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Scroll through the laptops available from Best Buy, Fry’s, or Walmart and you’ll mostly see models with an Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor. They're designed to meet the demands, respectively, of ordinary consumers, creative professionals, and hardcore gamers and video editors.

Those choices will soon be expanding, thanks to an Intel rival, chipmaker AMD. That company's new Ryzen 3, 5, and 7 processors will begin appearing in laptops in the next few weeks, offering what the company claims is better performance and battery life than its previous laptop processors.

But the new options shouldn't change your basic decision-making on how much processor you need. If you're shopping for a laptop this spring or summer, don't assume that the pricier, high-end Intel Core i7 or Ryzen 7 is “better” than an Intel Core i5 or Ryzen 5 simply because it has more raw power.

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The processing differences really show up only "when the laptop has to perform complex calculations,” says Antonette Asedillo, who oversees computer testing for Consumer Reports.

That means a Core i7 or Ryzen 7 can help if you'll be doing things like editing 4K video or playing demanding new video games like “Doom Eternal." Those are demanding tasks.

For the many people who use a laptop primarily for posting to Facebook, paying bills, and even waging Fortnite battles, a laptop with a top-of-the-line processor probably amounts to more machine—and more expense—than you need.

Processors for the Rest of Us

“Generally speaking, any of the Intel Core processors can do well with basic, daily tasks like web browsing and email,” Asedillo says.

If the Core i7 is too much processor for most people, the i3 may be too little. Not because of the processor itself, but because these chips tend to be found in lower-end laptops, which use slow hard drives and puny amounts of RAM to keep costs down. The laptops may slow down during run-of-the-mill tasks, such as moving files between folders and browsing the web with multiple tabs open.

It depends on your budget and your needs, however. These computers are capable of running all the standard Microsoft Office software and can cost $500 or less. For many people, they offer good value. 

Older AMD processors got the same treatment as Intel i3s, with manufacturers sticking them in lower-end laptops. That should change with the launch this spring of the Ryzen 4000 series of processors, but we won’t know for sure until we get these laptops in our labs.

(Chromebooks, as opposed to Windows laptops, often use lower-end Intel processors, primarily the Pentium and Core m3.)

If you're shopping right now, before Ryzen 4000-powered laptops make their way to retailers and through our testing, machines with Intel’s Core i5 midrange workhorse remain the best bet for many consumers.

The i5 will handle everyday tasks, like browsing the web and working inside Microsoft Office, without breaking a sweat. It's also no slouch when it comes to more demanding tasks, such as streaming high-resolution video and editing digital photos. And you can easily find i5 laptops for $700 or less. 

“If you have a super high-resolution photo and you tell Photoshop to apply an intense filter over the whole thing, it’s done in seconds,” says Richard Fisco, who oversees electronics testing at Consumer Reports.

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