Getting started with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Summary:You've got questions about the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. I've got answers. Here's what you need to know before you begin testing.

Microsoft officially unveiled the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 this week. Judging by the response to my poll earlier this year, a lot of the readers of this blog are planning to put this beta release through its paces.

Before you do that, it pays to do some homework. In this post, I’ve assembled answers to some questions you’re likely to have.

As with any beta software release, this OS isn’t for civilians. Microsoft’s own FAQ includes this warning:

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is stable and has been thoroughly tested, but it’s not the finished product. Your PC could crash and you could lose important files. You should back up your data and you shouldn't test Windows 8 Consumer Preview on your primary home or business PC.

That’s important advice. By all means, the first thing you should do before even thinking about tinkering with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview is a full backup of your test machine. If it’s running Windows 7, you can do that easily by going to the Backup and Restore option in Control Panel and creating a system image on an external hard drive.

Let me say that again: Back up first.

Seriously. It takes minutes to snap a system image, and having that image and a system repair disc makes it quick and easy to get back to your previous working configuration if you find that Windows 8 doesn't work well on your hardware (or if you just don't like it).

See also

With that crucial business out of the way, it’s on to the FAQ…

Will my hardware run the Windows 8 Consumer Preview?

If it runs Windows 7, the answer is yes. The official requirements are in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview: Frequently Asked Questions.

The biggest gotcha to watch out for is system resolution. If you’re installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview on an older portable PC, especially a netbook, or in a virtual machine, make sure your screen resolution is up to the challenge. These are the key numbers to watch out for:

  • Minimum resolution: 1024 x 768 Although you can install the Consumer Preview on a system with a lower resolution, it will not run Metro style apps.
  • Minimum resolution for full Metro support: 1366 x 768 If either dimension is lower than this minimum, you will be able to run one Metro app at a time, but the Snap feature, which allows you to pin a Metro style app to the side of the screen, won’t work.

For additional information about setup, these two official sources are useful:

Can I upgrade my current installation of Windows 7 or Windows XP?

XP, no. Windows 7, yes.

The first step in setup is a compatibility test, which will alert you to any issues.

Make sure all hardware drivers are up to date before you begin the installation. If you are running Microsoft Security Essentials, you will need to uninstall it before proceeding with setup. If any of the compatibility steps require a restart, the setup program will resume after you reboot.

To upgrade, you must start setup from your current version of Windows. You'll be offered the option to migrate programs and files, files only, or do a clean install (with your existing Windows installation going to the Windows.old folder).

You also have the option to dual boot, either from a separate partition or from a virtual hard drive (VHD). I'll have more on those options in follow-up posts.

Which languages are supported?

Windows 8 Consumer Preview is available in English, Chinese (Simplified), French, German, and Japanese. Setup program will automatically detect your current language selection and install the matching version if you are using one of the five supported languages. If your current installation uses an unsupported language, you’ll need to choose the language you want to download. Note: If you do an upgrade install using a language that's different from the one currently on your PC, you won't be able to keep programs or settings.

Where do I download the software?

The simplest way to set up Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a single machine is to use the Web installer, which you’ll find here:

Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview

It’s a small stub that downloads the correct version (32-bit or 64-bit) and language for your system.

If you plan to test the Consumer Preview on multiple systems, grab the ISO file here:

Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO images

ISO images are available in English, Chinese (Simplified), French, German, and Japanese, with 32-bit and 64-bit editions available.

How do I turn the downloaded ISO file into bootable media?

You can burn the ISO disk image to DVD using any burning software, including the Disk Image utility in Windows 7.

To copy the ISO file to a USB flash drive and make it bootable, use Microsoft’s Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. You'll find full instructions, with download links and screenshots, here.

You can run setup directly from that drive or DVD, either from within Windows or by restarting your PC and booting from the external media.

You will need a product key to complete installation. On the next page, I explain how to get that key. I also answer the most common question of all: is it possible to replace the new Start screen with the Windows 7-style Start menu?

Page 2: Can I change the Start screen? -->


Topics: Enterprise Software, Microsoft, Windows


Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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