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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  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    The 10.2 driver "should" work fine with Win8. Obviously AMD isn't going to support it, but the basic graphics system requirement for Win8 is a WDDM 1.0 (Vista era) driver, which is what the 10.2 driver supports for AMD's DX9 cards. Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I installed 7 on an old desktop with a Radeon X1600 and it runs Aero fine. I think 8 has the same requirements, so in theory it should work. Reply
  • hadrons - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Secure boot implementation in ARM is different from X86 architecture in windows 8.

    I can't believe anandtech got it wrong.

    please read this before you write about secure boot.

    http://mjg59.dreamwidth.org/10971.html
    Reply
  • Tuvok86 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    no reason to drift into the amd vs intel topic, I'm sure he had his reasons to test it only on Intel, but then I wouldn't call that "representative of most machines that people will actually be thinking about upgrading to Windows 8" Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    We're just talking about raw performance here - x86 is x86. Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    Actually, it is. Most people even bothered with Windows 8 will have Intel systems, and I doubt we'll see a mass market penetration for the ARM version for a while. Reply
  • snoozemode - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    To me it's so obvious. Run Metro in "tablet mode", desktop in "PC mode". Reply
  • dubyadubya - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Windows 8 should be renamed Tiles 1 since it is no longer Windows at all! Flame me if you want but MS employees have lost their fucking minds. Sure Tiles 1 will be nice on portable devices with touch screens but Tiles 1 has no fucking business existing on desktop PC's. What a bunch of dumb asses! Fuck! Reply
  • freedom4556 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    "but Tiles 1 has no *redacted* business existing on desktop PC's."

    I would say that this is true for enterprise environments. While they point out that domain admins can deny access to the Windows Store and that's great, they'd be complete loons not to, most domain admins I know (and I am one, too) are going to want to disable Metro entirely because our user base is jittery and codependent already as it is and Windows 8 is going to give them all a heart attack. What were they thinking? Windows 8 enterprise better look like windows server
    Reply
  • R3MF - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    1. How does the Windows8 scheduler improve performance on AMD bulldozer/piledriver architecture?
    2. Will Windows 7 get DirectX 11.1?

    many thanks
    Reply

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