[ELI5]Why Windows laptops back in 20007-2008 were so thick and heavy?


When the hardware inside isn’t that different from todays laptops

In: Technology

I believe its because they used Ni cad batteries which couldnt be made thinner like the lith ion batteries we have now.

The hardware actually is a lot different. Back then they required physical hard drives whereas today they use more solid state storage. Those drives are very thick by comparison. Also, battery technology has advanced significantly so batteries today are much thinner. Other components like cpus have gone through improvements allowing for new cpus to be much much smaller in size. When you combine all of these advances, the result is a device that is far smaller than before.

The layman answer is that they had to fit bigger “computers” into them. An actual computer scientist should probably explain transistor technology, but a computer is essentially millions of calculators talking to each other. A technology has advanced, each calculator has become smaller and more efficient, which means you get more power and lighter parts. In different generations of computers, manufacturers hit a point where they just put more calculators in the computer to make it stronger, just as you put in more ram chips.

Then there’s also battery packs that have become more efficient and smaller, as well as cooling systems. A ton of new materials have come out that are more efficient at transferring heat and are lighter, so everything has continued to get smaller and lighter.

Your iPod was able to be so small because it doesn’t take much effort to play an mp3, but those mp4’s actually strained the hardware and cooling capabilities, which is why they got noticeably hotter when playing a movie.

Computers are a lot smaller now due to the manufacturing process. Around 2008, the manufacturing process for semiconductor devices was about 45nm. This means bigger chips, more heat, more cooling needed for the heat, etc.


Now, we’re ~5nm, so around 10x smaller.

The hardware today is much different that it was 15 years ago. Yes, you still have a battery, cpu, ram, storage, etc. but all of those things got smaller and more efficient.

Improvements in technologies.

First, the most obvious is replacing Hard Drives with M.2 Solid State Drives. An old 2.5inch hard drive was typically at least 10mm thick. Even with minimal other components, that drives up the thickness.

The next is in battery technology. Lithium-ion batteries have gotten multiple times more dense, making us able to shrink them without giving up stored capacity.

Then, there’s improvements in chip design that lead to reduced power requirements. As we are able to make better and better chips, we can run them with less and less power. This has a two fold benefit of first being able to reduce the actual amount of battery capacity, and second, not having to install as much cooling capability into the laptop.

On more thing that we’ve gotten rid of is CD/DVD ROM drives. With everything being installed from online packages these days, nobody needs a disc drive. That saves a lot of physical space, and removes it as a minimum thickness requirement.

Then, last but not least, is general I/O ports. Many older laptops were loaded with ports on their side. Many USB ports, Ethernet, sometimes Telephone, large power connectors, PS/2 ports, and even the dreaded PCMCIA slots. Nowadays, most laptops will have a couple USB type A’s, some USB Type C’s, and maybe an Ethernet port. Some do not even have anything *except* USB Type C/Thunderbolt ports. The ports of old would create a minimum thickness requirement.

When talking about the difference of 2007 versus now you’re talking a lot about design and how the laptop is manufacture. Small batteries do also help but the main impact is basically different technology companies improving their design and in many cases ripping off of Macbook design. Apple definitely lead the design of thinner, sleeker, more compact notebooks at a ridiculously higher cost. Barring one or 2 features the equivalent non Mac with a slightly bigger screen was a 3rd of the price but 2 to 3 times as bulky. What also has had a huge impact is the design of smartphones – being able to precisely manufacture and bulk assemble such intricate devices has also translated over to notebook manufacture, as well as helping to shrink circuit boards including the motherboards – again heavily lead by Apple.

Other than the smaller batteries – notebooks have gotten more space efficient keyboards and lost their PCMCIA slots for addon cards and their DvD drives.