Mobile CPU buyer's guide

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

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Budget mobile processors

These processors are inexpensive, but that doesn't mean they're not capable. If your computing needs don't extend much beyond e-mailing, word processing, spreadsheet creation and manipulation, Web browsing, and the like, these low-cost CPUs might well provide all the power you need.

As you'd expect, the clock speeds for this class of processor are much lower, and the L2 caches are considerably smaller than those in the middle range. But you'll still find dual-core devices here. Just don't try playing games or watching HD movies on notebooks based on these processors.

AMD

Sempron for Notebook PCs SI-40

Mobile AMD Sempron 3600+, 3800+, 4000+

Athlon X2 Dual-Core for Notebooks QL-60, QL-60

Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core for Notebooks TK-57

Turion X2 Dual-Core Mobile RM-70, RM-72

Turion 64 X2 Dual-Core Mobile TL-56, TL-57, TL-58, TL-60, TL-62, TL-64, TL-66, TL-68

This is the segment in which AMD really gets back into the mobile game; the company's low-priced offerings are much better than what Intel has to offer in the same price range. You should, however, avoid AMD's very old single-core processors, such as the Sempron Processor for Notebook PCs and the Mobile AMD Sempron. Although these CPUs have core clock speeds as fast as 2 GHz, they're hobbled by L2 caches as small as 256KB.

AMD's Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor for Notebook PCs is a very good value. Although it has a smallish L2 cache of 512KB, it's a true dual-core processor with a 64-bit architecture that runs at a respectable 1.9 GHz. It also has AMD's PowerNow power-management technology, which can tailor power consumption according to CPU workload in order to extend battery life. We were able to find notebooks based on this processor with 2GB of memory and 15.4-in. displays selling for less than $400.

The Athlon X2 Dual-Core Processor for Notebook PCs has twice as much cache and slightly faster cores, but the systems we found using this processor were priced $200 higher than those using the lesser chip. Since we were able to find notebooks using AMD's newer Turion X2 Dual-Core Mobile Processors in this same price range, we're not convinced that premium is warranted.

Intel

Celeron 450, 550, 560, 575, 585

Pentium Dual Core Mobile T2310, T2330, T2370, T2390

Core Solo T1300, T1400

Core Duo T2300, T2400, T2500, T2600, T2700

Unlike AMD's offerings, none of Intel's budget CPUs features the 64-bit architecture needed to support more than 4GB of system memory.

The Pentium Dual Core Mobile is a very inexpensive processor that Intel introduced about a year ago. It has a slow front-side bus speed (just 533 MHz) and only 1MB of L2 cache, but it's a better choice than the newer Intel Celeron processor because it supports Intel's SpeedStep technology. SpeedStep automatically steps voltage up and down in very small increments according to the processor's workload. These nearly instantaneous fluctuations can do a great deal to extend battery life.

The Celeron is a single-core processor with 1MB of L2 cache. Models 575 and 585 have a faster front-side bus (667 MHz) than the Pentium Dual Core Mobile. Unlike that CPU, however, none of the Celerons include Intel's SpeedStep technology.

As its name implies, the Core Solo is a single-core CPU, but it has a faster front-side bus (667 MHz) than all the Pentium Dual Core Mobiles and most of the Celeron processors. It has 2MB of L2 cache and it does support SpeedStep. The Core Duo has two cores, 2MB of L2 cache, a 667-MHz front-side bus and SpeedStep support.

See specs and pricing for all budget mobile CPUs.

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