Last-gen ultralight laptops are nearly as fast as new models—and much cheaper – Ars Technica

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If you’re looking for a new thin-and-light Windows PC this year, the latest and greatest processors may not be all that necessary. Unlike with previous mobile chip releases, the 2023 options for ultralights from Intel and AMD are mostly similar to their predecessors. In the case of premium ultralights and 2-in-1s relying on integrated graphics, the gains are small enough that budget shoppers should consider a last-gen model, assuming all other things are equal, and save hundreds with a negligible loss in performance.
When Intel announced its 13th Gen mobile lineup in January, we called the chip “mildly improved.” The new chips are pretty boring compared to the 12th Gen release, when Intel brought its hybrid Alder Lake architectures to laptops and introduced the P-series. 13th Gen brings such minimal changes, as our testing will illustrate, that ultralights featuring 12th Gen systems are still worth serious consideration comparatively. And a specs comparison suggests a similar story with AMD Ryzen 6000 versus 7000.
As Ars’ Andrew Cunningham wrote upon Intel’s announcement of 13th Gen mobile, the lineup is “mostly identical to the 12th Generation CPUs they’re replacing.” 13th Gen brings notable updates to HX chips, including more E-cores than before and, with some of the chips, support for speedier RAM. But when it comes to the chips you’ll likely find employed in thin-and-light laptops—the P and U series—there’s far less of that “new and shiny” feel.
With the new U- and P-series chips (as well as the more powerful H-series), Intel limited gen-over-gen improvements to support faster RAM (up to DDR5-4800/LPDDR5-5200 versus DDR5-5200/LPDDR5-6400) and small clock speed increases. Just how small? Here’s a quick overview of how the 13th Gen U and P series compare to 12th Gen.
The U series is supposed to be slightly less powerful and more efficient than the P-series, and it shows similarly minimal differences between the 12th and 13th Gens (We’ve used Intel’s charts, as the series has more processors). When U series graduated from 11th to 12th Gen, it replaced two big cores with four to eight small cores, but there are no such changes with 13th Gen.
As we wrote in January, “these refreshes mostly tread water, and you shouldn’t hold out for a 13th Gen laptop if you can find an otherwise identical 12th Gen laptop for cheaper.” In a moment, I’ll show some benchmarks supporting that thesis.
While this article focuses mainly on Intel testing, there’s a similar story with AMD’s latest laptop processors. Beyond the new Ryzen 7040 series, a new Zen 4 and RDNA 3-based chip, the thin-and-lights likely to adopt Ryzen 7000 chips will probably stick to the Ryzen 7035 series, which we dubbed “Ryzen 6000 with a new name.” As of this writing, there are no ultralights with a Ryzen 7035-series processor readily available online in the US, but you can look at the table below for a specs comparison between this generation and the series’ predecessor.
To test the idea that 13th Gen isn’t worth holding out for if you can find what you need with a last-gen processor for cheaper, I tested a current-gen Lenovo Yoga 9i (Gen 8). A high-priced option from Lenovo’s 2-in-1 Yoga line, Gen 8 is virtually the same as the Yoga 9i Gen 7 I looked at last year. From the chassis to the 2880×1800 90 Hz OLED screen option, 75 Wh battery, and RAM speed, it’s essentially the same machine. The real difference is the processor, and as you can see, the 13th Gen chip brings a small bump in productivity and graphical performance.
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