Installing Windows 8 on your old PC could turn it into Greased Lightning

Installing Windows 8 on your old PC could turn it into Greased Lightning

Summary: My ZDNet colleague and long-time friend Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols thinks that old PCs need Microsoft's latest operating system upgrade like a hole in the head. I fervently disagree.

TOPICS: Windows, Microsoft

I've known ZDNet columnist Steven J. Vaughn-Nichols going on 16 years now. Along with Mary Jo Foley, who I've known for the same amount of time, he's a writer I have utmost respect for, particuarly when it comes to writing about Open Source and Networking technologies.

In many instances, we agree about a lot of things. But over the years Steven has become shall we say... not particularly enamored with Microsoft. He's focused a lot of his writing in recent years about Linux, and he's the closest thing we have here on ZDNet to being a pure Open Source evangelist.

This is not a bad thing, this is just simply stating what he is. Saying that Steven is an Open Source evangelist and dislikes and distrusts Microsoft is like saying that Seals, which subsist on a diet of fish and crustaceans, have developed an extreme dislike for Great White Sharks. 

Sorry, I spent most of my free time watching the Discovery Channel this weekend.

So when Steven tells you that Windows 8 "belongs on older PCs like a fish needs a bicycle" you should regard this as coming from a position of extreme prejudice.

Be it as it may I also am a Linux advocate. I wrote about it exclusively in print for ten years.

However, I also make my living integrating large scale multi-vendor systems for the largest IT services company in the world, so I can't afford to hate Microsoft. It's not a position I would enjoy being in anyway.

And despite the fact I have been known to throw a couple of grenades at Redmond from time to time, I actually enjoy using their products.

So the question remains -- does Windows 8 belong on older PCs? It really depends on what you define as "Old" and what lengths you are willing to go through to gain the benefits from the new operating system.

I want to first discard the notion that the new Windows 8 user interface (that we just got used to calling "Metro" but apparently we can't call it that anymore) is bad. It isn't bad, it's just different.

And yes, it requires a considerable amount of user adjustment in order to be productive with it, even for a veteran PC user like myself.

Whether the new UI will succeed in its current form and what Microsoft may have to do if it doesn't is another discussion entirely. But let's just take that off the table for a moment and return to the subject if upgrading to the new OS is appropriate for an older PC.

So in addition to catching up with Shark Week on my DVR, I decided to install Windows 8 on several older PCs this weekend.

My victims were a 12" Lenovo X200 Centrino 2 ultralight laptop, my primary circa-2009 dual quad-Opteron "Frankenputer" workstation, my wife's Dell Studio 17" laptop (a Vista-certified system that was purchased just prior to Windows 7's release) and a Dell Precision 530 desktop with an Intel Core 2 Quad which I originally purchased from Costco for the express purposes of testing Windows Vista four years ago.

None of these machines are current or state of the art. In fact I would say they are a decent representative sample of the type and vintage of Windows PC that most people actually own.    

Every single one of these machines installed Windows 8's release code without a hitch -- all the devices on the machines were recognized with the exception of two external peripherals -- an Epson wireless MFD Printer/Scanner that needed the usual 3rd-party Windows 7 drivers and a portable Lenovo USB Displaylink 2nd monitor for my laptop which actually had beta drivers avaliable on the web site.

Even the on-board Authentec fingerprint scanner for biometric login on my Lenovo X200 was automatically recognized.

On every single one of these systems, the performance improvement over Windows 7 is noticeable. Boot up is much, much faster as well as general application and network responsiveness, particularly with the new Internet Explorer 10 browser. And all of my Windows 7-compatible application software is working perfectly.

A Fish with bicycle wheels? Hell, this upgrade is automatic, it's systematic, it's hydromatic. It will turn your old PC into Greased Lightning.

The amount of work that has gone into improving core components and introducing new technology and features with this release is considerable, and Microsoft should be commended for their work, issues with the Metro UI notwithstanding.

IE 10, the new cloud integration and the fully integrated anti-malware suite in the new Windows Defender which completely eliminates the need for 3rd-party antivirus and antispyware programs are worth the price of admission alone.

Now, the one thing that all of these systems I installed the software on had in common is that they had (at least) 4GB of RAM. I've heard of people using Windows 8 systems with less, but if you are going to bite the bullet on the upgrade -- which is a whole $40 regardless of whether you own a license of XP, any variant of Vista or Windows 7 -- you might as well boost your RAM to as much as you can reasonably afford and your system will permit.

Most 4GB DDR2 upgrade kits sell for about $60, so with the $40 for the Windows 8 software, you're looking at about $100 to supercharge your older PC. If you want to take advantage of the multi-touch stuff in the new UI, you'll also want to pick up a mouse that supports the new touch gestures.

Now, as to whether end-users will do this upgrade in the volumes that Microsoft wants and if the challanges of user acceptance actually has a negative impact on the OS's adoption rate I really have no idea. But this has no bearing whatsoever on "appropriateness" to the target hardware.

Clearly, they've made the upgrade attractively inexpensive, which is a far cry from Vista, which was actually prohibitive in my opinion because not only was the software not cheap, but a great deal of legacy hardware compatibility got left behind and most PCs just weren't powerful enough to run them.

That's just not the case with Windows 8. Four year-old machines are running on it swimmingly.

If you've got a Vista or newer-era machine with 4GB of RAM, by all means, do this upgrade, particularly if you consider yourself in the class of "enthusiast" and want to inject new life into your PC, and you want to take advantage of the new software technology Microsoft is introducing and are willing to undertake the UI adaptation process.

On the other hand, if you or have friends and family members that are perfectly happy with their Windows 7 machine, and you'd rather not take all sorts of calls when they freak out about the new Start menu and the new UI, then leave their PC alone.

Have you undertaken the Windows 8 upgrade process yet? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • I upgraded 3 machines so far.

    And I have had a very similar experience. The only issue I have had is finding a Bluetooth driver on my old Dell E6500 laptop. For some reason, I can't find a decent Broadcom Bluetooth driver for my laptop. I suppose that was the case with Windows 7 also. Broadcom needs to get off their tails and make a good Windows 8 Bluetooth driver already.

    The upgrade has certainly breathed new life into my machines, including my Nettop which is an Atom processor with only 2 GB of ram. It is running my media center perfectly.

    I am highly impressed with this version of windows and the stellar improvements they have woven into the OS. Kudos!
    • Nice Article Jason.

      I forgot to mention, nice work on the article. Nice to hear something positive coming from ZDNet!
    • If only...

      I'm actually glad to hear that the "core" of the OS is running so well on lower powered machines. It's promising that it can run like a light-weight version of Linux and take out the overload that previous versions of Windows have had. I personally have not experienced this. I have run Win8 in a VM on three different computers of varying power and age (3 months to 3 years, AMD Turion, Intel i7, and a low-end AMD Quad Core), and the i7 was the only one that didn't drag. I had to assume that it was because it was virtualized, and I haven't had the opportunity to dual boot any of these machines, so I cannot say at this point my impression of the speed.

      Now, if only Microsoft would allow the option to remove Metro (or whatever they're calling it now) from the desktop version. I will try not to be biased in my remarks, but I have really tried to get used to this interface, and honestly, I hate it. I just don't find it user friendly for someone like me who has 6-8 applications open at a time, many with several documents/tabs open. And one (not the only, but one) reason this is an issue is because I am using a keyboard and mouse, not a touchscreen. This is going to be the case for a lot of older computers. And because these older computers are stuck with a keyboard and mouse, they are forced to use an interface that is not designed for that computer's I/O. This might not be an issue for some of my family members who use a computer for a browser and their email and nothing else, but it's completely impractical for me. I don't mind the introduction of a major change of interface - I just don't like being tied down to it, with my personal usability preferences stricken from the record because I'm not using the latest and greatest technology. It doesn't matter if the entire computer can run faster if I'm going to make up for that time with a clunky interface.
      • Get a gesture mouse

        You will then appreciate the awesomeness that is (or formally known as) metro. You are asking to get the cord back on your remote control instead of using the weird wireless one that wont work if you bring it to the next room.
        • well done

          wel done singerdave2001@...

          spoken like a true nerd walking down the road with his little ear speakers in listening to his little ipod touch/phone with wow ios 6
          Some of us have to deal real work with computors
      • Really?

        I'm running a Technet copy on a laptop with a 2.0 Ghz core 2 duo and 2 GB of RAM. This machine is from the summer of 2006 and originally came with Windows XP on it.

        I'm not a huge fan of the new UI, but there is no question that Windows 8 is fast - even on the laptop I'm using it on. Then again, this same laptop ran quite nicely with Windows 7 too and before that even Vista.

        One point : You mention running in a VM. Problem with your virtualization environment?
      • LOve the speed hate the interface!

        The speed from the back end is great and long overdue. However the block style front end with the out of sight options and links just turns me off. On a phone or small tablet it would be bearable, as an operating system replacement it's deplorable!
        Solar Wind
        • Netbook upgrade

          I don't understand you people. I have a key on my keyboard which turns the "start" into what works the same way as my start button used to.
          Steven Young
    • And for the 6th time......

      And for the 6th time...... Could you maybe tell me about Win8 - IE10???? I keep asking and can not get any type comment and/or answer!!! Appreciate any comments or your experience with it....
      • IE 10 on the desktop ...

        ... is not much different than IE 9, though IE 10 defaults to no tracking so you might want to allow tracking again. So far, I ahve not had to touch my IE 10 settings to meet my needs.

        The Metro version takes some getting used to but anything metro is pretty much a "quick look" kind of app so I have found I use metro apps differently than I use desktop apps.
        M Wagner
      • Its faster

        IE10 its faster, you got the 2 versions: Desktop (just like you regular IE9, but faster and better support for HTML5) and the "Metro" app, wich all you have is the content, the menus, the tabs and the options are hidden away until you press "right click" to show them... Almost like using a BB PlayBook...
    • I agree

      Good article Jason, and gomigomijunk I had the same experience.
      I used the Initial developer and consumer previews on both an aging XP3 netbook, one of the original Acer 8.9" ones the AOA 150 circa 2007. It had some initial issues with install but I got them worked out. That was before I upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 1.5GB. It ran a bit faster than with XP. However, it will not get 8 later because they changed the graphics resolution requirements for 8 to more than many netbooks and older portables will have to run the store and the metro side. I am currently looking for a used 10" netbook with the minimum resolution. The other system was a Toshiba Vista laptop with 3 GB of ram and a 1.9 processor. It was a pig with Vista but creamed with Windows 8. I sold that laptop and bought a new one for my test bed to test out 8 and my first SSD a crucial M4 128GB, as well as maxing out the RAM to 8GB. It is a basic entry level i3 Toshiba an L745 from WalMarts. How fast is 8 with an SSD? I set it up so it turns on from completely shut down on opening the laptop lid, and it takes less than 10 seconds to get to the Metro screen. Everything runs terrific and is fast and snappy. I only have the last free preview not the newest version with even more changes. So I am going to upgrade my AOA 150 to Windows 7 and my three desktops and one laptop to Windows 8. When prices drop even more I will get a 512 GB SSD for the laptop and set up the Crucial M4 128GB in the netbook. Oh and in all cases I set it up with no password or windows live sign in so it boots directly into the first Metro screen in 10 seconds flat from shut down completely. I just pulled it out and timed it.
      • There's an app for that

        Okay, maybe not exactly an app... but there's a simple fix to bring netbooks with 600 pixel default displays up to the 768 standard.
        Kevin Heckeler
        • Disable that aweful Metro GUI

          Fwiw I did that for my AOA150 and the 1024x768 looks fine, hardly notice the scaling.

          On topic -- I agree that Windows 8 is running much better than my attempt to run Windows 7 on this same model netbook a few years ago. PLUS, the wireless driver with windows 7 (despite numerous updates, etc) would randomly cause a BSOD. With Windows 8 that seems to have eben corrected. A couple undetected devices I haven't chased down yet, but no noticeable functionality loss.

          Another vote for HATE METRO! There's also a way of getting a regular desktop, but I would prefer there's be a simple option to disable it rather than making us jump through hoops:

          * [Always boot into Windows 8 Desktop, bypassing Windows 8 Metro:]
          Right-click on the lower left corner > Click on the yellow File Explorer icon > View > Options > View TAB > SELECT: Show hidden files, folders, and drives and UNCHECK: Hide extensions for known file types > OK > Now go to Computer > C Drive > Windows > Right click on empty space > New > Text document > name the file NoMetro > Open it in Notepad and enter the following:

          File > Save > Rename the file's extension to .scf so the file is now called NoMetro.scf (even if .scf extension is not visible)

          Right-click on the lower left corner > Run > control schedtasks

          Task Scheduler Library > Create Task… (upper right) > Name: NoMetro > Triggers TAB > New… > Drop down menu > At log on > OK >

          Actions TAB > New... > Browse to C:\Windows\NoMetro.scf you created above (even if .scf extension is not visible) > Open > OK > OK

          RESTART THE SYSTEM, it should boot into Windows 8 desktop directly and without password.
          Kevin Heckeler
          • Classic Shell

            Classic Shell is a collection of features that were available in older versions of Windows but are removed from Vista and Windows 7. It has a classic start menu for Windows 7, it adds a toolbar for Windows Explorer and supports a variety of smaller features. There are 3 major components - Classic Explorer, Classic Start Menu and Classic IE9. Look here for the full list if features.
    • MS almost had it right.. but

      as usual *ucked up in the last leg of the race. If they would have made it easy for standard pc users to turn off the metro UI then they would have gotten it right for once. We can only hope it the next version that they fix this huge screw up.
      • Not a screw up

        The next version won't change anything. Despite the naysayers, the UI formerly known as Metro is here to stay, and that is a good thing. It isn't that hard to use, as you will eventually discover. It is a big change, the UI that is and it does take a little time to ramp up, but I have been using it for months now, and I love it.

        And thanks Jason, I have to admit I'm surprised, but at least I am presently surprised.
        • Just plain stupid

          I have to go with MLHACK on this one. I am almost always on MS side when they are getting bashed, but this is just a PLAIN STUPID move. They could have shipped this with the new UI turned on no problem, BUT they HAVE to provide a way to turn it off for PC users that don't want it. Plain and simple. The UI can be here to stay forever as far as I care, but until we are all typing by thinking or swiping screens in mid air (which yes with some new hardware available you can do) a keyboard and mouse-centric UI has to be available. MS definitely screwed the pooch on this decision. They will see when business don't want to touch it SP1 will have a way to turn it off.
          • Can't agree more

            Just for a test I put Win8 on my wife's Vaio. Some issue finding all the drivers I needed but after a few hours it was up and running. Running well I'll add.

            My wife is not a tech person by any means but has learned her way around Vista fairly well - enough to do all she needs.

            After a week and a number of "lessons", she put it no uncertain terms - " get this sh** off my laptop and give me back what I had". I gave Win7 (Vista backup had an issue...).

            What she found frustrating, was the number of new ways Windows want to do things and the mix of apps vs. her old programs. She does work a good bit with photos.

            If I could have found a way to give her Desktop Win8 and skip the "Metro" coletely she would have been more than happy.

            Inconsistent behavior, steep learning curve, not intuitive. She is on Win7 and back to enjoying what she does.
          • I can say I am happier too

            No more lessons and a much less cranky spouse.