Windows has changed a lot since Windows 95 ushered in the modern era of the desktop operating system almost two decades ago—the underlying technology that makes Windows what it is has completely changed since those early days to keep pace with new technologies and usage models. Despite all of those changes, though, the fundamental look and feel of Windows 7 remains remarkably similar to its hoary old predecessor.


Windows 95 and Windows 7: We're not so different, you and I

All of that's changing—the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is here, and it brings with it the biggest fundamental change to the default Windows UI since 1995. Metro is an interface designed for the modern, touch-enabled era, and when Windows 8 (and its cousin, Windows on ARM) is released, it will signify Microsoft's long-awaited entry into the tablet market that the iPad created and subsequently dominated.

The difference between Microsoft's strategy and Apple's strategy is that Microsoft is not keeping its operating systems separate—iOS and OS X are slowly blending together, but they remain discrete OSes designed for different input devices. Windows 8 and Metro, on the other hand, are one and the same: the operating system running on your desktop and the one running on your tablet are going to be the same code.

Metro tends to overshadow Windows 8 by the sheer force of its newness. Although it's one of the biggest changes to the new OS, it's certainly not the only one. Windows 8 includes a slew of other new and updated programs, utilities, services, and architectural improvements to make the operating system more useful and efficient than its predecessor—we'll be looking at the most important of those changes as well.

Will all of these new features come together to make Windows 8 a worthy upgrade to the successful Windows 7? Will the Metro interface work as well with a keyboard and mouse as it does on a tablet? For answers to those questions and more, just keep reading.

Hardware Used for this Review

For the purposes of this review, I’ve installed and run Windows 8 on a wide variety of hardware. I’ve done most of the review on a pair of machines, which I’ll spec out here:

 

Dell Latitude E6410

Dell Latitude D620

CPU 2.53 GHz Intel Core i5 M540 2.00 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
GPU 512MB NVIDIA Quadro NVS 3100M Intel GMA 950
RAM 8GB DDR3 2GB DDR2
Hard drive 128GB Kingston V100 SSD 7200RPM laptop HDD
OS Windows 8 x64 Windows 8 x86

I also installed and used Windows 8 on the following computers for at least a few hours each:

 

Netbook

Late 2006 20" iMac

Mid-2007 20" iMac HP Compaq C770US Late 2010 11" MacBook Air Custom-built Mini ITX desktop
CPU 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N270 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 3.10 GHz Intel Core i3-2105
GPU Intel GMA 950 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 256MB ATI Radeon 2600 Pro Intel GMA X3100 NVIDIA GeForce 320M Intel HD Graphics 3000
RAM 1GB DDR2 2GB DDR2 4GB DDR2 2GB DDR2 4GB DDR3 8GB DDR3
Hard drive 5400RPM laptop HDD 7200RPM desktop HDD 7200RPM desktop HDD 16GB Samsung SSD 128GB Samsung SSD 64GB Crucial M4 SSD
OS Windows 8 x86 Windows 8 x86 Windows 8 x86 Windows 8 x64 Windows 8 x64 Windows 8 x64

This broad list of hardware, most of it at least a couple of years old, should be representative of most machines that people will actually be thinking about upgrading to Windows 8—there will be people out there installing this on old Pentium IIs, I'm sure, but those who are already know that they're edge cases, and are outside the scope of this review.

Update: Hey AMD fans! A lot of you noticed that there weren't any AMD CPUs included in my test suite. This was not intentional on my part, but rather a byproduct of the fact that I have no AMD test systems on hand at present. For the purposes of this review, these specifications are provided to you only to give you an idea of how Windows 8 performs on hardware of different vintages and speeds, not to make a statement about the relative superiority of one or another CPU manufacturer. For the final, RTM version of Windows 8, we'll make an effort to include some AMD-based systems in our lineup, with especial attention paid to whether Windows 8 improves performance numbers for Bulldozer chips.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has two claims about hardware: first, that Windows 8 would run on any hardware that runs Windows 7, and second, that programs and drivers that worked under Windows 7 would largely continue to work in Windows 8. Overall, my experience on both counts was positive (excepting near-constant Flash crashes), but you can read more about my Windows 8 hardware recommendations later on in the review.

The last thing I want to do before starting this review is give credit where credit is due—many readers have said in the comments that they would like multi-author reviews to include some information about what author wrote what opinions, and I agree. For your reference:

  • Brian Klug provided editing services.
  • Ryan Smith wrote about DirectX 11 and WDDM 1.2
  • Kristian Vatto wrote about the Mail, Calendar, and Photos apps.
  • Jarred Walton provided battery life statistics and analysis.
  • Andrew Cunningham wrote about everything else. You can contact him with questions or comments at andrewc@anandtech.com or using his Twitter handle, @Thomsirveaux

Now, let's begin at the very beginning: Windows Setup.

Windows Setup and OOBE
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  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Good call. Will tweak. Reply
  • cserwin - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    With Apples iOS, I am constantly amazed at how good the applications are. The best of them have such a higher focus on doing a job well. There is little bloat, not much feature creep... it's been really revealing with the iPad at how pleasurable it is to use good, elegant applications that do their jobs well.

    So, while Windows 8 as an OS may merge the desktop and tablet space, the elephant in the room seems to be the level of bloat in windows applications. Yes, a Windows 8 table would be able to run Windows applicaitons, but as a tablet user, I cannot think of a single Windows application that I would actually like to run on a tablet.

    Until application develpers start developing applications that can deliver satisfactory experiences in both workstation and tablet usage models, the common OS doesn't do much.

    While windows 8 gets to a unified OS ahead of OSX and iOS, with apple there is the full iLife and iWork suite, not ot mention 3rd part apps (photoshop, sketchbookpro, etc.).

    It's going to be interesting to see these things play out. Microsoft seems to be banking on 'if you build it they will come'. But apple has the tablet user base, and that's where the developers are going to go.
    Reply
  • cserwin - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I'll follow up with a question -

    What is Microsoft doing to help developers improve their applications to provide value in both tablet and workstation usage models?

    I'd be interested in an article that addressed this.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Sure! I'm paying attention to the comments to shape the sort of things we look at in the RTM article, and we'll be able to say a bit more about Metro apps when we've actually got some ready-for-primetime products to evaluate.

    Off-hand, I'd suggest that one theoretical value-add is the ability to run the same app with the same features on both tablets and PCs - this can create more consistency and predictability for users, and frees developers from having to maintain an app for Metro and an app for the desktop.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Here's something for your RTM article. Sit someone's non-techie mother* down in front of a Win8 desktop PC with no prompting or instructions except to use it like normal.

    Someone with no prior Metro experience, no Microsoft Account, no touchscreen. Someone who doesn't have any keyboard commands memorized. Someone just like the millions of normal folks who will be buying Win8 PCs cold and taking them home soon.

    *no insult towards mothers intended
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    This is exactly what I have been doing with folks and its been carnage.

    Apple must think its going to clean up when folks go to buy their next PC in 12 months time.

    The stink of Vista still hangs around with folks and MS cant afford another FU like that.

    Thats why W7 was so good as it looked like MS was listening to customers at last.

    Metro looks like it was designed by hipsters for hipsters.
    Reply
  • PopinFRESH007 - Sunday, April 15, 2012 - link

    Metro looks like it was designed by "people who think they are" hipsters for "people who think they are" hipsters.

    there, fixed that for ya.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Apple has the tablet userbase, but Microsoft has the desktop/laptop userbase, and one of it's goals with Win8/Metro/WinRT is to attracted devs with its desktop marketshare and then grow tablet marketshare from there.

    I completely agree that the Windows Store is one of the biggest wildcards in Windows 8 right now, and it's one we know the least about - we won't know if it's going to attract developers and succeed until it attracts developers and succeeds. :-)
    Reply
  • medi01 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    iOS on Tablets will soon get what it deserves: about 15-20% of the market, so you better compare Windows to Android.

    PS
    "Higher focus", eh?
    And iTunes is a great program, I guess...
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Who was the first to have a tablet out in the market? It was NOT Apple. I have a Motion Computing LS800 tablet in my office that's older than any tablet from Apple. Yes, Apples IPAD is the reason for sparking the tablet market to what it is today, but tablet PC's have been used in health care and education industries for more than 10 years before now. I'm not disputing Apples IPad has created tremendous growth/opportunity for other tablet makers, but lets not overlook the truth to feed Apples ego.

    Truth/accuracy in all media please.

    "In 1989, the GRiD GRiDPad was released. In 1991, there was the GO PenPoint. In 1992, Microsoft released Microsoft Windows for Pen Computing, which had an API that developers could use to create pen-enabled applications. In 1993, a smaller device that you are more likely to have seen or read about was released—the Apple Newton"

    Source:http://www.developer.com/ws/other/article.php/1500...
    Reply

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