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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  • yannigr - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    May I say something here?
    Sorry for my English in advance.

    I don't know if your work at Anandtech is a full time job or more like an occasional work. When you see a site like Anandtech you think that this is more like a big company with full time employees not a site with people that come and go just to write an article, or a review, at their spare time with hardware that they buy or if they are lucky get from the big companies as a gift for a presentation/review.

    So when you are thinking Anandtech (and this is where maybe we misjudge you) as a big company you don't expect to read stuff that you read from a 16 years old kid in a small forum with 2-5-10 thousand members about his last review. I can not accept an excuse like this that you give. If you are in the BIGGEST and MORE RESPECTED hardware review site on the internet, and I don't think I am wrong here, you buy hardware that you also DO NOT LIKE or is not good enough for YOU. Why? Because that is your job or/and because you are writing for ANANDTECH not YannigrTech.

    When you have the time to fast-test 8 machines you try to find an AMD system and even if it exists a system with VIA hardware. I know I must be joking with the last one about VIA. Well, I am not. I do think that if there was a VIA system in there many would be posting about how they were surprised about that. Even if they where laughing at it's performance it would have been a plus for the review.

    Think a review many pages long about the next 3DMark only with AMD gpus because the reviewer don't find Nvidia gpus good enough. Many Nvidia fans would have been disappointed, to put it mildly.

    Anyway the first post was written just for fun, because I know that Intel don't only have the better hardware but also the biggest influence not only at hardware sites but in people's minds too. Between two equal systems most just choose Intel because it is an Intel.
    This post was whiten only because I was not expecting someone that writes for Anandtech to say that:
    I only have Intel, I am not buying AMD because it is just not good enough for me.

    Last. Thanks for the review. No joking here. It was interested and useful.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Monday, March 19, 2012 - link

    First, thanks for reading! I'm glad you found the review useful. Second, I want to try to answer some of your questions as to how AnandTech (and most new outlets on the Internet) work.

    Most writers who get paid are not working full-time positions. This is true both of independently owned websites like AnandTech, corporate-owned sites like IGN, or even big-time traditional publications like the New York Times. Most sites will contract freelancers rather than full-time workers both because of cost (freelancers are almost universally paid less than salaried employees and get no benefits) and administrative reasons (full-time employees mean that you've got to start paying attention to things like benefits and payroll taxes, necessitating a larger administrative staff to handle things like accounting).

    Different outlets handle things in different ways - at AnandTech, the pay is OK for contractors, and most of us can bother Anand himself if we have questions about a story we're working on. On other sites (to cherry-pick an extreme example, let's call out the Huffington Post), freelancers are sometimes paid nothing, and are rather compensated with "exposure" and clips that they could in theory use to land a paying gig later on. I think what HuffPo (and, really, any profitable publication that doesn't pay its writers) does is a scam and I've got some strong feelings about it, but that's not my main point - my point is that much of what you read on the Internet is being written by people who don't write on the Internet full time. At AnandTech, even the senior editors are contracted freelancers rather than full-time employees.

    Different people write for different reasons, but my goal is to make a living at it - I'm doing it because I love it, sure, but I'm also doing it because there are bills to pay. To do that, I cannot and will not spend $500 on hardware to use in a review that will earn me quite a bit less than $500. As anyone can tell you, that math doesn't add up, and since this is a review of the beta version of an x86-compatible Windows product - a product that looks and acts the same on any hardware that meets the minimum requirements - it's frankly not as important as a few of you seem to think it is. And that's all I have to say about it.
    Reply
  • yannigr - Monday, March 19, 2012 - link

    I still believe that you should buy an AMD system. Not today or tomorrow but the next time you would need an extra machine. But that's me.
    Thanks for answering my post :-)
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Monday, March 19, 2012 - link

    I'll look into it for sure. Trinity has my interest piqued. :-) Reply
  • TC2 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    AMD?

    This isn't the point! Andrew Cunningham here hasn't downside. I want to ask, what is the problem here? The recent Intel CPUs a far superior than the amd cpus! And, if you want to know the best sides of W8 ... the amd just isn't the first choice ... :)))
    Reply
  • silverblue - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    At the time Andrew got those machines, the best option across the board likely would've been Intel. The Atom build is thoroughly outclassed by Brazos but it simply wasn't available at the time.

    It's only really the past twelve months to fifteen months where AMD has actually had a viable range of mobile processors for netbooks and larger.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Name something "far superior" to AMD A8 3850 that has comparable cost. Reply
  • TC2 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Oops to daisies :) It would make a god to tears!
    You and all amd-fans, are very funny!
    When the conversation is about cores - "amd has twice than Intel" ?!
    When the conversation is about performance - "the cost isn't comparable" ?!
    When the conversation is about CPU - "amds APU is bla-bla..." ?!
    When the conversation is about benchmarks - "look look, the BD is almost like Nehalem (btw. 2 generations older)" ?!

    All those is UNTRUE!!! And remember well - I and many-many people doesn't give a shit about amds green presentations, cores and so ... We need fast CPU in ST as well as MT, and fast GPU! And believe me, esp. in professional segment amd got nothing significant :)))
    Reply
  • chucky2 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I'd like for you to do an article on feature support of DirectX 9 cards under say Windows XP SP3 vs Windows 8. I know AMD dropped support for their DirectX 9 based cards before their 10.2 (Feb 2010 driver set), and then later belatedly added 10.2 as the last supported driver. My interest is in if they've dropped proper support of their cards in Vista/7/and now 8 rather than putting in the (very likely minimal) work to properly support them.

    Thanks for the article!
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    The 10.2 driver was only supported under Vista, but in my experience it works fine for Windows 7, which means it should work OK in Windows 8. One of the iMacs I tested on used a Radeon X1600 Mobility card - I installed the Vista-certified driver off of a Snow Leopard DVD and didn't see any crashes or instability, but your mileage may vary. Reply

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