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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  • skanskan - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The task manager should also include a GPU resource monitor.
    It's been a long time since GPUs were introduced and we still need third party tools.
    Reply
  • Oravendi - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    Linux has allowed for different GUI managers for a long time. Why would Microsoft not offer Metro as a desktop option? Metro is probably better for tablets and cell phones, however if Microsoft were to produce software with the ability to turn Metro off then Metro might have slow or no adoption. Microsoft sees the money. It doesn't want the problems of software like Linux. Answer, force us to Metro and claim the old windows users don't want to change. Reply
  • Origin32 - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    The problem I have with Metro is not that it's different.
    It's that its different while not adding anything for me as a desktop user. Yes, I'm sure this new interface is much easier to navigate on a tablet, but with M/K I have to click more rather than less to open the more advanced menus, I have to use two user interfaces simultaneously and I have to start to unlearn 10 years of keyboard shortcuts, options locations and all the kinds of things you do automatically in win7. Using Windows 8 will be a whole lot of effort for me, and Microsoft isn't really giving me anything in return for that effort. If they'd added something actually useful like support for multiple user logons on a SAMBA share in one session, a sandbox mode to try out new programs in or really any functionality at all, then I'd have to live with Metro.

    Now all I get is a new GUI I sure didn't ask for.
    Reply
  • jabber - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - link

    This is it for me too. I just don't get what it is they are trying to sell me here with regards to Metro.

    I don't get it MS, Sorry.

    I've always upgraded my Windows versions due to improvements in performance, load times, functionality with new hardware and tech standards. Sure there are always a few UI changes but nothing that needs 5 minutes to get used to and on the whole they have been positive.

    But with Metro there just isn't enough in the deal to make me want to bother using it.

    I can get by fine without it. It isn't essential for those of us using desktops/laptops.
    Reply
  • perpetualdark - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Quite simply, the home market and the professional market are no longer driven off of each other, and need to diverge. In the past, the professional market drove the PC industry, and the OS was a reflection of that.

    Home use has grown to be a viable entity on it's own however, and the proof of that is Apple's success in the PC market. People at home want a computer that is media based, and focused around entertainment. Movies, Music, Social Media, and Home Integration are the keys there. They want their media, and they want it everywhere (at the computer, the tv, the laptop, the phone, in bed, in the bathroom, and in the kitchen). They want to be connected to their social media all the time, and have everything integrated into that.

    Businesses don't need any of it, and it is all counterproductive to business. If anything, they want everything listed above to be GONE from the picture. Remove the games, the media, and the social aspects. Sharing needs to be tightly controlled, and the "cloud" is a fancy way of saying "security risk". Your boss doesn't want you listening to music, sharing it with others, or getting on facebook or skype to socialize, he wants you productive. Secure sharing of files, remote application use, tying together the office and the mobile workspace, communicating within the company and with the customers, and productive applications. It requires a COMPLETELY different interface because it has a completely different workflow.

    Windows 8 is, on the surface anyway, a HOME version of the software. It is MS's attempt to slow Apple down on the home front. But aside from desktop publishing and education, Apple is not even in the business place, and although I couldn't give you numbers, I am willing to bet that the business market is still at least half of the revenues that MS sees in a year.

    One more note: Look at Office. Millions of people knew all the ins and outs of Excel and Word, and then MS goes and changes the interface 100%. With NO way of going back. I resisted until recently, and after almost a year on office 2010, I hate it to this day. The ribbons suck, I can never find the things I am looking for, and they don't even have a basic paste function, they made it more complicated. Yeah, I can ctrl-v, but sometimes I want to right click and paste, not right click and hunt for the paste icon I am looking for. I hate icons. I want words. I speak english. If I want to paste special and choose to paste values, I want to right click, paste special, values, ok. I don't want right click and look for the icon that represents pasting values. I am literate, give me words, not icons that represent words. It is a disaster, and as a result, most companies still have Windows XP and Office 2003 installed. If it werent for so many viruses and malware targeting the weak security of XP, I would still have all my machines running on XP. I still run programs like Live Messenger in Vista mode so the icon goes in the tray and not on the bar. I don't understand why MS wants me to change so bad.. I don't want to change, I am more efficient the way I use it, so bugger off and leave me alone! I want my "up directory" button back, and I want the window button in excel back, so when I have 250 spreadsheets open (or even 2), I can switch without having to go to the right hand monitor and click on the excel icon and choose the window from there.. I just want to do it in excel. Come on, quit changing stuff just for the sake of changing..
    Reply
  • shin0bi272 - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    no... just no. Stop talking about stuff you know very little about. It just makes you look bad. Reply
  • Valahano - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    Care to elaborate? Reply
  • slickr - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Good job Andrew. After years of reading this website you with this obvious piece of propaganda have forced me from this moment on to stop visiting this website.

    This shameless advertising for this Microsoft crap of a operating system that they call windows 8 is sickening. How much did they pay you?

    You people make me sick, at least be honest about it and write that you have been paid to write about their product in a positive way, I guarantee you people won't be too judgmental and will accept the fact that this website with its obvious bias for some time now has been loosing all its visitors and is forced to write propaganda articles for money!
    Reply
  • Shinya - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    So basically because he likes something that you don't (even though he heavily criticized it) your limited brain capacity calculated that he was paid?

    Please stick with apple products iTard. Your lord n savior is waiting over at engadget.
    Reply
  • shin0bi272 - Friday, March 16, 2012 - link

    actually no hes right... if you look at what MS did with win8 its designed for tablets and they are violently forcing pc users to adapt the same gui that will be basically worthless to us and what does the author of this article say?

    "Yes, Metro is very different from what came before, and yes, Metro was clearly designed with touch in mind, but once you learn its tricks (and especially once you’ve got the new keyboard shortcuts dedicated to memory) it acquits itself as a flexible and powerful user interface."

    Sucking up much?
    Reply

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