After a decade-long run, Microsoft has officially ended support for Windows 7. While an upgrade to Windows 10 is a good way to enjoy using your current computer, buying a new laptop is likely in the cards.
The last Windows 7 laptops were sold in 2015 or 2016, but let’s cut through the tech specs and show you just what you can expect in the best laptop to buy in 2020.
A lot has changed, especially if you’re still using a Windows 7-era PC.
The visual changes of modern Windows 10 laptops are the most noticeable. Put simply, they’re a whole lot thinner and lighter than the Windows 7 era devices. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but they include the lack of optical drives, modern ports, and more efficient processors. You’re getting an overall slimmer laptop, with more power in the package.
Take, for example, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430 from 2012. It comes bundled with a DVD drive, VGA port, and weighed in at roughly 4.74 pounds. That’s a big difference from the most recent ThinkPad which we reviewed, which is the ThinkPad T490. It comes in at around 3.41 pounds and drops out the DVD drives for a thinner design, as well as USB-C.
Even one of the thinnest laptops of the Windows 7 era, the first-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon has seen massive improvements since its launch. It came in with a weight of 3.4 pounds, and a thickness of 0.74 inches. The latest 7th-gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 29% lighter and 21% thinner. When we’re talking about an already-portable laptop, that’s seriously impressive.
It’s no surprise that Windows 10 laptops are considerably faster than anything from the Windows 7 era. This boils down to two primary changes: Solid-state-drives (SSDs) and quad-core processors.
SSDs offer a huge benefit over traditional hard drives (HDDs.) They are much faster, efficient, and have better read and write speeds. This is key for when you start up your laptop or load up an application. Compared to older Windows 7 laptops, which often relied on HDDs, you’ll get faster boot times, and a more responsive system.
Let’s go back in time and take the Dell Latitude E6430 from 2012 as an example. It was bundled with a 320GB HDD and was priced at $750, according to Laptop Mag. The much more premium HP Envy 14 Spectre, meanwhile, from the same era came with a 128GB SSD as standard and was priced higher at $1,400.
Today, though, SSDs are everywhere you look. Unlike in the peak Windows 7 era, you even can find laptops with SSDs that are priced under $500, such as the Acer Aspire 5. Storage space on these, though, are much smaller in size. 128GB has become the standard, whereas 500GB+ HDDs like on the HP Pavilion 15T were much common back in the Windows 7 era.
Every year, processors get faster — that’s a given. But the jump to quad-core processors that most modern laptops have is the biggest change. That’s true even of highly portable laptops like theor . As of 2018, Intel’s U-series laptops all have four cores, which means better multitasking and increased performance in many applications. No more slowdowns from too many Chrome tabs!
If you take a look back at Windows 7 laptops, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T430 or Toshiba’s Portege Z935. These are running either second, third, or fourth-generation Intel processors with just two cores.
Next up, there’s the need to talk about displays. When Windows 7 was popular, touch screen devices were not mainstream. Laptops also weren’t used as much for multimedia consumption like they are today. This means that laptops from the Windows 7 era often had thick bezels around the edges and low-resolution IPS or LCD screens.
That, though, has now changed, as modern Windows laptops are touch-screen compatible. Some laptops, which are known as 2-in-1s, can even be converted to be used in multiple modes. You’ll even find high-resolution slim-bezel 4K screens and vibrant QLED or OLED displays too. This all means for some immersive experiences when watching movies or streaming Netflix.
But first, we’ll take a look back at some laptops which were considered peak-popular in the Windows 7 era. The Asus Zenbook Prime UX318 was one of the top-notch Windows laptops in 2013 and sported a 1080p IPS screen. Other laptops like the ThinkPad T430 were not only chunky in weight at 4.77 pounds but had low-resolution 1,600 x 900 and 1,366 x 768 resolution screens.
Today, you’ll find that things are much different. Dell’s new XPS 13 sports a “4-sided Infinity Edge” display, which has almost no bezels for a truly immersive viewing experience. There are also options for a 3,840 x 2,400 resolution screen for more pixels. Other laptop makers like HP with its Spectre x360 13, are also pushing out laptops with OLED screens, which produce more vibrant blacks and can help save battery life, too.
Even Microsoft has the Surface Book 2 and Surface Pro, which are 2-in-1’s. Unlike Windows 7 laptops, these devices not only have higher resolution screens, but are dual usage, and can be converted to use as tablets when on the go. This was unheard of in the Windows 7-era.
Of course, the most important aspect of them all when considering a laptop is battery life. With Windows 10 having its own built-in battery saver, and modern laptops supporting USB-C PD, there’s good reason why.
This change was kicked off by Apple with the MacBook Air in 2011. It not only was thinner, and lighter than most Windows laptops, but the battery life was great. Apple claimed it to be around 7 hours. That was a big difference from many laptops at the time. CNET’s top pick for best Windows 7 laptops at the time, the ASUS Zenbook (UX21) only lasted around 5 hours. The Samsung Series 7, meanwhile, only went on for the same amount of time as well.
Moving forward to today, Dell promises its newest XPS 13 laptop can go for as long as 19 hours on a single charge. Microsoft’s Surface Book 2 also lasts as long as 15 hours. Then there’s the XPS 15, which can go up to 10 hours, on the standard FHD model. Even laptops like HP’s Envy 13 are great too, with up to 10 hours of battery life.
Even if these numbers aren’t exactly accurate in real-life use, Windows 10 devices are far more advanced than Windows 7 when it comes to battery life. The OS has various power modes, ranging from “battery saver” “recommended” and “best performance” which tweaks system performance help you get the most juice out of your laptop.
Newer devices like the XPS 13, Surface Laptop, or Surface Pro 7 also support charging through USB-C. This means that if you have a USB-C power bank that is PD compatible, you can charge your laptop when on the go, and away from outlets. Amazing, right?
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