Microsoft's Windows 8: Will it breathe new life into older PCs?

Microsoft's Windows 8: Will it breathe new life into older PCs?

Summary: With Microsoft starting to roll out the final Windows 8 bits this week, users ponder whether it's worth installing them on older, non-touch hardware.


With Microsoft making available the final released to manufacturing (RTM) Windows 8 bits to some customers starting on August 15, it's a good time to contemplate whether it's worth grabbing them.

Yes, Windows 8 is a touch-centric operating system which will work best -- or, at least, most like the way its designers intended -- on touch-enabled tablets, PCs and monitors.

But I've heard from several readers that they believe Windows 8 includes enough under-the-hood improvements in security, reliability and performance to convince them it's worth putting on older, non-touch enabled hardware, too. Even without (or despite) the new user interface and touch gesture support, the rest of the OS is a worthy upgrade, some claim. They like the less flashy features, like faster boot times and fewer required restarts after updating.

One reader made this case recently:

"Sure, the new Metro UI still ticks me off, and there are obvious ways Microsoft could have improved this for legacy Windows desktop users - but I am learning the overall O/S improvements are worth it. My key favorites are (1) Installation and boot are much faster, and for a software developer like me that is really huge. (2) The new Windows Explorer is much better with more functionality where you need it. I love being able to just double click an ISO file and open it like a ZIP file. It is also an easy way to get to the Control Panel. (3) Fast and fluid really is a noticeable improvement as I have grown too much gray hair waiting for the Windows UI in the past. (4) Storage Pools - it's about bloody well time - and they even work with USB devices. (5) Single cloud-based login - again - it's about bloody well time. For sure there tons of stuff that still need improvement, such as, the Metro Style Mail app is buggy as hell and the UI has serious usability problems, but still prefer Thunderbird so I don't care."

Jeff Atwood, one of the founders of Stack Overflow and author of the "Coding Horror" site has been upbeat about Windows 8 throughout its development. Last week, Atwood tweeted about Windows 8's superiority over Windows 7 "in every way," specifically in install, boot, sleep/resume and file operations.



Even ZDNet's own Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, not always the biggest Windows and Microsoft fan (to put it mildly) has found Windows 8's performance improvements to be measurable and noticable.

The Windows 8 team hasn't really pushed these performance enhancements anywhere as much as they've emphasized the more controversial touch/UI elements of the operating system. Sure, they have explained in great (and lengthy) detail a number of the performance tweaks it has made to Windows 8. But they really haven't said expressly -- or, at least, succinctly -- that Windows 8 could revive an existing/older PC.

This does seem to be one of Microsoft's claims, however.

"Windows 8 improves on Windows 7 fundamentals like speed, reliability, security, and other essentials that are important to IT administrators. And it works seamlessly with an existing Windows management infrastructure," said a Microsoft spokesperson when I asked about specific improvements in Windows 8's existing features that could benefit users with older, non-touch-enabled PC hardware. "Even on lower-power systems, Windows 8 is responsive. Your PC starts quickly, your apps run faster, and you’re more secure from start to finish."

Users who install Windows 8 on older/current hardware will be able to take advantage of the cloud-syncing and roaming settings support in Windows 8, the spokesperson added. With Windows 8 Professional and Enterprise (note: Enterprise requires users to have a Software Assurance contract with Microsoft in order to install and use), BitLocker enables faster hard-drive encryption, the spokesperson said. And the new Windows 8 refresh and reset settings could help those needing to restore even older PCs, the spokesperson noted.

Microsoft, which is now both the software maker and a Windows OEM, no doubt would prefer users to buy brand-spanking-new Windows 8 PCs and tablets, just like other PC makers would. Maybe that's why we shouldn't expect too much marketing/advertising fanfare, if any, around the "Windows 8 makes old PCs run better" concept.

But even without a Seinfeld to convince them, some Windows users with PCs that meet the minimum Windows 8 specs -- 1 GHz or faster processor;  1GB (32-bit) or 2GB (64-bit) of RAM, and a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver -- say they're finding Windows 8 to be a nice performance booster.

Any others with an older Windows PC now running Windows 8 have feedback on this one? If Microsoft hadn't Metroized/modernized Windows 8 and made it more of a Windows 7.5 upgrade, would it still be worth an upgrade?

Update: A couple of good points from the Twitterati. Some point out that netbooks, with lower screen resolutions, aren't really very good candidates for a Windows 8 upgrade. And others noted that users should be sure there are drivers for their older PCs that work with Windows 8, which won't always be the case.

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Tablets, PCs


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • It's good on my older machine

    Installed last night on my old laptop and it noticeably faster than Win 7 on the same machine.

    Got used to the start screen and all my existing desktop applications still work with no reinstall needed which impressed me.

    Tried a few full-screen apps from the store and the ones I tried are well done.

    To answer your question, I do think it would be worth the upgrade even w/o the Metroized UI based on my initial usage.
    • Metro feels too much like a kiddy framework

      Fine for consumer Apps but not so much for productive ones.
      • "Productive"

        The "productive" apps argument feels like people who say the iPad can't be "productive" which is silly. It's hard as hell to type long form on, but that doesn't mean someone can't be productive on it depending on their job.
        Jeff Kibuule
        • iPad and "productive" don't belong in one sentence

          If I really wanna get a chart work or a paper done I prefer a desktop any day of a week to scrambling my fingers all over a cramped up 10' screen.
        • Depending on their job...

          That is the key point. Different people have different requirements.

          The touch interface can bring benefits in the creative sphere.

          For me, I need a decent, full travel keyboard and a large / multiple screens with several windows as I do a lot of research and create large amounts of documentation. A single window and touch-screen keyboard or the iPad keyboard dock is not a suitable replacement for a decent Cherry keyboard and dual 24" or 27" displays.

          Each to his own, if touch works for you, get it and use it, if it doesn't work for you ignore it.

          I don't have any real problems with Windows 8 in its current form, as long as I can still get desktop applications for it and I am not forced to use IFKAM apps instead.
        • Sure iPads can be productive tools...

          but there's some tradeoffs or compromises with the form factor, understandably. It's a tablet device meanly used for consumption by consumers, entertainment.

          When it comes to desktop there should be no compromises, no tradeoffs, and there should be nothing getting in the way of productivity. Metro imo is a step backwards on desktops, its not needed on a desktop paradigm. wish Microsoft would have just left the desktop a desktop instead of chasing after Apple's iPad.
          • Logic impairment

            The desktop IS a compromise, there's the "desk" part. But characterise Tablets (you mean the iPad - right?) as "consumer consumption devices" is utterly missing reality.

            There is a great deal of utility to be had from a machine that you can use while standing, there are a lot of jobs that cannot be done from behind a desk.

            You want project planning in any kind of manufacturing/building type scenario? The iPad with OmniPlan is fantastic, and FAR better than a laptop. You want data collection? Filemaker have an iPad app that makes this easy.

            Not every job has you pounding on a keyboard at a desk, work doesn't always look like that. So sneering at the iPad and claiming "it's no good for work" is missing a raft of use cases. Often this "single focus" is actually an asset, and the iPad does have a huge library of software.

            Now that's not to say there aren't times when a big machine with multiple large displays isn't a better option (especially as that exactly describes THIS machine I'm typing on) and there are plenty of things I do that I'd never attempt on an iPad (even if I could) but equally there are a lot of things that I do where an iPad is exactly the right tool.
          • iPad is great for certain scenarios

            I once had a guy approach me to do a survey. Instead of the usual paper-based survey forms, the guy just showed me his iPad with some survey app running, and I just had to answer a few questions on the iPad screen. It was pretty cool, but beside the cool factor it has advantages. All the survey data is automatically collected and tabulated. Any processing can also be made automatic. There is no need to carry a bunch of paper sheets, have enough stock of them and run after pens. And you save trees. iPad is also light and easy to use when standing. It has an interface that's appealing (the survey questions and boxes to type answers in were almost filling the screen, one question at a time). Imagine if he had a laptop! Cumbersome (or need to find table), battery doesn't last long, distracting interface, small text, having to move a mouse pointer (touch is faster in surveying as people maybe in a hurry)...

            Anyway there are scenarios where a full-fledged laptop or desktop cannot be replaced by a touch tablet. I believe these devices are complimentary and will always remain so.
      • The Professionals

        Appreciate the notes. So I ran this scenario past accounting and while they get what we're trying to do by imposing an interface you hated and rolled back on the co-workers, they note that no matter how deeply discounted the new os is, not upgrading looks better, capital outlay-wise, on their spreadsheet scenarios. Accountants... whatcha gonna do?

        Good news, though, they're ready to sign off on the plan, as long as I promise to keep their computers as they are. That there my friends is corporate bureaucracy at its best.
        • Sorry

          Meant for thread below.
      • I personally do not care if it is a kiddy work

        Benchmarks all over the web have reported that Windows 8 is more faster than Windows 7 using various tests, and it uses less ram and cpu. And they have included a lot of useful desktop functions that were not in Windows 7, like quick access do disk management or power options just by right clicking the bottom left of the screen. I am not a fan of metro, but learning how to use Windows 8 is worth the time if it means a better OS.
        • Re: I personally.............................

          Oh it really is kiddy work, I hope they acknowledge Romper Room and Sesame Street for their invaluable contributions to Win 8!!!!!!! Like the UI!!

          I wish that you would include links to all these tests where Win 8 is so earth shatteringly, just gotta have it, and boots so fast that a person doesn't even have to press the power button for it to boot.

          It seems that "everybody raves" how fast it is WITH NO conclusive data to back it up, or as we used to say as kids "Put your Money where your mouth is!!!"

          Even Adrians' test data that he compiled DIDN'T show blazing across the monitor at "warp 9", for the Trekies out there. In most cases his compiled data showed that for the most part Win 8 vs Win 7 was negligible.

          Quoting from his article: "Next there's the fact that, as far as the synthetic and gaming benchmarks go, the differences between Windows 7, the Windows 8 RTM, the Consumer Preview and the Release Preview are negligible." Ergo, "Big Freaking Deal"!

          Again quoting from his article: "From a performance perspective, I've very pleased with the way that Windows 8 has turned out. While there are no major performance differences between the Windows 8 Release Preview and the newly released Windows 8 RTM version, performance seems solid, and in areas where the platform lagged behind Windows 7, Microsoft seems to have put in the effort to close the gap." HINT: close the gap, it didn't say "Trashed Win 7 like a broken down Nag!!!!"

          In the beginning most of the paid writers here at ZDNet were against Win 8 and their articles bore that out. Now with the release date on the horizon they are slowly starting to praise Win 8 and touting it's virtue like it is the second coming of "God!"

          Now my 2 cents worth on Win 8: First off it's "God AWFUL UGLY" and I'm doing this only because your not supposed to call it this anymore. METRO, METRO, metro, metro, metro, is "GOD AWFUL UGLY!!!" Big Bird and the kids from Sesame Street could have "DESIGNED" a better UI than the people at M$!!!!!!! I want my "desktop" to look like a "desktop" not some God awful widget from a cell phone!!!!!!

          If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, swims like a duck, and waddles like a duck. Then guess what??? It's probably a freaking, God Awful UGLY, cell phone looking widget, commonly called a "DUCK!!!!"

          Now maybe I'm wrong, dumb or stupid. BUT IF METRO (metro, metro, metro, only to piss off M$) is SSOOOOOOOOO stinking Wonderful, "WHY DOES WIN 8 KEEP SWITCHING BACK TO THE GOOD OLD FASHION, OUT OF DATE/ STYLE DESKTOP CONSTANTLY????????????????" If metro,metro oh my little metro is that "WONDERFUL" it should remain in "METRO" forever and a day!!!!!!!!!!

          BIG Deal it boots about 5 seconds faster, be still my heart 23 sec.s vs 28 sec.s (Win 7). Oh wow!!!! Then they want to COPY Apples app. store ergo buy only M$ apps from the, wait for it, it's getting closer, TADA it's here, from the M$ app store. Another article on ZDNet states that apps will start at about a $1.49.

          Now if you go read the "entire" article it says starting at $1.49 and could go all the way up to $999.00. I don't know where the author arrived at that figure??????

          So M$ sells you the "God Awful UGLY UI" OS for, if I remember correctly, about $40 (that's cheap) but now hits you with at the VERY least $1.49 for each and every add-on app to compliment this "UGLY" piece of cr@p. They, M$, makes money hand over fist over body over millions of bodies!

          To all who are getting ready to take the Win 8 plunge, I feel sorry for what I'm about to say, "I HOPE WIN 8 FAILS BIGGER THAN WINDOWS ME AND VISTA COMBINED!!!!!!!!!!!!!" I hope "no one has hocked their 1st born or did a second mortgage to buy this, IMHO, piece of CR@P!

          I TOTALLY refuse to be owned by M$!!! PERIOD!!!!!! I'll keep my Windows 7 till "IT AIN'T NO LONGER SUPPORTED!!!" M$ KISS MY A*S!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! SHOVE YOUR APP STORE TILL AT LEAST YOU FEEL PAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Then shove it another 6 feet!!!!

          My wife retires in 7 months, maybe it's time to explore Linux. The only reason I've stuck with M$ is because they use it at her place of employment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! In 7 months the playing field CHANGES!!!
          • Um, Mister M4 User...

            Maybe its ime for your medication?
          • Metro UI sucks the life out of Win8.

            And microsoft knows it sucks and no one wants it. Have you EVER heard of Microsoft selling a full blown professional OS under $140? They must have big plans to make that $$$ up somewhere...

            I will be moving to linux. Long live Open Source!
          • Gaming performance = irrelevant

            does not represent the general improvement in all the areas that Win8 brings.
            A gaming benchmark won't show how fast win8 boots, or wakes up from sleep & hibernate.
            A gaming benchmark won't show the HUGE improvement in plug & play USB where unmounting USB drives is about 10 times faster than WIN7. If you work with USB drives a lot Win 8 is worth it alone for this improvement.
            A gaming benchmark won't show the overall snappier response in the desktop UI EVERYWHERE compared to win8.
            A gaming benchmark doesn't show the improved wireless connection abilities. Switching between wireless routers is much faster than win7.
            I could go on, but I'm sure you realise by now that gaming benchmarks are just low level routines that doesn't highlight the efficiencies of an OS in general usage.
            Win 7 is simply faster everywhere, do not even doubt it or try to dig up some lame benchmark to prove a subset.
          • correction

            I meant win 8 in that last sentance.
            Win 8 is faster everywhere.
      • Indeed, but its not something to detract you

        Indeed, but its not something to detract you. The fact that the Desktop remains on Windows 8 pro tells you something?. Its a clear acknowledgment of that. Glad I have a choice to use metro or the desktop
      • They cant be productive?

        I just the remote desktop app everyday and it has sure been very productive for me
        other *
        • omg srry "just" should be "use"

          how could i make a mistake like that?
          other *
  • Just buying it for the the good stuff...

    I'm going to get it for our systems here when it comes out. I used the Preview, I hated the UI, after 8 days I pulled it off and went back to Windows 7. BUT...with it being so cheap at first I consider that to be a good markdown for ugly and awkward which is the best way I can describe the new "Modern UI". I live with people who barely get by on 7, but will want it if I get it. it's going to be a headache trying to make sense of the new UI for them. Would I buy it without the discounted price? Noooo way!