Hardware  /  Laptops

What’s a Good Processor Speed For a Laptop? [Clock/Frequency]

CG Director Author Christopher Harperby Christopher Harper   /  Published 

What’s a good processor speed for a laptop, and how should you even be determining that for your use case, anyway?

Today, I’ll be tackling these questions in beginner-friendly detail, breaking down all you really need to know about CPUs and laptop CPUs before making any big purchases.

Let’s dive right in!

How Processor Speed Actually Works

First, let’s break down how “processor speed” actually works, beyond the basic idea of it being “fast”.

There’s a lot that goes into a processor (CPU), and I’m going to break down some key terms for you to understand before we proceed.

  • CPU Architecture – The underlying architecture of a given CPU, usually divided by release generation. Architectural improvements between generations can make CPUs with the same core and clock speed specs perform differently.
  • CPU Core – A processing “Core” of a CPU, also the “original form” of the CPU, so to speak, since multi-core CPUs debuted much later despite being standard today.
    How do cores work
    More cores (or virtualized “Threads”) can improve multitasking performance, but only certain applications can scale across multiple cores on their own.
  • Clock Speed – Clock Speed is used to measure the speed at which a CPU’s processing cores operated, usually measured in Gigahertz. Higher clock speed translates directly to higher performance in CPU core-bound workloads, especially single core-bound workloads.
  • Boost Clock, Turbo Boost, etc – The built-in function of a CPU to boost its clock speeds while under high-performance workloads and acceptable cooling conditions.
    What are Base Clocks and Boost Clocks
  • Overclocking – A feature of some CPUs (most AMD CPUs, only select Intel CPUs) that allows the end user to adjust clock speeds for increased performance, at the cost of increased heat and power consumption. May also decrease system stability. However, great for maximizing performance-per-dollar.
    CPU Overclocking
  • Underclocking – If your CPU’s clock speed can be adjusted upward, you can also adjust it downward to alleviate heat and power concerns…but you will lose performance. Most people don’t underclock their CPUs.
  • UndervoltingUndervolting is a unique method of reducing the voltage going to your CPU, but keeping its clock speed and performance roughly the same. By achieving roughly the same performance target but decreasing voltage, you can also improve system stability and cooling performance for heavy loads through undervolting! This is especially valuable on a laptop, which is usually constrained by compromised cooling.Laptop VS Desktop Cooling

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Based on Clock Speed Alone

Now that I’ve given a brief crash course on how CPUs actually work, let’s debunk the idea that clock speed is all that matters in a CPU.

Make no mistake: clock speed is fairly important, and a solid indicator of performance…but only when being used to compare CPUs with the same underlying architecture.

CPUs that share the same architecture will all share certain traits, even if they’re on vastly different ends of the product stack.

As a hypothetical example, take a modern-day Intel i3 CPU and a modern-day Intel i7 CPU. These may not seem to have very much in common at first…especially if you’re comparing solely by clock speed and core count.

But since those CPUs still use the same underlying CPU architecture, the individual cores in that i3 are still just about as strong as the individual cores in the i7.

The Core i7 simply has much more of them and may be rated for higher single-core frequencies compared to the i3.

Intel raptor lake generational improvements

Image Credit: Arstechnica

What’s a Good Processor Speed For a Laptop? It Depends

So, what is a good processor speed for a laptop? It really depends on a few different factors, especially since “speed” by itself may not tell the entire story.

After all, as we’ve learned above, “speed” isn’t a very accurate way of describing a CPU’s capability or usefulness to you, specifically. This heavily depends on what your workloads are, and how those workloads utilize the CPU.

So what you really need to be doing is identifying your workload, and then picking your laptop and CPU based on what processor specs are actually geared for that workload.

An expensive Intel Core i9 Laptop CPU that might be blazingly fast for CPU Rendering workloads (mostly because it has a lot of cores) may not perform any better than an Intel Core i3 or Intel Celeron with just one or two cores, if all you do is run workloads that only ever need a single core (such as active workloads, text-editing, etc.).

Fortunately, I’m here to walk you through that. In the next section, I’ll be breaking down what kind of laptop CPUs you should be looking for based on how you’re already planning to use your laptop.

From casual use to gaming to professional rendering and editing, what you actually need from a CPU can change quite a bit.

Let’s break it down!

How To Pick The Right Laptop CPU For Your Needs

For Average Users

I’d consider an average user someone who is only getting a laptop for basic Internet usage, word processing, video streaming, light gaming etc.

Basically, everything you would have done on a netbook back in the late 2000s, if netbooks actually worked. If you don’t have a specialized use in mind, you don’t really need to specialize your CPU picks too much.

You should, however, consider whether you’ll want to spend less or more to reach these common usage goals.

Finding the ideal performance-per-dollar is especially important for common use cases since you don’t necessarily need to spend a thousand dollars to have a good experience.

  • Scale to budget, but try to stay between the $500-$1000 laptop price range for balanced, non-intensive use cases
  • Focus on comfort and ergonomics, not just raw CPU power, when buying laptops for this use case
  • Always favor the superior performance-per-dollar CPU in your price range, since single-core vs multi-core performance isn’t really a priority for you

For Rendering and Editing Professionals

I’d consider a rendering and editing professional anybody who gets paid for it…or really wants to get paid for it.

Unfortunately for this use case, the amount you are willing to pay for it will pretty much scale directly to how much performance you can expect…but only because of the bright side.

Single Core vs Multi Core Geekbench Processor Benchmarks

The bright side is that rendering and editing applications, as well as other professional-oriented apps (file compression, for example), scale extremely well across multiple cores and threads!

  • Scale to budget, but start above the $800 range to start getting better multi-core laptop CPUs for the money
  • AMD CPUs and Intel CPUs are both great for rendering and editing, but Intel CPUs have better iGPU video decoding for improved timeline performanceeasily preferred if you don’t have a discrete GPU to accelerate a video editing timeline, otherwise, your preference may vary

For Gamers

Gamers…gamers know who they are.

But one thing that’s commonly unclear is exactly what makes a CPU good for gaming. Let’s talk about it.

Depending on the engine and age of a PC game, you’ll find that your CPU is treated differently.

Some games are better than others at utilizing multiple cores, but all games are reliant in some form or another on strong single-core performance.

So, a CPU choice obviously needs to be balanced with your GPU choice in any given game.

While you should still compare CPU and GPU selections between any two gaming laptop models in your price range, these decisions are mostly being made for you as you climb laptop pricing tiers.

  • For the most gaming performance-per-dollar, start with an $800+ Gaming Laptop or something like the Steam Deck. This is the range where discrete graphics begin to make gaming laptops a more worthwhile endeavor for your money.
    Discreet GPU + CPU in Laptop

    Image Credit: Dell

    Additionally, Steam Deck’s iGPU actually outperforms the majority of laptop iGPUs, even at 1080p- and the display res of 800p makes the handheld shockingly competent at playing modern games at 40-60 FPS.

  • If you’re targeting 144 Hz gaming, prioritize Intel CPUs for their single-core performance. AMD CPUs are pretty good too, but strong single-core performance will scale well in games where you’re trying to sustain higher framerates.
  • If you’re prioritizing value or game streaming potential, consider AMD CPUs & APUs. AMD CPUs are still fairly competitive with Intel CPUs in single-core performance (especially these days), and laptops with AMD APUs can provide surprisingly strong low-resolution gaming performance in the sub-$800 price range.


So there you have it. “CPU Speed” is too vague a term to reliably measure a laptop’s CPU performance, which depends on many factors, especially your workloads.

If I had to give a ballpark of a (speed = frequency) number, I’d stick to anything above a 2 GHz base clock and above a 3 GHz boost clock. That’ll at least weed out the true underperformers.

But I’m very hesitant to give even this rough of a ballpark as I don’t want to leave the impression that high frequency is always better.

Some CPUs have very low base clocks, but boost even above 5 GHz. Or some older generation CPUs with high clocks will be easily outperformed by lower-clocking modern CPUs. Or one Laptop CPU may have high theoretical boost clocks but will never be able to reach them due to bad cooling.

That’s why the truly best way to pick a laptop CPU is to first decide what your workloads will be, and, depending on their dependence on single or multi-core CPU performance, I’d head over to our list that ranks laptop CPUs by multi and single-core performance and get whichever laptop is outfitted with the best CPU for my workloads that also fits into my budget.

Then after you’ve picked a few CPUs that seem to theoretically complement your workloads and budget well, dig into benchmarks of specific Laptop models to see how the CPUs actually perform in those models.


Which Laptop Size is Right?

Laptop size is largely going to come down to personal preference, but as always, your desired workflow will always play a factor.

In general, I would say you should trend smaller for portability and larger for comfortable extended use, especially extended productivity or gaming.

What laptop size is right for you

If you want a more detailed rundown of various laptop sizes and who is best suited for them, consider Petar’s extended guide on Which Laptop Size Is Right For You.

What are the Best Laptop CPUs?

The best laptop CPUs are unfortunately going to change on a fairly regular basis, but the advice given in the article above should still be generally-applicable for years to come.

If you want an up-to-date rundown on the best laptop CPUs, though, Alex is maintaining a list of Laptop CPUs in Order of Performance just for you!

Can You Overclock a Laptop?

Depends on the laptop, but in the context of this article…nah, you aren’t going to be overclocking your laptop’s CPU anytime soon, barring some niche functions on high-end laptops.

You can overclock a laptop GPU, though I’m not sure I would recommend it for all laptops and setups. In fact, I would actually recommend undervolting to most laptop users– more on that in my own guide text linked above!

Over to You

And that’s it, at least for now!

I hope this article helped teach you what you needed to know about picking a laptop CPU, and how “Speed” definitely doesn’t tell the full story when it comes to processors. While I still covered just about everything that actually mattered for this article, I didn’t even mention SMT!

If you have any remaining questions about laptop CPUs or PC hardware in general, feel free to ask them in the comments section below or head to the CGDirector Forums!

Until then or until next time, have a good one! And never forget: not all Gigahertz are made equal.

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Christopher Harper

I have been a passionate devotee to technology since the age of 3, and to writing since before I even finished high school.

These passions have since combined into a living in my adulthood and have made writing about PC Hardware very satisfying.

If you need any assistance, leave a comment below: it’s what I’m here for.


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