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
POST A COMMENT

286 Comments

View All Comments

  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    1) We'll probably do an analysis of that with an RTM version of the OS. I wouldn't expect it to change too drastically from a patched copy of Windows 7.
    2) Not guaranteed, but probably. When 7 was released, Vista got a Platform Update that added support for DX11, some WDDM 1.1 features, and a few other things: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/971644

    Windows 7 is still in its mainstream support phase, so I'd expect those updates to be available after Windows 8 RTM.
    Reply
  • R3MF - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    many thanks Andrew. Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Welcome! :-) Reply
  • valnar - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Isn't the fact that new Windows phone BOMBED in the marketplace enough reason not glorify this crappy GUI? The public has already spoken.

    And....what makes a good tablet or phone OS (touch screen) does not necessarily make a good desktop OS.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    True, however everybody has differing tastes. I don't mind it, personally, and it's not as if the Windows 7 desktop has gone forever.

    As for Mango, it's not on many devices and hasn't been out long. I also firmly believe that it's the first flavour (sorry) of Windows Phone that Microsoft has truly taken seriously. Give it time. Had dozens of devices been launched with Mango yet sales been poor, I'd have been more inclined to agree with you.

    Touch screen technology has been around a while and it's about time that a mainstream OS had extensive functionality in this area.
    Reply
  • Subzero0000 - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    >Isn't the fact that new Windows phone BOMBED in the marketplace enough reason not glorify this crappy GUI? The public has already spoken.

    Well, that's exactly why they have to FORCE metro to their biggest userbase (Desktop PC). They want people to get used to metro, then hopefully people get attached to it and choose to buy tablet/phone with metro.
    Reply
  • PopinFRESH007 - Sunday, April 15, 2012 - link

    +1

    This is where I think Apple's methodical, very deliberate, well thought out approach is going to win over a lot of people after Windows 8 launches. Microsoft already tried this in reverse order and it was awful until they instantly became irrelevant when the original iPhone launched. They crammed a mouse and keyboard OS into a crappy touchscreen phone and called it a day. Here they are cramming a touchscreen phone/tablet OS pasted on top of a desktop OS and figured out the least amount of work to make it possible to maneuver between the (what feels like) two OS's. When the review consistently has "There are actually two versions of..." you know you have done something wrong as an OS engineer.

    I've given Win8 a fair shake, I've really tried to give it an honest everyday usage to give it a fair comparison. I have a Lumia 900 and have been running the consumer preview since it came out. I'm really going the extra mile to give the Metro UI a shot, but it just doesn't scale to a desktop (In the way windows 8 implements it) very well at all. I've used Win8 on a very nice prerelease tablet and it works wonderfully. Microsoft should really take a step back and survey the industry and learn from what has been successful and what has had problems. The iPad is crushing the tablet market because it benefits (like many Apple products) from a halo of the iPhone, iTunes, and iCloud. Google has realized their misstep in segmenting the phone & tablet OS's and I think Microsoft will come to realize that a touchscreen tablet has more in common with a touchscreen smartphone than it does with a keyboard and mouse desktop PC.

    The thing about Metro is that it is very simplistic and *could* scale easily. Look at a Windows Phone 7 next to a Windows 8 Tablet and it's ability to scale is obvious. I think the real problem here is Microsoft is taking a Bold, half hearted, All-in, keep some chips in reserve, Go for the gusto, partially move to Metro. They cram it down your throat but don't believe in it enough to completely re-think the OS an move to it. I would like Windows 8 a whole lot more if it was a unified experience with Metro at it's center. The half ***ed cramming of two OS's with different UI's into one cup of tea is what really pushes me away from Windows 8. If they left the core of windows 7 under the hood so any windows 7 app's would run, and provide a simple framework for developers to create "live tile" shortcuts that plugin to the new services that Windows 8 will bring this would be a much better OS. If this is the future, GO FOR IT!! There should not be a control panel for "desktop" and a settings for Metro. There should not be Metro IE 10 and IE 10 for Desktop. If they built API's and service frameworks for developers to bridge Metro UI to C++ code and let developers design their software the best way that suits their needs there would be far better support. The Metro UI as a launcher for native C++ app's and HTML5 Metro apps would be great. This would be especially true if developers could push notifications and information to the live tiles for their app's. Imagine a multiplayer game like Battlefield 3 on Windows 8. On the Metro UI "Start" screen the Live Tile for BF3 would be alive with info from battlelog. So you could easily see if some friends are playing the game, or if there is new content/updates, etc... It would be like having the community features of Steam, without ever having to "Launch" anything. A quick glance at your games area of your Live Tiles and you could see who is online playing what games and quickly join in. The same thing would be true for a more professional app like Photoshop. Imaging if Adobe, using these types of API's could build in collaboration features tied into the Live Tiles & using SkyDrive. You could save an image in your skydive and share it to your fellow team members, then if there are changes and edits all of those peoples Live Tiles for Photoshop would reflect that new information. They have so much potential and are at a solid time to make the leap, the real leap to Metro with less risk. They have a solid "traditional" OS in Windows 7 that they could continue to sell. They also have the ability to really bring a new level of integration that has been absent from Microsoft products. Tie in Xbox Live like they did on Windows Phone 7, and integrate voice chat, the friend list, messaging, etc as system wide services. The list goes on and on with the amount of potential they have to make a seamless experience across all of their platforms from phone, to xbox to tablet to PC. It's sad to see this is the best they can do.

    As mentioned above, I think Apples approach of using services like iCloud to bridge your data from a mobile platform to a desktop platform is a better strategy. Really looking at each element of a mobile OS and thinking how that will work on a desktop with a mouse and keyboard; working to merge what makes sense and leaving out what doesn't. I think Apple is also failing at this to some extent as well. They should be working on unifying their "Store's" so I could make an app that when loaded on an iPhone would have the iPhone UI, when loaded on the iPad would have the iPad UI and when loaded on a Mac would have a windowed UI, and the store would serve up the correct parts of the binary depending on if it's on a mobile device like iPhone/iPad or Mac.

    /END RANT.
    Reply
  • jabber - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    The feedback has been 100% negative. Really really bad. No question I haven't seen a normal PC user yet that likes it or wants to use it.

    The feedback for Windows 7 was 90% positive.

    Not looking good MS.
    Reply
  • futurepastnow - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    The feedback from the two "normal" non-technical computer users I showed it to was very negative. I let them play with it with no instructions or advice, and they couldn't do anything. It's the least intuitive interface ever.

    Oddly (or not oddly), the most computer-literate person I showed it to figured he could get used to it, since he uses keyboard commands for everything and they still work. He thinks Microsoft are out of their minds, though.

    Perhaps that is Microsoft's problem, I wonder? All of their engineers, testers and QA people know all of the keyboard commands, which puts them in the 1% of computer users. Perhaps if they created a special version of Win8 for interface testing, which *required* mouse input for all actions, they'd seriously reconsider Metro.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Saturday, March 10, 2012 - link

    I don't know, I'm a software engineer myself and I wouldn't touch W8 with a 10ft pole.

    I like the minor underlying enhancements to things like the Task Manager and File Transfer dialog, though nothing of that can even begin to make up for the UI clusterfuck.

    I run a multiple-display desktop system.

    I _like_ nestled folder structures and rely on it to organize.

    I prefer minimal clutter on the desktop, to the point the only application icons there are Chrome and MPC-HC, and half a dozen project folders. I also use minimal size icons.

    Huge icons in listings, and the enormous amount of whitespace they add, is wasteful and inefficient.

    I can't stand that good and intuitive UI elements like radiobuttons and checkboxes are giving way to touch-oriented dragbars, it just underlines wha ta gigantic step backwards the entire Metro experience represents.

    Perhaps you're right about technical and professional users being less impacted by the horrors of W8 due to being more comfortable with keyboard shortcuts than users in general, my personal experience isn't enough to say one way or another.

    On the other hand I'd argue that that particular group of people are least inclined to accept the changes because they very rarely have to. I don't have to use Windows as a development platform, I could quite trivially move to any *NIX platform of choice.

    And if Microsoft doesn't see the light before Windows 7 hits EOL I might as well migrate platform, at least I can set up the UI as I prefer that way.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now