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Category: Buying Tips (page 1 of 2)

The Best Time to Buy a Laptop

Nothing causes buyer’s remorse quite like seeing the laptop you bought last month for $1,000 go on sale for $750. It’s equally unpleasant to buy a pricey new Dell XPS 13 in August and then watch as Dell unveils a much faster and more technically advanced model in September. The price on most laptops drops eventually, and newer models are always coming around the corner. So when is the best time to buy a laptop? The answer depends a great deal on your circumstances.

Do You Need It Now?




The best time to buy a new laptop is when you really need one. If your current notebook is broken, you need stronger performance for work or play, or this is a child’s first computer, there’s no good reason to delay your purchase. However, if you have a competent but aging laptop that you plan to replace in the near future, you might save money or benefit from newer technology if you wait strategically.

MacBooks




Apple refreshes its laptops around once per year, though the company doesn’t always release all the new models at once or follow a consistent schedule. Apple last refreshed its 12-inch MacBook in May 2016 and released a new MacBook Pro 13-inch, a MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar and a MacBook Pro 15-inch (also with Touch Bar) in November 2016. The MacBook Air 13-inch hasn’t been refreshed at all since March 2015, but the company appears to be phasing out the Air line and we don’t expect a new model.

The new MacBook Pros probably won’t see a refresh until at least fall 2017 and the MacBook 12-inch isn’t likely to be updated until at least spring 2017. Apple laptops rarely go on large sales so the price is unlikely to drop anytime soon.

Bottom Line: Buy now.

PC Laptops Sale and Refresh Schedule

The major PC manufacturers release new laptops at three times of year: back-to-school season (June to August), holiday season (September to December) and spring (February to April). New models usually ship at the beginning or middle of these windows. However, the best deals tend to appear in July/August and November/December, which are the heart of the school and holiday shopping seasons.

“There is a best time to buy notebooks, and it is exactly when you think it is, between the last week in July and the first three weeks in August, when the back-to-school merchandising frenzy is in full force,” said Analyst Stephen Baker, who studies laptop pricing and sales for the NPD Group, a market intelligence firm. He noted that this time frame applies to both Macs and PCs.

MORE: Best Ultrabooks (Thin-and-Light Windows Laptops)

Not surprisingly, we’ve found that prices can be just as low if not lower at the end of the year, when consumers are busy buying gifts for family members or for themselves.

For example, the 12-inch Apple MacBook (Core m5, 256GB SSD) started at $1,299 on Amazon in March 2016 but sank to $1,149 in August, before shooting back up to around $1,250, until November, when it went back down to $1,149 for a short time and then up again to $1,199.

Apple MacBook 12-inch Price History

Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee the product you want will be any cheaper in August or December than it was in April. You may find a newer model at the same price, though.

Dell didn’t offer significant discounts on the XPS 13, our favorite laptop overall, for either season. The best deal we’ve ever seen on this sleek ultraportable was the Microsoft Store’s “Pie Day” sale on March 14 (a time period not known for deals), when the store dropped the price of a leading configuration from $999 to $685.

However, during the fall 2016 buying season, Dell refreshed the XPS 13 with a new Intel 7th Generation Core Series CPU, a larger battery and a Killer Wi-Fi card, which together offer better performance, two hours longer battery life and stronger connectivity. The new models carry  the exact same prices as their predecessors, while the earlier models left the market entirely.

Bottom Line: You’ll find more deals in the July/August and November/December time frames and will see new model releases in early spring, midsummer and fall.

Intel CPU, Nvidia GPU Refreshes Lead the Industry

Though PC vendors tend to release new products at three times of year, they usually don’t refresh each model more than once a year. Business notebooks in particular can stay on the market unchanged for as long as 18 months. Most updates are timed to coincide closely with Intel’s CPU release schedule, as manufacturers want all their laptops to carry the latest generation of processor nearly as soon as it’s available.

Intel started shipping its 7th Generation “Kaby Lake” series of processors in September 2016, and most consumer laptops were refreshed during the fall. The chipmaker won’t launch the business and quad-core versions of its new CPUs until 2017 so new Lenovo ThinkPads, Dell Latitudes and HP EliteBooks won’t start rolling out until spring 2017.  Intel’s next major architecture update, codenamed “Cannonlake,” will  not launch until at least the second half of 2017.

In the world of gaming laptops, graphics chip updates are even more important than CPU refreshes. In August 2016, Nvidia released its new “Pascal” GPUs, which carry model numbers beginning with 10 (ex: GTX 1060, GTX 1070). Gaming laptop vendors such as Alienware, Asus and MSI immediately began refreshes of all of their models to incorporate Pascal, which offers significantly faster performance and VR-readiness than the previous generation of Nvidia 900 series (GTX 960, 970 and 980) chips.

MORE: The Best Laptops for Every Need

The evolutionary improvements in performance and battery life between two generations of Intel processor — 6th Gen to 7th Gen, for example — may not be worth waiting for on their own.  However, the manufacturers often use the CPU or GPU  refresh as an excuse to make a laptop lighter or add new features like a higher-res screen, a faster SSD or new ports.

shutterstock 183590216

Many times, a chip refresh also leads to the release of completely new products, such as the super-slim Asus ZenBook 3, which launched with Kaby Lake. Other times, it leads to major design changes to existing models as we saw on the Pascal update to the Alienware 13.

Bottom Line: Don’t delay your purchase to wait for your favorite PC

Older Models Don’t Often Get Cheaper

You would expect to see great prices on the old models after a refresh, but more often than not, the original manufacturer discontinues these versions without offering a discount. You can always find a third-party retailer selling last year’s model, but it might actually cost more than the current unit does.

For example, a configuration of the MSI GT72 Dominator Pro gaming laptop came out in October 2014 with a price of $2,300, but by August 2015 it was down to $1,899. After newer versions with faster CPUs had replaced it, the old model jumped up as high as $3,319 and then settled at around $2,649, while the new model costs just $2,199.

msi over time v2

There are a few noteworthy exceptions, which usually occur when the vendor keeps producing the old model at a lower price. For example, Microsoft cut the Surface Pro 3‘s price by $100 after releasing the slightly better Surface Pro 4.

How to Know if You’re Getting a Good Deal

Whenever you find a laptop sale — in December, August or April — it can be hard to tell whether you’re actually getting a great price or just a slight discount off the MSRP, unless you know what the product normally sells for. There are a couple of ways to tell:

  • Use a price-history tool: A couple of sites track price changes over time so you can see if today’s price is really the lowest it has ever been at one particular retailer. Camelcamelcamel.com (and its Chrome extension) will show a price-history graph for most products on Amazon, while the Hover Hound Chrome extension does the same for Newegg.However, we haven’t found a service that tracks the price history from other key services, such as Dell.com, Lenovo.com or Microsoft Store, all of which offer great prices. We’re also yet to find a tracker that shows the price of the same product across multiple retailers. So Amazon.com’s lowest price ever may still be higher than someone else’s.
  • Visit deal aggregators: Deal news sites keep an eye on pricing and call attention to the best deals in their posts. We maintain an up-to-date list of deals at Laptopmag.com, and you can also check out sites such as techbargains.com and bensbargains.net.

To Wait or Not to Wait?

If you’re getting a Mac, don’t expect any major changes or discounts for a while. If you’re purchasing a mainstream consumer Windows laptop, you should see some great discounts during the holiday shopping season and, if you buy one with Intel’s 7th Generation Core series CPU, it probably won’t be replaced until next fall at the earliest.

Gamers will get plenty of pop from new laptops with Nvidia Pascal chips, but will see some additional performance when Intel’s quad-core Kaby Lake CPUs  hit in spring 2017. However, the pace of innovation with gaming laptops is so quick that, whenever you buy one, your laptop is likely to be out-of-date within six months.

Finally, if you want a business laptop right now, you have to decide whether having the best price or the best performance is most important to you. You can find really great sales on current Lenovo ThinkPads and Dell Latitudes during the holiday season. However, we expect new models to start rolling out in spring when the enterprise-friendly versions of Intel Kaby Lake CPUs become available. For most users, the current generation of business laptops will be more than adequate for years to come.

Core i5 vs. Core i7: What’s the Difference?

Since its release in early September, 2009, the Core i5 has been branded as the mainstream version of Intel’s Core i7. So what are the real differences between Core i5 and Core i7, and how do Intel’s two product lines compare? Updated to reflect Sandy Bridge architecture.

Core i5: The New Middle Class


Intel recently re-released the Core processors in the i3, i5 and i7 processor brands. This was necessary because Intel has released a new architecture, called Sandy Bridge, which brings improved performance when compared to the previous Core i branded products.

While the hardware has changed, Intel’s branding scheme remains the same, and Core i5 remains Intel’s primary mid-range processor. It is targeted at the heart of the market, with pricing that is not at budget levels but still affordable, and performance that is extremely quick but not the fastest Intel offers.

Intel’s high-end processor line is the Core i7. Many users who are looking for a high-performance part end up considering both i5 and i7 products. The i5 is quick, but the i7 promises to be faster – is it really, and if so, does the extra performance justify the cost?

A Unified Socket and Chipset

Perhaps the best news to come out of Intel’s new line of i5 and i7 processors is introduction of a single socket for all Sandy Bridge Core i3/i5/i7 processors. This is a state of affairs that may not last forever, as it is rumored that Intel will release a new high-end socket alongside a new chipset and new processors towards the end of 2011.

For now, however, the Sandy Bridge processors all use the LGA 1155 socket. In case you’re wondering, this socket is not backwards compatible with previous LGA1156 processors – don’t try it unless you like junking your hardware. The new chipsets at P67 and H67, and they’re targeted towards performance and mainstream users respectively. The P67 offers processor overclocking support and 16 additional lanes of PCIe bandwidth – these are the primary advantages over H67.

The new, more unified approach to sockets and chipsets certainly makes constructing a system much easier than before. At the moment, you can buy any Sandy Bridge processor and any H67 and P67 motherboard and expect the two to work together.

Intel Turbo Boost

Intel has made Turbo Boost a standard feature on all Core i5 and i7 processors, from the least to most expensive. Intel has also reduced the gap between the maximum turbo boost frequency on different processors. Previously, some of the older Core i7 processors actually had a much less efficient Turbo Boost feature than some newer Core i5s.

All of Intel’s current Core i5 and i7 processors offer a boost of between 300 and 400 MHz. The least expensive i5s offer the 300 MHz boost – for example, the Core i5 2300 has a base clock speed of 2.8 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost speed of 3.1 GHz. The Intel Core i7 2600, on the other hand, offers a base clock speed of 3.4 GHz and a maximum Turbo Boost of 3.8 GHz.

Besides the clock speed difference, Turbo Boost is essentially the same on the i5 and i7 processors.

Difference in Hyper-Threading

Another significant performance difference is how the Core i7 and Core i5 products will be handling hyper-threading. Hyper-threading is a technology used by Intel to simulate more cores than actually exist on the processor. While Core i7 products have all been quad-cores, they appear in Windows as having eight cores. This further improves performance when using programs that make good use of multi-threading.

All Sandy Bridge Core i5 processors have hyper-threading disabled, and all Sandy Bridge Core i7 processors have hyper-threading enabled. This is a major feature difference of Core i5 vs Core i7 processors, and it will give the Core i7 products an advantage over Core i5 processors in some heavily multi-threaded applications.

The New IGP

All of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors make use of a new integrated IGP that is part of the processor architecture. While far from a gaming-grade video solution, the integrated IGP offers reasonable performance without consuming much power. It also enables features like Quick Sync, which can transcode video extremely quickly.

There are two versions of this IGP; the 2000 and the 3000. The only difference between the two is the number of execution units. The 2000 has 6, while the 3000 has 12. This doesn’t mean the 3000 is twice as quick, but it does means the 3000 is about 50% quicker in most benchmarks.

The type of IGP receives isn’t tied to the processor brand. Instead, Intel has tied it to the “K” series. Intel offers a Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K, and these are the only processors with the 3000 series IGP (for now). The K series processors also have unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking.

i5 vs. i7: What it Means to Consumers and Power Users

The type of IGP receives isn’t tied to the processor brand. Instead, Intel has tied it to the “K” series. Intel offers a Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K, and these are the only processors with the 3000 series IGP (for now). The K series processors also have unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking.

i5 vs. i7: What it Means to Consumers and Power Users

Currently, the Core i5 processor brand makes up most of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor line. The prices of these processors range from $177 to $216 with base clock speeds between 2.8 GHz and 3.3 GHz. Intel only offers two Core i7 products, the Core i7-2600 and Core i7-2600K, both of which have a 3.4 GHz base clock speed. The i7-2600 has a price tag of $294.

As you may have guessed, paying about $80 more for the 100 MHz clock speed increase between the fastest i5 and the i7 isn’t a great deal. The main reason to pay this additional cash for a i7 is hyper-threading, but this advantage will only be evident if you frequently use programs that can actually make use of 8 threads.

For most users, the i5 is clearly the better deal. The i5-2500 makes the most sense in my opinion, as it offers an extremely quick base clock speed of 3.3 GHz for about $200. Of course, the value of this is subject to change in the future as Intel fleshes out its product line with new models.

Currently, the Core i5 processor brand makes up most of Intel’s Sandy Bridge processor line. The prices of these processors range from $177 to $216 with base clock speeds between 2.8 GHz and 3.3 GHz. Intel only offers two Core i7 products, the Core i7-2600 and Core i7-2600K, both of which have a 3.4 GHz base clock speed. The i7-2600 has a price tag of $294.

As you may have guessed, paying about $80 more for the 100 MHz clock speed increase between the fastest i5 and the i7 isn’t a great deal. The main reason to pay this additional cash for a i7 is hyper-threading, but this advantage will only be evident if you frequently use programs that can actually make use of 8 threads.

For most users, the i5 is clearly the better deal. The i5-2500 makes the most sense in my opinion, as it offers an extremely quick base clock speed of 3.3 GHz for about $200. Of course, the value of this is subject to change in the future as Intel fleshes out its product line with new models.

 

Laptop Processors Buying Guide

Recommended:

  • Editors Choice: Intel Core i7
  • Runners Up: Intel Core i5, AMD Phenom II
Minimum: 

  • Intel Core i3
  • Intel Core 2 Duo
  • AMD Turion II


What is the current buzz on processors?

Today’s laptop processors are more powerful than ever thanks to multi-processor designs, advancements in computer manufacturing technologies, shifts in processor industry trends, software demands for faster processing, and well the list goes on.

The main highlight and performance enhancement in laptop processors today is multiple processing cores. In simple terms, any multi-core processor is basically one that has at least two or more processors in one. Today a dual-core processor is most common, but 3-core, 4-core, and processors with yet more cores do exist.

One of the main benefits to having a multi-core processor is the increased overall system responsiveness when you work with multiple applications simultaneously. Generally more cores equal better performance. For example you can be performing a virus scan while working on your favorite application at the same time with a minimal performance hit.

Energy Efficient Laptop Computers

Besides more responsive multitasking, many individual applications can take advantage of each core at the same time.

These specially coded applications can theoretically run twice as fast.
Currently most programs do not fully take advantage of a multi-core processor even today, but expect more and more applications to do so in the future.

Besides being extremely powerful, laptop processors today are also very efficient when it comes to energy usage.

This is especially true for current Intel based processors, and the Intel Core i line of processors are simply amazing in our opinion because the performance to power consumption ratio is astonishing.

Laptop processors today have what’s called a lower Thermal Design Power, or TDP. We are not going to get too technical, but in layman’s terms having a lower TDP means laptops can be thinner and lighter thanks to smaller cooling solution requirements. Older processors in comparison required bulkier cooling solutions because they generated more heat.

So besides bringing thinner and lighter laptops to the table, a lower TDP also contributes to longer overall battery run times. In fact, it’s not uncommon today to see laptops rated up to 5 hours on a single charge, with some laptops even topping 10+ hours.

In our opinion modern day laptop processors are simply amazing, and we’ve honestly barely touched base on their overall feature set. But now that you know a bit more regarding current laptop processors, let’s move on to the recommendations, shall we?

What laptop processors are recommended?

Intel Laptop Processors:

For new laptops we currently recommend an Intel Core i7, Core i5, or Core i3 processor. The higher the i processor designation, the better the performance.

In our opinion the Intel Core i7 processor currently offers the best performance and features in a laptop processor hands down.

For the ultimate in mobile computing performance, look no further than an Intel Core i7 processor.

Many fairly cheap laptops however come with Intel Core i5 processors which offer performance very close to an i7.

Finally the Intel Core i3 is Intel’s budget line processor, perfect for those looking for a low cost laptop.  The i3 is no slouch though for it still offers plenty of performance that should satisfy all but the most demanding computing users.

AMD Laptop Processors:

AMD also offers a solid lineup of processors from high-end to budget. In today’s computing world AMD is Intel’s only real competitor, so you don’t have to look much further than AMD or Intel when selecting a laptop processor.

AMDs Phenom II is AMDs high-end processor.  The Phenom II offers comparable performance to the i7 and i5, so if the price for an AMD Phenom II based laptop is noticeably less than a similarly equipped Intel i7 or Intel i5, go for it. If a similarly equipped Phenom II system is more expensive, we’d personally stick with the Intel i7 or i5 platform.

AMDs budget-line processor is the Turion II.  We personally recommend a Turion II based system if you need only a basic laptop or you are on a budget, and the laptop containing one is being sold at an unbeatable price.

Overall an AMD Phenom II processor is ideal for power users who run demanding applications such as design or gaming, and a Turion II is a great processor for basic users who perform tasks such as word processing, email, and web browsing.

AMD or Intel Laptop Processors On A Budget:

If you are on a budget and looking to purchase a new laptop, one containing an AMD Turion II or an Intel Core i3 is a solid bet. Despite being AMD and Intel’s so called budget line, these processors offer outstanding performance perfect basic computing chores.

If you are on a tighter budget and in the market for a used or slightly older laptop, we wouldn’t go for anything less than a laptop containing an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, unless maybe you happen to be on a super tight budget. An older Intel Core 2 Duo is admirable for they are still solid performing processors and an older laptop containing one can be picked up for fairly cheap.

Because there are plenty of older Intel Core 2 Duo laptops out there for great prices,  going for anything less in our opinion isn’t worth it.  An outdated single core processor based laptop doesn’t make much sense in our opinion for the benefits of a dual core processor such as the Core 2 Duo is definitely worth it in the long run, especially if you want to future proof your investment.

What Else Should I Pay Attention To When Selecting a Processor?

Other things to consider in laptop processors include their internal clock speed, external bus speed, and cache size among other things. As a general rule of thumb, bigger is usually better when comparing modern day processors.

Clock speed is the actual speed at which the processor runs inside and it is measured in (MHz) megahertz or (GHz) gigahertz.

Bus speed is the speed at which the processor communicates with the rest of the computer system, and is is also measured in megahertz or gigahertz.

Finally cache is basically a small chuck of memory located near the processing core that stores instructions or data and then feeds the internal processing unit these instructions to keep the laptop processors computational unit running efficiently by having a constant stream of data.

Do keep in mind that comparing AMD to Intel is like comparing apples to oranges. Because their internal logic is constructed differently the aforementioned features aren’t an accurate gauge of performance in this situation.

On the other hand if you are comparing laptop processors from the same processor family like an Intel Core 2 to say another Intel Core 2, remembering that bigger is better is honestly a good way to determine the faster of the two.

Remember that speed isn’t everything though, for balance is the key because while a small bump in clock speed is in fact faster, the price premium for this tiny performance increase may not be worth the extra cash.

For the basic or even average user we feel paying attention to technical details isn’t as important as it was in the past when processors used to be more focused on raw clock speed, but regardless it still doesn’t hurt to know a little bit about these features. And if you didn’t know before, you at least do now.

To clarify things a little further, we don’t really stress the technical details for the average user because we personally feel modern day Intel Core i7, i5, i3, or AMD Phenom II or Turion II laptop processors will likely handle their demands and then some.

For you power users on the other hand our opinion is different. Because you guys will need ultimate performance, we advise you to pay close attention to the technical jargon. A 2MB cache increase and 200MHz bump in clock speed may just shave a few minutes or more off your video encode. For your line of work we like to go with the bigger is better approach to be honest. Time is money after all.

Final Thoughts

We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief laptop processors buying guide.  Now you should be armed with the right information to make a well informed laptop purchase.

But as a final thought we wanted to clarify a few things about Intel vs AMD. We realize we are a bit partial to Intel based notebooks and feel it is only fair to AMD to elaborate a bit since AMD does make fantastic processors.

We are slightly partial to Intel only because Advance Micro Devices (AMD) is slightly trailing in the CPU performance department.  So at the moment we don’t necessarily recommend AMD over Intel unless you find a bargain on an AMD based laptop compared to an equivalent Intel based laptop.

If you do go with AMD over Intel and are looking for a rock solid performer, we’d personally go no less than an AMD Phenom II for a high-end configuration, and for a low-end model we’d stick with at least an AMD Turion II.

Soo while maybe AMDs Phenom II is not the absolute top performing laptop processor when compared to Intel’s flagship i7, we are still very impressed with Phenom II notebooks so don’t think you will be selling yourself short by going with AMD. We just feel Intel right now is the better option, that’s if an AMD based system isn’t the better bang for your buck of course!

Which Intel Core laptop processor should you choose – Core i3 Vs Core i5 Vs Core i7

With so many new processors for laptops and desktops coming to the market, people are getting confused about the basic differences between the various models and therefore are also unable to decide which processor suits their need the best. As a result their purchase decision is often made keeping only the cost factor in mind. This article provides a small laptop processor comparison. Continue reading

Laptop Processor Buyer’s Guide

Laptop computer processors are very different from their desktop counterparts. The primary reason for this is the limited amount of power they have to run on when the laptop is not plugged into an outlet. The less power that the laptop uses, the longer the system should be able to run for off the battery. To do this, the manufacturers employ a large number of tricks such as CPU scaling where a processor scales its power usage (and thus performance) to the tasks at hand. This presents a major challenge in balancing performance and power consumption. Continue reading

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