Help Me Laptop: Should I Get a Better CPU or More RAM?

We have some general advice that we dole out a lot here at Laptop Mag: Get a laptop with at least an Intel Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM. In general, that works, but people are unique, as are their needs, and that's where reader christinalevinee comes in.

They want to buy a Dell XPS 13, and the company sells several variations at the moment. Our reader is trying to home in on one with an Intel 8th Gen Core CPU and 8GB of RAM or a model with an Intel 7th Gen Core and 16GB of RAM.

I can't find the 7th Gen configuration on Dell's site, but it's possible christinalevinee is in a different country with different configurations or is buying from a local retailer. But since they are suggesting both models, I'm not taking price into consideration.

My usual answer: Go for the 8th Gen Core CPU. Based on our testing, it's as much as 92 percent faster than the 7th Gen Core CPU, and that will have a huge affect on performance. We've seen this time and time again in our testing. Having a quad-core processor — which is what 8th Gen provides over 7th Gen — gives you a huge bump.

MORE: Which Laptop CPU is Right for You?

Now, christinalevinee is preparing for a career as a network engineer and wants to use a virtual machine with Linux, and that can use a whole lot of RAM. In this case, the 16GB is probably better for this user, depending on how intensive the work they're doing on Linux is.

If you save up, Dell does sell its latest and thinnest, the XPS 13 9370, with a Core i7-8550U and 16GB of RAM for $2,050. If you want full-size USB ports, check out the XPS 13 9360 with the exact same specs (except for a smaller SSD), which costs $1,669.

Alternatively, if the XPS 13 isn't the end-all and be-all for this reader, christinalevinee could get something upgradeable. The XPS 13 9360 and 9370 have the RAM soldered to the motherboard, so you can't upgrade their RAM. But grabbing a laptop without soldered RAM will give you the option of getting to that 16GB mark in the future. Dell's XPS 15, which is larger, does let you upgrade the RAM, as do a number of Lenovo's ThinkPads.

For most people, the 8th Gen Core CPU will provide a noticeable performance difference. But in this reader's specialized case, more RAM is probably better.

Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag