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
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:



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
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 or using his Twitter handle, @Thomsirveaux

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

Windows Setup and OOBE


View All Comments

  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    ..."Apples IPAD is the reason for sparking the tablet market to what it is today..."

  • medi01 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    No bingo. Just price drop on major components. If not Apple it would have been someone else. Just less hyped. Netbook is a good instance of it.

    Oh, and for anyone who had intensively used pocket PCs, transition to "add a phone to it" was more then obivous too.
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Plain and simple - none of those tablets mattered. A co-worker of mine had a Toshiba "tablet" PC back in 2003, running Windows XP. It was just a laptop computer where you could flip the screen around and then you could use a stylus to jot down notes. However it was always easier just to type the notes in, so it was used as a normal laptop 99% of the time. There were very few apps that made use of the tablet capability. I just can't call this device a true tablet, like the iPad. The tablet market didn't really exists until APple put everything together into a package specifically designed for 100% tablet usage. Reply
  • ananduser - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Which unfortunately happened to be an enlarged smartphone. Reply
  • bji - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    What's unfortunate about it? People love the device and its precedent (iPhone) led the way. Reply
  • PopinFRESH007 - Sunday, April 15, 2012 - link

    I might have missed it but I don't think anyone said Apple invented tablet computers. As you noted, Apple was certainly the only one who was able to create a tablet market. Those old convertible hinge laptops that Microsoft called Tablet PC's back in the day were garbage and nothing ever happened with them. I don't even remember them lasting on the market for more than a year. Because it was another example of Microsoft cramming a point & click interface into a hand held device. Microsoft can't seem to learn that different form factors and interaction methods won't all work ok with the same UI. Reply
  • kevith - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I really like Win 8.

    The Metro-thing is a very good replacement for the - apparently - beloved Start Menu. Fast and versatile, with the very nice writing-instantly-invokes-search feature. The app-drawer and the "charms", in combination with keystrokes make a very powerful and very fast UI.

    The desktop is almost the same, only a few things have changed, all for the better.

    I liked Win 7 immidiately, the same goes for 8.

    I´m excited to see the final result.
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    It's interesting, because my initial reaction to Metro was much more negative, but after a week and a half of near-constant usage I took a liking to it. I definitely understand why people object to it, but I think too many people aren't making an honest effort to use the UI and evaluate it on its own merits/demerits. Reply
  • faizoff - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Yea very similar reaction for me as well. I didn't like it at first but now find that I'm using it a lot. Reply
  • emalamisura - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I have been using Windows 8 as my primary desktop since its release, I am a developer and I have a triple monitor setup at home and I have to say it has had the opposite effect for me. I was excited about it at first, and now I have grown to absolutely hate it and despise it. The main things for me are the primary things you mentioned, the little popup box where start menu use to be dissapears when I try to click it - gets me every time, just cant adjust to it. The charms bar is very difficult to hit, often going to other screen, when I do get it, I often scroll off of it by accident and it vanishes again. I have attempted to use the Windows key more often, but I feel like I am being forced into this situation.

    Most of the time I avoid using Metro as much as possible, its actually quite useless to me, I go into it and pin as many applications to my task bar as possible so I can avoid going into it at all to launch something. The wierd way that the Desktop shows on my left and right monitors and metro in my primary, and when I try to keep metro up and use a Desktop app it vanishes to an empty desktop is just very wierd to me and not helpful at all! I at least wish I could snap Metro apps onto my other monitors, make it more useful to me...

    Microsoft claims "Desktop is just another app", its a bold statement that falls short at every turn. You get dropped into Desktop for doing anything remotely technical, want to change monitor configuration Desktop, want to browse a drive Desktop...etc.

    Whats funny is I love Metro by itself, I love all the changes they have done to desktop as well. But when you combine these two things that have no business being together you get this Frankenstain amalgamation that just simply doesn't work, and I don't see how it will ever work! Maybe they can prove me wrong, I hope they do...

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