Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

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.

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


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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  • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

    I am running Win 8 on a basic machine which I assembled in 2005 for running XP. Windows 8 runs pretty smooth on this old PC almost 25 percent faster than XP. Just my experience.
    • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


      Beta versions always run well. Production ones not so much. The Windows 95 beta was incredible, and then they released the one we had to use. Ugh.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @khess Well technically, it's not even at beta stage yet. And Windows 95? Wow you had to go back some years to pull that example out of your hat. I mean is it possible Microsoft has learned a thing or 2 in the last 16 years? hmm I guess we're about to find out.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


        That's so true about Windows 95 Beta. I ran it for a while after ...
      • True but ...

        I have an old Thinkpad (T40) which chokes on Vista but runs Win7 just fine. It originally ran XP (lost the OEM install disks :( )

        For that machine I could never get Vista to run from Beta on but 7 ran great from Beta on.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @khess <br>That is not necessarily the case. I've been using Win 7 on a 2007 PC with Core2Duo @ 2.93 GHz and 2GB of RAM. I installed the Beta, RC versions and they ran well. Windows 7 also runs very well on this thing. I also didn't notice such a huge difference between XP and 7 speeds on the same machine. The same PC is also running Win 8 Developer Preview as well. What's more, it boots twice as fast as Win7 and is fairly stable for my use. I have found Microsoft's claims to be completely true regarding hardware requirements.
        My experience has been totally the opposite of what the author has had.
      • Microsoft OS's Are Always About 3 Years Short

        @khess and rwalrond - I have been using Microsoft products since DOS 3.1 and have found that the Windows versions are always "just about right" 3 years in. If other things have not forced an upgrade [like the disk space needs I had when moving from W95 to W98] the systems usually start humming along about 3 years after General Release. As a matter of fact, I am using a copy of Vista I got directly from Microsoft back in 2007, which I just opened and installed on an AthlonXP system less than 3 weeks ago. With 2GB of memory, a fast SATA drive, and all the updates, it is not nearly the pig it was on a much faster Athlon64 system with twice the memory, much faster video card, and larger, faster hard drive back then [and to the comment about Vista beta, I am comparing the beta of Vista on that better hardware to the Vista w/SP2+ on this more archaic stuff right now!]

        Microsoft get most of it right, eventually. They might not make as much money if they worked the bugs before general release, but they would certainly be much less a target of ridicule if they did so.

        As far as Windows 8 goes, I've seen nothing that makes me wish to upgrade, and hardware purchases are trivial to me, so it is not that. I'll probably be running an 8-core Bulldozer by the time Windows 8 comes out, but I'll be re-installing my Steve Ballmer Signature Version of Windows 7 Ultimate on it instead.
        To the author or the original article, I'm glad to see that you share the opinion of mine that W7 is not as good as XP was, for its time, because many forget how much capability has been removed in the XP -> Vista -> Win7 transitions...but the average Joe does not know this, or care.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        Im a Microsoft fan but I have to say no they haven't learned anyting in 16 years. i have had windows 8 devloper for about 3 weeks now and I have to say it is the worse MS OS ever. Vista kills this pig. The entire one os for all and the integration of Metro UI and ribbons has destroyed what made windows great. I like the author will run xp and windows 7 until not possible anymore then move to linux most likely if this is the direction of Microsoft and windows.its just horrid on home based pcs.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @khess My boss took a 386 DX-33 MB, added 16 MB of Ram -- Win95 ran fine. But unless you had at least 16 MB of Ram, Win95 was NOT for you, even with a 486. Sadly 16 MB of Ram cost over $500 at that time.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


        Nah, as we've seen with both Vista and 7, pre release versions aren't optimized and have debug code right left and center, in both cases the actual rtm ran better, this will no doubt be the case with Windows 8.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @khess Beta versions are always good, they work very well as they are on testing, but when you get to use the live versions there you find all the errors, like apple, they launched iphone 4 and when they came across errors they recently launched 4gs with the updates.<br> <a href="">whmis course</a>
    • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

      @owlnet I am running Win8 Dev Preview on one of the Samsung developer preview tablets, in a VirtualBox VM on a Win7 Core-i5 laptop and on a 7 year old Toshiba Laptop. I gave up running Win8 in a VM because VM's graphics performance just isn't capable of smoothly animating the Win8 metro UI.

      Other than that, Win8 runs at least as fast as Win7 on the same hardware and, in fact, is even snappier, boots more quickly and uses less CPU (and therefore battery) than WinXP or Win7 does.

      The only hardware feature you might miss if you buy a laptop today and upgrade to Win8 later is a touch-sensitive screen. If that's important to you, I'd hold-off buying a new laptop right now and wait to see the (awesome) new Win8 optimized laptop due for release around launch.

      If touch is unimportant to you and/or if you want to run Win8 on your existing machines - go ahead - you can download the dev preview today and try it out for yourself ... that way at least you'll know the facts rather than believing the garbage in this article.
    • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


      Windows 8 actually has lower system requirements than Windows 7 and Vista (which both have the same requirements).

      This article is uninformed nonsense. I was not surprised when the old Linux FUD of not having to upgrade came up. Microsoft have demonstrated that any hardware suitable for Vista in 2006 is suitable for Windows 7 and Windows 8. That means that effectively 6 year old middle-spec hardware is suitable for Windows for the next 3 or 4 years at least.

      The reason system requirements increased in the past was that Windows needed to keep up with advancements in software and hardware. Now those changes are less drastic. In years gone by it was normal to spend big money on upgrades, but now that's not really an issue. I know people running really old systems that handle Windows 7 perfectly well. Cheap $300 computers run Windows 7 (and will run Windows 8).

      I'm personally running Windows 8 on my Windows 7 laptop and it has noticable performance improvements (booting and file transfers particularly).
      Microsoft don't just pull these specs out of thin air. Windows 8 is a refined version of Windows 7 (which was a refined version of Windows Vista).

      Microsoft have explained and demonstrated that Windows 8 runs fewer processes and takes up less RAM than Windows 7.

      And as usual the author pans Vista despite not having used it. I only ever hear negative remarks about Vista from people who never used it. Of course Vista had a few teething problems (mostly not the operating system's fault - mainly due to software and hardware vendors ignoring Microsoft's best practices), but for a pretty radical reworking of Windows it succeeded. It only failed in the PR department because of the luddite early adopter paradox (i.e. early adopters and tech industry followers tend to be somewhat offended by changes to the familiar).

      The conclusion of this article is basically moot because of the uninformed, false assertion it is based on (that Windows 8's stated, albeit pre-beta, system requirements are not correct).
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


        Where do you get that it has lower system requirements when I posted the actual requirements given by Microsoft? It shows that they are the same for Vista and 7. But, that's also their take on it.
      • Eventually Vista Worked Better

        @allusernamestaken <br>I didn't use Vista a lot because it didn't work well enough to use a lot. It had annoying issues from the get-go (like incredibly slow file transfer speeds over a network).<br><br>Eventually it worked a lot better if you could get all the updates to install without the system crashing and burning during the process. It was never worth it. Windows 7 is basically Vista with most of the problems already fixed. With Windows 7, though, you don't have so much extra disk space used by the update process (although they both use plenty of disk space). <br><br>At my workplace we had a running test of Vista until shortly before Windows 7 was set to be released, and it never worked well enough to be approved for new machines. We decided to skip over it and go right to Windows 7 when upgrades take place.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @allusernamestaken How fast is your boot time? I'm getting 16 seconds in Linux on a 1 GHz P3

        On Linux there's an app for that :) We don't do the touchy feely subjective thing. The logs in my cheap i3 upstairs put its boot at around 5.001 of a second. If Linux gets any faster then I'm going to have to get a more padded chair. I have to sit down pretty quickly as it is!

        As for RAM usage I can run my GUI in 32MB total system consumed RAM. You don't have to tell me how awesome that is, I know.

        How much do you have to refine sludge before it begins to pass a little light? I think Microsoft still has a lot of distillations to go.

        Over 91% of the fastest computers in the world run Linux so how come you aren't?
  • You're contradicting yourself

    "It has too many problems and is basically garbage. "<br><br>Had. It had too many problems. Windows Vista right now is a perfectly acceptable operating system. This doubly amuses me because you contradict yourself with a later line.<br><br>"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."<br><br>Yet you decided Vista was crap based on, well, a beta. Kudos on following your own advice. Vista's only big problem right now is that it's a major resource hog.<br><br>You also seem to be totally forget about Vista as well concerning the premise of this article. Windows 7 needs significantly less resources than Vista ever did, yet you say that you "always" need a significant hardware upgrade. Sure, 7 uses more than XP, but XP wasn't the version it was replacing, was it?
    • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.


      Vista is still crap. My wife has it on her laptop. Total crap.
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        @khess <br>That is your opinion and apparently a biased one.<br>Have you even taken the time to try Windows 7 and the Windows developper preview or are you too busy writing anti-Windows blogs ?
      • RE: Another Windows Version. Another Hardware Upgrade.

        don't just make declarations. Tell us why Vista on your wife's laptop is crap. What is wrong with it? Is it slow to start up? Does it run applications slowly? Or is everythign is slow about it? What laptop model is it? That might help us, and make the comments section a more informative place