Laptop Processors, Battery Life And USB Type-C Explained

Image: HP

When looking for a new laptop, one of the first things that people look at is power and battery life -- and it pays to know how the processor comes into play. And that USB Type-C is beginning to revolutionise charging options. Here's what you need to know.

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The processor or CPU is what drives the performance of your laptop. You need to know what you're looking for so you can get the most appropriate one for you.

If you're new to the world of processors, they can be a little confusing. There are different manufacturers and they have their own grading and naming systems.

Intel and AMD processors are the biggest contenders if you're in the market for a serious laptop. But because you're more likely to come across the former, let's use them as an example.

When it comes to CPUs higher number doesn't necessarily mean a faster unit. A newer generation Intel Core i5 could be more powerful than an older Core i7.

Discerning between Intel's processor numbers can be a bit tricky. You'll generally see the processor brand, such as a Core i7, followed by 4 numbers -- the first of which is the generation number. If you're looking for power you want to go for the highest number possible. As a handy tip, they're currently up to 7th generation so look for Intel iX 7XXX.

Understanding which processor is which is not easy. When you're urgently trying to upgrade, you should remember at least one thing: The newest, 7th gen (codename Kaby Lake) processors will start with the number seven.

After these numbers you may find a single letter. M indicates a standard powered laptop CPU whereas U indicates a low powered and Y ultra low powered. With both of the latter options you are sacrificing power for battery life, which may be great if that's what you want to prioritise.

To keep it simple, a Core i7 is what you're after if you need to tax your machine with hardcore work such as video editing, a Core i5 is good if you just need a middle of the road rig that can handle basic photoshopping, and an i3 should only really be used for super basic browsing and emailing.

Intel's New Kaby Lake Processors: What You Need To Know

Better performance can often come as at the price of battery life, yet Intel claims the Kaby Lake family improves battery life across the board. And because the processor is more efficient it also generates less heat, which means it can be crammed into smaller and thinner laptops than a Skylake processor.

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Battery Life

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There's nothing worse than your battery going dead at a crucial moment, especially when you don't have immediate access to a power source.

If you're lucky, battery life may not be that important -- perhaps your commute is minimal or you mostly use it at your desk. But if you travel a lot or are always on the go, then it's critical.

This is where the world of processors and batteries intersect. You may be packing an impressive i7, but it's going to suck the life out of your machine faster than a less powerful one would if you're using a high-performance profile in Windows.

Other factors also contribute of course -- like the screen. A machine with a high res display with the brightness turned all the way up will also drain the battery quicker. For more tips, see: How To Maximise Battery Life On Windows 10.

Your operating system of choice will help to moderate the power and performance in relation to the battery life to a certain degree. But in general, you have to decide what you value more -- power or longevity?

It's smart to think about what you're after in a machine and see what is currently available on the market. Find out how much battery life sounds right for your needs and be aware of any spec sacrifices you may need to make for it.

This may include the size. Smaller doesn't necessarily mean that battery will last longer, regardless of modest and more efficient specs. Compact internal real estate can't accommodate a larger battery. However, some rigs will have batteries built into their shells, which is great for extended life.

If you want to keep things simple, look at what the manufacturer claims the battery life is. If you're interested in diving deeper, look for models with more cells and the largest units of measurement, whether that be mAh or watt hours. The bigger the number, the longer it will last.

As a general rule when looking at laptops, don't make assumptions and always read the spec sheets. Speaking of which...

USB Type-C

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If you're not familiar with it already, USB Type-C is slowly becoming the port standard in next gen laptops.

Don't let the name fool you, it isn't just a USB Port -- it's becoming an all round literal powerhouse. The ports and connectors are similar in size to to Micro-B USB, which is why you'll see them cropping up in laptops, tablets, phones and accessories.

In addition to being able to transfer data, it can also be used for external display and as a replacement for headphone jacks. Perhaps most importantly is its bi-direction power. It can charge the host device as well as peripherals. This means that you don't need plethora of different power cables -- because you can use the same one for everything. Less tangled wires makes for a happy tech head.

And it's fast. When paired with Thunderbolt 3, it can hit data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps as long as the cable is 0.5m or shorter. For charging, Thunderbolt 3 supports USB 3.1, which has a top speed of 10Gbps and up to 100 watts of power output.

Just be wary not to use cheap USB Type-C cables, they can destroy your devices.

What Exactly Is USB-C?

It can power laptops, transfer data and solve world hunger (okay, maybe not that last one).

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This article originally appeared on Gizmodo Australia


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