What’s what – the inner workings of a notebook computer

This time it’s about the Interior of notebooks. It is helpful to read our previous article about the construction of PCs, because the construction is not that different – everything is just a bit smaller and more compact. In principle, however, everything that is also available in the PC is found 1:1 in the notebook.

As examples Lenovo ThinkPad X280 (business notebook) and a Alienware M17x (gaming notebook). Whereby the construction of an Alienware gaming laptop doesn’t differ much from that of a mobile workstation (e.g. a laptop). B. differentiated by Dell). The case is just a different one – with more blinking lights and cooler design. ;)

Lenovo ThinkPad X280

Dell Alienware M17x

1. Processor/s

Everything I have written about CPUs in PCs also applies here – especially that Problem with the dissipation of the waste heat. While this can be achieved in a PC by using an appropriately sized heat sink (z. B. a fan) is solved, cooling in a notebook turns out to be a bit more difficult. Because there is much less air in the small case of a laptop and thus it is almost impossible to create a constant air flow that provides enough cooling for a fast CPU.

Only at the edges of the notebook case the air can really be moved by pulling it into the case and blowing it out again almost at the same point. So, it’s not possible to lead the air to a CPU heat sink if the CPU isn’t installed on the case’s edge. However, since this is not usually the case, so-called Heatpipes The heat sinks are used, which lead the processor’s heat over a longer distance to the heatsink situated on the edge.

Mobile CPUs are altogether more power efficient and less powerful than PC processors. This generates less waste heat and prevents the notebook from heating up so much inside that it has to switch off automatically in order not to take damage.

35 watt CPUs in comparison to 90 watt CPUs in a PC limit the performance noticeably. This doesn’t mean that mobile processors are slower in normal use, they just reach their limits faster. Whereby it is difficult to reach these limits in normal everyday life, if games aren’t played on the notebook.

2. Working memory

The modules are smaller (S0DIMMs) than those of PCs, and there are fewer slots. The slots are also angled at 90°.

Due to the fact that mostly Only two slots There are much more restrictions than with PCs, which usually have four or more slots. 8x 4 GB are cheaper than 2 x 16 GB. Larger notebooks also have four slots, but these are not always easy to reach.

In addition, high-capacity RAM modules for notebooks are often not available or cost a lot. 16 GB of RAM isn’t a problem, but from 32 GB onwards it’s already difficult, whereas it really starts here with PCs in some cases.

3. Hard disks and SSDs

Strangely enough, PCs have strongly adapted to notebooks here. Whereas hard disks in PCs used to always have 3.5 inch housings and in notebooks only 2.5 inch case, Today, many 2.5 inch drives are also installed in PCs. SATA SSDs are available (besides the M.2 format) meanwhile also only in 2.5 inch cases. But from 2 TB hard disks, 3.5 inches are still the leader.

Notebooks also usually still have 500 GB to 1 TB hard disks. However, many people go the route of only storing the most necessary things on the notebook and storing the large amounts of data on external hard disks or NAS devices.

At home the NAS is used directly as a network drive. When data needs to be accessed on the go, a VPN connection to the home network I have set up the laptop, set up the smartphone as a WLAN access point, and connected the notebook to the smartphone via WLAN. Then the notebook is reconnected to the home network and the network drive can be reconnected.

So, a VPN connection is more important than a large hard disk for many nowadays and it is preferred to use smaller (

512 GB) and faster SSDs in return.

4. PCIe/PCI slots

PCIe/PCI slots are also present, even if they are hardly recognizable as such at first glance and their shape is often strongly oriented towards a single purpose.

  • Mini PCIe for WLAN cards
  • M.2 for PCIe-SSDs
  • MXM for dedicated graphics cards (these slots are usually only found in gaming notebooks and mobile workstations)

Since notebooks are hardly ever upgraded, even if it would sometimes be possible, multi-purpose PCIe slots aren’t really that important in a notebook.

5. Other connections

Again, notebooks usually have the same ports as PCs. An exception are Ultrabooks, because their low height doesn’t allow for normal RJ-45 sockets, for example. The Connections are on the edges of the mainboard and are led from there to the outside.

In contrast to PCs, however, laptops have USB 3.1 Type-C ports together with Thunderbold support already much more common. PCs still have some catching up to do here.

Especially notebooks should always have enough USB ports, since many components that can be upgraded internally in a PC have to be connected externally via USB in laptops.

6. Graphics cards

It used to be that there were no CPUs with a built-in graphics unit and the manufacturers then soldered a dedicated graphics chip with its own memory directly onto the mainboard. Thus, no extra graphic card was needed. Then the graphics units moved into the chipset and then further into the CPU. With PCs (with servers it’s different because Xeons and Epycs don’t have built-in graphics units) the graphics is controlled either by a graphics card or the CPU.

For many notebooks, the old variant with the soldered graphics unit on the mainboard survived, because it’s more difficult to accommodate a graphics card there if you want to remain compact.

So there are then Three variants for notebooks:

  • CPU graphics
  • CPU graphics + dedicated graphics on the mainboard (with dedicated memory)
  • CPU graphics + graphics card (also with dedicated memory)

The CPU graphics is slow, because the memory it uses isn’t optimized for graphics operations. The difference between the last two variants is not so much the performance (even a soldered graphics chip can have its own heat pipe), but the Upgradeability. In the case of expensive gaming notebooks and mobile workstations, you don’t want to spend 2000 to 3000 EUR or more when you can get the required additional performance in the form of a new graphics card for 1000 to 1500 EUR.

If you like to play games or do graphics work, you should go for a dedicated graphics solution eighth.


Opening notebooks is sometimes really complicated and annoying. Many components are very difficult to access (on the Alienware, two RAM sockets are hidden under the keyboard). That’s why the tip to simply open the computer and take a look for yourself doesn’t apply here. Installing SSDs is usually very easy, for everything else you always have to bring along a lot of time and patience. All these little screws can be a real pain.

You are still looking for a suitable laptop? Have a look at our notebooks& Ultrabooks past!

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