ready for games, movies and any other application you find entertaining.

A notebook equipped with one of these processors will undoubtedly include a lot of other top-shelf components, including a large screen, a fast, discrete graphics processor, oodles of memory and perhaps even a Blu-ray drive for watching movies. This is the class of processor you should buy if you're one of the following:

  • A hard-core gamer
  • Engaged in processor-intensive applications such as recording music or editing digital photos or video
  • Looking for a true portable workstation
  • Simply want the best-of-class technology and money is no barrier

Intel

Core 2 Extreme Mobile X7800, X7900, X9000, QX9300

Core 2 Quad Mobile Q9100

Intel absolutely owns this category, thanks to its three Core 2 Extreme Mobile dual-core processors -- the X7800, X7900 and X9000 -- and the only two mobile quad-core processors on the market, the Core 2 Quad Mobile Q9100 and the Core 2 Extreme Mobile QX9300.

Intel's Extreme processors boast very high performance specs straight out of the box. The dual-core X7800 and X7900 run at 2.6 GHz and 2.8 GHz, respectively. Both have an 800-MHz front-side bus, boast 4MB of L2 cache and are manufactured using a 65nm fabrication process. The dual-core X9000 and quad-core QX9300 run at 2.8 GHz and 2.53 GHz, respectively, and have 3MB of L2 cache for each core (6MB total for the X9000 and 12MB total for the QX9300). The X9000's front-side bus operates at 800 MHz, while the QX9300's front-side bus hums along at 1,066 MHz.

As impressive as these specs are, all of Intel's Extreme processors have unlocked CPU multipliers, a feature that facilitates overclocking -- boosting the CPU's performance beyond its stock speed -- by allowing users to tweak the ratio between the processor's clock rate and the speed of its front-side bus. However, some notebook makers lock certain BIOS settings to prevent overclocking of any component.

The Core 2 Quad Mobile Q9100 is not part of the Extreme family, so its multiplier is locked. It runs at 2.26 GHz and has a 12MB L2 cache and a 1,066-MHz front-side bus. Intel CPUs with locked multipliers like this one can still be overclocked by tweaking their front-side bus speed, but the process is a little more difficult.

The X9000, QX9300 and Q9100 are all manufactured using a 45nm process, which results in more efficient chips than the older 65nm process did. Using a smaller fabrication process allows more transistors and more cache to be packed into the same physical area. The more transistors and cache on the chip, the faster it can execute instructions, and the closer the transistors are to one another, the less distance electrons must travel. So the chip delivers better performance at the same time that it consumes less power, generates less heat and increases battery life.

Processors running at such high clock speeds do have a drawback: They generate a lot of heat. The X7800, X7900 and X9000 have TDP specs of 44 watts, while the TDP for the Q9100 and QX9300 is 45 watts. The TDP numbers for most other mobile Intel processors range from 17 to 35 watts. As you've probably guessed, these power-hungry beasts -- and the fans needed to cool them -- are very tough on batteries.

See specs and pricing for all high-end mobile CPUs.

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