One comment I’ve heard repeatedly from readers lately relates to their frustration at finding Windows 7 PCs. They're part of the vocal minority that wants to skip Windows 8, but they're not having a lot of luck finding their preferred OS.
This comment, from the Talkback section of a recent post, is typical: "After Windows 8 came out, a Windows 7 desktop became nearly as hard as a Lost Dutchman Mine to find."
In fact, one of the biggest reasons Windows 8 was slow out of the starting gate last October was that so few PCs designed for Windows 8 were shipping. Some of the most interesting designs, including models built around the newer Intel Atom chips, like the HP Envy X2, were months late in arriving. Microsoft’s own Surface with Windows 8 Pro wasn’t available until more than 100 days after Windows 8 went on sale.
The number of choices for Windows 8 PCs has increased steadily since then, but you can still find a Windows 7 PC if you want one. In fact, you have plenty of choices, and you will continue to have choices for a long time — at least until October 2014, more than 18 months from today. You just need to look in the right places. (Spoiler alert: Stores that cater to businesses will be your best bet.)
First, let’s put to rest the conspiracy theories that Microsoft is forcing PC makers to stop selling Windows 7.
That’s not true. Microsoft has a clearly delineated sales lifecycle for Windows, which I first wrote about back in 2010 (see “XP in 2020? Not even close. Read the fine print...”). Under those rules, OEMs can continue to sell Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs alongside one another.
This came up last summer after Windows 8 was released to manufacturing. What I wrote in “How to skip Windows 8 and continue using Windows 7” last summer still applies. Here’s the relevant part from that post:
Furthermore, you’ll still be able to buy Windows 7 PCs for at least two more years. Microsoft’s sales lifecycle for Windows (which is different from its support lifecycle) specifies that retailers will be able to sell the boxed version of Windows 7 until at least October 25, 2013, and OEMs can sell PCs with Windows 7 pre-loaded until October 25, 2014.
If Windows 8 gets any pushback from consumers and small businesses, we could see big OEMs continuing to offer Windows 7 as an option on its non-touch-enabled PCs for two more years, with Windows 8 as the default option for tablets and touch-enabled PCs. [emphasis added]
Now, please note that this is not unusual. It is not evidence of the failure of Windows 8. It is, rather, a reflection that at any given time, Microsoft is supporting three or four versions of Windows. The new operating system goes on the flashy new hardware aimed at consumers. Business buyers typically get to buy hardware that’s a bit more staid and solid, running an older, more established version. Windows XP played the role of Long Term Support version for a long time. Windows 7 is now taking over that spot, mostly for businesses.
And there’s the number-one rule to follow when searching for a Windows 7 PC: Start your search in places that sell to businesses.
New PCs at your favorite retail outlets are mostly aimed at consumers and have been designed for use with Windows 8. That’s especially true for new models with touchscreens.
But if you go to business-focused stores, especially online, you’ll find that the majority of models are still available with Windows 7. For some current designs, Windows 8 isn’t even an option.
To prove the point, I looked at four leading online PC sellers. Here’s what you’ll find if you follow in my footsteps.
Dell.com is neatly divided into Dell for Home and Dell for Work sides.
On the home side, combining laptops and desktops, I found a total of 104 different options available with Windows 8 and only 39 with Windows 7.
But visit Dell for Work and it’s a completely different story.
After you choose Desktops and Workstations or Laptops and Tablets, you’ll find a sidebar on the left side of the page where you can refine your search. One of the criteria is Operating System, where you can specify that you want to see only systems running Windows 7 or Windows 8 (or only a 64-bit OS, if that's your pleasure).
Here’s how many listings* I found when I searched those those two Dell sites earlier today:
Laptops and Tablets
Windows 7: 201
Windows 8: 99
Desktops and Workstations
Windows 7: 247
Windows 8: 141
On the business side of Dell’s operation, your Windows 7 choices outnumber Windows 8 by nearly a 2:1 ratio. You can even find a smattering of machines running FreeDOS and Linux, none of them available on the consumer side.
For as long as I can remember, HP has been in the top three PC makers, along with Dell and (recently) Lenovo.
On the Home and Home Office side, Windows 8 machines outnumber Windows 7 models by roughly 10 to 1, with 131 Windows 8 listings and only 12 with Windows 7.
Laptops, Tablets, and Notebooks
Windows 7: 60
Windows 8: 26
Desktops and All-in-ones
Windows 7: 60
Windows 8: 17
On that side of the house, you’ll find roughly three Windows 7 options for every one running Windows 8 — just as you’d expect.
This Chinese PC giant has grown tremendously in recent years and is now battling to take over the top spot in PC shipments from HP.
The company’s web site isn’t as easy to navigate as HP and Dell’s, at least not in terms of clearly demarcating between PCs for work and those for home. And although there’s a filter for operating systems, the option for Windows 7 is grayed out and unavailable. So does that mean you can’t get a Windows 7 PC from Lenovo?
Nope. I went to the Help me choose tool, where I was able to narrow choices from Lenovo’s enormous selection. After I had winnowed down the list, I found an option to filter by operating system.
Applying that filter using the Home Office and Small Business options gave me a selection of 40 PCs running Windows 7 and 58 machines with Windows 8 preinstalled. Here's one example: a good-looking all-in-one, built around a current Intel Ivy Bridge CPU:
Lenovo appears to have embraced Windows 8 more aggressively than any of its rivals, but there are still plenty of Windows 7 options available, especially in the legendary ThinkPad line.
These guys aren’t in the top five PC vendors worldwide, but they still have a cult following.
Toshiba is almost all about laptops, notebooks, and tablets. (Their Business desktops page contains a grand total of four all-in-one models, all running Windows 8.)
But give the company credit for making it easy to find Windows 7 machines. Their website has a dedicated “Looking for Windows 7?” page with no fewer than 32 choices.
That’s a decent number, although it’s only about a third of the number of Windows 8 choices available (94).
You can repeat this exercise for your favorite brands, and you can try the same thing at retail shops. If the brand or shop targets businesses, I predict it will have plenty of Windows 7 options. And, of course, you can get any local system builder to put together a custom desktop PC with your choice of parts, running your favorite operating system, even Windows XP. Many local shops even offer custom notebook builds.
So please don’t tell me you can’t find a Windows 7 PC. They’re out there.
* A note about “listings.” The actual number of different models from any of these merchants is smaller than the number of listings returned by a search. Many listings are variations of the same basic PC design, including preconfigured “fast ship” models that don’t require customization. But my spot check showed that the number of discrete models available was proportionate to the count of listings.