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
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 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.
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.
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.