Laptop Processors vs. Desktop Processors: Same?

This is whether laptop processors are the same as desktop processors.

Laptop processors are different from desktop processors.

If you want to know why laptop processors are different and the technical details, then this article is for you.

Let’s get started!

Laptop Processors vs. Desktop Processors: Same? (Simple)

Laptop Processor and Desktop Processors Are Not the Same

We have seen a lot of progress in the past few years regarding laptop design. Machines that were once used mostly for work and office tasks can now be powerful gaming platforms with great graphics and general performance.

Does that mean we reached a point where laptop processors can really be compared to desktop? It might seem so but, while the gap has been reduced, the limitations that affect the processing power of laptops are likely here to stay.

Let’s learn more about laptop processors and how they compare to their desktop counterparts:

A Thing or Two About Processors

A processor or CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the main component in a computer responsible for carrying out tasks.

The “central” signifies that it’s in charge of telling all the other components what to do to execute the instructions from the software running on the computer.

Put simply, your processor is the “brain” of your computer that processes all the instructions that it gets from programs.

But, CPUs aren’t only found in laptops and PCs—anything that needs to run a program will have a processor, including your TV!

When researching processors online, you’ll often find these two terms mentioned a lot: clock speed and cores.

Clock speed represents a rough estimate of the amount of calculations a processor can make in a single second, expressed in gigahertz (GHz). 

Cores are pretty much little CPUs themselves. New programs are written to run on multiple cores, increasing how quickly the program runs.

Both the clock speed and the number of cores are important for your PC’s or laptop’s performance but what you should prioritize depends on what you want to use the machine for. 

In gaming, for example, clock speed is much more important than the number of cores.

Are Laptop Processors the Same as Desktop?

While laptop and desktop processors are the same in terms of the processes and software they run, there are significant differences in how they run them. They’ll both be able to run the same types of instructions but with varying levels of performance.

The reasons for this are primarily physical: desktop processors rest comfortably in a tower.

At the same time, laptops need to use smaller processors to conserve space. This produces various differences between laptop and desktop processors’ performances.

The Differences Between Laptop and Desktop Processors

Here are some of the most important differences between these two types of processors:

Desktop Processors Have Higher Clock Speeds

There’s just no way of getting around this. No matter how you look at it, desktop processors will generally have higher clock speeds, making them able to run complex programs more easily.

This is mainly because desktop processors have elaborate cooling systems

Inside gaming computer with water cooling system.

When your computer runs computationally intensive programs (3D modeling or the latest game on max settings), electricity passes through your CPU and gets turned into heat. 

A stock desktop cooling system’s cooling power can help reduce this heat more efficiently than the coolers from even high-end laptops. 

Again, this is a space issue: there is simply no room for a large cooler inside a laptop.

Even the same manufacturer processors with the same model name end up having different performances. 

For example, the i7–6700 performs better than i7–6700HQ, which is a processor you’ll find in some MacBook Pros.

Desktop Processors Consume More Power

Laptops have to be more energy-efficient (to conserve battery life).

Still, desktop PCs have a direct supply of power, being constantly connected to an outlet.

On the one hand, this is advantageous: with more power come more cores (and responsibility). 

With more cores comes better performance. Those cores also require more cooling power which, again desktop computers can provide thanks to more room and direct access to electrical energy.

On the other hand, if you want to conserve energy, desktop processors won’t be too helpful. 

Powerful desktop processors with high TDPs (Thermal Desing Powers) consume a lot of energy, generate a lot of heat, and require highly advanced cooling systems. All of this translates into higher electricity bills and energy footprints.

Laptop Processors Usually Don’t Support Overclocking

If you want to increase your processor’s clock speed and get better performance, you can overclock it.

Not only are laptop processors that support overclocking harder to find, but the additional MHz you can get are limited. 

Even if a laptop processor does support overclocking, you usually won’t get much more than 200 – 300 MHz.

However, on desktop processors, you can get up to a 1 GHz increase, which translates into a significant performance boost.

Laptop Processors Are More Expensive

Because of the sophisticated technology required to fit a powerful processor in such a small space, laptop processors cost more than desktop ones.

Applying thermal paste on the CPU processor.

Overall, a powerful gaming laptop can often end up costing you more than a gaming desktop, even if the desktop has better, more powerful components.

With laptops, you’re paying for convenience and production expenses rather than powerful performance.

Laptop Processors Are Non-Upgradeable

Technology moves fast. A FEW YEARS AGO, the PC you bought as a top-of-the-line product is likely average (or below average) today. 

With a desktop computer, you don’t have to worry so much about this—you can upgrade almost any part of the configuration, including the processor.

You can get a better graphics card, more RAM, a larger hard drive, etc.

While some laptops allow you to put in more RAM or SSD, you can’t upgrade your processor like you can on a desktop PC. When the time comes to upgrade your laptop, you’ll likely find yourself buying a new one.

The Most Powerful Laptop Processors

All this aside, there are still some monster laptop processors out there. They will hardly be gentle on your pockets but, if you’re looking for some power from a laptop, you’ll have to splash the cash. Especially if you want a level of power that is comparable to some powerful desktops.

CPU on motherboard, concept of technology.

AMD and Intel have been driving innovation in the processor manufacturing industry for years now, so they’re the two names you’ll find yourself deciding between when choosing your machine.

If you want computing power and speed, try to find laptops that have the following processors.

  • AMD Ryzen 9 5900 HX: This is a processor with great clock speed for a laptop: 3.3 GHz, but it can be clocked up to 4.6 GHz. It’s an 8-core processor found in the ASUS ROG Zephyrus Duo 15 (the “ROG” stands for Republic Of Gamers), which costs upwards of $2.500. That should give you an idea of what kind of price ranges you’ll be dealing with.
  • Intel Xeon E-2276M: This is a 6-core processor with a 2.8 clock speed, but it can be clocked up to a whopping 4.7 GHz. You can find this processor in the Lenovo ThinkPad P53, which is more affordable than the ASUS ROG above. However, it’s still hardly going to cost you under $1.200.
  • Intel Core i7-10875H: Another processor was found in the ASUS ROG series (the ASUS ROG GX701LXS-XS78) and the Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel. It has a clock speed of 2.3 GHz but can be boosted up to 5.1 GHz with the Intel Turbo Boost technology. The ASUS mentioned above ROG will cost you more than $4.000. Still, the Acer is a little more affordable (“little” being the keyword) at around $2.400.
  • Intel Core i9-9980HK: This octa-core (8 cores) processor features a 2.4 GHz speed, but it can be boosted to 5 GHz. You can find it in the Acer Predator priced at $4.799 on Acer’s store.

These processors are the very pinnacle of laptop engineering, and, as such, they all feature a hefty price tag.

Still, they all show how far the technology has gone when it comes to fitting a lot of power in a small space.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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