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Microsoft Windows 8 review

Ardjuna Seghers

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

Pros

  • Finally plays nice with touch
  • Has its own style
  • Maintains desktop environment
  • Great performance even on old hardware

Cons

  • Needs touch to come into its own
  • The cohesion is broken when running older software
  • Its visual style won’t be for everyone
  • Doesn’t offer as good a desktop experience as Win7
  • Its multitude of ways to do things may confuse

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Windows 8 is Microsoft’s most revolutionary OS since Windows 95. Not only has the interface been completely overhauled for a tile-based approach that favours touch, but the underlying architecture has seen a major revision too, most notably with Windows RT for ARM. The question is, is it any good?

Wondering which Windows 8 device to get? Have a read of our Best Windows 8 Laptops Tablets Convertibles and PCs roundup

Windows 8 Part 1: X86

Windows 8 Versions and Differences with Windows RT

In the first part of our Windows 8 review, we’ll be looking at the X86 version. This is, essentially, the one you’ll upgrade your Windows 7 desktop PC or laptop to. It’s the one that you’ll find on Microsoft’s own Surface Pro tablet and many competitors, whether they’re running on AMD or Intel processors. Crucially, it’s the one you’ll be able to install all your existing software on, and have a reasonable chance of expecting it to work.

SEE ALSO: Windows 10 Review

Windows 8 10

Under the Windows 8 for X86 umbrella, you’ll find ‘vanilla’ Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro (the equivalent to Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate) and Windows 8 Enterprise (the business solution). All of these come in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, just like Windows 7 did.

Questions about Windows 8? Check out our Win 8 Launch Guide FAQs

You may also notice an 'N' edition, as in Windows 8 Pro N. This is basically a version which has had Windows Media Player stripped out to comply with EU regulations, and it would appear Microsoft is pricing Win 8 N higher so that most people won't opt to go this route. To be honest, moral connotations aside it makes little sense to do so regardless.

As it is exclusively for ARM systems like the Tegra 3 innards of many high-end smartphones and Android/iOS tablets, Windows '8' RT is not available for your PC. In fact, it’s not even available for your ARM phone/tablet, as Microsoft is currently restricting RT to manufacturer installs, on systems specifically designed to meet its requirements.

Windows 8 Versions

Windows RT looks and feels quite similar to its X86 cousin and syncs nicely with it, but doesn’t offer the Windows 7-like desktop compatibility with 'legacy' software you get in Windows 8 X86. The other major difference is that RT comes with a version of Microsoft Office, while on the regular Windows 8 it remains an extra that you need to purchase separately.

Hopefully this clears up any confusion between Microsoft’s Windows 8 and Windows RT.

Windows 8 system requirements

Minimum requirements for Win 8 are low, in fact almost identical to Windows 7. All you need to get going with the 32-bit edition is a 1GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 (that’s most of them).

Obviously, to get the most out of Microsoft’s new OS there are a few additional requirements. Most crucially, to use Windows 8’s new tile interface (formerly known as Metro), you’ll require touch. Whether this is through a touch screen or monitor, gesture-enabled trackpad or even a touch-enabled Wacom tablet, you’ll need something to let your fingers interact with the OS.

Windows 8 8

To enable the Windows Store and to run certain apps, you’ll need internet access and a minimum screen resolution of 1,024 x 768 (in other words, your average netbook with a screen res of 1,204 x 600 won’t cut it). To ‘snap’ apps - which refers to automatically resizing two Metro-style apps to view them on the same screen simultaneously - that resolution requirement is upped to a minimum of 1,366 x 768.

Just to check that Microsoft wasn’t being too ‘optimistic’ with its minimum requirements, we installed Windows 8 on an old netbook with an N270 1.6GHz Atom backed by 2GB of RAM, and Win 8 was perfectly usable. In fact, we couldn’t help but notice that it provided a smoother experience than Win 7 on the same machine, even though the latest and greatest Microsoft OS is supposed to be a little harder on the old graphics card.

Windows 8 14

Still, if you combine a weak CPU like this with the 1GB of RAM minimum, you’ll run into trouble quickly. To get the most out of Windows 8, we would recommend a speedy Core 2 Duo or dual-core AMD equivalent with 2GB of RAM as your minimum, but that counted double for Windows 7 so it’s a definite feather in Win 8’s virtual cap.

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Bahkti

March 1, 2012, 2:26 am

Oh dear god, it looks like something from a primary school or creche. Simplistic and childish. How is this supposed to garner support from business users?

nanite2000

March 1, 2012, 11:03 am

"How is this supposed to garner support from business users?"

By continuing to offer a desktop environment just like Windows 7. While the Metro interface is the default interface, there is an option to switch to desktop view.

Microsoft aren't entirely stupid - they know that there are advanced users and casual/novice users. Casual users will love the simple interface, and the fact that all the complicated stuff is hidden (and so will a few tech support agents too I imagine...). Power users (and businesses) can use the desktop view instead, just like they always used to. Everyone's a winner.

simonm

March 1, 2012, 2:41 pm

Although the desktop still lives in Windows 8, Microsoft have no problem forcing changes loathed by their business customer base.

Take the ribbon bar, which lowered the barrier to new and casual users, while leaving lost and frustrated many corporate users with a decade of experience making old Excel do what they wanted.

The ribbon bar is bad design from a human interaction standpoint: the 2-dimensional pattern of icons and text is more difficult to quickly scan than a menu's simple and static vertical list of words (a kind of 'speed reading' we are mostly very good at), and furthermore the ribbon layout changes with the width of the window (in sometimes quite surprising ways), so we tend to end up having to search for the function each time rather than developing muscle memory. And the old, efficient Alt-I + R type shortcuts - while they still work - now lack underlying logic so are hard to learn and remember.

Not yet met a corporate user who liked it (home users, yes; reviewers, yes... but then it looks nice, and makes more of the functionality immediately visible, and reviewers tend to work through the features and play around (going 'with the grain'), in contrast to a task-focused corporate Excel user who might find accomplishing complex project X suddenly got harder).

Nevertheless MS persists and offers no alternative.

Jon Williamson

March 1, 2012, 3:54 pm

@simonm: I am a corporate user of Office who likes the ribbon bar ...
Frequently used functions are obviously easy to find and as you said keyboard shortcuts work. Less frequently used features are now much easier to find and use...

Interfaces develop. Users lag, but we do follow...

Lantic

March 2, 2012, 4:38 pm

One word comes to mind - schizophrenic. Is this O/S trying to do too much, trying to be too many things for too many types of users and for both PC and tablet? It will take something pretty spectacular to pull me away from Win 7 at the moment and I just don't see it yet.

Pbryanw

October 17, 2012, 10:09 pm

I know this probably falls outside the remit of this review, but is there any chance you could give us some numbers like boot time before and after installing Windows 8, file copy time before and after and maybe a single game to compare fps before and after? I know some other sites have done this and I would find it quite useful.

Also, thanks for the in-depth review too.

J4cK1505

October 17, 2012, 10:17 pm

I think what they have attempted to do is a step forward. A universal UI across a range of devices, Xbox, tablet, phone and PC is great, it creates a distinct eco-system.

However, the vast majority of desktop users don't have or want touch control. Traditional win7 desktop mode is preferable for desktop computing. This should have been the default UI for windows 8 on a desktop PC, complete with the start button in the bottom left. By all means the option to switch to the metro shell could have been included within the task bar, giving the user choice and complete control, but to force it on a desktop is poor.

Bottom line, the metro UI for desktops is far to basic, a waste of screen space, un-intuitive - a step backwards in key areas and nothing else I use my PC for, be that web pages, photoshop or word will match this blocky, oversized, shallow UI they are forcing upon us. I think they got it right with win7. I predict Win8 with metro as the lead UI (on desktops) will fail like vista did, although at least Vista became good a few years in.

Metro is good for phones, tablets, and lean back entertainment (Xbox) but not lean forward detailed work we use desktops for.

chromedome

October 17, 2012, 11:39 pm

Your con: "The cohesion is broken when running older software"

Surely this needs to be a 'pro' - this is the whole concept of W8!

Wake up and smell the coffee ;)

Beaky69

October 18, 2012, 1:03 am

@ Bahkti: I agree entirely...it does an air of 'Fisher Price' about it, doesn't it?

Whilst I appreciate & understand the move to touch interfaces on mobile devices, I am at a loss as to how anyone would want such an interface on a desktop machine. I'm a bit OCD when it comes to fingerprints on my desktop monitor, but I doubt many people would want a touch interface in the long term (once the initial novelty has worn off).

Perhaps my scepticism stems from the fact that I'm physically disabled & don't actually have the use of my hands; I can use a keyboard & trackball using a mouth-stick, I can't use a capacitive touchscreen. Although Windows 8 doesn't preclude the use of a keyboard and mouse (yet), Microsoft are definitely taking the OS & programs in another direction.

Windows 8 & its 'Modern' interface is a thinly veiled attempt by Microsoft to push their customers towards Microsoft mobile devices, & it really shouldn't be tolerated. I'm sure MS see Apple raking in the cash from their 'walled garden' ecosystem, and just want the lever their way into a similar revenue stream, any way they can! I'll be staying with Windows 7 for as long as I possibly can! At the moment my only reason for stick with any version of Windows it its support for games. Lets hope Valve succeed in stimulating the Linux gaming market!

Chris01 1

October 18, 2012, 2:21 am

I agree that users usually lag behind new interfaces, but this lag translates to million$. What if some users lag past Windows 8, like some did with Vista or other OSs. I for one, feel really comfortable with Win7 for now. I can hardly find a reason to change to something that different right now.

Martin Daler

October 18, 2012, 2:35 am

@nanitie2000
"By continuing to offer a desktop environment just like Windows 7"

So if I understand, the thing which will persuade business to move from Windows 7 to 8 is that the latter can emulate the former, make it like they never made the switch?

I'm missing something here, I just know it, but can't quite place my finger on it!

Martin Daler

October 18, 2012, 2:48 am

I thought icons were supposed to replace words; intuitive enough to comprehend at a glance, international, and language-free. And yet, ever since, icons all have to have words stuck next to them to, er, tell us what the icons stand for - kind of defeats the point?

Jedibeeftrix

October 18, 2012, 3:34 pm

just tell me one thing:

when will MS backport DirectX 11.1 to Windows 7?

that is all i need to know.

TechVegan

October 18, 2012, 5:48 pm

Thanks for the comment Pbryanw, glad you liked the review.

There is a very good chance, as I was planning to do a lot more features and comparisons in the near future, including a little more in-depth number diving :)
Cheers for the feedback!

TechVegan

October 18, 2012, 5:51 pm

Agree completely J4cK1505 - as I mention in the review, Win8's desktop mode should have been more traditional. But at least with a little modding/fiddling/app-ing it comes close...

TechVegan

October 18, 2012, 5:51 pm

No thanks, I prefer hot chocolate ;)

TechVegan

October 18, 2012, 5:53 pm

Apple has patents on all the intuitive icons ;)

TechVegan

October 18, 2012, 10:11 pm

Amen.
I don't think it's going to happen straight away as it's a way to 'sell' Windows 8 to gamers... Down the line? Probably, but maybe Direct3D 12 will be a Windows 8/RT/Server 2012 exclusive.

Gary

October 26, 2012, 1:57 pm

Installing now. I think this is a real game changer. I have been using iPhone and iTunes for about three years now and cant wait to get away from them. Yes the iphone is great but I use a PC for work and home. And now I am not limited to one hardware manufacturer. All I need now is a new touch-screen monitor for my old PC, any recomendations? Under £150 would be good. Set yourself free!

gdawg304

October 27, 2012, 12:30 am

@J4cK1505 - completely agree on all counts and couldn't put it better myself.

Even if it runs faster on the same hardware (and quite frankly, power-saving isn't a concern on my mains-powered desktop, nor is graphics processing, so I'm quite happy to use Aero - the exclusion of which seems to be given as a major plus in reviews), I wouldn't be interested until there's a patch that allows the user to disable the "Modern UI" and just live with a desktop and Start button, Windows 7 style. Like the saying goes: "The customer is always right".

I can see and applaud Microsoft's effort at a convergent OS, and trying to really attempt something new....but I still won't be purchasing! W7 works just fine thanks. Even if I had a touchscreen monitor (no doubt it'd be 16:9 unlike my Dell U2410) I wouldn't be wanting to stop and wipe oily fingerprints off it every 2 minutes! What's fine for a tablet isn't necessarily fine for a desktop PC.

gdawg304

October 27, 2012, 12:45 am

I'll stick with Windows 7...it's free enough for me (and literally free since I don't have to pay anything since I already have it).

It won't stop me from buying an Android phone.

Not sure you'd get a decent IPS monitor for under £150 (and if you don't want an IPS monitor....once you've had one you never go back to crappy old TN!)

pamdo

November 3, 2012, 9:39 pm

I need to be familiar with Windows 8 so I can offer support to my customers who, if they upgrade their hardware, may find themselves with Windows 8 on their new machines. I tried using the release preview on an old desktop with an AMD Radeon graphics card. I eventually got everything else working bar the graphics card. Even the old soundblaster worked using the Windows XP original software (after all else failed!) but without a driver for the graphics card the resolution on the 22" HD monitor is terrible. How do I know if the retail version will have a native HD driver? AMD don't have one available yet. Ubuntu recognises everything (except the scanner) no problem and it's free!

beamerman

December 14, 2012, 8:24 pm

I really want to like Windows 8 but I just can't. The desktop mode works pretty well but the lack of start button and the charms detract from the experience. The Metro interface is a big disappointment. The apps are all painfully slow to load and underpowered. They need to separate out the two faces of windows so you can sit comfortably in one or the other at your choice.

Mat444

January 23, 2013, 8:15 am

i was struggling to identify the new features in windows 8 at once. It was so annoying to use it when you have no idea of new short keys and tricks to make your work easy. but once you know the short keys and other short cuts its has no many drawbacks in the Win 8 OS..
this is useful to get the short keys and some tips to use in windows 8
http://howdoigetanapp.info/

bri

October 7, 2013, 7:16 pm

good article but please check your spelling. i got got confused on the third paragraph

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