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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  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    God that Start Screen is ugly, disorganised, and hard to look at. Boxes are different sizes. Boxes are different colours with no apparent relationship between colours and program groups. Some have graphics, some have icons, some have multiple lines of text. There's no symmetry to anything. It's just like the default Control Panel layout in Windows 7 ... a disorganised mess.

    The fact that they had to add a search field, and implement "type to start searching" is a giant red flag that should have warned them they had failed. You should not need a search option for your program launcher.

    Granted, the default layout of the Start Menu in every previous version of Windows wasn't much better, as there was no enforced organisation (each vendor dropped whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted), but at least it was easy-to-navigate and easy-to-scan to find things.
    Reply
  • Kiouerti - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I have to agree. The aesthetics of the Metro are just horrible. Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Aesthetic issues aside, almost all modern OSes have a search feature built into their launchers: the Windows 7 Start menu has one, OS X and iOS have Spotlight, Android has one... they're pretty much universal. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    They might be universal, but Metro Start Screen basically makes it required/mandatory.

    Search in KDE's Lancelot and whatever the default menu is called is optional. Everything is organised according to type of task and easily reachable in under 4 clicks (generally 2 clicks). But you can type-to-search if you aren't sure where to find something.

    Search in the Windows 7 Start Menu is optional. Things are still (sorta) organised, although by vendor instead of by task, and still easy enough to find things.

    Same with Windows Vista Start Menu.

    Search is optional. Metro Start Screen basically requires type-to-search to find anything. Otherwise, you have to spent minutes trying to read everything onscreen to find anything.
    Reply
  • p05esto - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Right, why in the world is there a search box at all on a computer? lol. If you can't organize files and put applications int he right place then you need to go back to a pen and paper. A search box is not a navigation option, it's a last resort and a cumbersome at that for the unorganized. Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    IOW, you agree with what I'm saying. ;) Reply
  • dan0512 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    If I can't change the name of the executable window to Programs, then I won't buy this product. I hate the noun "Apps". Reply
  • alpha754293 - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    bwahahahahahaa.....

    that's all I gotta say about that.

    (Surprised that given the specs of the systems, that people couldn't have deduced that he's testing with whatever hardware he had laying around....)

    bwahahahahaha...still that update is hilarious! (And the fact that he had to write the update...makes it that much the better...)
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Glad I'm not the only one seeing the humor in it. :-) Reply
  • Mathragh - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Just made this account to express my gratitude for the author(s) of this article.

    This has been the most complete, readable and (arguably) objective article about the consumer previes so far, so great job!

    I also think that most of the people really underestimate the time and effort that goes into writing something like this, so even more kudo's for not letting yourself brought down by some of the comments people make!

    Also, I have been using this version of windows 8 for some time now as main OS on my laptop, and it is indeed how you described it yourself aswell. The more time you spent using it, the more you start to like it. All the added functionality is really awesome. The only thing I dont really get the the fact that the desktop version of remote desktop has been hidden like this. If not for this article I wouldnt even have known it still existed.

    Keep up the writing! Loving every article on this site.
    Reply

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