Should you buy a new laptop right now? That’s a particularly tricky question this spring—not because of the coronavirus, but because both AMD and Intel are coming out with new mobile CPUs within the next few months.
AMD’s Ryzen 4000 CPUs promise to do for laptops what its first Ryzen CPUs did for desktops: finally give Intel processors a real fight. Meanwhile, Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake H laptop CPU is expected to arrive before AMD’s Ryzen 4000, perhaps to get a leg up on a tough competitor.
For some power users, it will be worth it to wait for the new chips. For most mainstream users, this could be a great time to snag a deal on a laptop with an older CPU that will work just fine. Where do you fall? We’ll walk you though the key use cases to help you decide.
Wait: If you use your laptop for gaming
Gamers with money burning a hole in their pockets would likely gain the most from waiting to see what we get from AMD and Intel. Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake H laptops are likely to bring 8-core CPUs down to the Core i7 level (a feature previously limited only to Core i9). Intel is also expected to increase the clock speeds of its Core i9 on single-core loads. In short, you should see a significant uptick from 9th-gen to 10th-gen performance.
While most gaming loads don’t really need the power of an 8-core CPU with 16 threads, laptops with 8-core CPUs are going to become more common when AMD’s Ryzen 7- and Ryzen 9-based laptops hit the street. AMD’s Ryzen mobile chips will be based on 7nm architecture and are likely to produce less heat and use less power than Intel’s hotter-running, 14nm-based Comet Lake H cores. As a result, Ryzen-based laptops could very well offer better performance, because the laptop’s total thermal load will be lower. That means the laptop’s discrete graphics could run faster, too.
Gaming laptops using AMD’s new CPUs should also have the advantage of being smaller and lighter than any Intel-based laptop we’ve seen to date. The Asus ROG (Republic Of Gamer) Zephyrus, for example, features up to an 8-core Ryzen 9 4800HS and a GeForce RTX 2060, and weighs about 3.5 pounds. That’s an unheard-of weight for Intel-based gaming laptops right now.
I can describe another reason for gamers to wait in two words: GeForce Super. Nvidia released its Super-series of graphics cards on desktop last July. Ever since then, it’s been expected that Nvidia would do the same for laptops. While Nvidia won’t say for sure, Notebookcheck.com has said Super was on the way in November, and Digital Trends reiterated it as recently as February.
With that said, there are always exceptions. Something new and hot doesn’t immediately make the previous generation truly “obsolete.” The 9th-gen Intel Core H CPU has proven itself in many gaming laptops, including the recently reviewed HP Pavilion Gaming Laptop 15t ($1,440 on HP.com) and Dell G7 15 7590 ($1,400 from Dell.com). Both of these older models are already pretty affordable, and you’ll likely see price cuts to move them before the new models arrive—so you could snag a good deal.
Wait: If you use your laptop for content creation
Content creation tasks, such as editing video, need the same powerful GPU and powerful CPU, plus lots of RAM and storage, that a gaming laptop needs. Generally, we’d recommend that you wait to see what AMD’s Ryzen 4000 can truly deliver—and to see if Intel’s Comet Lake H is enough of a response.
With that said, just as with gaming laptops, if you need it now and can’t wait, or you’re looking for a good deal, you should find some affordable 9th-gen Intel Core H-based laptops just about now. You’ll give up a little performance, but these current models are already plenty capable.
Don’t need to wait: If you use your laptop for Office, browsing and everyday use
While gaming and content-creation users have a lot to think about, mainstream users who live in Office and in browser windows can already enjoy smaller and lighter laptops, typically using U-class CPUs designed to sip less power and generate less heat.
Mainstream users don’t need to wait. The latest 10th-gen Comet Lake CPUs, and even their 8th-gen U predecessors, are available right now. Buying a laptop with an 8th-gen CPU would be a good bargain for those on a tight budget, while those who could step up to a 10th-gen CPU will see some incremental benefit in performance and other features.
Think about Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs this way: Comet Lake gives you up to six cores (on some models), but its 14nm architecture and integrated UHD graphics are basically the same that we’ve seen for years. The Lenovo Yoga C740 2-in-1 we reviewed recently ($790 on Lenovo.com) is a good example of a 10th-gen Comet Lake laptop that’s both capable and affordable. Its higher-end sibling, the Yoga C940 ($1,430 from Microsoft.com), uses Intel’s 10th-gen Ice lake CPU, with a 10nm process and fairly powerful Iris-based graphics performance. However, these chips are limited to four CPU cores. Differences aside, both will be fine for mainstream users.
The shape of CPUs to come
The Ryzen 4000 CPUs coming from AMD seem likely to shake up the laptop category, promising up to 8 cores in a thin-and-light laptop, along with better graphics performance than even Intel’s Ice Lake chips. If you care about performance and future-proofing, then definitely wait to see what Ryzen 4000 has—and whether Intel can respond.
But if all you do is drive Google Chrome, Outlook, and PowerPoint all day, then you'll likely never know the difference between a Ryzen 7 and a Core i7. Instead, prioritize screen quality, keyboard and trackpad quality, and pen and touch support, along with price, of course.