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

    Hopefully some of those multi-monitor and "four corners"-related issues get worked out in the release candidate. It would help a lot. Reply
  • Impulses - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    I'm not holding my breath for that... It took them until Windows 8 to add basic taskbars for the extra screens, it'll probably fall to 3rd party developers to make the whole Metro/Desktop paradigm usable with multiple displays, just like we relied on them for multiple taskbars, better wallpaper support, etc. Reply
  • Exodite - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Well, I don't know if my 2c is worth much but the answer to that would - in my opinion - be 'why should we?'.

    I don't /have/ to use Windows, it's a personal choice.

    If the UI, or anything about the user experience in general really, ends up being a bother for me I can quite easily migrate to another platform.

    I suppose this is a good thing, if taking the long view. Microsoft might inadvertently encourage diversification of the desktop computer space by making W8 horrible to use for a notable minority.
    Reply
  • B3an - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    @Andrew and everyone else who worked on this - great article :)

    It's nice to FINALLY see a very detailed article that shows all the improvements in Windows 8. Too many people are focused on just Metro. I'm sick of having to write long posts explaining to people how to use Win 8, and why it's faster and more powerful for most tasks if people would actually just learn new things, and then having to mention all the new features to the desktop. Now i can just refer people to this article ;)

    Great work.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Don't have time to learn new stuff that's not putting money in the bosses wallet, just need to get the work I'm paid to do done ASAP. That's why Windows 7 worked so well.

    Companies don't pay folks to sit and learn learn new software or want to hear them bleating on about how they don't know what to do.

    Too much like hard work. Sorry but that's how it is. Business as usual is king.

    I too can see some great improvements in 8 its just that it (as in Metro) is NOT designed for a standard run of the mill PC environment.

    Windows tablets are not going anywhere. That ship sailed for MS years ago. It's the Zune all over again in that regard. So just keep it for phones and maybe adding a little fun to those desktop all in one monstrosities that HP etc. make.
    Reply
  • B3an - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    I'm so glad MS have not listened to people like you with Win 8. If they did then im sure we'd all still be using Windows 3.1.

    And your comment makes no sense. Win 8 is faster for work when you actually get used to it, so in the long run this will pay off as people will be more productive. And people have to learn new software all the time, like the Ribbon in MS Office.
    Reply
  • Magnus101 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I am on a multi-monitor setup and I tried the dev version in Virtual Box last month.
    I had to turn off Windows 8(had to do a different setting for the virtual machine, I think).
    Couldn't find where to power off.

    Found out by a video that I had to hoover in the right hand corner, but that didn't work. I thought the version I used had dumped that ability (the youtube video was quite old).
    So I had to look up a shortcut to open up the start menu and finally get it to shut down.

    Of couse the problem was that I used multiple monitors (use 3) and that I coudln't "snap" to the point where the start menu was.
    This shows how extremely bad this is.

    Another idiotic thing with metro is that programs behaves like apps on a mobile phone. They don't really shut down unless you force them to.
    I tried one of the metro games where there was some music playing. There was no option to quit the game, so when I left it, the music was STILL playing in the background.

    I had to force close the damn thing to stop the music playing!

    And I find absolutely nothing that makes my experience better with metro than the Windows 7 taskbar. Less clicks and more things in a smaller place is ideal for me. Not to mention that the horizontal scrolling is idiotic in metro.

    Look at how Unity in Ubuntu was received when it was released. People fled to Linux Mint, where there are options to use the "old style" desktop.

    One thing that was really good with Windows 8, though, was the new Explorer with many enhancements and actually more space (the bottom part is free compared to win 7).

    I just wish there would be a "Windows 8 desktop" version where the users like me who don't have a windows tablet, Xbox 360 or a windows phone could enjoy the other enhancements not letting metro totally destroy the experience!
    I guess 80-90% will still use older windows version even at the end of 2013 if nothing is done about this crap. Things like metro or unity just doesn't work on a normal Pc and aren't well received by users!
    Reply
  • faizoff - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    You might want to try out the Consumer preview since you've tried the metro apps on the Dev preview. They mention in the article about closing out the apps. They aren't that difficult to close now. Though shutting down and restarting the computer is still a chore. Reply
  • PopinFRESH007 - Sunday, April 15, 2012 - link

    Hovering the mouse over the left most 80 pixels to pop out the multi-tasking tray and then click-holding the app and dragging it down is a whole lot more work than clicking a little red x. Reply
  • faizoff - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I'll have to read this thoroughly when I get home. I find myself really liking Metro even on a PC. I don't see myself getting it when it comes out for the PC though. Only way I'm getting it is when Win 8 tablets come out.

    Skimming through the comments, I had mentioned about the restart and shutting down annoyance. I found a shortcut that allows to place a tile on the metro screen thereby clicking only once to shutdown or restart the computer.
    Reply

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