"Our tests showed Windows 7 starts up and shuts down faster than Vista, but the improvement was minor. And general performance was also faster with Windows 7, but only slightly," said Dean Gallea, Consumer Reports.
If you're happy with your current computer and operating system, Consumer Reports says there's no need to upgrade. But if you're a frustrated Vista user, testers recommend upgrading to Windows 7. Most computer manufacturers are offering free upgrades to people who've bought Vista-based computers from late June 2009 thru January 2010.
Consumer Reports recently tested 20 laptops, rating features like ergonomics, battery life, and performance.
There are plenty of inexpensive laptops out there, but testers caution - beware of rock-bottom prices.
"Some computer makers are using single-core processors instead of dual-core to save money. But if you buy one of these so-called bargains, you might end up with a slower computer," Dean Gallea said.
For example, this 15-inch Acer Zspire - model as 5532, seems like a steal at $330. It is fine for very basic needs like e-mail and Word processing, but not for creating videos or playing demanding games.
"We found several laptops with dual-core processors that offered solid performance for 600 dollars, or even less," Gallea said.
One of the least expensive? This Toshiba satellite l-505 - a Consumer Reports best buy at $530. It rated "very good" in tests and has facial recognition software, which signs you on by scanning your face.
Not a must, but a fun plus on a solid-performing laptop.