Microsoft will stop supporting the 10-year-old Windows 7 operating system with security updates on 14 January 2020.
If you can’t – or don’t fancy – paying for a Windows 10 licence, don’t consign your machine to the scrapheap. Opt for one of our alternatives instead.
Ready to upgrade? Browse all the best laptops from our tests.
1. Upgrade to Windows 10 for free
It is possible to upgrade Windows 10 for free, and it’s worth a try if you haven’t already.
For the best chance of getting a free upgrade, your current version of Windows 7 must be legal and activated with Microsoft. Check this using Control Panel from the Start Menu, clicking on System and Security, and then System. At the bottom, it will say if the licence is activated. You’ll need to be on Windows 7 Service Pack 1 – if your PC is up to date, this should already be the case.
Check your PC exceeds the minimum requirements here. Otherwise, it may end up being painfully slow.
Then head to the Windows 10 download site to get the installation started. Follow the instructions, and when Windows 10 has been fully installed you can check whether you’ve managed to get it for free or whether you’ll need to pay to activate it.
Search for ‘activation’ in the Start Menu and click on it to see whether your Windows 10 licence is activated. If your Windows isn’t activated, you’ll need to buy a licence. If you’d prefer to go back to Windows 7, you can do so by searching for ‘updates’ in the start menu, then clicking on ‘Go back to Windows 7’.
2. Install Linux on your Windows 7 laptop
Linux is an alternative operating system that can be installed on practically any computer. It’s completely open source – therefore free and developed by a community – and comes in a variety of so-called ‘distros’, or versions. Many are so simple and lightweight you can simply run them off a DVD or USB without having to replace Windows on your device.
One particularly easy-to-use distro is called Mint. It’s frequently updated, and will look familiar to anybody who’s used to Windows.
There’s detailed online documentation on how to install and use it, including how to create USB/DVD drives (known as installation media), so you can try it out without having to commit to it.
And while security is never guaranteed, it does appear to be updated with security fixes. The fact that Linux is much less common than Windows makes it a much less obvious target for nefarious would-be hackers than Windows. Ubuntu is another common choice that’s also worth looking at.
How does Linux compare to Windows?
Depending on which distro you choose, it could be quite similar or very different. At the most basic level, though, programs in Linux open in windows that can be moved around the screen, resized and minimised, and most of them have a desktop in the traditional sense. Where they differ is how you install programs. Some require a bit of experience with a ‘command line’, where you enter commands using text instead of simply clicking.
You won’t get access to the same programs as you do on Windows, but the upshot is that most are free and open source. For your documents, try OpenOffice or LibreOffice, and try GIMP for image editing. And don’t forget that both Firefox and Google Chrome have Linux versions, so you’ll easily be able to run your favourite web apps, such as Google Docs or Office Online, much like a Chromebook.
If you’re donating a device to charity, trading it in or selling it on, remember to wipe your data from your computer before passing it on. This will avoid your personal data getting into the wrong hands. See our guide to factory resetting your computer to find out how.
3. Donate your laptop to charity
While most charity shops probably won’t accept old laptops, some charities that specialise in handling old electronics do exist.
One is Weeecharity, which accepts electronics in any condition. It says it reconditions and resells the ones that are usable, and responsibly recycles the ones that don’t make the grade. It’s run by volunteers. People who are out of work or need training carry out the refurbishment or dismantling of the computers.
Simply fill out the form on the Weeecharity website, and you’ll be sent a correctly sized, prepaid parcel to send back to them. It’s an easy way to wash your hands of your devices without dumping them on the environment.
Other options include DonateAPC, which puts donors in touch with charitable organisations looking for free IT equipment, and ReCOM, which accepts donations of working computers and sells them at a reduced rate to charities.
4. Save money by trading in your laptop
Currys PC World is almost always running some form of trade-in discount scheme. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t accept devices that are over seven years old, but that still includes some of the later-generation Windows 7 laptops sold after 2012.
There are some terms attached to trading in devices, including the level of damage allowed for a laptop to be considered ‘working’. If you pass the checks, you’ll get at least £50 off any laptop purchase (at the time of writing), with the offer rising to £200 if you spend over £1,000 on an HP laptop. Alternatively, you’ll get £150 off a MacBook using the trade-in deal.
Currys PC World is the most consistently available trade-in scheme, but other retailers may offer them from time to time. Alternatives include Microsoft’s own trade-in scheme, which can net you up to £478 for a top-spec 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro, and Laptops Direct, which accepts working laptops running Windows 7, 8 and 10, as well as MacBooks.
5. The best ways to sell a laptop
CeX (WeBuy) also accepts a wide variety of laptops, and you may get a better deal than Currys PC World if you just want cash and don’t want a voucher.
The advantage of CeX is that it has branches all over the UK, so if you’d rather chat to someone in person about your device and get a quote there and then (instead of sending your laptop off and waiting days/weeks for a quote), it’s a great choice.
Depending on its condition, it may be advantageous to get your payment in the form of a CeX voucher instead of cash, as this is often worth more. It’s worth checking what’s in stock if you were thinking of buying a device, to see whether your laptop will help fund your next purchase.
If you think you can get more, try selling it on eBay. Just ensure you upload plenty of pictures, highlighting any damage or faults to avoid the buyer coming back to you with complaints. This is also worth doing if your laptop is faulty, as some buyers may be interested in buying it for spare parts.
There’s also value in the same approach when getting an upgrade. Read more on how to buy a second-hand or refurbished laptop.
What not to do with your Windows 7 laptop
There are loads of other handy ways to reuse an out-of-date computer, including setting up a home security system, using your PC as a home media server, and even just passing it to the kids.
While these are lovely ideas that make the best use of old hardware, you shouldn’t continue to use your Windows 7 computer after the support deadline unless you upgrade it to an operating system that will be supported, such as Windows 10.
The only exception to this is if you’re going to use your Windows 7 computer completely offline, without internet connectivity. Even then, you’ll need to be careful when transferring files using a USB drive from an online computer to an offline one and vice versa, ensuring only files you know the provenance of are transferred from one computer to another.
For more information, download our in-depth, how-to guide on upgrading from Windows 7 to Windows 10.