Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

Summary:Windows 8 currently boasts the same hardware requirements as Windows 7. Don't believe it. Microsoft has never been accurate with its hardware specifications yet.

I always look forward to a new Microsoft version. It's fun to see what they think the minimum and recommended hardware requirements are for running their operating systems. I've used Microsoft's Windows operating systems for more than twenty years and each one requires a major hardware upgrade over the previous version. And, it's comical to read how the next great Windows version won't require that expensive and inevitable CPU, memory and disk upgrade. But, it does. Not only does it require a significant hardware upgrade, there is also the accompanying fresh installation of the new operating system, applications and data.

There are millions of private and corporate users who haven't made the great leap from Windows XP to Windows 7 yet. There's no easy upgrade path from XP to 7. Microsoft fully expected people to leave XP in favor of Vista and then race to 7 with glazed-over eyes and emptier wallets. But, they didn't. Vista sucked and people didn't want a repeat of Vista in Windows 7. Windows 7 is good. It isn't Windows XP good but it's pretty darn good.

But now that the release of Windows 8 looms over us like tax day, individuals and IT managers have to contemplate the Microsoft hardware tax. How large that tax will be is anyone's guess. Microsoft currently provides the following hardware recommendations for Windows 8:

  • CPU - 1GHz x86/1GHz x86_64.
  • RAM - 1GB/2GB.
  • Graphics - DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.0.
  • Disk - 16GB/20GB.

Of course, if history does indeed repeat itself, then expect to at least double the requirements for CPU and RAM. Disk requirements of 16GB (x86) and 20GB (x86_64) are minimums for operating system installation only.

If you don't believe me about Microsoft's history of grossly underestimating hardware requirements, let's take a trip down memory (no pun intended) lane. For the purposes of this article, I'm only considering workstation versions and comparing CPU, RAM and disk requirements. To be fair, server operating systems require a lot more horsepower because they are multi-user systems and requirements vary so widely that it's not reasonable to use them for this comparison.

OS CPU RAM Disk
NT 3.51 386 or 486/25 12MB 90MB
NT 4.0 Pentium 32MB 110MB
2000 Pentium II 300MHz 64MB 1GB
XP Pentium 300MHz 128MB 1.5GB
Vista 1GHz 1GB 20GB
7 1GHz 1GB x86/2GB x86_64 20GB
8 1GHz 1GB x86/2GB x86_64 20GB
If after seeing this graph, you don't get the feeling that Microsoft pulls its hardware estimates out of thin air, maybe my own personal history with these operating systems will convince you.

When I upgraded from Windows 3.1 to Windows NT 3.51, I upgraded to a 486-DX 66Mhz with 32MB of RAM and it ran very well. NT 3.51's stability and speed were unsurpassed in Microsoft's professional operating systems (NT) for almost the next ten years.

Upgrading from NT 3.51 to 4.0 was a real treat for me. My old machine wouldn't work at all. I had to requisition* a new one from our incoming shipments. A new Pentium-class system with 32MB of RAM. I realized after two or three days that 32MB was just enough to run the OS but not enough for any serious work. I added another 32MB. The system ran fine but blue-screened on a daily basis. I pulled the RAM and inserted a set of four matching SIMMs and never had anymore blue screens.

My wife bought me a new system for my birthday in 2002 with Windows 2000 Professional on it. It came with a Pentium III and 128MB of RAM. I had to upgrade to 256MB right away because it was as slow as sucking cold gravy through a straw. After a few more months, I upgraded the RAM again to 512MB, where it remained until I moved to Windows XP.

Windows XP required a new motherboard, CPU, and an upgrade to 1GB RAM. And, that was just a short two years and two or three big arguments with my wife later about spending a lot more money on computer stuff. I stuffed another gigabyte of RAM into that system for a smooth ride until about two years ago.

I never transitioned to Vista. It has too many problems and is basically garbage. While it was still in beta, I was signing on to become a co-author of an O'Reilly Vista book with a somewhat famous lead author. After working with Vista for a few weeks, I told my agent that I hate Vista and I don't want the book deal. I couldn't write a book about something that I hated so much and because someone might actually purchase that worthless pile of ones and zeros based on the book.

Instead, I waited and I bought myself a new Dual-core AMD Turion X2 RM-70 2GHz laptop with 4GB of RAM for my primary workstation running Windows 7 Ultimate. It runs fine. Although sometimes it gets a little sluggish with a VirtualBox VM and a few other programs running, I'm happy with its performance thus far. It was an inexpensive system that I won't mind replacing at the end of its useful life.

Since I'm a technology writer, I feel that it's necessary to stay fairly current with operating systems. I usually give Microsoft a year or so to work out the bugs and kinks with a service pack or two before taking the plunge/risk on their newest OS. I run new operating systems in VMs. It prevents hours of reimaging and frustration that I just don't have time for these days.

I'm sure I'll take the same 'wait and see' attitude with Windows 8 that I've taken with their other OSes. Fixing an operating system released too soon to the public is not my job. I prefer stability over break/fix.

I'm in no hurry to spend a lot more money on another hardware upgrade to run a few cutesy thingies on the desktop. I'll probably stick with Windows 7 until Microsoft stops supporting it. Either that or I'll run Linux exclusively.

With Linux, I won't have to run out and spend $500 to $800 every two years to replace or to upgrade my existing system. Nor will I have to buy more RAM on the "non-upgrade" years.

For those of you waiting with palpitating hearts in anticipation of Microsoft's latest effort, I say, "Go for it." But, be prepared to replace or to upgrade your current system in that transition. You're gonna need a bigger boat to make it float.

* There's an additional story to accompany this one that will be the subject of another off-topic post. Stay tuned.

Are you going to move to Windows 8 as soon as it's released?

See Also:

Five Core Criticisms of Windows 8

How will Windows 8 tablets fare against Amazon's Kindle Fire?

Windows 8 revealed

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software

About

Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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