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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  • hampuras - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    Will the desktop UI be color managed? Can we now use it properly on a wide gamut display? Reply
  • moto47 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I dont understand this constant love of Intel, and disrespect to AMD. Does Intel make better cpu's? Depends on what you consider "better". If by better, you mean it can perform faster on high-level programs that 98% of the worlds population will never use, yup its better. For the vast majority of people that use their computers to surf the internet, maybe use an office-type program, or something of that nature, no, AMD is just as good, especially when you factor in the MASSIVE price difference.

    This is an old analogy, but a good one. If the automobile industry was like the CPU industry: Intel is Ferrari, AMD is Honda...they both get you to work or the store, the Ferrari will get you there much faster, the Honda saved you enough money that you can actually do some shopping.

    Or maybe it could just be said like this: Intel is for the rich folks, AMD is for the rest of us.
    Reply
  • richough3 - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I still miss the close button, but I guess grabbing the top of the application and dragging it to the bottom is okay enough for closing it. But some of the full programs running full screen look more primative. Here's a Windows 8 Start button you can use.

    http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/
    Reply
  • 86waterpumper - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    "This is an old analogy, but a good one. If the automobile industry was like the CPU industry: Intel is Ferrari, AMD is Honda..."

    No it's certainly not a good analogy. Why? If AMD was like Honda in the respect that it saved energy then it would be a winner in my book. However, not only are they slower than intel in alot of cases but they suck at efficiency.
    This will continue to hurt amd especially in the laptop arena until they can get a handle on it. A perfect example of this is the total and complete lack of smaller laptops using the Llano chip. I hope they do figure it out and get back in the game. I like having amd as a option, their older designs are probably still a good option for someone who is really funds limited.
    Reply
  • medi01 - Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - link

    Typical Liano system eats 35-40 watts. (a bit more @ Anand tech, where they for some "misterious reason" use 1000W PSU with it).
    Try to beat that with anything Intel has to offer.
    Reply
  • myhipsi - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    There are many features like the new task manager, refresh and reset and storage spaces, faster boot times, and, of course, the under-the-hood changes that are great improvements/additions over Windows 7. However, with respect to desktop usage, I have one major problem with Windows 8, and it's a big one; the Metro UI.

    Based on feedback (and my own experience), it seems that the majority of desktop users dislike the Metro GUI, and my intuition tells me that in the future, most tablet/phone (touch based) users are really going to dislike being bounced from the Metro UI into the "desktop" style UI when performing certain tasks like changing settings, etc.

    Instead of compromising the product to a one size fits all "solution", I think Microsoft should really consider marketing two different versions of Windows 8: "Windows 8 Touch" and "Windows 8 Desktop", for example. Or, simply allow the user to choose which version they want upon installation.

    The idea that I will be forced into the Metro UI with Windows 8 is a deal breaker for me. Lets hope that MS gets enough negative feedback on this that they reconsider and allow people the choice.
    Reply
  • Silma - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    A uselful complement to this otherwise great preview would be to have feedback on professional use in a few different jobs:
    - power user office worker ( working mostly with Office Suite + sap/salesforce/whatever)
    - power user media / content producer (working mostly with Adobe Creative Suite)
    - power developer (working mostly with Visual Studio + sql )
    - probably using 1 or 2 monitors.
    and see in what ways Windows 8 is better or worse than Windows 7.
    Perhaps you could ask for your reader's input in those scenarii. Personally I won't have time to setup a fully working computer with all additional software so this would be of great interest to me.
    Reply
  • Burticus - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    MS better grow a clue... I don't want a tablet OS on my PC. There better be a way to permanently turn off all that stupid big icon crap and give me a regular desktop. If not... looks like I'll be on 7 until the next thing comes along. Hey I rode XP for 10 years and skipped Vista entirely.

    I installed it on a VM and played with it. So far, meh. If I had a tablet it might be more interesting.
    Reply
  • Geofram - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    I've got one real question about Metro that doesn't seem to ever get specifically addressed.

    How does it do at multi-tasking?

    The biggest problem I see with it, is that the full-screen everything approach is not a good one when you're running multiple applications. In fact, I don't even know how you could do that using it. I haven't tried it extensively, but if you're looking for things to review, that's my biggest question.

    I don't care about launching a single app. I care about how it will fare when I have a game running on one monitor, a web page on another, and music playing in the background. How do you switch between them easily in Metro? How do you start them and put them on the correct monitors? I don't see any discussion about that, and yet, it's the core issue to me.
    Reply
  • Andrew.a.cunningham - Monday, March 12, 2012 - link

    All Metro apps run on one monitor, even if you have a multiple-monitor setup. Metro Snap provides the only multitasking available in Metro. App switching is handled similarly to Android and iOS, and is done via the app drawer on the left side of the screen. Switching the screen Metro appears on can be done in a few ways, and is covered in the review.

    Multitasking on the desktop is the same as it was in Windows 7. In a multi-monitor setup, the desktop will always be running on the second (or third, or whatever) monitor, and you can leave desktop applications running on it at the same time as you use Metro apps (thus allowing you to keep a web page open on your second monitor while you play a game either on the desktop and in Metro). Music can play in the background in both desktop and Metro apps. I think all of this was covered in the review, most of it on the first three pages.

    As with most things, what you think about how all of this works is largely dictated by what you think about Metro.
    Reply

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