Networking improvements

The widespread adoption of cellular connectivity in an increasing number of laptops and tablets have made our computing devices more mobile than ever before, but it has also given rise to an age of data caps, bandwidth throttling, and exorbitant prices from carriers. In the United States, unlimited data plans are a thing of the past, and as such any operating system worth its salt is going to have to be more careful about what, where, when, and how it sends and receives data.

To that end, Microsoft has instituted several features in Windows 8 that both users and developers can utilize to measure data usage and keep it in check.

Thanks to class drivers (which we'll discuss in just a minute), mobile broadband chips are treated as first-class devices in Windows 8—the same as wi-fi, ethernet, Bluetooth, and USB 3.0, among others—which means that broadband adapters can be turned on and off through the Windows GUI in the same way that wi-fi and Bluetooth now are, and there's also an Airplane Mode can turn all of it off in one swoop, just like on a smartphone (see above). As on phones, Windows will automatically prioritize wi-fi networks when both wi-fi and cellular are available.

This increased integration into Windows has many benefits: if your laptop or tablet has a SIM card installed, Windows can automatically detect which carrier it's associated with and download any available mobile broadband app from the Windows store, and carrier-unlocked laptops and tablets can choose between multiple cellular carriers if the hardware supports it. Windows also offers estimated data usage figures when connected to cellular networks, and when connected to a cellular network the OS will adjust its default behaviors to conserve bandwidth (for example, deferring the automatic downloading and installation of Windows updates until wi-fi is available).

Though it is off by default, these bandwidth conservation features can also be enabled for traditional wired and wireless network connections by right-clicking the name of the network you're connected to. While on a metered network, apps can now use new APIs to force network-aware Metro apps to use less data when possible (another example: using a low-bandwidth movie stream rather than a high bandwidth one). Network-aware Metro apps are required to use these APIs, and users can check how much bandwidth apps are using (both on metered and non-metered networks) in the new Task Manager.

Improvements to networking in Windows also extend to file copying, namely the SMB networked file sharing protocol. In Windows 8, the protocol can now shift dynamically between different network adapters during copy operations so that it always uses the fastest possible connection to transfer files. To demonstrate, I began copying a few gigabytes of data to a fileserver on my home network using a slow wireless G connection:

Then, without pausing the file copy operation or disabling my wireless card, I plugged the laptop into the network with a gigabit ethernet cable:

As you can see, as soon as Windows detected a faster network interface, it without complaint began copying the files using the faster connection. I then unplugged the laptop from the ethernet cable:

Again without issue, it switched back to the slower connection and continued copying the files. While this flexibility is impressive, it should be noted that it can only kick in for file transfers between two Windows 8 (or Windows Server 8) computers.

Drivers

Windows Vista broke a lot of things when it launched, and drivers was a big one—at least part of Vista’s caustic reputation was earned because third-party drivers made the platform so unstable. Since then, Microsoft has been committed to maintaining driver compatibility between Windows versions. During my testing, I found that the vast majority of drivers certified for Windows Vista and Windows 7 worked without issue in Windows 8, lending credence to Microsoft’s assertion that Windows 8 will be able to run on anything that could run Windows 7.

Windows 8’s main innovation is the sheer number of class drivers it introduces. For the un-indoctrinated, class drivers target defined specifications rather than specific hardware. Class drivers are the reason you don’t need to install specific software to run things like mice, keyboards, or USB 2.0 controllers.

Windows 8 adds new class drivers for things like USB 3.0 controllers, printers, motion sensors, mobile broadband cards, and a few others, all of which should be very useful on modern systems running Windows 8 or Windows on ARM. My personal experience extends to the USB 3.0 driver, which worked just fine for the oddball Fresco controller in my Intel desktop board, and the printer drivers, which worked well for a variety of local and networked printers I connected to from my various Windows 8 testbeds.

Microsoft also provides a new basic display driver in Windows 8. While the old generic display driver ran using the Aero Basic theme, the new driver appears to have basic support for Aero effects and transparencies. Among the systems that I tested, only a few had GPU-specific graphics drivers that installed from the DVD. While this may not be true of the RTM version of Windows 8, it looks like Microsoft is scaling back on the number of included graphics drivers to save space—you’d best check Windows Update or your manufacturer’s web site for updated graphics drivers, if they’re not included.

Other Updates: Bitlocker, File History, Remote Desktop, and Windows Defender Under the Hood: DirectX 11.1 and WDDM 1.2
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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 9, 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 9, 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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