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We need more old processors in new laptops

OPINION: There’s an inescapable urge to have the latest technology stuffed inside your new gadget, whether you want 4K power from your games console, an OLED panel on your TV or a 5G smartphone.

That’s no different when it comes to laptops, as we’re all obsessed with having CPU and GPU components from the latest generation. That makes sense for high-end products, where you’re expecting a cutting-edge performance. But is it really that important for more budget-friendly options?

I started to ponder this question after we reviewed the Gigabyte G5 gaming laptop. It’s powered by a 10th Gen Intel Core processor, despite the vast majority of gaming portables now packing a 12th Generation Intel chip, or AMD equivalent.

Benchmark results do show that its Intel Core i5-10500H chip lags behind the 12th Generation competition, but as our reviewer points out, the CPU is rarely the bottleneck for gaming – the GPU has far more influence on performance.

With Gigabyte pairing the outdated Intel processor with a Nvidia RTX 3060, the G5 is able to provide a great gaming performance at an affordable price. You can purchase this gaming laptop for as little as £780 – you normally have to spend a few hundred quid more in order to get a laptop with an RTX 3060 GPU.

You could argue that anyone who is happy to settle for outdated specs could instead purchase an old gaming laptop at Currys at a discounted price. But then such laptops would miss out on modern features in other areas.

When Intel’s 11th Gen laptop processors first launched in 2019, Nvidia’s RTX 30 Series GPUs hadn’t been launched yet. In that time, laptop designs have improved considerably too, becoming more portable and less garish. We’ve also seen wider adoption of Quad HD screen resolutions and improved cooling solutions. A modern laptop with an 11th Gen processor should, in theory, be far better than one released three years ago.

Gigabyte G5

Using an old processor isn’t just beneficial for gaming laptops. Microsoft has also adopted this tactic for its Surface Laptop Go range. The latest iteration of the 12-inch laptop features an 11th Gen Intel Core i5-1135G7, despite the vast majority of other laptops adopting the 12th Gen chips in 2022.

By using an older chip, Microsoft is able to set a starting price of just £529. You normally have to pay considerably more for a Windows laptop, with the Surface Laptop Go 2 seeing the same price point as a Chromebook.

Performance does admittedly lag behind the modern competition, but the Surface Laptop Go 2 is still perfectly speedy enough for day-to-day workloads and casual web browsing. Most people probably don’t require faster speeds.

We’re also at a point where laptop processors are so speedy that there isn’t an observable performance difference between generations for casual use. It’s only when you start to use the likes of photo- and video-editing apps where you start to see a clear benefit from the improved speeds. Stick to emails, web browsing and Netflix, and I’d be impressed if you could tell the difference between 11th Generation and 12th Generation Intel-powered laptops.

Surface Laptop Go 2

I’m not saying you shouldn’t bother with the latest generation of processors. If two laptops cost the exact same price, you’ll likely get better value by opting for the laptop with the most modern processor. That’s a big reason why I’m currently hesitant to recommend Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 4 laptop, which packs an outdated 11th Generation processor despite being priced the same as a base Dell XPS 13 with more cutting-edge components.

But if using a slightly older processor allows laptop manufacturers to drive down the price, I think that’s a route worth exploring. Imagine a new 12-inch MacBook with the M1 chip at a more affordable price than the MacBook Air. And wouldn’t you be happy to have the option of a laptop with an outdated processor if it offsets the cost of an OLED screen?

So, as tempting as it may be for manufacturers to pack the latest and greatest specs in future laptops, I hope they start to consider using slightly older chips instead to provide better value for those on a budget.

Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.