A computer's processor (also referred to as the Central Processing Unit, or CPU) is its heart. The small chip on the motherboard determines how quickly the machine can perform operations and the speed with which programs can open and run.
While we often think of processors as immovable components, they can be replaced and upgraded. If you're building a new desktop or upgrading an old one, you may want to put an unused laptop's components to good use by placing the laptop processor in the desktop. While this is possible in theory, it may not be practical – and in most cases, better methods exist to reuse a laptop CPU.
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Can Desktops Use Laptop CPUs?
While it has become increasingly popular to build desktop PCs from scratch or have them specially built from preselected parts, the overwhelming majority of laptops are manufactured in specific configurations not intended for heavy customization. Many of these laptop models support RAM expansion and the ability to switch or add a second hard drive, but little else – especially as casual consumers express an interest in slimmer, easier-to-use devices. As a result, most laptop processors are soldered directly to the motherboard. These integrated chips make laptops more efficient and conserve space, but make the processor incredibly difficult to replace.
If your laptop's processor is socketed rather than soldered to the motherboard and can be removed by pressing down on a lever, then it can be installed into any compatible desktop motherboard by slotting it into the CPU socket and installing the appropriate drivers. However, these motherboards most likely need to be specially ordered and installed. Due to the differences in laptop and desktop processors, particularly in how they consume power, few full-sized desktop motherboards are compatible with laptop-intended CPUs. Attempting to place a laptop CPU in an incompatible motherboard may risk damaging other components, and is not recommended.
Computer Processor Differences
All computer processors function in the same way. There may be design differences depending on the manufacturer, and the output potential of the processor varies based on the model, but ultimately, a processor is a processor.
However, there are significant differences between processors designed for desktop and laptop use. When a manufacturer like AMD or Intel produces computer processors, they often produce variants of a given model. These variants share the same name, but each one has a letter at the end of the model number, such as 7500K or 2350U. These letters denote the intended use for the CPU; those tagged K or HK are designed for high performance and overclocking, while those tagged T or U are intended for lower-performance environments where power management is a higher priority. Laptop-intended CPUs are often tagged in the latter category, providing better power consumption at the cost of performance.
Even the newest high-end laptop processors support less RAM and provide less processing power than a mid-range desktop CPU from a few years ago. As a result, it is usually better and more efficient to keep a laptop processor in a laptop. While this may discourage a project that attempts to place a laptop processor in a desktop, there are plenty of ways to make good use of a spare or older laptop and its CPU.
Ways to Reuse a Laptop CPU
If you want to find a new use for an older laptop, a relatively recent model can be used in any number of home projects. Hundreds of tutorials exist to turn older laptops into home servers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and video streaming boxes equivalent to a Roku or Amazon Fire TV stick. You may also be able to sell the laptop for a significant price or donate it to a family in need, who could use it as a starter or work computer.