Laptop CPU Vs Desktop CPU – How They Differ

There is absolutely no doubt in that the desktop CPUs are generally better performing than laptop CPUs. However, to understand the true extent of differences between laptop CPU vs desktop CPU, you have to look at several factors.

You have to look at the clock speed, core count, single core and multi-core performance and also take into consideration different series of CPUs within the same generation and their purpose to truly understand how the laptop CPUs differ from desktop CPUs.

In the following text I will talk in detail about differences between laptop and desktop CPUs taking into account several factors.

But first, let us talk about the performance comparison between laptop and desktop CPUs.

Laptop CPU vs Desktop CPU Performance Comparison

To compare the performance of a CPU, looking at just the core count and clock speed can be a bit misleading.

A better way to gauge the performance of a CPU is to look at its scores on popular benchmarks such as PassMark and Cinebench.

Also Read: How is Processor Speed Measured?

Let us take 11th Gen Intel Core i5 CPUs for the sake of comparison here.

CPU Platform Clock
Speed
Cores/
Threads
Passmark
Core i5
11600K
Desktop 3.90-
4.90 GHz
6/12 19946
Core i5
11500
Desktop 2.70-
4.60 GHz
6/12 17763
Core i5
11400
Desktop  2.60-
4.40 GHz
6/12 17129
Core i5
11500H
Laptop 2.90-
4.60 GHz
6/12 16629
Core i5
11400H
Laptop  2.70-
4.50 GHz
6/12 15992
Core i5
11300H
Laptop  3.10-
4.40 GHz
4/8 11212
Core i5
1155G7
Laptop 2.50-
4.5 GHz
4/8 10881
Core i5
1135G7
Laptop 2.40-
4.2 GHz
4/8 10159

There are plenty of observations that you can draw from the table above.

For starters, with every generation, both laptops and desktops get a flagship CPU.

For Intel 11th Gen the flagship CPU for laptop is the Core i5 11500H and the flagship CPU for desktop is the Core i5 11600K.

You can see here that the performance difference between the two is drastic. While the desktop flagship CPU scores 19,946 points on Passmark, the laptop counterpart scores 16,629.

These scores are also consistent across Cinebench Single Core and Multi-Core Benchmarks as well:

laptop cpu vs desktop cpu

Cinebench R20 11th Gen Multi Core

Desktops CPUs Generally Have a Higher Core Count

Majority of desktop CPUs offer the highest number of a Core/Thread count a generation can offer. Take for instance the 11th gen CPUs above, all desktop CPUs have 6 cores and 12 threads in the i5 line.

With laptop CPUs you can find a mix of CPUs featuring a high core count as well as lower core count.

In the 11th generation, the core i5 11500H and the 11400H offer 6 cores and 12 threads in the i5 line whereas the rest of the CPUs offer 4 cores and 8 threads.

The flagship CPUs on laptops can generally give desktops CPUs a tough time, but they are often found on only high end expensive professional or gaming laptops.

Certain laptop CPU deliberately offer a lower core / thread count in order to be more power efficient. Lower cores = lower power consumed which in turn means lower heat generated and high batter span.

Also Read: Can I Use Intel Processor on AMD Motherboard?

Laptop CPUs Cater To Power Efficiency and Mobility

Desktop CPUs are mostly divided in terms of two dimensions performance and price. The power consumption and battery span is not a paramount consideration on desktops

With laptops, there is an additional dimension, power consumption and battery life. Hence Laptop CPUs are divided in terms of performance, price and power consumed.

Hence you will find several lines of laptop CPUs categorized based on the power consumption. On Intel CPUs, you can tell its power efficiency by the suffix in its model name.

  • H – high performance – High TDP – Have a High Core Count
  • U – low performance – battery saving – Low TDP – Low Core Count
  • G – low performance – battery saving – Low Core Count
  • Y – Very low performance – Lowest TDP – Lowest Core Count in a given generation

The value of power consumption is loosely described by the TDP (Thermal Design Power) of the CPU. 

CPU Platform Clock
Speed
Cores/
Threads
TDP
Core i5
11600K
Desktop 3.90-
4.90 GHz
6/12 95W
Core i5
11500
Desktop 2.70-
4.60 GHz
6/12 65W
Core i5
11400
Desktop  2.60-
4.40 GHz
6/12 65W
Core i5
11500H
Laptop 2.90-
4.60 GHz
6/12 45W
Core i5
11400H
Laptop  2.70-
4.50 GHz
6/12 45W
Core i5
11300H
Laptop  3.10-
4.40 GHz
4/8 35W
Core i5
1155G7
Laptop 2.50-
4.5 GHz
4/8 28W
Core i5
1135G7
Laptop 2.40-
4.2 GHz
4/8 28W

You can see that the higher the performance of a CPU, the higher is its TDP. Higher the TDP, higher the power consumed and higher the heat generated.

Desktop CPUs generally have a higher TDP since power consumption and heat generated is often not an issue. Desktop cases are large and can provide ample cooling to dissipate the heat generated.

With laptops, a CPU with a higher TDP not only means higher battery consumption, but also requires a better cooling system. This often results in larger laptop chassis which are heavier and difficult to carry around.

In other words, on laptops, weaker and low TDP CPUs such as the Intel Core i5 1135G7 and Core i5 11300H are deliberately provided in order to cater to those who value mobility, slim profile, and longer battery span as compared to high performance.

Low powered CPUs are great for those whose day to day work isn’t too demanding such as office users. Whereas high performance CPUs are generally preferred by gamers and professional designers/editors.

Also Read: Intel K vs KF vs F Series CPU

Looking at Only Clock Speed for Comparing Performance Can Be Misleading

Often people make the mistake of judging a CPU performance solely by looking at its clock speed. This is a myopic way to go about it and can be misleading.

Take for instance the Intel Core i5 11500H laptop CPU and the Core i5 11500 desktop CPU. The former has a clock speed of 2.90-4.60 GHz and has 6 core and 12 threads. The latter has a clock speed of 2.70-4.40 GHz and has 6 core and 12 threads.

Despite the desktop based Core i5 11500 having a lower clock speed, it has a better performance scores as compared to laptop based Core i5 11500H. (17763 vs 16629 PassMark score)

Point to Note: Same Generation and Series Should Be Compared

This is an important note. In order to compare CPUs for laptop and desktops, you must take the same from the same generation as well as from the same series.

For instance, you cannot compare an i5 from the 11th generation with a model from the older 8th, 9th or even 10th generation. This is because with each generation, the performance improves by a good margin thanks to evolution in the architecture design.

You must also make sure that the CPUs compared are from the same line i.e desktop i5 with laptop i5 instead of desktop i5 with laptop i7.

Also Read: Difference Between Intel Celeron vs i3

Other Important Differences Between Laptop and Desktop CPU

In addition to the performance and TDP there a few more important differences between laptop CPU vs desktop CPU.

1. Laptop CPUs Are Irreplaceable

Laptop CPUs CANNOT be replaced. On the other hand, desktops CPU can be taken out of their socket from the motherboard, replaced and or even upgraded with a better one.

This has to do with the socket design of the laptop vs desktop CPUs. 

Desktop CPUs use either the Land Grid Array (LGA) or Pin Grid Array (PGA) sockets for their CPUs. These can be plugged in and out.

Laptop CPUs, on the other hand, use Ball Grid Array (BGA) socket. These are soldered on to the motherboard and therefore cannot be replaced.

I recommend reading the following article to get a better grasp of this:

2. Certain Desktop CPUs Can be Overclocked

Certain desktop CPUs have the luxury of being overclocked. Meaning you can drastically improve their performance by ramping up their clock speed. 

Laptop CPUs, on the other hand, cannot be overclocked. They are either designed by the manufacturer to be not overclockable or the laptop BIOS does not provide you with the option to overclock.

Since laptop chassis are small and confined, overclocking the CPU can be damaging to the system as more heat is generated. 

In addition to that, laptop CPUs often get thermal throttled (dial down the performance) due to excessive heat generated.

Also Read: What is CPU Throttling?

3. Desktop CPUs can Maintain Boost Clock Speed for Longer Intervals

You will notice that almost all CPU have two clock speeds in their specs:

  1. Base Clock Speed – Minimum clock speed per core. CPU is in this state when performing low key tasks or when ideal
  2. Boost Clock Speed – Maximum clock speed per core in stock configuration. CPU reaches boost clock speed in demanding tasks. Boost clock speed can be increased with overclocking. 

For instance Intel Core i5 11600K has a base clock speed of 3.90 GHz per core and boost of 4.90 GHz.

The caveat here is that boosting the frequency generates more heat. More heat = thermal throttling.

Hence, since laptop chassis are pretty confined and not as adequately cooled as desktop chassis, the laptop CPUs cannot sustain boost clock speed for long before overheating.

Desktop CPUs, on the other hand, can sustain boost clock speed for longer intervals and can even sustain overclocked boost speeds if robust cooling is provided.

Also Read: How to Check if CPU is Overclocked?

Final Words

As far as performance comparison between laptop CPU vs desktop CPU goes, desktop CPUs take the cake.

However, laptop CPUs are designed for mobility, and power efficiency and hence serve a different purpose.

Also Read: Can I Replace My AMD Processor with an Intel Processor?

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Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

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