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 - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Yes it will. Reply
  • poisonsnak - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    As Andrew said it will run fine on AMD hardware. I've been running the Developer Preview since September on my Phenom II X6 1100T & Radeon 6970, which I then (side-graded?) to an FX-8150, and then upgraded to the Consumer Preview.

    The only BSOD or crash I've ever had was when I tried to install the AMD USB filter driver under the developer preview - it warned me the driver was unlikely to work, I gave it my usual "I know better than you" and promptly got to see the fancy new Win8 BSOD screen.
    Reply
  • rickmoranisftw - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Haters gonna hate man. I'm sorry people have blown up on you for no reason. Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    It's cool - mostly I'm just confused about it, but the constructive comments have far outnumbered the trollish ones at this point. :-)

    Either way, I'm working on getting an AMD system for future use.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Don't worry about it. He tested enough systems, and you can make a guess as where AMD would stand in those systems. I agree that a lot of people use AMD - it's all I buy for friends and family as the Microcenter deals are too hard to pass up. I don't think it effects the review at all - Windows 8 won't look any different on an AMD system. Reply
  • rickmoranisftw - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I too just created an account today. Ive been reading anandtech for a while now but havent bothered to make an account. But today i had too.

    There is absolutely no reason for you or anyone else to blow up on Andrew for only using intel systems for this review, a review of a preview at that, when his reasoning was extremely simple. He just didnt have an AMD system on hand. Who are you to blame anyone of being biased when you know nothing about them.

    I'm disappointed that i didn't read these comments until today (monday) or i would have commented sooner. I was so pissed off after reading these comments i messed up two different captcha's when making my account just now. I hope you're just saying this to try to feel some sense of superiority over someone who actually has a job on a real tech site, and not because you actually think andrew is that biased toward intel. Because that's just stupid.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Thanks. :-) Reply
  • AeroRob - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I don't see how anyone who's spent so much as five minutes along with Windows 8 on a normal desktop computer--let alone hours--could say that the new start menu system is even remotely an improvement on the old system. It is unequivocally worse. It creates a jarring, disjointed experience, with an interface that is less versatile and consequently makes simple tasks more difficult.

    Why must I jump through hoops just to shut my computer down? Or if I'm not sure Windows considers what I'm looking for an app or a setting, why do I have to do multiple searches, when previous versions of Windows would show me all the possibilities?

    It would be so simple for Microsoft to solve all these numerous (yet minor) annoyances: give a legacy desktop option. Just one little checkbox to where a user can specify that they would rather boot into the desktop than the Metro BS, and to restore the start menu to a Windows 7 state. You can't tell me that would be difficult in the least, but MS would rather be obstinate jerks, trying to force users into a "new experience" that they don't want, don't like, and that actively works to make their workflow more inefficient.

    Change isn't a bad thing, but only when that change is an improvement. Going from the XP start menu to Vista's added functionality and made things easier. Going from 7 to 8, though, is a step backward, and users shouldn't have to suffer just because MS wants to push their little pet project.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I'm glad I'm not the only one. I find myself having to move left to right across the screen to do stuff that a simple rightclick/clcik would do previously.

    Having to use the keyboard for stuff that a mouse click did previously as I cant work out if there is a mouse equivalent or if it exists at all.

    No visual clues as to how to use it. Just clicking on all the empty space in the hope something useful happens.

    I see one thing makes the desktop bit shrink to a small size in the middle of the screen. I have no idea what that is for.

    I think Metro is fine for folks that have never used a computer for real day to day office work that brings home the bacon. You know the types.
    Reply
  • AeroRob - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    Assuming MS doesn't reverse course on their "Abandon the Start Menu" decision, hopefully by time the RTM version rolls out, they will include some sort of tutorial the first time you switch into desktop mode.

    Really, though, the whole ordeal reminds me of when Apple made the iPod Shuffle without any buttons on the physical device, and insisted on making users learn a sort of Morse code on the remote to accomplish anything. You could argue that a single button makes things "simplified," but that doesn't prevent it from being an inane, unproductive input method.
    Reply

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