One of Microsoft’s stated goals for Windows 8 (and the only reason, really, why there continues to be a 32-bit version of the operating system) was to maintain compatibility with any system that could run Windows 7, so the official system requirements for the OS are going to be the same: a 1GHz processor, 1GB (x86) or 2GB (x64) of RAM, a DirectX 9.0 compatible graphics card with WDDM drivers, and a dozen or so gigabytes of hard drive space.

Under the terms of these requirements, Windows 8 could run on an old Pentium III equipped with an old ATI Radeon 9600 and a gigabyte of SDRAM (and, knowing computer enthusiasts, it probably will), but what are the actual minimum requirements that will yield a usable machine? Will Windows 8 actually run well on anything Windows 7 ran on? And, most importantly, is it a good idea for you to upgrade your old system? To help you out, I've put together a list of specs that I think will get you an acceptable Windows 8 experience (for the purposes of this review, I assume you meet the hard drive requirements already).

 

Microsoft minimum system requirements

AnandTech minimum system requirements

CPU 1 GHz or better Dual-core processor or better
GPU DirectX 9.0-capable with WDDM driver 256MB DirectX 10.0-capable GPU or IGP
x86 RAM (x64 RAM) 1GB (2GB) 2GB (4GB)

As you can see from the Hardware Used in This Review page, I’ve put Windows 8 through its paces on a fairly wide array of hardware both old and new, fast and slow. The good news is that Microsoft’s claims are true, and that Windows 8 runs ably on hardware that ran Windows 7, even netbooks that flirt with Microsoft's minimum system requirements. In some cases, as in boot speed, Windows 8 actually performs substantially better than its predecessor, but it’s not going to make old hardware new again—if your poky processor or low RAM impacted your PC’s performance under Windows 7, Windows 8 isn’t a magic bullet that’s going to make those problems go away.

One thing to pay especial attention to as you evaluate whether to upgrade a computer to Windows 8 is its GPU. In my experience with testing, Metro was surprisingly fluid even on an old Intel GMA 950, which is just about the weakest, oldest GPU that still meets the minimum system requirements. You won’t want to use it to push multiple monitors, but for basic Metro and Aero usage it performed reasonably well on the laptop’s 1440x900 display. The same goes for the Intel GMA X3100 and ATI Radeon X1600, the two other DirectX9 GPUs in my lineup of test machines.

Where things start to fall apart is in Metro apps—basic ones like Mail and Photos work fine, but things that are even modestly graphically demanding are going to choke on these old DirectX 9-class graphics chips. Even plain old Solitaire suffered from input lag and poor performance on these GPUs.

For gaming and other purposes, Microsoft recommends you use a DirectX10 or better GPU in Windows 8, and I agree—for anything more than basic Start screen functionality, you’ll want a dedicated DirectX10 or 11 GPU, or IGPs starting with Intel’s 4-series GPU, AMD’s Radeon 3200, or NVIDIA’s GeForce 9400—stuff that was current right around when Windows 7 was launching. The stronger the GPU the better, of course, but after evaluating performance on quite a few different machines I’d say that this is probably the minimum you’ll want for a consistent Windows 8 experience, especially if you’re using multiple monitors.

The other problem with DirectX9 GPUs, of course, is driver support—while Intel appears to be issuing new Windows 8 drivers for all of its WDDM-supported products (Windows 8’s driver for the GMA 950 is version 8.15.10.2548 dated 10/4/2011, compared to Windows 7’s version 8.15.10.1930 dated 9/23/2009) and NVIDIA offers current drivers for its GeForce 6000 and 7000 series cards, neither AMD or NVIDIA offer drivers for DirectX9 laptop GPUs, and AMD stopped offering new drivers for DirectX9 cards in early 2010.

It goes without saying that computers being sold today, namely Sandy Bridge CPUs and anything branded as a part of AMD’s Fusion platform, run all of Metro’s flair just great, and the Ivy Bridge chips that will be current when Windows 8 lands in stores later this year will be even better.

My last note on system requirements involves hard drives—while Windows 8 ran pretty well even on cheap 5400 RPM mechanical HDDs, we here at AnandTech are huge advocates of using solid-state drives in just about any computer physically capable of using one. No matter what OS you use, a good SSD is the best upgrade you can buy to speed up your computer and make performance more consistent, and Windows 8 is no exception.

 

Battery Life Explored Next Steps and Conclusions
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  • yannigr - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    This is more of a funny post but.... do you hate AMD systems? Are AMD processors extinct? I mean 8 systems ALL with Intel cpus? Come on. Test an AMD system JUST FOR FUN..... We will not tell Intel. It will be a secret. :p Reply
  • Gothmoth - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    AMD?

    who is still using AMD?
    except some poor in third world countrys?

    no.. im just joking... AMD is great and makes intel cheaper.. if only they would be a real competition.

    but what about ARM?
    that would be more interesting.. but i guess we have to wait for that.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    In defense of Andrew's choice of CPU, you'll note that there's only one desktop system and the rest are laptops. Sorry to break it to you, but Intel has been the superior laptop choice ever since Pentium M came to market. Llano and Brazos are the first really viable AMD-based laptops, and both of those are less than a year old. AFAIK, Andrew actually purchased (or received from some other job) the laptops he used for testing, and they're all at least a year old. Obviously, the MacBook stuff doesn't use AMD CPUs, so that's three of the systems.

    As for the two laptops I tested, they're also Intel-based, but I only have one laptop with an AMD processor right now, and it's a bit of a weirdo (it's the Llano sample I received from AMD). I wouldn't want to test that with a beta OS, simply because it's likely to have driver issues and potentially other wonkiness. Rest assured we'll be looking at AMD systems and laptops when Win8 is final, but in the meantime the only thing likely to be different is performance, and that's a well-trod path.
    Reply
  • DiscoWade - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    Last year, I needed to buy a new laptop. I wanted a Blu-Ray drive and a video card. I thought I would have to settle for a $1000 computer with an Intel processor. I had narrowed my choices down to a few all with the Intel i-series CPU. When I went to test some out at Best Buy, because I wanted to play with the computer to see if I liked it, I saw a discontinued HP laptop on sale for $550. It was marked down from $700. It had the AMD A8 Fusion CPU and a video card and a Blu-Ray drive. So I got a quad-core CPU with 4 hour actual battery life that runs like a dream very cheap. I was a little apprehensive at first with buying the AMD CPU, but a few days of use allayed my fears.

    If you say Intel makes better laptop CPU's, you haven't used the AMD A series CPU. It has great battery life and it runs great. How often will I use my laptop for encoding video and music? The dual-AMD graphics is really nice. Whenever I run a new program, it prompts which graphic card to use, the discrete for power savings or the video card for maximum performance. I like that.

    Yes if I wanted more power, the Intel is the way to go. But my laptop isn't meant for that. And most people don't need the extra performance from an Intel CPU. Every AMD A8 and A6 I've used runs just as good for my customers and friends who don't need the extra performance of an Intel.

    However, I haven't yet been successful installing my TechNet copy of W8CP on this laptop. I'm going to try again this weekend while watching lots of college basketball. (I love March Madness!) If anybody can help, I would appreciate if you let me know at this link:
    http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/w...
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    You do realize that Jared explicitely excluded Llano and Brazos from his comment? A8, A6, A4 - they're all Llano. Reply
  • Samus - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I'm actually shocked he didn't use an AMD E-series laptop (HP DM1z, Lenovo x120/x130, etc) as they have sold hundreds of thousands in the last 12 months. I see a DM1z every time I'm in an airport, and x120's are very commonplace in education.

    Remembering the Sandybridge chipset recall last year, this really gave AMD a head start selling low power, long battery life laptops, and they have sold very well, and belong in this review when you consider the only laptops you can buy new for <$400 are AMD laptops, and that is a huge market.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    This isn't a review. Also, he didn't have one.

    Quite open to somebody benching a DM1z on W8CP, though. ;)
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    While Intel may have the better performance CPU in laptops, they have the *worst* (integrated) graphics possible in laptops, and have 0 presence in the sub-$500 CDN market.

    You'd be surprised how many people actually use AMD-based laptops, especially up here in Canada, mainly for three reasons:
    - CPU is "good enough"
    - good quality graphics are more important than uber-fast CPU
    - you can't beat the price (17" and 19" laptops with HD4000+ graphics for under $500 CDN, when the least expensive Intel-based laptop has crap graphics and starts at over $700 CDN)
    Reply
  • frozentundra123456 - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    A bit confused by your post. What is HD 4000 graphics? Granted Llano is superior to SB, but Llano is 66xx series isnt it? I though AMD 4000 series was a motherboard integrated graphics solution that is very weak. Intel SB graphics will be far superior to any integrated solution except Llano.

    I agree for my use, I would buy Llano in a laptop ( and only in a laptop) because I want to do some light gaming, but I dont understand your post. I would also not really call SB graphics "crap" unless you want to play games.
    Reply
  • inighthawki - Friday, March 09, 2012 - link

    HD 4000 is referring to the intel integrated graphics on the new ivy bridge chips - nothing to do with AMD chips Reply

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