Preparing your PC for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Preparing your PC for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Summary: Tips for pain-free Windows 8 Consumer Preview testing.


It now seems likely that the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 will make an appearance on February 29. The company is holding an event at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona on that same date, and Microsoft said that the Consumer Preview (aka Beta) would be out by the end of the month.

So, with that in mind it's time to start thinking about getting a system ready to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on to.

Let's take a look at your options.

Image credit: Microsoft

Installation onto a physical machine

Let's kick off with the route that most people want to take - installing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview onto a physical system.

This route can be dead easy or impossibly hard depending on your hardware. If you have a PC that's happy running Windows 7 (or Windows Vista) then the system's hardware should be up top the job of running Windows 8. If you're system is running Windows XP then things could be trickier and you could run into problems.

At minimum you'll need:

  • 1GHz processor
  • 1GB RAM for 32-bit OS, 2GB RAM for 64-bit OS
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • 16 GB HDD free space for 32-bit, 20GB HDD free space for 64-bit

Also, a few points about installing Windows 8:

  • Don't go installing the Windows 8 Consumer Preview onto a mission-critical system (or at least if you do that, don't come crying to me if something breaks!).
  • Your primary test platform should be a desktop, because these systems are likely to have the most generic of drivers. While you might be able to get Windows 8 loaded onto a notebook, netbook, ultrabook, tablet or whatever, problem getting a single driver installed could sink your plans to test Windows 8.
  • The Windows 8 Developer Preview seemed to work the hard drive much harder than I'd seen previous operating systems do, so I'd recommend that you have a reasonably fast SATA drive installed. Older IDE hard drives will work, but system performance might take a hit (assuming that the Consumer Preview works the system just as hard).
  • I would recommend that you don't try installing the Consumer Preview over the top of a Windows 7 installation. It might be supported, but at this stage it could give you more troubles that it's worth and leave you with an unworkable system and a lot recovery road ahead of you.
  • The easiest way to install Windows 8 onto a new PC is to swap out your primary drive (the one that Windows is currently installed on) and replace it with a blank one. This leaves your existing system untouched.
  • Alternatively, back up your current system and then to a 'wipe and install'.
  • Remember that Windows 8 is a touch-based operating system, and you're not going to get the best out of it on a system kitted out with just a keyboard and mouse. To get the full effect you might want to consider fitting a multi-touch enabled LCD monitor to your system, something like the 21.5-inch Planar PX2230MW which you can pick up for $260.
  • Expect stuff to go wrong - it might not say 'beta' on the tin, but trust me, this is a beta.

Virtualizing Windows 8

While there's nothing like installing a new operating system onto bare-metal hardware, sometimes it's easier and less stressful to virtualize the operating system. I've done this a lot with the Windows 8 Developer Preview and will undoubtedly do it a lot with the Consumer Preview.

I managed to get the Windows 8 Developer Preview to work with the following virtualization platforms:

While I've not had time to test them yet, I'm confident that these tools should work fine for the Consumer Preview when it's released.

Installing a beta into a virtualized PC is a great way to safely test a new OS without putting a complete system at risk of being hosed.

Whichever option you choose, happy testing!

Topics: Windows, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software

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


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Multi-boot

    I have 3 disk partitions at present: main Windows 7; test Windows 7 ... and Windows 8 Developer Preview.
    I'll just install the Consumer Preview OVER the Developer.
    Changes the boot menu slightly ... but worked fine.

    That is unless M$ have done something naughty with the boot process ;-)
  • I think you've got it backwards.

    I'd recommend virtualization over bare metal install.
    • I disagree (for a change ;))

      You're not going to get the smooth, crisp animation and graphical effects if you're running Win8 in a virtualized environment because, no matter how good your virtualization platform of choice (VMWare, Parallels, Hyper-V, etc.), their graphics performance just isn't going to deliver the level of quality you get on bare metal.
      • Virtualized

        Suggest you try a bare-metal hypervisor such as XENClient.. you may change your mind then.
      • I have to disagree.

        Virtualization won't provide the absolute best performance compared to bare metal but it will provide sufficient performance necessary to evaluate the software.

        Given the purpose is to test the software it I think virtualization makes more sense than bare metal. Absolute best performance isn't why I'd be running Windows 8.
      • VM Good for servier side apps. Worthless on Client side

        Something is sure you wont be able to test the real user experience on VM.
        Beside that no matter what people say about any VM, they crash often, drain you resources and slow down you computer.
      • How so?

        @SylvainT: [i]Something is sure you wont be able to test the real user experience on VM.[/i]

        Can you expand upon this? I'm sure there are a few things (such as hardware support) but for the vast majority of users a VM shouldn't interfere with their evaluation. But I may be missing something.

        [i]Beside that no matter what people say about any VM, they crash often, drain you resources and slow down you computer.[/i]

        This has not been my experience at all. While I'm sure performance is not at the peak which could be achieved with bare metal installs I haven't had any problems with performance. Stability has been equally as good. I can't recall a single crash of a VM.

        IMO virtualization is a great way to evaluate software. No need to reconfigure an entire system. A few clicks as you're done.
    • I disagree too.

      For those looking for a more thorough test and trial of the beta, virtualization is the last thing anyone should do.

      If all you want to do is quickly browse through it, then that is the direction you want. But otherwise, either throw it onto an extra machine or use the VHD option Bit Crazed listed above.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Can you expand upon this?

        Aside from performance testing, which I wouldn't do with pre-release software, what can you do on bare metal that you cannot do in virtualization?
    • At this point I'd have to agree

      my main interest is development, not torching my computer. While there's a penalty for it, I've found most of the virtualization apps (even Virtual PC) can deliver a fairly solid performance. Good enough, anyway.
  • What I am going to do...

    What I am going to do is wipe Developer Preview off the current hard drive and install the Consumer Preview. Its going to be on a Dell Inspiron 1501, so it does not have touch. I am sure that it would work best with a touch screen but my main concern is its usability with a normal keyboard and mouse. Touch is nice for phones and tablets but I cannot see how I personally would use it on a desktop computer efficiently.
  • Challenge!

    I again, would like to challenge "Remember that Windows 8 is a touch-based operating system, and youre not going to get the best out of it on a system kitted out with just a keyboard and mouse."

    It has been said over and over, that Metro is more than a touch UI. It plays well with the keyboard and mouse, accepting a wide range of mouse movements, wheel scrolling, and keyboard shortcuts.

    People need to get over this "touch only" crap. Don't let the wholly incomplete *Developers* Preview cloud your judgements.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Metro UI is Touch First

      You're right in saying that Metro is touch only, but MS has been marketing it as "touch first", meaning that touch is a first-class citizen on Windows 8. You can use the keyboard & mouse but it won't be elegant as using the touch UI.
      • Did they say mouse and keyboard had become 2nd class?

        Making touch 1st class does not mean everything else goes down a notch.
        Multiple 1st class methods ARE allowed.
    • Remote control?

      I plan to swap out my hard drive and load this on my media centre PC. I'm hoping that I'll easily be able to use my media centre remote to browse around the tiles. I'm glad the new UI is designed with such large tiles/fonts. It should be perfect on a 55" screen with me 15' away.
      • Use a little caution!

        I'm a Media Center addict too but am still awaiting some information on the Win8 plans for Media Center.

        The Win8 developer preview doesn't include ANY Media Center whatsoever and the Windows team have yet to discuss whether Media Center will be included in Win8, whether it'll ship as an optional download, what features it'll support, etc.

        I would be VERY surprised if Microsoft haven't invested heavily in Media Center - after all, Google and Apple are both trying to force their way into the living room and I'd be astonished if Microsoft drops the ball in this space.

        Fingers crossed.
      • WMC will be included


        Microsoft has at least confirmed that WMC will be a part of Windows 8, however, we have yet to learn what at all (if any) changes are being made to it. The screenshot Sinofsky listed on Twitter was nothing more than Windows 7's version running on Windows 8.

        Personally, I'm not expecting anything to really change, but it is nice since I use WMC for DVD playback on my machines.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • @bitcrazed

        Why do you want WMC? The only reason I could see is for using your PC as a DVR, but there are so few reasonable options available for getting HD broadcast recordings onto a PC besides ATSC. CableLabs support is pretty much dead in the water, and I have yet to see a feasible way in getting satellite recorded without at least first switching out to analog component (YUV) using one of those expensive Hauppauge HD PVR boxes. Most people just rent (or buy) their PVR from their TV provider nowadays. I honestly could never figure out why people ever bought TiVo's too, since the monthly fee is just to pay for their recommendations. Here's my recommendation: buy a box from your TV provider instead and quit wasting your money!

        Yes, there are downsides to the TV provider's box, but they are far outweighed by the relative cost and complexity of a PC DVR setup.

        Otherwise, the media handling for video, photos, music, etc., is all so similar to WMC/Zune now that we have the pure Metro UI doing the work, that I don't see why we need to have a duplicate UI in WMC just for basic media playback.
      • I use Media Center for more then just a DVR

        Joe_Raby. I cannot speak for bitcrazed, but for myself I have used it with a WMC remote for recording television, FM Radio (Hauppauge HTV 1600, though My surround sound system includes FM radio), but also all of my movies, Netflix, and Music in one interface, all accessable via the remote control, and all the files residing on a Windows Home Server

        Yes I could just use the Zune software and interface, but having it attached to a 42" flat panel TV, I need not worry about touch, instead using the remote, while sitting back on the couch.
        John Zern
      • MediaCenter is an overlooked gem

        @Joe: FWIW, we have our media center hooked up to our cable box' analog out via a Hauppage TV capture card. While its not 100% digital quality, the capture card's filtering and image processing results in quite acceptable quality TV. We have one box on which we can play TV, streamed programming via Netflix & Hulu etc., DVD, BluRay, AudioCD, streamed audio via Zune, etc., photos and video, etc. Oh, and content can be streamed to any of our XBoxes.

        Zune is very much a desktop experience and is not well suited to the 12' "from the couch" experience. The Zune client's future is also questionable. I wouldn't be surprised to see it and media player being replaced with a decent replacement.