You might think the latest processors will get you the best performance. But it's not just the processor you're buying—it's the whole system. For example, budget-friendly laptops, even those with new processors, typically have small, slower hard drives and 4GB of memory (the minimum we recommend); and graphics are integrated on the CPU. So they may not be able to handle everything you do very well.
AMD's new E1-series, a case in point. AMD says these processors, among the company's newest, are geared toward low power consumption, long battery life, and "basic performance needs at accessible price points." We tested them in two Toshiba laptops for our latest batch of laptop Ratings. Performance wasn't what you might expect from new processors, even low-power ones. The Detailed Test Results in our Ratings lay out exactly how these laptops performed running productivity and multimedia applications, as well as their battery life.
Of course, you can save quite a bit by choosing the E-1-equipped Toshibas and similar models with modest-performing, or previous-generation, processors. We've found that laptops with these types of processors were okay, though slow, for word processing, Web browsing, e-mailing, and the like. But they didn't perform well overall because they had trouble with more power-hungry tasks, such as photo-editing or converting music and video files. If you just want a laptop that can accomplish the simplest tasks, though, the Toshiba laptops we tested cost $400 and $480.
AMD's A-series is for gamers. We also tested several laptops using AMD's newest A-series processor, the company's fastest-performing chip. (You can identify those by the number 4 after the hyphen in the processor name, as in A10-4600m.) The laptops scored only fair or good in performance. But despite these scores, they had been optimized to play demanding video games, and this was borne out in our tests. Although they have integrated graphics, they ran games as adeptly as computers with moderately powerful graphics cards costing hundreds more.
So if you're looking for a budget gaming laptop that can play demanding games very well, you can find one of these in the $500 to $600 range. But it won't be among the fastest at productivity and other tasks. Take a look at our new Ratings to see just how these processors stacked up against others currently available.
Intel's third-generation Core i3. Intel's newest processors include Core i3 versions. (You'll find those identified by the number 3 after the hyphen in the processor name, as in Core i3-3217U.) So far, we've tested only one desktop with this type of chip, Vizio's 24-inch all-in-one, the CA-24. It performed far below our expectations, but as with the Toshiba laptops above, other factors besides the processor may account for that performance. The laptops we tested with this third-generation Core i3 performed quite well, so we'll reserve judgment until we've tried out a few more models.
—Donna L. Tapellini