Up until around 2010, both consumers and businesses could be counted on to upgrade their laptops every three years on average, because technology changed so quickly that anything older than that felt like a dinosaur. Since then, however, that upgrade cycle has gotten longer and longer, and many users now have notebooks that are old enough to enter grade school.
1. USB Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 Ports
Everyone loves USB, the ubiquitous connector that charges your phone and tablet, writes data to your flash drive and even connects you to helpful docking stations. Your old laptop probably has a few standard USB Type-A ports, but many 2017 systems come with USB Type-C ports which offer a whole new world of functionality. USB Type-C ports can carry data and electricity over a single wire, allowing you to power your laptop, output video to external monitors and copy files with just one standard cable. Better still, all USB Type-C cables are reversible, which means that you never have to worry about plugging them in upside down.
Not all laptops that have USB Type-C can charge off of it, but those that do will be able to take advantage of an entire ecosystem of standardized AC adapters, docks and monitors. Because Type-C is an industry standard, you’ll can use the same power brick with laptops, tablets and phones of different brands. Finsix makes a version of the Dart, its remarkably tiny charger, that has USB Type-C and Innergie sells the PowerGear USB-C 45, which is a bit larger but less expensive.
Some higher-end laptops also have Thunderbolt 3, which uses the same USB Type-C connector and is fully compatible with Type-C devices, but adds support for even-faster Thunderbolt peripherals. With Thunderbolt 3, you can power up to two 4K monitors over a single wire, transfer files with a portable backup drive at the speed of an internal SSD or connect to an external video card for gaming.
2. Higher-Resolution Screens
In the past few years, most laptops came with 1366 x 768 resolution screens, even if you paid good money for them. At this rotten resolution, not only are pictures grainier, but not a lot of text fits on the screen, forcing you to scroll a long way to read Web pages or edit documents.
Today, you can find an affordable system with a 1920 x 1080 or higher resolution screen that will let you see more of your work at once while you’re viewing movies the way they were meant to be seen. For example, the Acer Aspire E 15 is available with a full-HD screen for just $349. If you’re willing to spend more, you can find laptops with 4K ultra-HD displays that output at a ridiculous 3840 x 2160. The 4K configuration of the Dell XPS 15 starts at $1,599.
3. OLED Displays
After staring at your smartphone, you’d be forgiven for feeling like your laptop’s display is dull and lifeless. The best phone screens on the market, including the Samsung Galaxy Series and Google Pixels, use OLED displays that produce well over 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making images on the panel look better than in real life.