Does Windows 8 belong on older PCs?

Summary:Jason Perlow says Microsoft's latest OS will turn your old PC into Greased Lightning. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols thinks old PCs need Windows 8 like a hole in the head.

Jason Perlow

Jason Perlow




Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: Yes (74%)

The moderator has delivered a final verdict.

Opening Statements

Installing Windows 8 on older PCs is a no-brainer...

Jason Perlow: ...if your hardware isn't ancient and you actually have a brain.

My opponent, Master Jedi of the Linux greybeards order, has proposed that older PC hardware needs Windows 8 like a "fish needs a bicycle". His comparison is as ludicrous as if he were to propose that his beloved Shi-Tsu is even anywhere near as intelligent as either of my miniature poodles. Which it isn't.

Look, if your PC is ten years old, guess what: It's time to buy a new PC. Even the most inexpensive, bargain basement $399-$499 COSTCO or Wal-Mart laptop or desktop Chinese special running Windows 8 is going to give you a better and certainly more secure experience than what you're (probably) currently using, no disrespect to SJVN's beloved obscure Linux distribution running on his TRS-80 or Atari 800 intended.

But for those of you who have systems that are in the range of four or five years old, installing the Windows 8 upgrade is probably a no-brainer, and your system will run faster and more reliably and more secure than it did before.

Windows 8 on old PCs: The Star Wars Stormtrooper of operating systems

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: I forgive my one time padawan, Jason Perlow, for being deceived by the dark side and believing that Windows 8 is great on old PCs , when actually Windows 8 stinks on old PCs .

True, Windows 8 works as well on old PCs as it will on new PCs. That is to say, Windows 8 will be a misfire like a drunk Star Wars stormtrooper there as well.

It's not that I'm hate Windows and prefer Linux. I actually like both Windows XP SP3 and Windows 7 SP1. I just prefer Linux, particularly Linux Mint, to either one.

Windows 8 is another story. I find its Metro, excuse me Modern, interface is ugly as sin and a pain to use. Sure, Windows 8 is faster than 7 on a test-bench, but do you want to learn a new, pain-in-the-rump interface that eats all your screen space? I don't think so.

If you want something that will bring new life to your old PC, and you already know how to use, check out Google's Chrome OS. If you feel more adventuresome, try Ubuntu or Mint.

Just don't waste your time, energy, or money on Windows 8. The lure of the dark side will only bring you tears in the end. Repent Perlow! If Darth Vader can, you can too!

The Rebuttal

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Welcome, debaters and readers...

    Update: Jason and Steven have delivered their closing arguments.

    Jason and Steven have delivered their opening arguments. The live rebuttal stage of our event starts at 11am ET / 8am PT today. Are you ready, gentlemen?

    Posted by Jason Hiner


    ... to dominate

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Perlow, all the preparation in the world...

    ... won't help you today

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    The real value?

    OK, gentlemen: When we look at Windows 8, what's the real value that Microsoft is pitching? How would you boil it down in your own words?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    A substantial refresh

    While my former mentor and I are prepared to destroy each other in mortal combat in this debate (one which he will indeed lose due to my superior knowledge of the Dark Side and sharper wits) I think that both Obi-Wan Vaughn-Nichols and I probably agree it's very difficult to encapsulate everything Microsoft is trying to accomplish in this release in just a few words.

    Even the industry folks who have very close ears to the top echelons of the company only have a reasonable idea of what all of Windows 8 means for Redmond. But I will give it my best shot.

    From the perspective of the regular and corporate end-user I believe that Windows 8 represents a substantial refresh and performance fine-tuning of the traditional core Windows operating system components which include a the kernel, device drivers, networking services, the Win32 desktop and Internet Explorer.

    This is combined with a number of value added services which include built-in anti-malware in the form of the new Windows Defender (antivirus/antispyware) as well as cloud integration (single sign-on via Windows Live account, Skydrive, etc.) and built-in virtualization for Windows 8 Professional users (Hyper-V) just to name a few.

    It is on these improvements alone that I feel that Windows 8 is actually worth the $40 upgrade cost that existing genuinely licensed XP, Vista and Windows 7 users will incur if they decide to make the switch.

    At the same time, while Windows 8 provides many of the same types of improvements that the Windows 7 upgrade had over Windows Vista and Windows XP, Microsoft is also introducing a new paradigm in the form of applications which use the new WinRT API -- what we've all been calling "Metro" until recently.

    The introduction of the new WinRT-based Start Menu and "Metro-style apps" is critical for Microsoft because Win32 is now 20 years old and is getting long in the tooth.

    So Windows 8 represents both a technology refresh/update for the end-user as well as providing a bridge to the OS's future, particularly as it applies to systems such as ARM-based tablets which will rely on it as the primary UI and programmatic interface.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Hard to explain

    Darth Perlow and I agree, it is hard to explain what Microsoft is trying to do with Windows 8. In part's that because Microsoft hasn't done a good of explaining Windows 8's value proposition to end-users.

    What I think they're trying to do is to, of course, convince users that Windows 8 really is not just different but better than what's come before. True, there are improvements under the hood—the faster boot time, better hardware graphics acceleration, and Hyper-V support—but I'd rather have seen those rolled out in Windows 7 SP2.

    Seriously are these “improvements” enough to justify a new operating system? I don't think so. Darth Perlow’s breathing apparatus must be choking in his oxygen intake.

    Of course there's also the WinRT API (application programming interface) and desktop interface, better known to us as Metro. I consider that to be just an absolute usability mess. And, before you say “That's just a Linux guy mouthing off.,” I think the Linux desktop, especially GNOME, has also gone badly off track. Is there something in the water that's making all user-interface experts go completely off-kilter?

    Microsoft also clearly wants us to believe that there should be one interface to rule them all, one interface to find them, one interface to bring them all and in the darkness bind them... sorry wrong movie!

    Seriously Microsoft believes one interface for tablets, smartphones, and PCs will be a wonderful thing. I don't think so. They're different devices for different purposes. Sure, you can use one for the other in a pinch, but it's never ideal.

    Metro looks like it might work well on hand-held devices. I know however that it doesn't work well on desktops.

    The point of all of that is, of course, to get you to buy into a Microsoft ecosystem for all your computing devices. I can't see it working. Windows owns the desktop, but I don't see them moving anywhere on the tablet or phone markets.

    Microsoft is also trying to find new revenue streams with Windows 8. For example, did you know that Microsoft is trying to talk companies into building ads that will appear directly on your Metro desktop. Well, they are.

    Yeah, I've always wanted pop-up desktop ads. You?

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Upgrade for technophiles only?

    Can we agree that most normal people are only going to see Windows 8 when they buy new computers, and that the whole upgrade scenario really only matters to technophiles ... like the people who read this site?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    No, foolish one. I'm not going to agree with that.

    I think that a substantial amount of end-users are going to find value in terms of improving system performance, improving system security, and having access to the latest software technology for a mere $40.

    For end-users who buy PCs in the current timeframe, it will cost even less.

    The bottom line is that Microsoft is going to provide an Upgrade Advisor utility that anyone can download and will inform the end-user if their system is a good candidate for the upgrade.

    That's the end of the argument from a "Should I upgrade and will it work with my hardware" perspective as far as I am concerned.

    While I personally recommend that the upgrade not be done on anything older than say, a 2008-era system with 4GB of memory in order to see the best results, it's possible that some systems that are substantially older may benefit.

    I myself installed it on a 2006-era Opteron system (which had a BIOS update in 2009) and it works fine. I've never seen Windows run faster, as a matter of fact.

    Other end-users with older systems might see similar results, but their mileage may vary.

    If your system is so old (Read as: Pentium 4 and AMD64 released earlier than 2004) that it has a CPU which does not support the NX processor bit, Physical Address Extension (PAE) and Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 (SSE2) then you can consider that a hard stop for Windows 8. You need a new computer, really.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Most people aren't going to the trouble

    I change operating systems almost as often as I change my socks. I'm not your normal user. Sure, other computer Force users like ZDNet readers will give it a try. Most users though? Nah.

    Think about it. It wasn't that long ago that more than 10% of Internet users were still using IE6—the browser from heck!

    After all this is one of the big reasons why Linux has only held a small percentage of the desktop market: More often than not you have to install it yourself. Most people aren't going to that trouble no matter how better an operating system is.

    The Dark Lord from Tattooine (or should we say South Florida?) has been out in the sun baking his brain too much, methinks.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    What's Microsoft's track record with upgrades?

    Have any of them ever improved speed, performance, and overall user experience on the same hardware?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    No way this is going to be another Vista

    I think most PC experts would definitively agree that Windows 7 was a significant improvement over Vista.

    Vista was a perfect storm for a disaster in many respects because a lot of hardware changes occurred in the industry when it came out, Microsoft had a lot of problems getting it out the door do to disruptive re-orgs that went on during the development process, and most end-users and even the OEMs were completely unprepared for it.

    If we want to go back 12 years from the Windows 95/98/ME transition to XP, that was problematic because we're talking about a major core OS infrastructure change for the consumer.

    Windows 2000-compatible systems in the enterprise which switched over to XP did fine, because they were already using NT-compatible hardware. So the XP transition is a mixed bag from a historical perspective.

    That being said, the preponderance of PC hardware that has been in general circulation since 2007 or so is very well equipped to handle Windows 8.

    This is because there's been a lot of consolidation in terms of components used since Vista and Windows 7's release, and Microsoft has had that much time to integrate all the necessary 3rd-party drivers into the core stack.

    So there's no way in hell this is going to be another Vista strictly from a hardware compatibility perspective.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Real improvements are much too small

    Sure, Windows 7 was much better than Vista; XP SP3 was a real improvement over what had come before, and, going way back, Windows NT 4 was a vast improvement over Windows 3.51 and I knew many people who used it for their desktop over its contemporary, Windows 95.

    Windows 8 though? Its real improvements are much too small to make up for the pain that shifting gears to the Metro interface is going to cause most people.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    In-place upgrade or fresh install?

    How about the age old question for techies ... should you do an in-place upgrade or blow away the OS and do a fresh install?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The safe thing to do

    I personally did fresh installs on all the systems I have tested so far, and I re-installed my apps. But that's how I always do things and by no means should be considered an optimal practice for everyone.

    That being said, I think the safe thing to do if you want to attempt to preserve your legacy applications installed on your system is to invest in image-based backup software, and get a new hard drive to clone your existing Windows 7 or Vista/XP system to before attempting an in-place.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Burn it to the ground and rebuild is my motto.

    Fire the torpedoes down the exhaust shaft and blow up the Death Star. That's not just for Windows, that's for every operating system. There's also some blasted program, driver, or setting that blows up on the new operating system.

    If you're going to try Windows 8's in place upgrade, image your system first, back it up to another drive, check to make sure the backup good—this is a point that people often blow—and then give it a try.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does Windows 8 change anything major...

    ...from an upgrade/installation standpoint, or is this just another upgrade in a long line of Windows upgrades?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Just another upgrade

    From my perspective, even with the new WinRT stuff in the Start Menu, it's just another upgrade, and one of the most painless ones I've encountered to date.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    This is an odd “upgrade”

    I really see this, like Vista before it, being a real step back in practical user functionality. As far as the actual process goes, it's not been a big deal. It takes a lot longer than installing a new Linux to the same hardware, but, once you have a verified back-up in place, it's no big deal.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Why would the average business user want to upgrade...?

    ... a Windows XP or Windows 7 machine to Windows 8 and go through the pain and inconvenience of that process? What's the value they get on the other side?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    The value add is substantial

    For the most part I think Windows 8 is a consumer oriented release. An enterprise with substantial Windows 7 infrastructure is probably not going to see a ton of value with Windows 8 because they already have things like corporate antivirus-antimalware software installed on their systems and they have long, agonizingly drawn out SDLCs to deal with.

    Still, there may be small and medium-sized businesses that see significant value with the built-in stuff that is being offered with the product that they would have otherwise had to spend money on.

    That being said, if you want to take look at what Windows 8's enterprise sibling -- Windows Server 2012, we're talking a whole different ballgame here.

    Any CIO that passes over this server release is doing his enterprise a huge disservice because the value add is substantial, particularly in the areas of virtualization, networking, storage and multi-tenancy systems management.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Not much value

    I really don't think any user, business or consumer, getting a lot out of upgrading to Windows 8. Whatever small performance gains you'll see will be more than off-set by the poorer user-experience and the time and energy needed to learn a new user-interface.

    My question to you is this: “Can you name one feature that makes Windows 8 a compelling upgrade over Windows 7 SP1 or XP XP 3?” I honestly can't think of any. My former Padawan learner needs to get his helmet examined if he really thinks this is a “Value add.”

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does Metro help or hurt?

    Let's talk about Windows 8's Metro UI (or whatever they are calling it now). Does it help the overall user experience and performance, or hurt it?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Sure, adaptation required

    There is no question that a certain amount of end-user adaptation is required. The tough cases which have always had trouble adapting to Windows releases may see it as extremely disruptive. My opponent will disagree, but most PC-savvy end-users should adapt easily.

    So far, I've installed Windows 8 on four systems in my household, one of them being my wife's circa-2008 Dell Studio Intel Core Duo laptop. After I gave her a brief introduction on how to switch back and forth between the traditional desktop and showing her how to use full-screen WinRT apps, she's doing just fine.

    I do think Microsoft's post-installation "Let's get started" introductory video is a bit minimalist and better training tools may be required. I see a lot of relatives and friends calling their PC-savvy geek-in-laws the first week they use their newly upgraded or newly purchased Windows 8 systems. That much is for certain.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Metro is just painful on every desktop I've tried it on

    It's a completely different user experience that doesn't offer any user improvements. I mean come on, would it been so hard to give us a blasted Start button?? I find it more than a little telling that Stardock, a long-time Windows developer, is already offering a beta for Start8, a program that just adds the Start button and some other basic old-style Windows functionality to Metro's fundamentally flawed desktop metaphor.

    And, what is this whole having to switch back between Metro and a more traditional desktop nonsense? Or, to pick more specific examples, why does the Windows 8 Switcher display each Metro app in its own thumbnail but sticks all the desktop apps into a single desktop thumbnail? Why do I have to waste time hovering on a corner to bring up a key menu? Argh!

    I'm not being grumpy because I am used to the old ways, and more elegant operating system for a more civilized age. I pick up operating systems quickly. But, if I am being asked to learn something new I want there to be a payoff. I want there to be a better user experience. There isn't one in Windows 8.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    Does hardware really matter that much anymore?

    Has Moore's Law outstripped the need of the average user to the point that putting Windows 8 on hardware that is a year or two old won't make any difference to most business users?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    A very real performance increase

    As I said earlier, I feel that enough improvements have been incorporated into the new OS that there is a very real performance increase on hardware that has been released in the last four years, and that also includes very recently purchased PCs. Bootup time is substantially better and the kernel has been better optimized for use with SSDs, for example.

    To me those improvements are definitely quantitative.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Hardware always matters.

    I have more processing power and storage in my office than NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center did when I worked there in the 80s. It's not enough. I'm always looking for faster systems and I think most ZDNet readers are too. Windows 8, though, isn't an effective way of gaining a faster, more efficient experience.

    You really want to get more of your existing hardware with a new operating system? Then try Ubuntu or Mint. You'll find that they run faster than Windows and that their user interfaces, Unity and Cinnamon respectively, are actually easier to pick-up than Windows 8's two-headed desktop.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    How could Windows 8 actually improve the user experience...

    ...for people who are running it on older hardware?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    Six years of cumulative patches

    With Windows 8, we're talking anywhere close to four to six years of cumulative patches, fixes and core OS improvements depending on the target hardware it's being installed on. Much of those improvements are in the kernel and associated core subsystems where memory management, networking and I/O is being touched.

    While my weak Open Soresophile opponent is likely to argue otherwise, this is no different from the types of improvements one might observe when installing a Linux 3.x-based distribution that is current on 4-year-old and and 6-year old hardware versus a much older version of that same Linux distribution.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    I really don't see a win here.

    Lord Perlow talks about refreshed Kernels, Device Drivers, Memory Management and I/O subsystems like they are powerful dark forces cast from some evil Sith lab in Redmond. The reality is that your average end-user isn’t going to see a huge functionality or UI improvement.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    OK, last question:

    For people who are currently running Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 machines and are wondering what they should do when Windows 8 comes out, what do you recommend?

    Posted by Jason Hiner

    First, run the Upgrade Advisor tool

    Firstly, before investing any time and energy on attempting an upgrade, when Windows 8 is released in October, run the Upgrade Advisor tool which will be provided by Microsoft on its web site.

    If your hardware and your application software is deemed compatible, you can do one of two things -- you can install Windows 8 on your system as-is (taking my previous statements about Fresh vs. Upgrade installs into account) or you might want to consider upgrading your RAM to 4GB or higher if you only have 2GB.

    A memory upgrade is a relatively inexpensive thing you can do to improve performance on ANY PC, regardless of the OS you install on it.

    If you don't know what kind of memory to use in your PC, you can go to any number of sites such as, or which will allow you to choose your make and model of PC, and they will give a list of what sort of DDR memory you need to buy, and ship it to you direct.

    Swapping out your old memory for new chips is a very simple process, it's not rocket surgery.

    You might also want to consider purchasing an SSD drive as your primary boot device, but that's totally optional.

    Jason Perlow

    I am for Yes

    Stick with what you've got

    If you're running Windows XP or Windows 7, stick with what you've got. If you want to move up from XP, I'd buy a new Windows 7 system rather than try to upgrade what you already have. You have until 2014 before Microsoft stops supporting XP... and it won't surprise me if they extend its support life-cycle. If you're running on Vista, come on! Windows 7 is Vista without the problems.

    That is a no-brainer upgrade, not Windows 8.

    What? You were expecting for me to say … There is another… Operating System? That they should move to Linux? Sigh.

    People often get me wrong. I am not in favor of Linux, I'm in favor of what works well. Yes, Linux has a lot of virtues—better security, faster on older hardware, etc., etc.--but if Windows works for you—and you do all the right things with anti-virus software and security patches—then stick with it. Just don't move to the Dark Side with Windows 8.

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

    I am for No

  • Great Debate Moderator

    That's a wrap!

    Steven and Jason will deliver their closing arguments tomorrow (Wednesday) at 2pm ET; and I will deliver my final verdict on Thursday at 2pm ET.

    Posted by Jason Hiner

Closing Statements

It's simply worth the change

Jason Perlow

Darth Perlow: I've been waiting for you, Obi-Vaughan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now *I* am the master.

My opponent is unable to make a convincing argument from a purely technical perspective that installing Windows 8 on older PCs which can already accommodate Windows 7 is a net negative. And at the end of the day, that is the crux of what we are debating here.

His powers are weak.

Obi-Wan Vaughn-Nichols was once my teacher, but now I am the master. Indeed, by using the Source, Linux can bring life back to even the oldest systems, even ones which cannot run Windows 8, Windows 7 or even that pile of Bantha droppings, Windows Vista.

But Linux will not run your legacy software, and it requires a transition to a completely new environment with all new Open Source apps. Only a Gungan fool like Jar-Jar would move to Linux thinking their critical application software would still work. A FOOL!

Indeed, the new Metro UI and Star Menu in Windows 8 is also different, and will require adaptation as well as developers to create new WinRT-based programs to take advantage of it.

But it is worth adapting to the change because Windows 8 will improve the performance of your old PC, it will still run your existing applications, and also provides you with many new features that will invigorate your system with the power of The Dark Side.

Darth Perlow: Your Linux powers are weak, old man.

No real reason to bother

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Obi-Vaughan: Only a master of Windows, Perlow!

[lightsabers clash]

Seriously, I can't see any but the most hard-core and techie Windows fans moving their current PCs to Windows 8. There's just no real reason to bother.

Don't believe me? Since I started this debate, I've seen another program, Classic Shell that lets you restore real Windows functionality to Windows 8, and, far more telling, Samsung is bring the Start button back to Windows 8 . Come on, Windows 8 isn't even shipping yet and already people are ignoring what Microsoft wants you to do with it in favor of making it more like Windows 7?

I said it before, I'll say it again. Metro should have gone to phones and tablets, and all the real improvements in Windows 8 should have gone into Windows 7 SP2.

Obi-Vaughan: You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

[Cue theme, start closing roll, Coming Next Summer: The Mac Strikes Back!]

It's tough to recommend upgrading

Jason Hiner

This was a fun debate. In fact, these guys almost had a little too much fun with the whole Star Wars theme. But you've got to love their enthusiasm. In terms of who won the debate, that's tough because both of them brought up some important stuff but neither of them totally convinced me that they have the right perspective on all of this. As Perlow pointed out, Windows 8 has some key underlying improvements in security and performance that will make it a safer and more efficient experience. But, Steven is right that the new interface is going to confuse a lot more people than it is going to help.

If this were just about Window 8 then I would say it's going to do well out of the gate based on all of the interest it has already generated and the fact that it is so new and different that it will convince a lot of people to give it a try. However, this debate is specifically about whether users should upgrade their old PCs to Windows 8. Because Windows does not have a very good track record on operating system upgrades when it comes to stability and performance and the fact that Windows 8 is adding such a radical new user interface to the desktop, it's difficult to recommend that any but the most curious technophiles should upgrade their old machines to Windows 8. Instead, try it out on your next laptop, especially if it's a touch-screen hybrid. So, Steven gets the win.

Topics: Great Debate


Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.