First Experiences With Windows 8
This is a departure from many of the other Keyhole blogs, in that it deals with system software and hardware. However, make sure to keep reading.
I have built hundreds of PCs over the years. Anybody else remember receiving a RAM upgrade with lots of chips stuck to a foam pad, straightening the pins so they would fit into the sockets, and making sure that anti-static wrist strap was connected? I have also installed a variety of operating systems, from DOS to OS/2 and Linux to most versions of Windows, on a myriad of hardware.
So, I feel that I can add to the discussion around the installation of Windows 8 and, maybe, save others potential time and frustration. There are many blogs out there talking about Windows 8, so I’ll try not to duplicate what others have said too much.
I’ll go through this in step-by-step fashion, focusing on the “gotchas.”
First things first: does your PC support installing Windows 8? Windows 8 will not install on some PCs that even Windows 7 would install on. This is because it requires certain hardware features to be present.
I have an Athlon Thunderbird 1.1Ghz that the kids play some older games on. It has an AGP ATI Radeon 3650 graphics card, which was released in the last few years, that I bought to comply with Windows 7. Windows 7 had no trouble installing or running on this PC. However, Windows 8 refused to install because the old Athlon does not have the NX (no-execute) bit and it also does not support SSE2. If you have an Opteron or Athlon 64 (or later) you’ll be fine. For reference, see the Microsoft listed hardware requirements, definitions of NX and SSE, and the AMD processor list.
For Intel processors, the NX bit and SSE2 first appeared in the Pentium 4 (according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NX_bit and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SSE2), so it or any later Intel CPU is fine for Windows 8. If you have a very old (before 2002) PC like mine, Windows 7 was the last Microsoft OS that would work with it.
Migration From Previous Versions
If you have Windows XP or Vista, keep in mind that although Windows 8 will install, it will not migrate your apps and data.
Instead, you’ll find a Windows.old directory where your previous Windows install was saved. For Windows 7, your apps, data, and settings will migrate fairly cleanly. The main issues that I saw with migrating from Windows 7 were that not every app is automatically migrated to the new Start menu, and some types of shortcuts seem to have been disabled from attaching to the Start menu or the task bar.
The install process itself is smooth as butter – we’ll get to configuration later on.
On my desktop that I built in January 2008 to run Vista Ultimate, the upgrade detected everything and installed perfectly.
For my Parallels 8 on my Macbook Pro, I only had the Windows 8 preview. So I bought a full copy of Windows 8 and re-installed from scratch. If you are upgrading a current installation make sure you download the latest version from Parallels. I had originally wanted to use Bootcamp, but the Mac complained that it couldn’t create the partition I wanted without completely re-installing Mac OSX first. So, I forgot about that and just installed in Parallels. The install into the virtual machine was perfect.
For my son’s Windows 7 laptop, I went to Microsoft’s website and installed from it directly. Maybe it was because I did this on Day #1 that it took over three hours to download. (I have a 30Mb Internet connection, so I don’t think that was the reason for the length.) But, if you go this route, make sure to allow time for the download. This laptop’s install was smooth, except his graphics driver (I’ll get to that later), and all of his apps, data, and settings migrated from Windows 7.
Okay, Windows 8 is on the machines, but how useful is it? The first thing to do is connect to Windows Update and get the latest patches & drivers. Once that was done I had mixed results.
On the desktop machine, all of the drivers for my nVidia graphics card and other devices were up-to-date and worked great with everything I tried. I re-installed Office 2003 Basic and added Microsoft Update back so that all current Office updates would continue to be applied.
On the Parallels 8 virtual machine, after Windows Update and installing Office 2007 Basic and turning on Microsoft Update, again everything worked great. Hardware acceleration appears to be much better with Parallels 8 combined with Windows 8 than it was with my old Windows XP virtual machine.
On my son’s laptop, everything initially looked great until he tried to play a game that required OpenGL. Here’s a gotcha: Intel’s first generation Core-I3/I5/I7 that have integrated graphics – released as late as early 2010 – have been labeled as “legacy” by Intel. What this means is they are not updating the drivers for those graphics to support OpenGL for Windows 8.
If you, like my son, want to play Minecraft, Angry Birds, or many other games that require OpenGL, you’ll need to follow (or get a geek to do it for you) the instructions found here to use Windows 7 drivers for your computer. Once this was done, my son claimed that Windows 8 runs his games better than Windows 7 ever did. I think it may be because we found more recent Windows 7 drivers than he was previously using, but it is hard to tell.
Free Windows Media Center
Windows 8 by itself does not support playing DVDs. However, for early adopters of Windows 8, Microsoft is giving away Windows Media Center for free here. It all sounds so simple – go to the site, enter your email address and the captcha code shown on the screen, your product key is sent to Microsoft, and Microsoft will email you back a product key for Windows Media center with instructions on how to install it. Easy, right?
What could go wrong? Well, this is a Microsoft *fail* in my opinion. If you only have one computer, then it is just as simple as it sounds. I received the product key and installed Windows Media Center on my son’s laptop, and all went smoothly. I also sent the product keys for my desktop and Parallels 8 installs. The issue is that if you use the same email address for multiple Windows 8 licenses, Microsoft emails you back the same WMC key every time. I ended up trying to use the same WMC key for my Parallels 8 virtual machine as my son’s laptop, and sure enough Microsoft complained that the same key was in use at multiple places. Well duh! So, I registered my Parallels 8 using a different email address, and received a unique key for WMC.
Now that Windows 8 is up and running, how do you use it? There are several blogs committed to helping you out around the web, so here are some of them:
- Search Google or Bing and you’ll find a lot more.
I like Windows 8. I may be in the minority, but it feels more responsive on all of the environments I have tried it with. However, I probably won’t be upgrading my parents’ computer anytime soon simply because of the learning curve.
My son initially said “you aren’t putting that on my laptop, I have heard it’s awful!” However, after he used it on my desktop for 30 minutes he said, “…okay, so when are you going to upgrade my laptop?”
Don’t believe everything you hear – try it for yourself and decide.
– John Boardman, firstname.lastname@example.org