In-Depth with the Windows 8 Consumer Previewby Andrew Cunningham, Ryan Smith, Kristian Vättö & Jarred Walton on March 9, 2012 10:30 AM EST
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 184.108.40.2068 dated 10/4/2011, compared to Windows 7’s version 220.127.116.110 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.