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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  • Klimax - Sunday, March 11, 2012 - link

    One person data doesn't make...

    (Point is,you are very incorrect. It's not even close to 50% and that's counting only those vocal about it)
    Reply
  • tviceman - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    How will windows 8 work with programs like Steam? I always have steam running, and I chat through steam almost as often as I game from it. From how it sounds, I'll have to switch over to desktop view to access steam? And if someone sends me a message and I'm in metro, will I be notified? Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Depends on whether desktop apps can make use of the notifications in Windows 8 - I'm honestly not sure about that right now, since so few desktop apps are Windows 8-aware. How do you tell when Steam sends you messages in Windows 7 - do you rely on sound cues? Flashing taskbar icons? There are lots of potential answers to the question but a lot of it depends on (1) how Valve can/does change Steam for Windows 8, and (2) your particular usage patterns. Reply
  • beginner99 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    ...crap for little children. I guess I will have ti buy a spare copy of win 7 as long as they are available for my next build...

    UI looks made for 6 year old kids, liek a toy-computer. Omg...if only games could run on linux.
    Reply
  • dchinu - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Exactly my thought only for game Reply
  • kmmatney - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    I think WIndows 7 will be available for a long time yet... I do like the storage spaces, and as a WHS ver 1 user, this looks like a nice upgrade to drive extender. Hopefully the next release of WHS will have this built-in. Reply
  • chromeshield - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Seriously disappointed .. not even one AMD system tested, here 50 people can talk whatever they want., who uses AMD and all I wont even bother to reply to them.

    Anand .. .. am not some idiot bystander, but very well positioned and educated person writing this... wake up....
    I expected some APU's, VIA, and few graphics combinations tested,

    I had heard a lot that this website is Intel biased but never believed anybody.. but today I had to bother to create an account... to write this comment..
    disappointed.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Dude. DUDE. SO MANY THINGS.

    1) Anand doesn't write every article on the site. Check the byline.

    2) If you want to subsidize some AMD-based equipment for me, please do so - I can take checks or PayPal. As a contractor the vast majority of the hardware I have to test with is my own, and I've gone out-of-pocket for it.

    3) Is running Windows 8 on AMD hardware going to change my opinions about how Metro works? About the raw CPU and GPU horsepower required to run Windows 7? About the new or changed features? If I hadn't published specs for systems I tested Windows 8 on, would it make my opinions more valid, or would you be complaining about the lack of information? What if I had lied and made up some AMD systems without actually doing any testing on them?

    The point of Windows is that it runs THE SAME WAY on ALL x86-compatible CPUs, on ALL GPUs with proper drivers and support for its graphics APIs.

    In closing, congratulations for getting a few hundred words into this massive article, not seeing the letters AMD in a single table meant to provide context and additional information to you, the reader, and proceeding to completely miss the point.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Windows 7 = Windows 8 in point 3, just in case you wanted to miss the point in favor of focusing on a perceived mistake again. /rant Reply
  • Malih - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    probably most wonder whether the W8CP in it's current state would run stable on AMD hardware, including me. Reply

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